Basic gestures of life

Claudia Grah-Wittich

We can no longer today assume a single, generally valid model of the family. And yet there are archetypal maternal and paternal gestures which form the fertile soil for the development of the child and which exist independently of the outer form.

In counselling families and in the encounter with them it is always surprising how they live together. A father with children from his first marriage? A mother with children from her second marriage? Or both of them bring children with them to the new relationship, married or not? They have lived together for years but he calls the mother of his children girlfriend and she calls her partner her husband. Single parents – amicably with shared custody or in conflict with a court order. Granny brings the children up, the children live there most of the time and at the weekends with the parents. Finally, various religious, cultural and philosophical backgrounds…

There is nothing you won’t find – and when we look at the essential quality of the attachment and the inner network of relationships between the attachment figures, then it becomes clear that we can certainly no longer assume a single family model. Every family has its own laws, its own mantle, in which each individual development is marked in its dynamic by the respective socio-cultural background.

But what always remains the same in all this diversity? Every baby human requires an act of procreation to obtain existence – or rather, two creators for the “act”. The two protagonists of this event are and remain complementary elements in the form of a feminine, enveloping, resting quality, the quality of an inner space (womb), and in the form of an overflowing, active masculine abundance which has to destroy a mantle in order to fertilise. These polarities in their unity form the basis of life and thus these qualities will always be something which we have to refer back to as an archetypal gesture within the diversity of life.

Children need masculine and feminine qualities

When we look at small children, the question always arises whether there is a masculine and feminine quality available in an appropriate form as the basis for individual development? Are the diverse and individual family structures in whatever gender relationships able to provide the forces of masculinity and femininity as the mantle for individual development? This polarity is like a fertile soil for the development of the child: the development into a self-determined being in freedom and autonomy, on the one hand, and to become capable of relationships through the experience of security and warmth on the other.

The first part of this polarity, making the world our own in a purposeful way, is more of a masculine gesture. But this basis for the fundamental need of the human being to explore requires a nourishing mantle and a trusted relationship which is maternal in its gesture. Thus we develop two basic abilities for our individual life: self-determination and the ability to form relationships; they are independent of gender but originate in the gesture of the given gender – even if today it is something of a challenge to our consciousness as to how it can be brought about in a family structure.

The various family models offer the opportunity to look at what is essential and to take leave of traditions which have often lost their meaning. Our time demands the courage to say “yes” to nonconformity and also to individual forms of living. Respect for the distinction of the other is a prerequisite for being able to develop in diversity and variety.

But the prerequisites for a healthy family today are more than the nature of its composition and the wealth of ways of living. It is the question of how I create an environment for the crucial development of the child in which self-determination and the ability of a person to form relationships can develop.

About the author: Claudia Grah-Wittich is a qualified social worker and works in early years support and counselling. She is responsible for the advanced training course: “Counselling parents – learning to see children in a new way” at the “Hof” in Frankfurt-Niederursel.