Rol van moeder en vader, help kinderen opgroeien!

The Listening Centre

HELPING CHILDREN GROW UP By Timothy M. Gilmor, Ph.D. Director, The Listening Centre

© 1989 The Listening Centre
Consulting and Clinical Services using the Tomatis Method


“For in the infant is the future of our world. A mother should hold that infant close so that he knows the world is his. A father should take that infant to the highest hill to show him how wide and wonderful “his” world is.” Mayan Proverb circa 1000 B.C.

This wise and ancient proverb was brought to my attention by a Mexican colleague who was struck by how much it reflected the philosophy of our clinical approach in applying the Tomatis Method at the Listening Centre. In addition to the sessions of auditory stimulation used to develop their child’s ability to listen, parents have found the counsel we offer most useful in helping them to create a better atmosphere for growth and happiness in the child’s life at home, at school and with friends. It is a humanistic and positive approach, one that redirects the parents’ attention to the child’s potential rather than to his problems. It helps parents identify those resources unique to the mother and those unique to the father, which can be balanced and brought to bear upon the process of parenting. Mobilizing each parent’s resources in a complementary fashion can make the child’s growing up years much more easy and satisfying for everyone in the family. This is even more important when the child has developmental difficulties of one kind or another, which affect their listening, language and communication.

What a mother means to a child

When we talk about the role of the mother, we look at it from the child’s point of view. A woman can play many roles – wife, businessperson, entrepreneur, teacher, disciplinarian, therapist, the list goes on. But what children see in the woman is their mother; the other roles only dilute their sense of having their mother and what she represents close to them.

The child has a profound relationship to the mother – it begins during the prenatal life and continues to be the primary relationship and quite literally, the link with life itself for years to come. A breach in this relationship can affect the child’s confidence in himself, in life itself. The mother’s affirmations of the child’s life, her embrace (both literal and figurative), are vital for the child’s emotional growth and well-being. The maternal embrace nurtures the child’s sense of worth and welcome; it is the beginning of his humanization.

For the child the mother represents life itself. She is associated more with where we’ve come from, the past, our “ground”. The roots of this link can be traced back to the prenatal life when the pregnant woman and the unborn co-exist in a unique relationship whose hallmark is creation. The ramifications of this period are profound as more and more research evidence is demonstrating. It is a small wonder we refer to our planet as “mother earth”, a reminder of the importance of the mother’s place in our lives.

The mother’s love or “embrace” and her encouragement are extraordinarily important for the child’s sense of security and for his or her motivation to be a part of life.

The mother’s own attitude toward life, her own adjustment in it will have a direct bearing on the quality of her embrace. It is her most important resource and when deployed effectively provides enormous happiness and satisfaction in the relationship.

Trouble for the relationship begins when the mother puts on foreign hats – the role of teacher, therapist, and disciplinarian. Each of these roles has one thing in common – the message implicit in each is “it’s time to grow up, to accept responsibility for yourself and get on with making you own way in life.” Some aspects of this message are attractive. Growing up means to open up new horizons, to discover, and face new learning opportunities and to broaden one’s sense of mastery. In other ways the prospect of growing up is unattractive. It means leaving the familiar for the unknown and, ultimately, leaving mother and home behind.

When the mother is the one who delivers the message to grow up – “clean up our room,” “make your bed,” “brush your teeth,” “do your homework,” “Act you age” – it can be perceived by the child as a push out of the nest, even a rejection. They say to themselves “Mom wants me to grow up, she mustn’t want me around anymore.” The child resists the message in order to preserve the status quo in the relationship – (i.e. “I have her and want to keep her near me”.) The response may be open defiance (“I won’t), or compliance under protest to avoid her punishment. In any case, the compliance becomes mother-dependent as the child accepts responsibility only if mother is there to reinforce the behavior. The joy of learning and growing up is diminished.

An underlying tension marks the relationship and it becomes more and more difficult for the mother and child to feel good about each other, to relax and enjoy each other’s company, to be playful, to celebrate life. Patience is short, negative attention- seeking behavior increases along with open fighting, disputing and arguing. The nourishment of the mother’s love doesn’t flow as easily or spontaneously. There is no catalyst for emotional growth. The child reverse to more and more immature ways of responding to the demand to grow up and in effect calls forth the resources of the baby within him to avoid the challenge of growth. This is where many mothers and children find themselves without knowing why.

What the father means to a child

As much as the mother’s image is associated with where we’ve come from for the child, the father’s image is linked with where we’re headed, the future, the world away from home, away from the mother. This world uses language for learning and communication; it offers school, the social realm with its rules and regulations. All these are more closely tied to the father’s image and as such the father is in a better position in his role to ask the child to grow up.

