1st Edition

When Mothers Talk Magical Moments and Everyday Challenges from Birth to Three Years

By Ilene S. Lefcourt Copyright 2025
    186 Pages
    by Routledge

    186 Pages
    by Routledge

    When Mothers Talk is an intimate book about early child development and motherhood which offers an extraordinary view of the first three years of life and practical information that rarely gets talked about.

    Ilene Lefcourt's unique experience leading groups for over 35 years with mothers, their babies, and toddlers informs every page. Lefcourt sensitively links mothers' childhood memories with current mother-child interactions, and exquisitely details mothers' unfolding insights. Vivid examples of mothers' memories, with hidden answers to typical questions and concerns, trigger the reader's own memories, self-reflection, and new ideas. The narrative approach of When Mothers Talk speaks directly to the reader and activates an experience similar to being in a supportive mother-baby-toddler group.

    Experienced and new mothers, infant mental health students and experienced professionals will find this original book, grounded in long established ideas, exceptionally informative and inspiring.

    1. Becoming A Mother  2. A Baby Is Born  3. Childhood Memories  4. Mother-Baby and Mother-Toddler Intersubjectivity  5. Child Development Information and Self-Reflective Questions  6. Describing Your Baby and Toddler  7. Child Development Themes and Subthemes  8. Birth to 6 Months  9. 6 to 12 Months 10. 12 to 18 Months  11.18 to 24 Months  12. 24 to 30 Months  13. 30 to 36 Months  14. Growing Up


    Ilene S. Lefcourt established the Sackler Lefcourt Center in 1982. She was the director, led the mother-baby-toddler groups, and provided developmental consultation to parents for over 35 years. She taught child psychiatry residents and parent-infant psychotherapy trainees about her work. She has been a faculty member at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research Parent-Infant Program since 1995. Ms. Lefcourt is currently in private practice in New York City. She is the author of Parenting and Childhood Memories: A Psychoanalytic Approach to Reverberating Ghosts and Magic and Mother-Baby-Toddler Group Guide: A Psychodynamic Approach.

    "Ilene Lefcourt’s When Mothers Talk is a treasure - an original, creative window into the experiences of mothers, babies and toddlers. Her first book, Parenting and Childhood Memories, was full of parent-infant stories that beautifully illustrate how parents come to have deep empathy for their children and for themselves. Now she invites us into the intimate talk among mothers – the pleasures, the stresses, and the awakening of childhood memories - fairy godmothers, witches, and good enough mothers. This new book reveals solutions that different mothers find to everyday stumbling blocks. Bravo!"

    Beatrice Beebe, Ph.D., clinical professor of Psychology in Psychiatry, College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University; Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, New York State Psychiatric Institute. Author, Mothers, infants and young children of September 1, 2001. The Origins of Attachment: Infant Research and Adult Treatment. The Mother-Infant Interaction Picture Book: Origins of Attachment


    "Having a child is an extraordinary opportunity for self-understanding and growth. Ilene Lefcourt guides mothers through the maze of reverberations from the past. There is no single way to answer the myriad questions posed by mothers. The most productive and helpful way for a mother to find answers is to walk with peers and find her own path. For decades, Ilene Lefcourt has offered mothers the opportunity to discuss these issues in a protected and caring environment and for each mother to find her own answers.

    Every step in a baby and toddler’s development and each difficulty awakens a memory and provides an opportunity to share reflections, learn useful information, and discover explanations of developmental phenomena. What may feel like a failure for a mother may represent for her child a space available for progress, and an opportunity for success. This process may consolidate a child’s sense of self and mother-child connectedness.

    In this rich journey, the leader’s gaze sets the course. Like a good fairy, Ilene Lefcourt wonders and questions with mothers. She accompanies, guides, and supports them with confidence in their ability to wonder and question. When Mothers Talk is an opportunity for every mother to take a journey with this exceptional expert leader."

    Nadia Bruschweiler-Stern, M.D., pediatrician, child psychiatrist, supervisor at the University Hospital of Geneva, director of the Swiss Brazelton Center. Author, The Birth of a Mother


    "When Mothers Talk is a rare gem to keep close. Ilene Lefcourt integrates decades of scientific research with her insightful empathic imagination to deeply understand everyday mother-baby and mother-toddler interactions. She is able to imagine a baby’s and toddler’s emerging thoughts and feelings that accompany a developing sense of self. This insight into a baby’s developing mind provides a treasure trove of information.

