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Parsons, M. (1985). Infant Observation: A Resilient Mother and Baby. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 8(3):181-193.

(1985). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 8(3):181-193

Infant Observation: A Resilient Mother and Baby

Marianne Parsons


During 18 months of baby observations I had the opportunity to observe how an infant is able to thrive when, as well as being well endowed with health and strength from birth, she is further blessed with loving and consistent mothering.

In this paper I will describe Karen's good development chiefly in relation to Winnicott's concept of the ‘ordinary devoted mother’ and the ‘good-enough environment’, by illustrating the baby's progress from absolute dependence on her mother towards increasing independence and individuation.

Winnicott assumes that health in the early development of the individual entails what he calls ‘continuity of being’ The perfect environment is one which allows for this continuity of being by providing active adaptation to the infant's needs, so that impingements which require a reaction from the baby will be minimal. He writes,

In its beginnings the good (psychological) environment is a physical one, with the child in the womb, or being held and generally tended…. Out of this emerges the ordinary good mother with her ability to make active adaptation to her baby's needs arising out of her devotion, made possible by her narcissism, her imagination, and her memories, which enable her to know through identification what are her baby's needs. (1958, p. 245.)

Despite many disadvantages, Mrs K certainly fits Winnicott's description of the ‘good-enough mother’, and in a spontaneous, unselfconscious and unconflicted way she has enabled her baby's development to proceed naturally, without undue hindrance.

Before considering Karen's development within this framework, I would like to introduce the family which provides her with this ‘good-enough environment’.


Mrs K is divorced from the father of her eldest child, Philip, aged 14, and she has two small children by the man with whom she now lives. Karen, the baby I observed, is only one year younger than her brother Tony.

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