Infants and their parents/caregivers influence each other enormously, and the parenting that infants receive shape their development. Our childhood experience with our own parents provides the basic reservoir from which we draw unconsciously. In addition, temperament, life events and circumstances contribute to the process of becoming pregnant or adopting a baby and impacts the parenting process.
The Changing Life of Parent
The weight of responsibility for a newborn can be demanding especially in the early days and months. Life for parents is disrupted and their relationship is altered. This can be a very stressful time on the primary caretaker and on parents. Sometimes the focus of this work may begin with the change for parents or it may be on physical care. Sometimes I have found that there is tendency to deny that infant’s have any feelings at such a young age. In order to imagine the baby’s experience guides us in learning how to protect the baby’s sensitivity and to provide conditions for his/her strong potential for life to unfold. In order to really understand a baby, one has to feel like a baby, which is something we tend to want to avoid as we grow up. To imagine what it feels like to be a baby can be very helpful when trying to make new decisions about the baby’s care.
Why and When Would a Parent Seek out Parent – Infant Psychotherapy?
Parent-Infant and/or Parent-Toddler Psychotherapy is a modality that works with parents and their young children to help them understand their relationship and work through a difficult period. The focus may be on a postpartum depression in the mother which can be debilitating. The focus may also be on feeding, sleeping, medical illness for the baby or any family situation that impacts the care-taking experience, i.e. gaining a sibling or a loss in the family. We talk together about strengths and concerns and reflect on what the baby is trying to communicate through play. It is supportive therapy and can be short- or long-term, depending on the circumstances.
Some parents are concerned about their baby’s sleeping or feeding habits (or lack thereof). Some babies do not sleep well. Some babies reject their mother’s breast or have trouble latching on to it. Some babies look sad, withdrawn or anxious and restless. Some babies seem just fine and it is the mother or primary caregiver who is anxious about parenthood or overwhelmed with a new identity and responsibility. Then there are instances when the mother or father of a young infant or toddler has a serious health problem, post-partum depression, or when an expectant parent suffers the loss of a loved one during pregnancy or shortly after birth, or has adopted a child into the family, or when a parent dies… all of these circumstances pile on additional change, stress, loss and uncertainty onto the vulnerable caregiver/baby dyad.
The parent-infant therapist picks up nuances in the relationship that are largely non-verbal and helps put them into words, helping the parent notice and understand what words and actions reach the baby, so that they can develop a secure, healthy attachment and relationship. It is inevitable that part of learning by experience is the making of mistakes . We are all likely to be more open to recognizing our mistakes and to learn from them if you do not set standards impossible to reach. The parent who is aware of mistakes and ruptures can also be aware of the benefit of repairing a difficult moment or time.
I work with parents who are married, living together, single parents by choice, parents who have adopted children, same sex parents and divorced parents. I work with prenatal depression and post-partum depression with mothers, babies and couples.