    The relationships among women during early motherhood – mommy-friends, resonate with childhood memories and provide a framework for maternal care. Mothers’ personal stories about their friendships add a vital perspective to the challenges mothers encounter and the pleasures they enjoy. "During the first three years of motherhood, not only do mothers nurture their babies’ development, but they themselves change in many ways." Ilene Lefcourt beautifully describes intricate details of this complex process. The readers’ own memories are awakened and lead to new ideas."

    Susan Coates, Ph.D., clinical professor, Medical Psychology Columbia University. faculty, Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research; author, September 11: Trauma and Human Bonds


    "Yes, there is an inner world with fantasies and emotions in babies, toddlers, and their mothers! Ilene Lefcourt gives the readers quite a feast revealing this fact, sharing with us her vivid experience leading mother-baby-toddler groups. Her insights don't come from theory, but from real life examples, told in a sensitive way. Thus, she can illuminate aspects of the dyadic emotional life that otherwise could pass unnoticed to parents and readers. Ilene Lefcourt stimulates the internal work of mothers to elaborate emotions, offering a unique understanding of each situation, far from protocols. And she doesn’t shy away from contradictions, accepting that she is walking on the razor’s edge: how to provide comprehension without being judgmental or damping maternal spontaneity? The self-reflective questions help the reader to move from a passive stance to a more active identification with the author’s thinking mind."

    Vera Regina J. R. M. Fonseca, M.D., psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, training and supervising analyst of the Brazilian Psychoanalytic Society of São Paulo


    "Ilene Lefcourt has drawn on over 35 years of experience leading mother-baby-toddler groups to cast a light on some of the delights and difficulties many mothers experience as they care for their young children. This book broadens the scope of the already vast literature on early development by focusing primarily on the growth and development of the relationship between mother and child. While acknowledging that early development can be studied from many perspectives, Lefcourt makes it clear that her choice has been to examine early development through the lens of mother-child love and attachment. This perspective may serve as a means to integrate other perspectives.

    Central to When Mothers Talk is the consideration of the role of memory. Recollection of past events can serve to expand a mother’s understanding of the possible meanings of her child’s behavior as well as her own reactions to it as she guides her child to negotiate the world in which they are developing. The self-reflective questions can serve as a stimulus to mothers’ memories as she deals with the inevitable questions that arise when caring for babies and toddlers. The recollections can often point the way to future action.

    The implicit message of this very readable account of mothers and their children during the first three years of life is that while child rearing is often stressful it is also deeply satisfying and pleasurable. While reading I found myself recalling many of my own childhood experiences, as well as interactions with my now middle-aged children. From that perspective, this book is indeed a success."

    Margaret Hertzig, M.D., professor of Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College Cornell University.


    "Ilene Lefcourt’s remarkable book about motherhood must be set apart as the reader considers her own experiences as a child to influence her parenting. Lefcourt’s positive outlook on the legacy of Sigmund Freud highlights how unconscious memories, thoughts, and feelings impact mothering.

    Lefcourt draws attention to mothers’ attunement to children by discussing the inevitable, universal rupture and repair of unattuned interactions as loving bonds grow.

    Lefcourt values mothers’ insights about the underlying meanings of babies’ behavior and interactions. She invites mothers to consider how their own memories influence their mothering, including the impact of a young girl’s reflections on whether she wants to become a mother.

    Mothers learn how babies think, feel, and communicate their intentions: an accomplishment that enhances the sense of self of both mother and child.

    Without reservation, I highly suggest When Mothers Talk as a number one choice for mothers. Readers will remember and reflect on their own experiences as they absorb the well-detailed research findings Lefcourt offers. Lefcourt’s careful rendering of the life of a mother and her child is bolstered with exemplary examples from enlightening conversations with mothers."

    Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., faculty, Society for Psychoanalytic Study and Research; New York University. author, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior; Playing with Baby: Research-Based Play to Bond with Your Baby from Birth to One Year; Are You Living with a Narcissist?


    "This book is a moving and intimate portrayal into the wondrous world of motherhood. With deep respect for both what the mother and baby bring to this extraordinary first relationship, Lefcourt helps mothers see the baby's world as well as their own. The book will guide mothers to better understand themselves and become the parent they desire to be with clear reflective questions and suggestions for each stage of the first three years of life."

