While getting a nanny is quite the thing du jour, could you be doing your child more harm than good?
Dr. Wendy Walsh: The female P.R. executive sat primly in a stylish New York restaurant. Even though it was Saturday, her attire -- an impeccable navy-blue suit and smart heels -- was all business. At some point during the small talk that occurred prior to the lunch meeting, the subject of children came up -- and the exec mentioned that she had a 4-year-old and 18-month-old twins. My mouth went agape. This woman looked far too rested and put-together to have that kind of workload at home. When I complimented her on her amazing ability to pull this off, she responded with a very modern explanation. "I love my children," she assured me. "But I could never be with them all day. I have plenty of help, and I trust professionals to help me raise my kids."
Her career success has enabled her to create the ultimate feminist dream: motherhood without too much inconvenience. And she's not alone. For the first time in history, there are more women in the American workforce than men -- thanks to the recession that caused more male layoffs than female. And within that giant workforce of women are millions of mothers who depend on a range of childcare professionals to keep their delicate balancing act alive.
But could there be dangers to all this outsourcing? Do children need a biological mother on-site in order to thrive? The answers to these questions are, "Yes, sometimes," and "Not always." For thousands of years, a village of female relatives worked in concert to get kids from womb to adulthood; today's league of nannies and daycare centers are -- in some ways -- a modern version of the same thing. But when is too much separation from mommy emotionally dangerous for a baby or child?
The answer is a complicated one that has been the focus of attachment researchers for decades. Psychologists know that some children are born with a biological predisposition to attachment injuries that can lead to major personality disorders, while others seem to grow up relatively unscathed by separation from attachment figures. Children usually display separation anxiety early on, so parents should pay attention to it.
It's important to remember that children perceive time in a different way than adults. Eight hours to an adult might feel like a week to a newborn. Remember how long it took for your birthday to roll around when you were a kid? Compare that to your adult birthdays -- which seem to come way too fast.
While there are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to avoiding attachment injuries, here's Dr. Walsh's best advice on how to have your little one grow up healthy and secure, with an ability to attach as a spouse later in life:
2. Choose a consistent caregiver and do whatever it takes to keep him/her -- for years.
3. If a child is under 5, do your best to not be away longer than a total of eight hours a day.
4. Make sure your child has multiple primary attachments -- father, grandmother, aunties, etc. -- who can provide security if you are forced to be away.
5. Make up for separation by providing dedicated re-bonding time each day. Spend at least 20 minutes alone with and focused on each child, allowing him or her to lead the activity.
6. Even with older children, family beds can be a great way to stay connected during the night hours.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, and her area of interest is Attachment Theory -- a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental-health concerns including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders and depression. Connect with Dr. Walsh on Facebook.|