When the growing up message is delivered by the father or on his behalf it is perceived by the child as an invitation to join him in the growing up process as opposed to a push out of the nest. The child can move toward the world away from mother with mother’s support and encouragement and with father’s direction and guidance. This

balance will maximize each parent’s resources in the process of helping the child grow up. With father’ s help they can move toward discovery and toward their future knowing the return to the mother is open and a welcome awaits them at home whether they succeed or fall short in their venture forth.

In our age the mother is asked to do too much for the child as far as the growing up issue is concerned. She is often the one responsible not only for the child’s physical care and emotional well-being but also for monitoring the child’s school progress and socialization. Often she also finds herself on the front line when discipline is required. All these growing up matters are better handled by the father or at least on his behalf when he’s unable to take charge in person. Yet how many fathers take time to talk to their children about what it means to grow up? How many supervise their children’s chores and discipline at home? How many attend parent meetings at school or at least talk to the teacher to find out how their child is doing? How many teach the child to value their mother and what she does for them? At the same time the mother must present a positive image of the father to the child and encourage the child to move in the father’s direction.

The father’s influence on the child’s growth begins indirectly with his physical and emotional support of the mother during the pregnancy and after birth. It becomes more direct when verbal dialogue with the child can be established. Discipline evolves best through dialogue with the father. Otherwise it is bound to be perceived as arbitrary and authoritarian.

Unfortunately, fathers are in competitions with television and other talking devices these days for the ear of their child and are frequently seen but not heard in the home. Many fathers do not find it easy to talk to their children or simply don’t value dialogue with their children. This shuts off an important avenue for the child to reach the world the father represents. The child needs guidance and direction in the climb “to the highest hill.”

How to mobilize parental resources

Firstly, we find it useful to recommend that the mother concentrate on who the child is rather than what the child does. She must reinforce the child’s sense of being a welcome addition to life, to cultivate and water the ground as it were. This is best accomplished through play and dance and song for very young children, through reading aloud, story telling and mutually enjoyable game-playing for older children, and through a reassuring smile, hug, work o encouragement for all our life. The symbolic umbilical cord, the life line from the unborn child to the mother who gives life should never be cut but rather stretched and narrowed. For this link is with life itself.

Secondly, we remind fathers to value the mother in the eyes of the child) whatever his feelings may be for her as his wife.) He must assume a prominent role in matters related to growing up, spear-head and coordinate plans t help the child meet the demands of being a responsible member of society. This includes managing chores at home and valuing school and schoolwork, teaching the child how to use the tools he or she will need to make their own way in the world away from home, and administering discipline when necessary. This however, is most effective when based on a relationship grounded in verbal dialogue.

The application of these principles in parenting can be adjusted to meet particular circumstances. Single-parent families are more and more common. Remember, it is the image of the mother or father, which is as important as the person. This is especially true of absent fathers. The father’s image may be made present to the child by the mother talking about him in his absence. The father can call or write the child n his physical absence. If it is not possible or desirable for the father to take an active role a substitute male can provide a paternal image (older brother, uncle, godfather, teacher, Big Brother). Heroes in our culture often serve this end.

The permanent absence of the mother is ore difficult for the child but again her image can be a part of the child’s daily life through a caring substitute female. It’s likely that children who have had a loving welcome into life – especially during the prenatal period – will be better able to cope with separation or loss of the mother.

Most parents find this paradigm useful. It makes sense and allows them to understand why they are not being as successful in their parenting as they want to be. It explains for example, why children invariably comply much more quickly when asked to do something by the father than by the mother.

In some instances where the mother’s love and encouragement are nourishing, the child will be more receptive to the message to grow up mo matter from whom it comes. But all too often the growing up message is the most prominent one coming from the mother and when this is the case resistance and tension build, and her love does not nourish the child sufficiently to stimulate his own desire to grow. This is the time for her to relinquish the directing role in favor of activities that assure the child of her unconditional love. The father must be ready to assist her and to take charge of growing up matters.

This clinical approach is based on the work of Alfred Tomatis. It has been used successfully in my practice over the last ten years. It is not intended to stereotype men and women with roles that are considered to be old-fashioned and out of favor. Men and women can play and do play many more roles in our modern day society than they have in the past. This is good. However, the child sees only the mother in the woman who carried and bore him and needs that part of her for his well-being. The same applies to the father. What is important is the child’s perception of the man and woman who are his parents, not the parent’s view of themselves.


