Child and family interaction: the setting
The scene shows Eaton Kerr, a toddler, in a happy and playful family photo shoot with other members of his family. These family members are his mother, Kerry; his father, Jonathan; and his doting 8 year old brother, Jordan. The Kerr family lives in Northern Ireland.
Kerry is clearly enamoured of her little boy. In her own words, she “can’t bear to be away from him” and could just “gobble him up”. This is probably intensified by the fact that Eaton had been an unproblematic infant, who slept well, ate well and rarely cried. Kerry and Jonathan apparently had an easy time in the first few months after his birth. This is evident in the casual and relaxed manner that can be seen with the entire family.
It is a well-known fact that depressed mothers find it difficult to respond to their children’s needs. In a poor attempt to discipline her toddler, Kerry tries to implement strict upbringing rules which are often not suitable to Eaton’s developmental phase. This is clearly corroborated by the evidence of Eaton’s corresponding stunted development. However, the little boy is shown as striving to obey his mother, only becoming rebellious at the often-dreaded bedtime etc, thus showing signs of his first battle for independence at eighteen months.
Poor sleep hygiene that is common among depressed patients is also proving to be problematic in the mother-child relationship. In the video, classifying humans according to their sleep patterns, Eaton is categorised as a lark – early to bed and early to wake; while Kerry is a contradicting owl – who is up till late at night and, consequently, stays in bed till late in the afternoon. This means that Eaton is often up, for hours, sometimes for up to three and a half hours, crying for his mother before he gets any attention. He is losing numerous battles for his independence in this ‘power struggle and is learning that he has no control over his environment. Although it is not voiced in the videotape, the constant absence of Eaton’s father, Jonathan, suggests possible family problems. He has to leave for work early as he helps run the family energy business, and appears to be blissfully unaware of the problems in his home. Therefore, Kerry is probably going through these difficult times alone. Without the vital family and social support, her depression is likely to worsen and would essentially adversely impact on her little boy.
Progress testing: carried out by a child development specialist with picture books and block shapes. The results of this showed that Eaton could complete less than one third of his tasks and is behind other children of his chronological age.
Empathy testing: using a scientifically based questionnaire, Kerry scored high on the empathy testing. However, she has been unable to pass this on to Eaton who scored very low on these tests, having a tendency towards blatant aggression towards not just his mother, but also to his eight-year old brother, Jordan. This sort of behaviour could lead to bullying traits in the future.
Interaction experiment: this shows that Kerry is unwilling to allow Eaton grow and learn. By limiting his playtime to toys and games that don’t stimulate him, she is inadvertently limiting his development, probably in an unconscious and failing attempt to foster attachment to her. It seems she doesn’t want him to gain independence, but would rather he remain dependent on her.
Analysis of child-mother interaction: a literature review
According to Bowlby’s theory, through physical and emotional closeness with a parent or caregiver, the child develops an internal working model, reflecting the parent’s own response to him/her. In Eaton’s case his thought process might mirror the insensitivity that he has experienced from his depressed mother, and could potentially cause problems in the future.
Family dynamics: a secure base
The point of attachment should ideally provide a secure base from which the child can explore the environment and return when he/she feels fearful. If Eaton lacks that secure haven, his mental health would be compromised.
In his book, A Secure Base, John Bowlby (1998) describes the initiation of the mother-infant interaction. He highlights an initial elation and extreme possessiveness immediately after delivery. This phase was probably evident in Kerry, in the first few months when she stated her joy and reluctance to let Eaton out of her sight. However, the well documented lively social interaction alternating with phases of disengagement may have developed a pronounced effect of the latter phase, especially after the disheartening results of her hospital scan.
It is not clear from the brief clips of the videotape which, if any, of the above factors are applicable to Kerry’s experience. However, interpreting non-verbal communication and appearances, I think it is possible that Kerry receives little or no support around the house, especially as Jonathan departs for work early and eight-year old Jordan would be if limited help. This proposed lack of support could mean that Kerry does not have her own personal security base and might have been in need of assurances. While we are not privy to Kerry’s birth experience during the delivery of little Eaton, her past medical history, in addition to that statement “I’ve cheated life once alreadyâ€¦”, suggest that she may have had a difficult pregnancy, which, in addition, could have led to prolonged periods of separation from her newborn in the periods immediately following the birth.