Sunday, May 13, 2012

“Mom Enough”: Are Working Moms Detached?

TIME Magazine
TIME magazine’s most recent cover of a mother nursing her 3-year-old son has sparked controversy and stirred up the good ole breastfeeding debate. The title taunts, “Are you mom enough?” suggesting that mothers who don’t practice attachment parenting to the “extreme” are lacking somehow. I think Lisa Belkin of the Huffington Post put it best – “The breastfeeding conversation is not titillating. The TIME cover is.”

The main tenants of attachment parenting (AP) are breastfeeding, bed sharing, baby wearing, and “involved” parenting. But it’s nothing new. In fact, it’s common for parents to practice this intuitive style of parenting without even knowing a label existed for it. Read this post of one Mom’s accidental journey towards AP. The approach just makes sense to some parents – your baby cries, you respond. Your baby is most content when near you, so you hold them in a sling instead of placing them in a swing, or you sleep with them at night instead of being separated because they sleep better that way (and so do you).

Perched among the arguments for and against attachment parenting is a load of misinformation, but I can only speak for myself and from my family’s experience. I believe that parenting is instinctual for both my husband and I, so instead of strictly following the advice of any doctor, authors, or “experts”, we do what feels right. Oh, and by the way, we both work full-time jobs outside the home. That doesn’t make us detached parents.

Attachment parenting and working are not mutually exclusive. In fact, we have found AP approaches to be even more important since we have only so many precious hours to spend with our son during the workweek. AP is not just for stay-at-home Moms, and it’s not a "take it or leave it" proposition. The basis for attachment parenting is spending time with your child, learning who they are, and building a trusting relationship. This is more difficult for working parents who spend 8-12 hours a day, five days a week apart from their child. But difficult does not have to equal impossible.

Dr. Sears, who coined the term “attachment parenting” more than 20 years ago lays out the “7 Baby B’s” of AP. I would like to outline them here, as well as highlight ways each “B” specifically helps mothers who return to work after giving birth (most of which equally benefit mothers who don't work outside the home), and of course how they benefit our babies. Contrary to what some “experts” are suggesting in response to the TIME article, it is possible to practice AP without going to “extremes” (as if breastfeeding your child until they wean on their own could even be classified as “extreme”), so please, there’s no risk of guilt-induced “post-traumatic Sears disorder” here.

The 7 Baby B’s of Attachment Parenting for Working Moms

1. Birth Bonding

Bonding after your baby is born is important for their well-being. Holding and rocking your baby will not spoil them. Using the time you have during maternity leave to learn your baby’s cues should be more important than forcing a schedule on them. The easiest and quickest way to understand your baby’s needs is to spend the precious time you have off work bonding and following a casual (not strict) routine. Take the time to interpret your baby’s individual cues. Forget about training your baby for daycare and concentrate on the day-to-day. You will be glad you did.

2. Breastfeeding

The benefits of breastfeeding are too many to list, and for mothers who want to breastfeed past their maternity leave, it is hard, but possible with support. Specific to working mothers, children who are breastfed get sick less often and bounce back quicker. This translates into less sick days parents have to take, which can also mean being more productive at work, less absenteeism, and lower healthcare costs for your employer.

Personally, I looked forward to this type of bonding with my son when we were separated during the workday. Leaving him bottles of expressed breast milk helped me feel like I was able to nourish him even though I couldn’t physically be with him and that was empowering. I know exactly how hard it is to pump while working, but it is worth every last drop, and I promise, it does get easier.

3. Baby Wearing

For a lot of babies, especially during those first few weeks after birth, being snuggled up on Mom or Dad's chest, carried around gently in a sling or carrier can be a great source of comfort. For parents who work all day and come home with only a few hours to unwind, feed the family, and get everyone to bed, wearing the baby while you can will help calm him or her and allow you to have a free hand.

4. Bedding Close to Baby

This is one tenant of attachment parenting that gets a bad rep, but if you look at the research carefully, there are myriad benefits to co-sleeping. Whatever sleeping arrangements work best for your family is the answer, but some babies sleep better when they are close to their mothers, especially during the first few weeks of their lives. Explore safe ways to have the baby in bed with you, or near your bed.

Continuing to breastfeed after you return to work is hard. Especially since it's common for babies to ramp up their nighttime nursing once Mom returns to work, at a time you need your sleep more than ever. Bedding down close to baby is helpful because you can get to your baby quicker, hopefully circumventing the roaring, high-pitched wail that results in waking the whole house. Plus, if you’re getting up often during the night to breastfeed, having the baby in a co-sleeper or crib right next to your bed is easier on you and can be less disruptive to your sleep.

5. Believe in Baby’s Cries

Responding sensitively to your baby’s cry helps build trust. This does not mean rushing to scoop up your baby within a nano-second of crying. Taking a “pause” to listen to your baby’s cry and figure out how to respond just makes sense. Ignoring your child can lead to them not trusting you. How else is a baby supposed to get your attention? Crying is how they communicate, and if we as parents ignore that, then it can lead to learned helplessness that lasts well beyond infancy. “Crying it out” is not good news. Read an excellent, resource-dense post about it here. What feels like a fast fix for getting your child to sleep because you have to go to work the next day and need your sleep is understandable, but it’s not worth it in the long run.