A year ago I met the mother of a ten-year-old girl who had suffered brain damage at a very young age from injuries sustained in a car accident. She was a pretty girl with bright eyes and a ready smile. Much of her daily life was spent in a wheel chair. She had limited ability to move her arms and it took much effort for her to control her hands to play with toys or to hold a paintbrush – things most children can master without difficulty. Her speech was limited to simple words and phrases, which couldn’t come close to matching to expressiveness of her eyes.

The parents had brought her to the centre several months earlier and they had observed improvement in Julie soon after she began listening to the sessions of filtered sound including a simulation of her prenatal listening experience using the mother’s voice. She had become more chatty, more alert to the world around her. They said her comprehension was better and she seemed more cheerful.

As I listened to Julie’s mother talk it became clear she was carrying a heavy load. For years the care of her daughter had consumed many of her waking hours. There had been the shock and anguish of seeing her only child’s normal, healthy and happy development shattered by the injuries sustained in a car accident. The parents then pulled together to face the reality of their daughter’s now multifaceted developmental problems and they sought help for her from many different professionals.

The assistance came from physicians, counselors, physical and motor therapists, speech and language specialist, and others. Much was gained over the years from all these interventions but keeping up with the schedule of appointments and following through on the many recommendations (including home exercises) became a full-time job, which fell as it usually does to the mother.

Like most who want to best for their children, Julie’s mother performed the myriad duties willingly and conscientiously with the guidance and support of the various professionals involved. Over time she knows intuitively that there were non-monetary costs associated with her expanding role as the surrogate therapist of her child. At first she readily embraced this role, which offered her the opportunity of doing more for her child. The signs of progress from the various therapies confirmed her belief in her child’s potential to perform better and better but they were never sufficient to diminish her concern about Julie’s future.

The mother realized that more and more of her time each day was spent as her daughter’s teacher, at-home-therapist or chauffeur. She enjoyed being with her daughter and didn’t mind the extra time taken by these roles. But it was becoming evident that carrying out these roles was creating an undercurrent of conflict and tension in their relationship. The constant demands she was making of Julie to perform in some way or other led to times of frustration, anger and emotional discord as the will of mother and child clashed over how satisfactory and how much performing on Julie’s part was enough.

The aftermath of these clashes could be seen first in a child who was increasingly resistant to mother’s demands to cooperate and more motivated to retreat to her inner world of imagination and fantasy – a sanctuary from the demands and responsibilities of growing up – and second in a mother filled with guilt, increasing self-doubt and discouragement.

Tension seemed to be an inescapable by-product of the constant pressure to make her daughter perform. It was a classic double bind. If the mother surrendered to her daughter’s resistance, she felt badly about failing to fulfill her duties to the therapeutic programs. When she forced her daughter to comply under protest, she felt like the “wicked witch of the west.” This double bind tightened over the years.

It was becoming more and more difficult for the mother to maintain a balance between the duties and obligations imposed but the busy schedule of therapies and the freedom to pursue activities necessary for nourishing her womanhood and her marriage. Julie’s mother noticed her patience was shrinking, she was more easily upset by minor annoyances, she had bouts of depression and found herself increasingly attracted to forms of escape. It became harder to maintain a positive outlook and difficult to avoid slipping into self-pity. After 12 years of marriage, her husband left to start a new life for himself. She had been on her own with Julie for only a few months when I met her.

As we talked about what each parent means to the child, it relieved Julie’s mother to know that the trouble between them was not so much a reflection of inability on her part or insolence and stubbornness on her child’s part but rather a symptom of a wounded relationship in which both were suffering.

It also reduced the mother’s guilt and self-reproach for not being able to meet everyone’s expectations of her – the ex-husband, the doctor, the therapist, the teachers. While each gave her resources needed to help Julie, the process saddled the mother with the job of implementing activities, which were imbued with the message to “grow up and be responsible”. The mother could not avoid directing and judging Julie’s performance. It just wasn’t working.

Julie’s mother agreed to take a “sabbatical” from her directing roles for at least two months and to increase time spent on more playful and mutually agreeable activities. This complemented the work of the listening training program and the combined results were significant.

Julie and her mother were happier together, the tension of the push and pull diminished; there was more laughter and light-heartedness. Julie’s resistance to her mother’s demands of her diminished and her therapists reported a notable change in her cooperation and compliance to their program’s demands. She showed more initiative and effort. Her heart was now in it and she made steady gains in spite of the much-reduced mother-directed at-home-therapy. The father facilitated this change by taking a higher profile in Julie’s therapeutic programs.

A year later the positive changes continue and Julie’s mother reports their relationship “has never been better”.