A Newborn’s Entry Into a Family

  • June 13, 2024
  • Wendy Levin-Shaw, MSW, LCSW
  • 1 Comment

Attention is always choosing a focus and we judge what we perceive based on what we already have perceived.

If we wonder what we are seeing and look again, maybe we will see something different. From Meditation with Rhonda Rosen

I spent a week with my pregnant daughter, son-in-law, and their 20- month-old son before the birth of their new baby. I watched this three-person system and how it shifted when their new baby was born. For the next 3 weeks, I watched the relationships in the new four-person system as I wondered how the relationship of mother and newborn son would develop.

There is a creek behind their house that is about 25 feet wide. It is the back end of a bay and so is affected by the tides. I watched the current and wondered about the water source and its relationship to the direction of the current. “You are only seeing the top layer of the water,” said my son in law, “It is affected by what is happening down below.”

The waters beneath the initial relationship of mother and newborn son –

I see the strong connection of mother and son and the concern she expresses: how will he respond when the new baby enters the family?  Mother worries when she will be away from him.

There is a strong connection between mother and father as husband and wife – they demonstrate care and respect for one another, and quietly negotiate when they disagree. I watch the fun and the pride the father has for his first son.

I, the maternal grandmother, visit, coming a week in advance to strengthen my connection to my grandson and learn his routines as I will be the caretaker when his parents are away at the hospital. My presence eases the worry of my daughter, my son-in-law tells me.  My husband, daughter’s father, comes right before the birth to help the young family. Our presence supports the new father as he feels his responsibility shared. We get along well.

After the birth –

The older son expresses missing his mother and his father though he accepts the care of his grandparents. There is increased expressed need for his parents when his baby brother arrives home with his parents.

The parents try to use the established routines for reassuring their 1st son and use the presence of the grandparents to watch and hold the newborn so parents can attend to the 1st child. They introduce the 2 brothers in an intentional way. They involve the toddler in helping them. The toddler focuses most on his connection to his parents, not the presence of the newborn, though does show some awareness and attention when he cries. The maternal uncle visits for a few days and the toddler requests his attention, an easy way to give mother and father more time. All this in the very early days of this growing family.   

In studying Bowen Family Systems Theory, I have learned to attend to how the mother/baby dyad is impacted by the relationships that exist around them. I reflect on the difference between when a firstborn enters a family and a second  follows. The parents’ care of each child is mediated by the other child. The maternal grandparents are an important support in the initial days.

The remaining extended family members live far from them, across the country or across the world and so they may have little familial in-person support as they raise their children. This, too, will influence the relationship of the mother and newborn-son and the other relationships in this nuclear family. 

This birth takes place in the midst of a multi-generational family. There are many who have come before him and it remains to be seen who may come after. There is a myriad of factors in the family and in life which will influence the connection of this mother and this child. This is one effort to observe in situ the beginning of this unique relationship. 

Wendy Levin-Shaw, MSW, LCSW

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One Reply to “A Newborn’s Entry Into a Family”

  1. I found this narrative interesting as I have recently become a great grandmother and, too, have been observing the relationships between the parents, grandparents, sibs of the parents and the fourth generation, me. The integration of a new member into an already existing system brings new perspectives for the observer as each generation moves up one notch and how that fits and is accepted by each. Ms. Levin-Shaws’ observations illustrate that re-organization and how it involves all those present, then will reflect in their relationships with those not present. Ms. Levin-Shaw aptly wrote of the power of simply being present. I very much liked the start of the narrative and its metaphor of the water and its undercurrents. I marvel at the rapid development in the newborn as it establishes its own relationships. It refreshes awareness in the depth of a family system.

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