The issue is not the working mother, 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.