“Freud has shown one thing very clearly that we only forget our infancy by burying it in the unconscious; and that the problems of this difficult period find their solution under a disguised form in adult life.”―Herbert Read, 20th century British philosopher
Very small children, in fact, infants, are perceived as not being fully aware about their surroundings or the people around them yet they respond to both positive and negative stimulus which many think, is due to their instinctive abilities. This might be true to some extent but renowned psychologists have emphasised that an infant is an active learner who is constantly trying to “assimilate all the sights and sounds that meet its senses” (Jean Piaget). Adults usually say and do things before infants in utter disregard of their cognitive perceptions, without realizing the marks they leave on their brain that is still in the process of development. In the modern world, vast researches using computers and imaging technologies have been undertaken to study brain activities in an infant when placed in certain conditions. These have helped parents, family and caregivers to better handle infants but the fruits of these studies have yet to reach the majority of our people, especially in the rural areas, whose ignorance in these matters often leads to distortions in the personalities of the children.
An impoverished husband and wife in Central Punjab were forced to give up their older two children, son (A) and daughter (B) to the maternal grandparents for being raised by them while they continued to take care of the younger two, a son (C) and daughter (D), themselves. While the older siblings were studying and enjoying the comfort of their grandparents’ home, the younger two were struggling with their parents in satisfying their daily needs. The good thing was that despite hard times they too kept up pursuing their studies in a government school. Out of the ones at the grandparents’ home, the girl, B proved to be better in academics and continued onto college to get a bachelor’s degree but the boy, being a slow learner was unable to keep pace and had to drop out from school to do odd jobs. The good thing was that coming from a conservative and traditional family, all the four siblings had good moral character.
B later on moved to Lahore to her uncle’s home and over a period of two years, obtained a master’s degree in English Literature from a private university. The younger two who were living with their own parents also proved their mettle in educational achievements by scoring exceptionally well in Board examinations. This couple was fortunate that all their children, with the exception of the son, A, were gifted with intelligence and had the conviction of excelling in academia. However, the principal dissimilarity between the differently raised siblings was self-confidence. Despite being brought up in relative affluence, the older ones lacked the exuberance and self-confidence that the younger ones were fraught with giving rise to many interesting questions chief among which is, whether children respond positively to natural parents’ care even though their circumstances may not be too congenial, or that of well-to-do foster parents? From this first hand experience and observing the lives of innumerable people under adoptive care, it is quite obvious that those with the natural parents have better developed personalities and appear more self-assured.
Of all infant bearing mammals that merely care for their young ones until they can fend for themselves, the human being has the biggest challenge to nurture its offspring, both physically and emotionally. It is a dual responsibility. When performed with diligence, the outcome is in the shape of sophisticated human beings but when this is callously done then it can cause much devastation to the self-esteem of an individual that could culminate in psychological issues for himself and those with whom he is connected. They say that compared to other mammals human babies are half-baked when they are born and require an external womb that comes in the form of a caring mother whose physical proximity, tender touch, love and affection completes the process of development. Another important fact is that human brain keeps on developing till the third decade of his life but the impressions of early infancy have lasting effects.
No matter how doting foster parents are, they can hardly ever replace whatever natural parents are capable of giving. Whether it is the umbilical cord connection or sense of ownership, it undoubtedly generates an altogether unique spark in a child’s personality. Its physical and emotional growth is directly related to its social growth and behavior as well. No wonder both A and B proved deficient in comparison with C and D when it came to proving their social skills because receiving partial attention and staying alive is insufficient to ensure full potential. Late psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner insisted that babies do best when at least one person is crazy about them. These words carry volumes of books within them and emphatically point towards that one person, the natural mother, who can churn out a miraculous personality in anyone together with support from the father of the child and others in their social circle.
Something that should never be overlooked is the fact that babies store their experiences into what may be understood as a memory vault that may not be accessible but is bound to appear in their behavior and attitude as they grow up. The soft caressing hand on the cheek of a sleeping infant remains locked in the mind providing the antidote to later bouts of depression. The stress of neglect can have toxic consequences on babies making them view others with suspicion and also adversely affecting their own physical and mental health that, by the way, can end up having destructive effects for themselves and others.
So if C and D enjoy a better developed persona in contrast to A and B it should not be surprising. The faith with which they were able to assert themselves with their parents was absent in the case of A and B who may have thought twice before asking for something from their grandparents, This hesitation automatically reduces the level of confidence necessary to build strong characters. Before entering parenthood, educated couples must consider these aspects and make a conscious attempt to provide a better childhood to their children because ‘childhood really means a lot!’
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)