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Glucksman, M. (1987). Clutching at Straws: An Infant's Response to Lack of Maternal Containment. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(4):340-349.

(1987). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(4):340-349

Infant Observation

Clutching at Straws: An Infant's Response to Lack of Maternal Containment

Marie Glucksman

In this paper based on my weekly observations of Ben and his mother, Mrs F, I would like to focus on one theme: Mrs F's difficulty in being emotionally attuned to Ben, and Ben's response to a mother who was not emotionally available much of the time. Ben was the first child of Mrs F's second marriage, and I think it helpful to begin with some background information.

Mrs F's parents were divorced. Her father had remarried and moved out of London. Her mother moved to a flat nearby during the year and began to take care of Ben when Mrs F returned to work. When Mrs F talked to her mother during my visits, she would often do so in an irritated, condescending and dismissive manner. At one point she told me that her mother was hopeless at giving Ben a bottle - she didn't know how she had raised them as children.

Mrs F had three teenage children from her first marriage. She described that period of her life as very rough - her first husband too had children from a previous marriage, so that she had a number of children to look after at a young age in very unsettled circumstances. Her present husband also had children from another marriage (not living with them). Though Mr F helped to look after Ben at times, Mrs F indicated that he did not support her financially and was not supportive in a meaningful way in terms of their family life. She certainly appeared to be the one in control, the real head of the family. Mr F did not want her to breastfeed Ben - at one point she said they were ‘at war’ over it but that conflict was resolved when she weaned Ben (at 15 weeks) to return to work.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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