Working and Parenting - Part One

Oct 8


Sally Michener

Sally Michener

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This article covers: The real issue: Attachment, For Mothers Who are Undecided, I Have to Work - We need the money, Keys to Working and Attaching, and what not to do. There will be more parts to this article so please keep an eye out for them.


The Real Issue: Attachment

The issue is not the working mother,Working and Parenting - Part One Articles the issued is attachment with your baby. The solution is to combine earning and parenting. Separating mothers into two camps does nothing but provide judgmental material for magazines and devalues one side or the other. The approach to take is to present the facts and then offer, instead of guilt-laden judgment, support for attachment and thoroughly researched advice for incorporating working and attachment. To write that full-time attachment mothering makes no difference would be dishonest, ignoring what both research and experience have shown and trading truth for popularity. Likewise, to pontificate that a baby will be absolutely disadvantaged if mother works is equally shortsighted.

For Mothers Who Are Undecided
Your baby is due in a few weeks, and you have begun your maternity leave. As you clean out your desk, you wonder, "Will I ever return? Should I return? Do I have to? Do I want to?" For the many women in this quandary who have the luxury of choice; here are answers to some questions often asked by mother about to face the decision whether to work, stay home, or both.

Does the amount of time I'm with my baby really make any difference to my child's outcome?
What you are really asking is "How important am I?" Consider the concepts of mutual giving, mutual shaping, and mutual sensitivity. Notice that your presence influences not only what you give to baby, but what baby gives to you, how interacting with your baby shapes your mothering skills. What baby does for mother is an important but underappreciated fact. Your presence is important to your baby's development, and your baby's presence is important to your development.

Are there studies showing that full-time mothering makes a difference?
Yes, but not the studies that make headlines in magazines. Again, the issue is not full- or part-time mothering, but attachment. Even the artificial divisions "full-time" and "part-time" are misleading. Yu can be full-time at-home but only part-time interacting with your baby when at home. In a nutshell, the studies conclude: The most important contributor to a baby's physical, emotional, and intellectual development is the responsiveness of the mother to the cues of her infant.

It's the attachment with your baby that counts, not just the time you spend. A baby has an intense need to be with her mother that is as basic as her need for food. But the need for food is not continuous, nor is the requirement for mother. The baby needs to be held, carried, talked to (attached), but not necessarily always by mother. Mother's availability, like feeding, is on an as-needed basis to be delivered as much as possible by mother herself. "Responsiveness" is the current buzzword among infant development specialists. Another is "reciprocity." These infant-stimulation terms boil down to a more understandable concept -- harmony. Your baby has a need and gives you a cue. Because you are present and tuned in to baby, you pick up on the cue and respond. Because baby trusts that she will receive a consistent and predictable response, she is motivated to keep cueing. The more you and baby practice this cue-response interplay, the better bay learns to cue and the better you learn to respond. The mother-baby relationship is in harmony. Baby and mother bring out the best in each other.

And don't forget the mothering hormones studies have shown it's the frequency of mother-baby interaction that is the most potent stimulator of these mothering booster.

Who Will Mother Your Baby?
When considering a return to work, ask yourself these questions: What are my options for substitute care? Is my husband willing and able to share the parenting and provide a nurturing alternative? Do I have a substitute caregiver who is basically a nurturing and responsive person? If yes, then easing back into work may be an option. If not, consider full-time mothering.

Don't sell yourself short. One reason some mothers turn their babies over to someone else is they truly believe their baby will be better off. They have such a poor self-image or such poor mother-daughter modeling from their own childhood that they cannot picture themselves as good for their babies. Your baby does not shop around; he doesn't know any "better." You are his only mother, and you are good enough. You need your baby to open you up to learning how to be a mother.

What about quality time?
The concept of quality time was marketed by the child-care industry to lessen guilt during the you-can-have-it-all style of the eighties. Initially meant for working fathers, quality time made its way into the guild-easing package for working mothers.

There is a certain value to the quality time concept. In certain situations, quality time may be the only option. One sincere, caring mother said, "I have to work all day, so quality time is all I can afford. I give up a lot of time I would ordinarily spend on entertainment to be with my child, so that when I am not working I am fully devoted to my infant. Besides quality time, I probably give him more quantity time than some nonworking mothers who spend a lot of time each day pursuing their own forms of entertainment." his mother is truly doing the best she can do. While quality time is important, so is the quantity of time. Here are some advantages of simply being there.

Baby's spontaneity. Babies are spontaneous. They play is mood dependent. One of the fallacies of baby care is that we must always be stimulating our babies. Most babies, however, have a prime time of receptivity each day, a period during which they learn best from their social interactions. Most babies have their best time in the morning. Evening times are often a bay's worst.
The "happy hour" from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. is often a cranky, fussy time of the day that is enough to drive mothers back to work. To rush home from a full day's work and feel you then have to stimulate your baby is not in the parent-infant contract. A more realistic approach is simply being available and approachable when baby needs to play or be comforted.

Missed milestones. Precious things happen when a parent is not around, shooting another arrow at the quality time target. Everyone loses when the first crawl, the first step, the first word, occur and baby's favorite guests are not at the party.

