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(p. 125) Introduction to The Child, the Family, and the Outside World 

(p. 125) Introduction to The Child, the Family, and the Outside World
(p. 125) Introduction to The Child, the Family, and the Outside World

Donald W. Winnicott

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Subscriber: null; date: 21 October 2019

Originally published as the Introduction to the book The child, the family, and the outside world (pp. 911). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964.

This book seems to me to need an introduction. It is about mothers and babies, and about parents and children, and towards the end it is about children at school and in the wider world. The language I have used grows up, so to speak, with the growing child, and I hope it alters to match the change from the intimacy of infant care to a more detached relationship that is appropriate when the child is older.

Although the early chapters are addressed intimately to mothers, I am certainly not putting forward the view that it is essential for the young mother to read books about child care. This would imply that she is more self-conscious about her state than she is. She needs protection and information, and she needs the best that medical science can offer in the way of bodily care. She needs a doctor and a nurse whom she knows, and in whom she has confidence. She also needs the devotion of a husband, and satisfying sexual experiences. But she does not necessarily need to be told in advance what being a mother feels like.

One of my main ideas is this, that the best mothering comes out of natural self-reliance and there is a distinction to be made between the things that may come naturally and the things that have to be learnt, and I try to distinguish between these so that what comes naturally may not be spoiled.

I believe there is a place for addressing mothers and fathers directly, because people want to know what is happening in the early stage of infancy, (p. 126) and somehow the subject comes more to life in this way than if I were to write about mothers and babies in the abstract.

People want to know about the beginnings of their lives, and I think they ought to want to know. It could be said that there is something missing in human society if children grow up and become in their turn fathers and mothers, but do not know and acknowledge just what their mothers did for them at the start.

By this I don’t mean that children should thank their parents for conceiving them, or even for their cooperation in home-building and the management of family affairs. I am concerned with the mother’s relation to her baby just before the birth and in the first weeks and months after the birth. I am trying to draw attention to the immense contribution to the individual and to society which the ordinary good mother with her husband in support makes at the beginning, and which she does simply through being devoted to her infant.

Is not this contribution of the devoted mother unrecognized precisely because it is immense? If this contribution is accepted it follows that everyone who is sane, everyone who feels himself to be a person in the world, and for whom the world means something, every happy person, is in infinite debt to a woman. At a time in earliest infancy when there was no perception of dependence, we were absolutely dependent.

Once again let me emphasize, the result of such recognition of the maternal role when it comes will not be gratitude or even praise. The result will be a lessening in ourselves of a fear. If our society delays making full acknowledgement of this dependence which is a historical fact in the initial stage of development of every individual, there must remain a block to ease and complete health, a block that comes from a fear. If there is no true recognition of the mother’s part, then there must remain a vague fear of dependence. This fear will sometimes take the form of a fear of womani in general or fear of a particular woman, and at other times will take on less easily recognized forms, always including the fear of domination.

Unfortunately the fear of domination does not lead groups of people to avoid being dominated; on the contrary it draws them towards a specific or chosen domination. Indeed, were the psychology of the dictator studied one would expect to find that, among other things, in his own personal struggle he is trying to control the woman whose domination he unconsciously still fears, trying to control her by accommodating her, acting for her, and in turn demanding total subjection and ‘love’.

Many students of social history have thought that fear of woman is a powerful cause of the seemingly illogical behaviour of human beings in groups, but it is seldom traced to its root. Traced to its root in the history of each individual, this fear of woman turns out to be a fear of recognizing the fact of dependence, the initial dependence of earliest infancy. There are therefore good social reasons for instigating research into the very early stages of the infant-mother relationship.

At present the importance of the mother at the start is often denied, and instead it is said that in the early months it is only a technique of bodily care that is needed, and that therefore a good nurse will do just as well. We even find mothers (not, I hope, in this country) being told that they must mother their infants, this being the most extreme degree of denial that ‘mothering’ grows naturally out of being a mother.

Administrative tidiness, the dictates of hygiene, a laudable urge towards the promotion of bodily health, these and all sorts of other things get between the mother and her baby, and it is unlikely that the mothers themselves will rise up in concerted effort to protest against interference. I write this book because someone must act for the young mothers who are having their first and second babies, and who are necessarily themselves in a dependent state. I hope to give them support in their reliance on their natural tendencies, while at the same time paying full tribute to the skill and care of those who give help where the mother and father and the various parent-substitutes need help.

(p. 127) Acknoweldgement

Much of this book is based on talks broadcast by the B.B.C. at various times, and I wish to express my gratitude to the producer, Miss Iza Benzie. I would like also to thank Dr Janet Hardenberg who helped to prepare the talks for a reading (as opposed to listening) audience when they were first published.

D. W. W. (p. 128)


Editorial Note i See also ‘Some Thoughts on the Meaning of the Word Democracy’ [CW 3:5:17], ‘The Mother’s Contribution to Society’ [CW 5:3:30], and ‘This Feminism’ [CW 7:1:14].