I like this image because it makes me think of this quote that I heard, “Baby can risk being all over the place as long as they are held together by someone with their feet on the ground” or “Baby doesn’t mind unintegration if mom is minding”. The fragmented pieces in the backdrop of this picture causes me to think of the chaotic environment that some children grow up in and the protective factor of a consistent and predictable caregiver. “All over the place” and “unintegration” can be thought about as external behaviors, but here I am thinking more about internal states of the child.
A holding environment includes the actual physical holding of a child and also, their environment and psychological states. When the holding environment is successful, a child develops a secure sense of them self. Holding can be thought of as a “sensation based emotional state of being gently, sturdily wrapped in the arms of the mother. In health, that physical/psychological core of holding remains constant throughout one’s life” (Ogden, 2004). What begins as a absolute dependence on the caregiver, moves to relative dependence and finally a tending toward independence. As this development occurs at the child’s own rate, and the caregiver provides a loosening or withdraw in the child’s dependence, it must never become a “drop” or abandonment.
I like to think of “holding” as a complete sensory based experience. Pause for a moment, and consider taking care of an infant and all the ways the senses are involved…a successfully “held” baby learns to use those sensory experiences to regulate their emotions, develop the capacity for attachment, recognize themselves as separate from their caregiver (which is essential in developing boundaries), they learn to trust and can internalize the world as good. (I can’t help but think about the increase in the diagnosis of sensory disorders and how maternal (caregiver) deprivation may contribute to this).
The term “good enough mother” was coined by Winnicott to describe that the caregiver doesn’t have to be perfect. A short article explaining this concept can be found here. From this article, it’s important that a child learns to cope with failures that are, again, not a drop or abandonment. Very early in life we begin learning about failures and repair. A later post I’ll talk about the gifts of imperfection.
This may cause you to reflect on your own early childhood experience, or how your own parenting style incorporates this idea of “holding”. Did you experience drops? Was there repair? Are you parenting with your feet on the ground? With the ability to hold together your child states of mind? Are you minding? Are you mindful?
Next: What happens when the holding environment fails?