After Infancy Developmentally Based Mothering

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Mothering flexes and changes with the development of the child. Recall for a moment that early mothering behavior needs to provide a balance between offering security through nurturing, sensitivity, emotional availability, and reciprocal interaction and supporting exploration of the environment through being predictable, reliable, approachable, and responsive. When a baby is first born the balance needs to be more heavily centered on offering security. As the baby grows this balance begins to shift to support exploration. As the child grows and develops, this shift becomes heavier and heavier in the direction of supporting exploration. It is important to remember that this balance is fluid; if the attachment behavioral system is activated, then a shift back to security can occur as needed. Furthermore, the goal of mothering is to develop an underlying, internal strength that fuels a healthy ego, supports a working conscience, and constructs strong internal working models consistent with individuality; and that the ultimate mothering goal is a child, who can enter adulthood as an autonomous, individuated, responsible person secure in her or his relationships.

Children's needs change throughout development as their own abilities mature. Mothering needs to reflect these changes. Connolly (2000), in a qualitative study of mothering, found that during the beginning of childhood mothers engaged in more caregiving tasks, meeting the basic needs of the children. By adolescence, mothers took on a more supportive role and became more involved in the emotional aspects of their children's lives. McBride (1987) further described the adolescent years as not only requiring a shift in mothering and parenting, but also a period of self-reflection for the mother as she has to learn to let go of her child and allow the child to become a person in her or his own right.

It is difficult to discern the changes in mothering over time. Cultural factors, family patterns and traditions, personal beliefs, the presence or absence of risk factors, and the context of the environment all contribute to changes in the mothering role over the child's development. Additionally, the distinctions between mothering and parenting blur as the child ages. Does this mean that mothering ceases and parenting replaces it? Does it mean that actual mothering surfaces only as the child's needs demand it? What are the defining factors for mothering as opposed to parenting? Based on child development factors, mothering should see decreases in the amount of caregiving required and increases in the amount of strategies for enhancing the child's independence and autonomy. In addition, as the child ages, mothering needs to reflect the child's increasing capacity for self-reliance. Table 1.1 describes expectations of mothering in terms of acts of monitoring, expectant nurturing, and responsiveness, reflective of the developmental progression of the child.

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