Jean Liedloff, in ‘The Continuum concept’, writes that the infant has no sense of the passage of time, and this, while in the womb or the loving arms of her care-giver is not a problem. She feels right. But when not in this state of ‘rightness’, when not in the arms of the caregiver is unable to ease her discomfort, even by means of hope. Hope requires a sense of time and this is a concept the infant cannot grasp.

The infant lives in the eternal now and while in arms is in a state of bliss. But out of arms the infant enters into longing and enters the bleakness of an empty universe. The ancient ancestral expectations of loving are being violated by the experience of not being held. The distance between expectations and experience determines her potential for well-being. As a result, the infant moves into disillusionment experiencing doubt and fear of being wounded by further experience, resulting perhaps finally, in resignation. Here the line of development becomes halted, until the developmental need is met.

For the infant all is right or all is wrong. If she is comfortable now, she will be comfortable later. When the mother leaves, she cannot know that the mother will be right back. The world is suddenly wrong and her suffering is intolerable. Her crying is an attempt to set the world right. If not responded to she descends into a darkness. When the mother returns the world is right again, she finds her lifeline, the environment again meets her expectations. When abandoned, want is all there is, there is nothing to feed on, no experience upon which to grow. Nothing in her evolving ancestors’ experience has prepared her to be alone, awake or asleep, nor is she prepared for the experience of not receiving a response to her cries.

The infant in arms is an experience of lightness and goodness. She is good and welcome in the world. When held, she knows her rightness and develops a conviction and confidence in this essential goodness and rightness. The infant comes to know they are good through what is reflected back to them. Without this experience an emptiness settles into the core of the self. When a baby cries until its heart is broken, it gives up, goes numb and becomes a ‘good baby’.

The baby, in modern mothering, is an enemy to be overcome. Crying is ignored to show the baby who is boss. The basic premise is to force the baby to conform to the mother’s wishes. Displeasure and disapproval are dished out when behaviour is deemed inappropriate. Indulging the infant, it is believed, will ‘spoil’ her, while socialising the child means going against her desire. The opposite is in fact true.