When Cammy Latimer and her 2-year-old child, Alyxandria, were placed in the Strange Situation laboratory, the video revealed a complex interplay. As her mother stepped out of the room, Alyxandria, though unsettled, continued playing, and she remained absorbed in the toys when her mother came back. At the end of the session, mother and daughter played out a scene familiar to any parent: Asked to put away the toys, Alyxandria resisted and haggled until her mother did the job.
Watching the replay later, Latimer smiled at the sight of Alyxandria's manipulations and defiance. "Especially when I was in public places, I was very reluctant to have an argument with her, so I let many things slide," she said. The video suggested that, like many loving parents, Latimer relates to her young daughter in a variety of guises. Sometimes she was the wise, engaged mother, as when reading to her child. Other times she came across more as a friendly partner, a kind of big sister.
In counseling sessions that followed, Latimer was encouraged to expand on the role of wise, strong mother and to reflect on the origins of the mother as friend. "Our belief is that all parents have an inner gyroscope, a North Star" of parenting to guide them, said Hoffman. "The issue is that there are often experiences in our own past that create dissonance when we start to trust that sense of balance."
Often treated as a friend by her own mother, Latimer recalled taking control of situations when she was very young, even though she wasn't ready to do so. "I'm still very close to my mother -- we talk every day -- but I could see that with Aly she wanted me to take control and let her know what to do." At the end of the Marycliff program, the Latimers visited the Strange Situation again, also on videotape.
This time the little girl gets visibly upset when her mother leaves. When mom gets back, she jumps in her lap, and the two read a book together for a few minutes. Alyxandria then cleans up all the toys. "I do still get frustrated sometimes, but now it's like I stand back and remind myself I'm the bigger, stronger, wiser person here," Latimer said. "I don't end up screaming at anyone anymore."
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