Teachable moments. Another fact of baby care that dilutes the quality time concept is the well-researched observation that baby-parent-initiated interactions. Baby looks up into the sky and sees his first bird. That's an opener. Is there someone there to share his discovery and expand on it by talking to baby about birds flying in the sky?

What are the effects of mother-baby separation?
Basically, they are a lessening of the benefits of mother-infant attachment. In recent years there has been a flurry of research validating, almost down to the cellular level, the importance of mother's presence. Fascinating findings (for example, infant animals separated from their mothers have higher levels of stress hormones and lower levels of growth hormones) are beginning to open a lot of eyes toward realizing the value of attachment. How long and how often baby can tolerate separation from mother depends much upon the strength of the mother-baby attachment, the quality of substitute attachment care giving, and the temperament of the baby.

Of course, no matter how much weighing of advantages and disadvantages you do in advance, baby will ultimately have a voice in the decision too. If you are blessed with a high-need baby, full-time mothering for a longer time may be your only real option.

A mother notes: I left a promising career to stay home when my baby was born, feeling my career as a mother was even more promising.

"I Have to Work -- We Need the Income."
If your preference is to be at home with your baby, but for financial reasons you have to work, consider these alternatives.

What does it cost to work? By the time you deduct from you paycheck the costs of convenience food, transportation, clothing, child care, increased taxes, and medical bills (infants in day-care centers get sick more often), you may be surprised by how little you have left.

Evaluate your priorities. Are you working to pay the utility bills and to feed your family? Or are there desired luxuries that can be temporarily put off? No material possessions are more valuable to your infant than you are. Consider whether you can afford not to give your child your full-time self, at least for two or three years.

Economize. Take a long, hard look at your family's spending habits. Some people are better at penny-pinching than others, and to some it is a consideration that makes them angry. (Why should they have to discipline themselves?) Yet if they can truly understand the worth of having mother with her small children full-time, the effort and belay of gratification will be worth it. With serious economizing, it is possible for some to raise a family on one income and even make a few dreams come true along the way.

Consider borrowing the extra income. The high-touch stage of infant care does not last forever. Have you considered borrowing the extra income while your child is an infant and returning to work later to repay it? Grandparents are often a willing lending source if they realize that this is one of the most valuable investments they can make in their grandchild's future.

Plan ahead. During your early years of marriage and during pregnancy, economize to save as much money as you can. Let the savings from your second income help your family while you are a full-time mother. Many couples become accustomed standard of living that depends upon two incomes. Early in your marriage consider living on one income and saving the other, lest you become trapped in the two-income standard of living after baby arrives.

Start a home business. For some couples this may be a realistic answer to the second-income dilemma. Home businesses are most successful when you do the type of work you want to do. Any work that you dislike will wear thin after a while. Examples of successful home businesses that are seen work are mail-order distributing, book-keeping, typing and word processing, selling, working with arts and crafts, giving piano lessons, working as a sales distributor, or starting your own home day care. There are professional women who bring their businesses into their homes and turn a spare room into an office. Telecommuting is a technological boon that has enabled many mothers to stay connected to their office while staying home with their baby. For example, one mother who is an editor works at her own portable home computer that is tied into the main office. She goes to her office without leaving her nest. The exciting part of home businesses is that many of them become so successful that it not only helps mother and baby stay attached, it helps husband and wife stay attached, and as the child gets older he or she can become involved in the family business. There were two mothers who wanted to stay home with their new babies but needed the second income. They started a garage business making car seat covers. This company subsequently mushroomed into a multi-million-dollar corporation.

Consider different working-time options. Besides the usual full-time or part-time employment, consider two other novel options:
* Flextime work. Work with flexible hours allows a parent to adjust the hours to be at home when the child is sick or has a special need, and it best allows spouses to share the child care.
* A shared job. In this type of arrangement two parents share the work of one full-time job. This situation allows parents to cover for each other when the children have special needs or are sick. It benefits employers because they get two minds for the price of one. For any arrangement less than full-time, you have to bargain with employers for benefit packages.

Keys To Working And Attaching

We begin this section with two real stories.

What Not To Do.

Nancy is a career woman about to deliver her first baby. Her professional voice tells her that she has studied long years to get her degree, that she feels fulfilled by her job and wants to return to it. Her maternal voice tells her, because she has researched this baby well, that a strong mother attachment is important. She fears that she may not be able to return to work easily if she gets hooked on motherhood. Subconsciously she keeps herself from getting too attached to her baby and is preoccupied with the day she has to return to work. She spends a lot of time interviewing substitute caregivers, buying things for baby, and planning her dual-career juggling act. Before she realizes it, her month at home is over, and the office scene now consumes her day. She dismisses frequent baby pangs as a side effect of mothering that soon will pass -- and it does. Baby seems to be thriving in the hands of a nurturant caregiver, and Nancy has entered the ranks of master jugglers.

In time a distance develops between mother and baby -- and between father and baby, too. The signs are subtle at first, then obvious. Come the toddler years, she and her child are locking horns. Discipline becomes a list of methods desperately snatched from the nearest book. She finds herself seeking more and more help from counselors about how to handle her unruly daughter. The attachment was not developed at a time when both mother and baby needed it, and they are now playing the difficult game of catch-up.


There will be more articles on infants, breast or bottle feeding and other related topics to follow. So please keep an eye out for more of my articles.

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