D. W. Winnicott (1896-1971), an English paediatrician and psychoanalyst, offered especially useful and innovative ways of thinking about the social and psychological dynamic between mothers (caregivers) and infants. He shared with Melanie Klein, one of his major influences, an understanding of how children come to feel and know the mother as separate and independent, with both good and bad qualities. The ‘good enough’ caregiver produces a facilitating environment (i.e. holding), adapts to the infant’s needs and demands and feels the child’s need to transition towards autonomy on his or her own terms. It is only gradually based upon the child’s increasing capacity to tolerate maternal failure that the good enough parent reduces the nearly total adaptation to the infant’s needs. These moments of failure, in turn, enable adaptation to the external environment and contribute to the developing internal world and healthy sense of autonomy. These well-timed and steady moves towards autonomy, both maternal and infant, moreover, enable the infant to gradually predict subtle environmental changes and develop a sense of control. Autonomy, because it is never fully achieved, means that throughout life we seek moments of comfort, dependence and belonging.
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