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Ghosts in the Nursery – When your past effects your parenting

I have just been re-reading a famous paper by the pioneering Infant Mental Health Specialist, Selma Fraiberg about what she called “Ghosts in the Nursery”. It’s about how our parenting can be influenced at times by our history and by the difficult relationships and patterns which come from our parents and grandparents and their backgrounds. These are like ghosts from the past and they can pop up into the present in the way we handle our babies and children. It’s as if bad or difficult issues from years ago resurface when we become parents. They come back to haunt us, even when we think we are no longer effected by the past.

Case Study

Bianca, a new mom, found herself feeling highly intolerant of her baby’s dependency on her, which he expressed by crying whenever she tried to put him down in his cot. She approached a parent-infant psychotherapist to find out how to get her baby to go down in his cot without crying. After talking this through, she started to recognize that her own discomfort about her baby’s needs had its roots in her relationship with her own mother. Once this became clear to her, the problem disappeared. Her baby became less needy and his needs became much less disturbing for her.

But despite most of us being haunted to some extent by the ghosts of the past, Selma Fraiberg reminds us that we can also find great renewal and healing of childhood pain through the experience of bringing a child into the world. History is not destiny, she says. Parents – particularly those with troubled backgrounds – generally hope for and try to give their children a better life than they had when they were young.

How can you make things better for your child than they were for you whilst growing up?

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  1. Karen Kallmann

    Wow! This just reinforced for me how we learn so much about ourselves by being a parent. It really is a journey of self-discovery, both of our pasts as well as our present (like your children parroting back exactly what you say to them, tone and all!).

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