6. Beware of Baby Trainers

What I have learned is that babies develop at their own pace and when they are ready for the next step, they will “tell” you they are ready to take it. Not before, and no matter how hard parents might try. Babies are ready for solid foods when they're ready, they walk when it's their time, and they sleep through the night when they are ready. You get what you get, and the best approach parents can take is to provide a nurturing environment, a gentle night time routine, as well as love, encouragement, and support.

Trying to extinguish an unwanted behavior by ignoring your baby’s cries teaches them that no matter how loudly they try to get your attention, you will ignore them. This doesn’t help build trust. By responding sensitively to their needs you build trust. Children who trust their parents listen to them when they are older and in need of different types of attention. Beware of baby trainers or books that advise you to do anything that doesn’t feel natural or right to you.

7. Balancing

This means knowing when to say yes, and when to say no, as well as being able to ask for help when you need it. Working parents are especially skilled at balancing home and work and when this balancing act is done well, our children will benefit.

The birth of our son changed our lives forever. My husband and I embraced the changes and adjusted our expectations for our social and professional lives. We found that spending every weekend jam-packed with activities and visiting friends was no longer something we wanted to do. It was more enjoyable for us to build our weekends around our son. This is not to say we never go out or have never left him in the hands of a capable babysitter. But he is the center of our universe and we work hard all week so it was a natural progression for us to make our free days about him.

When we are working, we try to be as productive as possible so we can focus on parenting when we get home. Critically important for working parents is finding childcare that works and care providers you trust. During the weekdays while we are at the office, we know our son is well-cared for and loves his teachers, and being able to trust those women is (almost) priceless. Guilt is a reality working Moms face. Having your baby in a childcare arrangement you love helps alleviate some of that guilt.

The tools of attachment parenting have really worked for us, especially since we work full-time, so I hope other parents can be just as willing to let their instincts guide them, be open to different ways of comforting their children, and figure out what works for them, instead of following anyone’s advice. To a certain extent, mothers who work full-time are detached, but it shouldn’t exclude us from reaping the benefits of raising our children the AP way – it’s the moments we are truly present with our children that count.

Do you practice attachment parenting? What specific considerations or advice do you have for parents who work outside the home? If you haven’t seen them yet, there are more photographs from the article of mothers doing what comes naturally – nursing their children. I applaud these mothers for having the patience to let their children guide them.

If you're interested in reading more about attachment parenting, start with this insightful post from my friend Sarah over on All Things Mothering: TIME's Take on Toddler Nursing: A Madonna, a Child and... a Chair?

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  1. This cover surely has sparked a lot of debate...

    I believe that I am in total of support of however a person decides to raise their child (as long as they are not hurting them) because I believe that most everyone is doing the very best they can at any given moment. I personally have learned things along the way and have done things differently with my third than I did with my first and second. Does that mean I wasn't as good of a parent to the first and second? I will always love each of them, put their needs before my own, protect and provide for them and do what is best for them even when it makes them mad. I will dust them off when they fall down, I will dicipline them when they are wrong, and forgive too, I will ensure they always use their manners, and they will be taught to be the bigger person even when it hurts. They will not be allowed to quit - rather to finish what they start, and I will always be available to listen and will do my best to understand, I will encourage and cheer for them with every endeavor you choose, they will always be reminded to be their authentic self and to be confident in their convictions, I will be their biggest fan, and will do my best to raise them the best I know how. I will not be perfect. BUT, I will love them with EVERY ounce of my being all the days of my life and will always be grateful for the opportunity to be their Mom. Those are the values I hold dear and they have nothing to do with how I feed my children or put them to sleep yet I consider myself to be quite well attached to them.

    I take issue with this cover because of the implication that if a woman chooses not to nurse her child, or can't, or chooses to wean them when she is ready instead of when the child decides, that she is in some way lacking in terms of being a good parent. I am really just so tired of the competition. Why can't we, as Moms, just cut the crap and be supportive of each other? Why does it always have to be about who's doing it "better"?

    1. Thanks for sharing Michelle. I like that you teach your children great values. I think no matter what we do, the "mommy wars" will exist, but at least we can do our part in being supportive to the Moms we know. TIME succeeded in one thing with this cover - sparking A LOT of conversation.

  2. They did! And BTW, all that being said...I LOVE the new layout and that you are still blogging! I get so excited every time you post something new :-) Love to you, S and Lili!

    1. Aww, thanks Michelle! Love to the Ross clan from blogland.

  3. I really like this post, Jes! This view of AP is much easier to swallow than what I thought about AP. I think that AP + working parents = happy, balanced, trusting kids.

    1. Thanks Lindsy! I completely agree. I feel like most parents don't really practice any one "parenting method" and of course it's best to do what works for your own family, but labeling and categorizing different approaches is really the only way to study them and talk about them, especially now when so many parents are blogging about everything from diapers to how to help their kids get into college. I like your equation! AP + working parents = happy, balance, trusting kids :)