A young mom at the airport was on her cell phone. Her 4-month-old infant in a stroller was crying — obviously hungry. As the baby’s stress level and crying escalated, she pulled a bottle out of the diaper bag and propped it in her baby’s mouth, continuing with her call.

But, the baby was too young to hold the bottle. Repeatedly, the bottle slipped, the baby cried and the mother re-positioned the bottle while she talked on the phone without interacting or comforting her child.

Patricia Snyder, director of the Anita Zucker Center, who observed this encounter, reflected on her work with families. Snyder considered this mother’s capacity as a caregiver and wondered where there might be a strength on which to build. She gained insight when a woman traveling with a small dog sat near them. Turning away from her cellphone for the first time, the mom began interacting with the dog in a compassionate manner.

“For me, this was a concrete and powerful example of a mother who would benefit greatly from the kind of work we do,” Snyder said. “She clearly had the capacity but didn’t understand the importance of having those same kinds of responsive and nurturing interactions early and often with her child.”

Read more in The Early Years (pdf)