Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Attachment parenting and the working mama.

Can a working mama practice attachment parenting? I think so!

Below are my tips for mamas who want to practice attachment parenting but, for one reason or another, have to return to work. I’ve been frustrated by books (yes, even Dr. Sears’) that seem to guilt-trip women who don’t stay at home. For some women, going back to work is a choice. For others, it’s a necessity. My point is that attachment parenting and working outside the home need not be mutually exclusive. My aim is to help those who, like me, must return to work, but still desire to maintain the type of mother-baby relationship promoted by attachment parenting.

1. Start early.

I always knew I would practice attachment parenting, and it’s not because I read it in a book or researched it. It’s because that’s how I was raised, even if I didn’t know the term at the time. My mama practiced co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, etc.- and I somehow always felt comfortable with those things. If you, however, are not, I strongly recommend doing some reading. I think it says something about our culture when I know people who have spent more time researching what kind of toaster to buy than what method of parenting they will practice, and don’t take the time to take a breastfeeding, parenting, and/or birth class. I highly, highly recommend that pregnant women start planning early. If you’re planning on wearing your baby, get a sling or wrap and learn how to use it- even practice with a stuffed animal. If you’re going to breastfeed, start attending La Leche League or other breastfeeding support meetings, and consider a class- especially if you don’t have experienced family members or female friends to help you. Once the baby arrives, you’re barely have the time to shower, let alone educate yourself. So start early, and make sure to discuss everything with your husband/partner. If you’re looking for a good book to read, I strongly recommend Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book.

2. Pretend like you’re not going back to work.

Although preventing yourself from getting “too attached” to your baby while you are home may make it easier for you to return to work, it will ultimately make it more difficult for your baby. You’re essentially creating an emotional barrier between you. Research shows that a strong mother-baby attachment creates a child who is confident in his/ her surrounding and sure of his/her care, thus making short separations from you more bearable.

If you focus on a date in the future (i.e. when you’ll be returning to work), I guarantee you that you won’t be able to give your baby your full heart. You’ll be so preoccupied and full of anxiety that you won’t be able to enjoy the present. Don’t be afraid to accept help from others, because it frees you to devote yourself to your baby. My mama pointed something out to me recently that I think makes a lot of sense. She says that one reason why she thinks too many women quit breastfeeding early is because of fatigue- not fatigue because of breastfeeding, but because women are tiring themselves out doing other tasks- keeping the house clean for visitors, cooking, trying to quickly drop the baby weight, etc. I guarantee you nighttime feedings will be much more bearable (beautiful, even!) when you haven’t worked yourself sick during the day.

3. Consider in-home childcare.

I always thought that I would be fine with daycare. Nearly all my co-workers use one- in fact, I don’t think I can name anyone at work who doesn’t use daycare. When it came down to it, though, I just couldn’t do it. I am lucky in that my husband is able to take care of our daughter two days a week, leaving us needing care three days. I decided that I was willing to spend the extra money and hire a nanny for those three days. Trust me- it’s definitely a sacrifice financially. However, having the same loving, maternal person take care of my daughter every day makes up for it. If you can’t be with your child during the day, in-home care is the next best thing. You don’t have to worry about your child being exposed to the kind of germs harbored in a daycare setting, and you can feel secure in the knowledge that your caretaker is dedicated to one child-your own. Your child’s needs won’t compete with another’s. Sometimes I think the only reason I am able to focus on work while I’m there is because I know our nanny treats Lucy like her own daughter- holding her, playing with her, and giving her love and attention.

If you are absolutely unable to pay for a nanny, you might consider another mama who offers childcare in her home. Obviously you’ll need to make sure you are comfortable with her and her childcare skills. If you’re military, most bases even provide a list of licensed in-home care providers. Care.com is another good place to start.

4. Establish a good breastfeeding relationship, and keep it going.

Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to maintain a close relationship with your baby. At the end of the day, I return home, put on comfortable clothes, and sit down to nurse my daughter. It’s wonderful, it’s relaxing, and it’s the perfect time for us to reconnect. Of course, breastfeeding while working full time presents its own challenges. However, I don’t buy the argument that many women are “unable to pump at work.” I’m not talking maintaining a good supply here, because I know that some mamas struggle to do so while pumping. If your supply doesn’t keep up, even with help, a little breastmilk is better than no breastmilk. Even the military strives to provide its mamas time and space to pump- the Air Force writes in its regulations that a restroom is not an appropriate pumping location! If you’re concerned about the situation at your workplace, make sure to talk to your supervisor in advance about your plans to pump. If your employer allows smoke breaks (and many do), then you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for the same 15 minutes to pump. If I can pump in a workplace surrounded by macho military men, I assure you that you can find the confidence to do so at your job.

5. Think about co-sleeping.

Co-sleeping is an excellent way to spend time with your baby while you’re at home. Say, like me, you work from 7:00am-5:00pm. If you go to bed at 10:00pm, that’s only 5 hours of time available to spend with your child daily. If you (or your baby) goes to bed earlier, it’s obviously even less. Throw in making dinner, household chores, etc. and the amount of quality time you have with your baby is small. If you co-sleep in the same scenario, you more than double the amount of time spent together! Lucy and I cuddle, nurse, and bond every night in “the family bed.” I also firmly believe that co-sleeping mamas are more likely to continue breastfeeding- especially when babies wake frequently during the night.

6. Wear baby whenever possible.

If I’m running errands after work, Lucy is with me, and she’s in some type of physical contact with me, whether we’re using our Moby, ring sling, etc. Like co-sleeping, babywearing provides an opportunity to bond with baby after being apart during the day. It’s also one of the only ways I am able to get anything done around the house. Find a babywearing technique that you (and baby) are comfortable with, and use it! We just recently bought our first stroller, and Lucy is five months old. The reason? One of us is always wearing her.

7. Don’t leave mothering at the front door.

I work with lots of other mamas. One thing I’ve noticed? Many of them don’t want to talk about their babies at work- it’s just too difficult for them emotionally. Some of them don’t even have a picture of baby with them. Me, on the other hand? My desk is plastered with pictures. My husband and nanny send me pictures of Lucy throughout the day to my email and cellphone, and I talk about her frequently. Whenever I pump, I am reminded of her. I have a theory on why I am able to do this, while other mamas can’t. I think that because we have such a firm connection, I feel comfortable in talking about her, looking at her, etc. I’m confident that she’s receiving good care. I know that I am doing the best I can under the circumstances. And because everyone at work knows how dedicated I am to my daughter, I’m not afraid to take time to pump or to take time off for her appointments. In fact, when someone decides to ignore my clearly posted sign indicating I’m pumping and knock anyway, my male coworkers are the first to fill them in on what’s going on.

Are you a working mama? Do you have any “tricks of the trade?” How did you cope with going back to work? Let’s chat :-)


Bridget said...

Even though we don't have a baby yet, I'm totally impressed by your values and devotion to raise Lucy in a happy and healthy home. I hope to one day be that way with my baby when I become a mama!

Ed and Elizabeth said...

You're a wonderful Mommy Emily! Of course we all try to do our best as parents. I only wish that EVERY parent tried their best. Don't worry, keep up what you are doing and Lucy will grow up to be a happy, healthy little girl! :)

Ida Mae said...

You are doiong one kick-ass job Momma! Lucy is lucky to have such a great Mom as you are.

Emily said...

Thanks, you guys! So sweet to hear it...but I didn't write this one to pat myself on the back or anything!

I guess there's this misconception that working moms have to compromise so much- and that it's impossible to maintain attachment-style parenting. I just think that if identify your priorities and you're willing to dedicate yourself to them, it's definitely possible.