    Tovah P. Klein, Ph.D., director, Barnard College Columbia University Center for Toddler Development, associate professor, Psychology. author, How Toddlers Thrive: What parents can do today for children ages 2 to 5 to plant the seeds of lifelong success


    " ‘Your greatest qualification for being a mother is the fact that you were once a child.’ With this wonderfully insightful assurance, Ilene Lefcourt becomes our guide on a journey of self-discovery where mothers find rich new meanings in their early memories that emerge during everyday moments with their babies and toddlers. She weaves together crucial information about their developing inner life with questions that evoke the reader’s reflections about both being a child and becoming the mother she wants to be. Based on her trailblazing group work with more than 1000 mothers over 35 years, this marvelous book embodies the wisdom of women coming together in conversations that nurtured their love for themselves and for their child and shows the way for others to follow in that path."

    Alicia F. Lieberman, Ph.D., professor and Irving B. Harris endowed chair in Infant Mental Health, University of California San Francisco, director, Child Trauma Research Program, author, The Emotional Life of the Toddler; Make Room For Baby; Don’t Hit My Mommy


    "When Mothers Talk is a significant addition to books for mothers in the exciting and transformative yet often fraught terrain of parenthood. Ilene Lefcourt is unusual in her capacity to distill complex developmental concepts and scientific research findings into highly accessible, warm, and engaging language to describe everyday mother-child interactions. Drawing on decades of work leading mother-baby-toddler groups, she provides a unique conceptual framework for understanding the complexity of early parent-child relationships. She intersperses poignant stories from her groups, helpful scholarship about child development, and her own wise reflections.

    Lefcourt poses sensitive keenly crafted questions to mothers which direct their attention to their babies’ and toddlers’ capacities, communications, and inner life. Most notably, the questions direct mother’s attention to their own childhood experiences—remembered, forgotten, and newly activated. Lefcourt encourages the mothers in her groups and the reader, to reflect on their own memories in relation to what can feel like stumbling blocks in their interactions with their babies and toddlers. Mothers achieve insight into the ways in which their own childhood experiences can shape their perceptions of their babies and toddlers, and their interactions with them. Mothers find new and more satisfying responses to behaviors which might have seemed baffling or intractable. When mothers talk to each other and to Lefcourt, they find solutions that are suited to their families’ particular needs and circumstances. They also find the connection and friendship so needed at this transformative time.

    Ilene Lefcourt and the mothers in her groups are welcoming, compassionate, and comforting guides for both new and experienced mothers."

    Sally Moskowitz, Ph.D., co-director Anni Bergman Parent-Infant Program; faculty and associate dean, Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research


    "When Mothers Talk is an exceptional book for mothers. Ilene Lefcourt brings her years of experience leading mother-baby-toddler groups together with her deep knowledge of psychoanalytic theory and infant research into one elegant volume.

    A pioneer in the field of 0-3, Lefcourt synthesizes a huge body of literature on memory, theory of mind, infant development, and intersubjectivity into a beautifully written and truly inspiring guide to the entwined minds of babies and their mothers as they co-construct and navigate their developing relationship. Lefcourt’s voice resonates with gentle authority, tact, and candor as she describes the ways that mothers find meaning in what can feel like an overwhelming landscape of responsibility, passionate feelings, and at times confusion. With vivid examples along the developmental timeline from birth through toddlerhood, Ilene Lefcourt brings alive some of the challenges and successes as mothers come to know and understand their babies’ minds, while simultaneously discovering the ways their own early memories can resolve impasses.

    Through a myriad of examples, Ilene Lefcourt shows how mother-baby and mother-toddler interactions can unwittingly catapult mothers into inchoate early experiences of their own. By providing a road map that highlights cornerstones of emotional development, Lefcourt lets the voices of real mothers illuminate both the challenges and the magic of early motherhood. She sensitively acknowledges the inevitable ruptures and repairs of loving interactions. Her writing style skillfully toggles between theory and everyday examples in a way that enhances the integration of a tremendous amount of information, triggers memories, and promotes insight. My only regret in reading this book is that I did not have it to guide me when I was embarking on my own parenting journey."

    Susan Scheftel, Ph.D., faculty, assistant clinical professor of Medical Psychology in Psychiatry Columbia Psychoanalytic Center for Training and Research, child analyst, program chair Association for Psychoanalytic Medicine; vice president Margaret Mahler Foundation. author, Psychoanalytic Study of the Child papers on childhood and creativity