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What are the essential ingredients of “mothering”? What is it about parental care that affects the intellectual and emotional development of the child? Psychologists have historically sought answers to these questions in studies of weaning, toilet training, and parental attitudes toward discipline, but all without much success. In this book, Rudolph Schaffer offers a new answer based on a variety of modern studies of the minute-to-minute interactions between mother and child. Detailed observations have revealed that the infant is not just a passive recipient of maternal care. Rather, he IS an active participant in a multitude of behavioral interchanges between mother and child, ranging from the simple give and take of breastfeeding to the later sophistications of early language games. Schaffer argues that the essence of good mothering lies not in rigid schedules or floods of stimulation but in the sensitivity the mother brings to her part in the mother–child dialogue, often unconsciously timing her responses to correspond to the infant’s periods of receptivity.
Schaffer raises the provocative question: “Do babies need mothers?” He concludes that, although the exclusive care of the woman who gave birth is not essential, babies do need loving relationships with familiar people who provide consistent care throughout the years of childhood. This is a conclusion that surely has important consequences for our attitudes toward day care, working mothers, and the structure of the nuclear family.