Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The things that uni teaches you

I have an exam tomorrow for developmental psychology, which is clearly why I am blogging. I have just finished reading the last of the notes from the tutorials. The last one was taken from a paper called "Maternal Sensitivity: What does it take?". Holy crap. Good thing I never read that little gem before I started having kids.

It starts like this:

Sensitive, responsive parenting has been recognised for many decades as a necessary (though not sufficient) requirement for the development of secure infant-to-parent attachment, and the term "maternal sensitivity" is now part of the everyday language of health professionals.

I like the slick transition from "parent" to "maternal". But anyway, ok, seems vaguely reasonable, although, as the paper itself asks "How is "maternal sensitivity" defined and by whom?". Well, in the selection we got, the latter question was not really addressed. However, the definition was, in spades. There were 4 pages of what a mother needs to do to be sensitive. I seriously don't have time to go through it all, but the highlights are to always be aware of, understand, respond appropriately to and provide the right emotional environment for, the baby's cues. And another section I just need to quote for your edification and amusement:

The ability to accurately interpret cues is dependent on the mother's awareness that the baby is giving cues (for God's sake don't assume that the 3 hours of solid crying every night could possibly have no useful communicative value! -ed) ... and also on her capacity for empathy.

And then this:

The mother who has the qualities necessary for sensitive and responsive parenting will, in most instances, respond appropriately, quickly calming or soothing the crying infant or engaging in play or distraction in response to the infant's cues. The mother who is less sensitive to the infant's cues will frequently misinterpret them ... and then may respond inappropriately, for example in a way that may be hostile or non-supportive. ... Alternatively the mother's responses may be overly intrusive. ... The usual problem here is that the mother is consciously or unconsciously giving priority to meeting her own needs rather than those of the infant.

Righteeeeo then. That'll be the problem, that useless mother selfishly felt that her need not to go postal outweighed the baby's need for... whatever the hell the baby wanted, because clearly you'll do the wrong thing in preference to shutting the screaming banshee up.

Now I know this isn't in reference to an isolated incident, it is about a pattern of behaviour. But still, even on kid #3, at 10 months, I pretty regularly have to go through 2 or 3 options to find the "appropriate response". I would not describe myself as having "quickly attune[d] to [my] infant's cues". And yet all these mind boggling requirements are only necessary, not sufficient for forming a secure attachment!

Hands up who feels they are sensitive, responsive mothers? Statistics suggest that around 50% of babies are, in fact, securely attached (and this is with a very limited definition of securely attached - all but another 10% are regarded as functionally attached, but with less balance in their lives) so I wonder where all these super mothers are. My kids show all the symptoms of securely attached kids, as do those of pretty much all the people I know. So I call the usefulness of this paper into serious question. Which would be no big deal, except that it has been supplied as text book supplement type information to second year uni students. No analysis. No hint that it might be an enormous pile of doggy do.

And in case you were wondering just how irritated I was about all this, I did not have this text in electronic format, and had to re-type all of that...


  1. It's just darn fortunate for the world I'm not having babies. I suck at all that maternal sensitivity stuff. :)

    I only recently made my way here, but I love what I have read of your blog!

  2. I really think the supermum myth needs to be stamped on, and the guilt-inducing, un-attainable behaviour this article demands of mothers, is frankly OTT. Most mothers I know do thier best, and there is just not one definitive way to create succesful attachment.

    Good luck with your studies - I'm sure you'll find another article to shatter these myths.

  3. Hi Jade, nice to meet you! And thanks.

    And seriously, by this definition of maternal sensitivity, everyone sucks at it. :)

  4. Once you get out of Uni you realise that 80% of what they taught you was just to make sure that academics have an income and something to fill the Professional Journals with (or at least it seems like it sometime (I say as I am writing my last essay for this semester. biggest crock of shit I can make up references about)