Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child
By Katie Allison Granju, Betsy Kennedy, R.N., M.S.N.
Perhaps you have previously heard or read about attachment parenting and come away with the impression that this parenting style can only work for traditional, nonemployed, full time at-home parents. In fact, this simply isn't true. Many working mothers and fathers today are finding ways to successfully and joyfully combine the attachment parenting style with their vocational roles. Working parents usually find that the basic attachment parenting tools, such as breastfeeding, babywearing, and a family bed can all play an invaluable part in maintaining and enhancing a healthy bond with their young children, even when their work day takes them away. And as a bonus, many working parents have found that the flexibility of attachment parenting can really simplify their very busy lives.
In this chapter we won't be telling you whether you should or should not work outside your home. That's a decision only you can make in consideration of the many factors unique to your own family. Instead what we will offer is open-ended food for thought, as well as several ideas for alternative work arrangements which may make it easier for you to meet your child's attachment needs while still earning a living. Additionally, you will gain an abundance of practical, real life advice on the hows and whys of utilizing attachment parenting tools as a working parent.
Your Baby's Need for You and Your
Decision Whether or Not to Work
It is important to start any honest discussion of balancing work and parenting with a recitation of one indisputable fact: your physical and emotional presence matters to your baby and young child. As her parent, you are not interchangeable with a substitute caregiver. This is not to say that a skilled, attuned caregiver cannot serve a complementary role to your own, but don't ever delude yourself into thinking that your baby doesn't need you. She does. In fact, child development experts are in agreement that psychologically healthy infants are actually "enmeshed" with their parents. In other words, they still don't know where they leave off and you begin. Whether you are a working or stay-at-home parent, you are irreplaceable to your baby. Far too many parents are under the mistaken impression that babies and young children don't really care who diapers, feeds and holds them, just as long as they are dry and their little tummies are full. In fact, babies clearly begin to prefer their own parents to other caregivers as early as the first days and weeks after birth. Even in the face of the most mediocre parenting, young children generally seek the company and attention of their parents as opposed to anyone else, especially when they feel tired, hungry, stressed, or frightened. This is a normal and healthy phenomenon of human development that says a great deal about how primal the parent-child attachment really is. Although every family's situation with regard to outside school or employment is different, young children's need for responsive, attached parenting remains constant.
So, what exactly does your baby or young child's intense need for you mean in terms of your decision as to whether, when, or how often you choose to be separated from her? There is no formulaic answer to that much-discussed question, although every expert, pundit, and next door neighbor will try to tell you that there is. Several important factors should play a featured role in determining how soon and how much you are away from your child each day, including:
The strength of the underlying attachment between you and your child. Although you may find that a deep, strong bond between you and your baby makes it more difficult for you to leave her in the first place (which is a natural, healthy response on the part of an attached parent), this bond provides an emotional foundation that is critical to her ability to successfully deal with any necessary work-related separations from you. As we have been discussing throughout this book, a loving attachment between parent and baby grows as a result of such things as very early parent-child bonding, the biological boost of breastfeeding on cue, frequent physical contact from loving touch, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, and--perhaps most importantly-consistently responsive parental caregiving (meaning that, when she lets you know that she needs you, you respond without hesitation). In order to maximize the attachment promoting benefits of these factors before leaving your "nest" to go back to work, employed parents should take the very longest parental leave they can possibly manage. But don't then spend your parental leave-whatever its duration-obsessing over the day when you will return to your job. And don't buy into the idea that allowing your child to become "too attached" or "too dependent" on you now will make it more difficult for him when you return to work. By spending your time enjoying your baby and consciously fostering his attachment to you (and vice versa), you will find that when you do begin leaving for some or all of the workday, the strong bond you have forged keeps the two of you emotionally tied together even when you are apart. If the time comes for you to return to or begin outside employment and you do not feel completely confident in the attachment that you share with your child, you may want to postpone regular separations from him.
The quality and consistency of the substitute childcare you will be able to provide. Study after study has attempted to make a definitive judgment concerning the effects of maternal employment on young children. Each researcher comes to a slightly different conclusion, which various interest groups then use in an attempt to prove their particular argument for or against parents leaving their young children to go to work. However, virtually everyone involved in this heated debate is able to agree on one point: if a parent is going to be separated from her baby or young child, the quality and consistency of the substitute care to which she entrusts her little one is of critical importance. A really terrific, preferably long-term substitute care arrangement is an absolute fundamental for working attachment parents. In an upcoming section of this chapter we will discuss how to evaluate and choose substitute care for your child. However, as you decide whether you will work at all, you should make a commitment to yourself and your child that any childcare you do employ will be uncompromising in its quality. For some attachment parents, the cost of childcare that meets their high standards is simply prohibitive, thus swaying their decision away from full-time employment during their child's early years.