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Social responsibility to support new parents must follow demise of Isis Parenting

Posted by Claudia M Gold  January 16, 2014 01:10 PM

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"Where I live (Paris) women are very lonely when having a baby. Is it the same in the US?"

A French journalist posed this question to me in an email interview two days ago. My verbatim response:

"Social isolation and often along with that postpartum depression are problems here in the US for new mothers.
There are mother- baby groups to try to address this issue, but not nearly enough."

Now, in our Boston communities and other places in the US, there are a lot fewer.

The economics of the sudden demise of Isis Parenting, a private retail company,is described in the Globe article today. But as my colleague at the Freedman Center at MSPP (Massachusetts School For Professional Psychology) that also runs mother-baby groups, said in reaction to the announcement by Isis, "you cant make money running mother-baby groups." 

A harsh tweet derides the company for catering to the wealthy with high end products. But in the absence of a system of social support of new parents, what choice is there? 

Isis offered what D.W. Winnicott termed a "holding environment" for new parents. Not just a physical space, but a community of relationships. This fact is reflected in a collection of tweets about Nancy Holtzman, vice president of clinical content and e-learning, at #thingsnancytaughtme.

Another way to describe what Isis offered is a "secure base:" In my book Keeping Your Child in Mind ( that was just released in France, thus the interview with the French journalist) I describe the extensive research evidence for the role of this secure base, both for parent and child, in healthy emotional development. 

John Bowlby, describing the essential role of attachment relationships in survival, spoke of a child’s need for what he called a “secure base” from which to explore the world and grow into a separate person. He also recognized the need for a mother to have a secure base of her own in order to provide this security for her child
In our culture extended families, that in past times might have offered that "holding environment" or "secure base," are often fragmented by distance and/or divorce. If one parent, usually the father, works very long hours, a new mother may feel very much alone. Isis parenting helped these parents not to feel alone. 

The United States lags behind significantly in support of new parents, as represented by a highly restrictive parental leave policy. A recent BBC article described an alternative approach in Finland: 
For 75 years, Finland's expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It's like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates.
Not only does this gift offer material help, but also an official recognition by the government that new parents have an important role to play and deserve to be valued and supported.

President Obama has recognized the need to invest resources in early childhood, and developed an Early Childhood Initiative. This is an important step in the right direction. 

But this will not help the families in the Boston area, who are now on their own with the loss of Isis. What can we do on the local level? It is my hope that government agencies, foundations and others who are in a position to support the kind of services Isis offered, that almost by definition do not make money, will step up to the plate to help fill the void. It will be an important investment in children, families and our future.

Originally published on the blog Child in Mind.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Claudia M. Gold, M.D. is a pediatrician and author of Keeping Your Child in Mind: Overcoming Defiance, Tantrums, and Other Everyday Behavior Problems by Seeing the World Through Your Child's More »


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