Who could argue that the birth of a child is not a magical event? Besides ‘magic,’ however, there are other words that could accurately describe this period, like the word ‘changes’ – Changes in our everyday routine, sleep, mood, priorities, expenses, social interactions and, most of all, our social roles.
We are now the ‘mum’ or the ‘dad’ of someone and this is a characteristic that will accompany us forever. It is a quality, nevertheless, that changes over time, in terms of its contents and its associated responsibilities. Earlier researchers suggest that the growth of the brain is dependent upon and influenced by the socioemotional environment, and for the developing infant the mother essentially is the environment.
In the decades afterwards, however, the importance of fathers to their children’s development has increasingly gained recognition. Therefore, I would say that the role of the parent (both of the mother and the father) is especially important during the first steps of a child’s development.
Imagine our life as a ball rolling down a hill. We are all born with traits we do not choose and cannot change over the course of our lives (for example our ethnicity or our genes). Similarly, the ball we imagined rolling down the hill has a specific weight and shape that does not change over time. Even before the ball begins to descend, the hill already has valleys and rocks that can either facilitate or hinder the ball’s path.
But there are many other characteristics that may change throughout our lives and that can significantly affect our pathways from the very beginning until the end, such as our relationship with our parents.
Our hill, therefore, is truly dynamic; it can change at any time as the ball rolls, creating new valleys or rocks that can direct the ball to new paths – sometimes smooth and sometimes not so much.
If a child is born into a family in which one of the parents experiences mood instability (such as depression or bipolar disorder), studies show that this can contribute to the development of an ‘obstacle’, a risk that may direct the child onto a difficult path in their own emotional development. At the same time, however, we know that not all the children whose parents experience mood instability will face emotional difficulties in their lives.
This is a clear indication that there must be other factors that support the child to incorporate this ‘obstacle’ in their ‘hill’ without changing the pathway or there must be some resilience factors that allow the ball to bounce back to a smooth path of emotional development.
As part of my PhD at the University of Edinburgh, I explore the characteristics that may support the smooth emotional development of babies whose parents experience mood instability during this period.
If you are a mother or a father with a baby up to 2 years old, and find this purpose as important as we do, please put on some music and grab a cup of tea. You could support our mission by simply completing this survey.
It will take around 20–25 minutes to complete this survey. Your participation is completely anonymous, and the survey is open to all parents, regardless of mental health status or place of living. At the end of the survey, you will be able to take part in a prize draw to win an iPad mini and to express your interest in receiving an overall summary of the survey findings. If you decide to take part, you will be asked to answer a few simple questions about your baby’s usual behaviours, your mood, feelings, and thoughts.
Your contribution is very valuable. A better understanding of the role of these characteristics could help new and future parents and their babies to get the support they need for a smooth rolling down the hill.
If you would like to take a peek at my other research project (recruitment also ongoing), focusing on the parenting experiences of mothers with bipolar disorder and their partners, you may want to watch this video.
Aigli Raouna is a PhD student in clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh.