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Are Working Moms Abusing Their Kids?

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Do people who criticize us working moms have a point?

woman working with baby

Gina Kaysen Fernandes: Ever since she was 16, Terry Starr has held a job. When her kids were born, she didn't think twice about being a working mother. She returned to her demanding corporate job shortly after the births of both her children, and has no regrets. She says her career-minded drive is in her DNA. "I come from a family of workaholics," says Terry -- who makes no apologies for choosing a full-time job over being a stay-at-home mom

While it may seem like a reasonable trade-off to bring home the bacon, one parenting expert claims that working mothers are abusing their children simply by handing them off to another caregiver.

"This neglect begins in infancy," says Jeffery Fine, Ph.D., a psychologist who believes that most Americans abuse their kids. Fine argues that when a mother drops her baby at daycare or leaves him with a nanny, she's neglecting her child's needs. "Though it's not politically correct to admit it, children who are raised by parental substitutes -- whether by nannies or by daycare -- do not get their needs met, and suffer as children and adults," Fine says.

He describes those needs as "unconditional love that comes from physical and emotional closeness." Fine says that children who bond with a nanny in place of a mother can become traumatized when that person leaves. He also thinks daycare is very confusing for a young child, because there are too many caregivers.

Fine argues that breastfeeding is critical to forming a strong bond. He says, "What's the message mothers give their kids while plopping pacifiers in their mouths? 'I don't have time to nurse you. Your needs are not important.'" While Fine admits that mothers can still bond with their babies if they don't breastfeed, he believes it's much harder.

Marisa, who asked that we not use her last name, can relate to this parenting philosophy. When her son was an infant, she wasn't comfortable with anyone else taking care of him. "My biggest concern was finding someone I could trust to instill the values that he has now," says Marisa, who separated from her husband when their son was 6 months old. As a single parent, she struggles with balancing childcare and work. She says she was lucky to find odd jobs that gave her the flexibility to work from home. "I don't believe in putting kids in daycare," she says. "I couldn't do it."

Now that her son is 4 years old, he spends two days a week at preschool. That's the only downtime Marisa has, because she gets no childcare help from her ex-husband or her family, and she feels uncomfortable leaving her child with a babysitter. "I find it emotionally difficult to separate," she says.

Other moms who may feel the same way don't necessarily have the choice to stay at home with their kids. Many women are forced by financial needs to go back to work when their children are very young. Fine, who coauthored the book, "The Art of Conscious Parenting," sees America's materialistic, career-obsessed culture as the culprit. "Mothers have been marginalized because they're needed at work," he says.

"My career has been all-consuming," Terry concedes. But the working mother of two believes she made the right choice for her family. "It's what I had to do to ensure we lived a good life, in a good neighborhood with a great school system," she says. Terry thinks she is a strong role model for her kids -- especially her 14-year-old daughter, who Terry describes as self-reliant and independent.

Terry's full-time career in the recruitment-marketing fields has spanned thirty years and includes cofounding the website The website is devoted to helping moms who are thinking about returning to the workforce. The site recently conducted a nationwide survey of moms who are working, transitioning to work or are stay-at-home moms. Seventy-two percent cited financial security as the most important reason why they returned to the workforce; 59 percent said they wanted adult interaction and 57 percent stated that they had a desire to stay productive.

Forty percent of the moms surveyed said feeling guilty is the biggest obstacle to going back to work. While Fine's parenting philosophy may seem critical of working parents, he says the key to healthy, well-adjusted kids is old-fashioned love. He suggests that new parents sleep with their babies, engage in baby-wearing instead of stroller use and participate in low-tech creative play.

While Terry says she never felt guilty for working, she does regret missing out on some of her kid's activities. But she believes her career was a higher calling. "I believe it's possible for women to do it all," she says.

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36 comments so far | Post a comment now
Angela March 17, 2010, 6:02 AM

I guess that letting your kid go without food, shelter, or clothes would not be abuse then? Most moms work because they have to and multiple studies have demonstrated that if you find a responsible caregiver they turn out just fine.

Kris March 17, 2010, 6:12 AM

Oh for goodness sakes first we were taking away a man’s right to be the bread winner, now we are bad parents you know what go to hell. I love my kids dearly and never would I leave them with someone I do not trust to care for them in the exact way I expect and pay them for. Sorry if I live in the real world were sometimes and almost always 1 income is not enough to provide for your family especially in cities or states where the cost of living is ridiculously high. Get off your chariot before you fall off and yours female horses trample you.

just sayin March 17, 2010, 6:32 AM

I have been both a full time working mom and a full time sahm and I don’t think my kids have been affected either way. Granted, my home life ran smoother when I didn’t work because it gave me a chance to do housework while they were in school and run around (without them) to do all my errands. I think it’s great if you can stay home and be there for your kids but some mom can’t because they need their income. I also find nothing wrong with a women saying that even if she could afford to be home, she would rather work. There is nothing wrong with women having the drive to be sucessful in her career. If we all could have all the money we needed or wanted, I’m sure more mothers would stay home but I don’t know many people who have so much extra money that working is not an option. Real life sucks sometimes but that’s where most people live.

April March 17, 2010, 6:37 AM

LMAO…what a crock of….

If I DID stay at home…then my kids might experience some abuse.

Jane March 17, 2010, 6:42 AM

Are working dads abusing their kids?

Beth March 17, 2010, 6:47 AM

Working to provide for my child constitues neglect? I don’t think so. Would I choose to be at home more if finances allowed? Probably. But I do not, in any circumstance, think that my working full time should be considered abusive to my child. She is loved, fed, housed, and clothed. She spends her time with me and members of our family. She is happy, healthy and smart. That is what I do for my child -while working full time. A far, far cry from neglect. This “doctor” makes me cringe.

Anonymous March 17, 2010, 6:53 AM

I agree with April, if I stayed at home with my kids, there would be a much greater chance of abuse.. I would work if I had all the money I could ever use. I need the interaction with adults (and without children) that work gives me. Also, I work in nursing and about 80% of my coworkers are mothers. Talk about a healthcare crisis if all the nurses quit work to stay home with their kids!

KarenB March 17, 2010, 6:55 AM

It would be interesting to know if Dr. Fine was a product of a SAHM or a working mom. I think alot of it depends on the child. I worked, DD1 is a strong, independent young woman, DD2 needs constant reassuring. A good friend was a SAHM, her DD is a strong, independent woman, her DS at 22 is a kling-on, mommy did everything for him. Do what you feel is best for your situation.

Shannon March 17, 2010, 7:21 AM

This is such crap! I think more power to ya if you go back to work! When my husband & I got together he wanted me to stay home while he worked even before we started a family. Now we have a beautiful baby boy & money is tight because of it, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Stop promoting articles like this. It’s disgusting to make a parent feel bad about the choices they make when it comes to there family. Sometimes I wish my husband would let me go back to work part time so I could help out, but then I know I would regret missing out on my sons special moments. For those of you that are strong enough to go back to work BRAVO!!!

momoftwo March 17, 2010, 7:28 AM

I see both side of this article, I am a sohm but I also run a daycare which I have done for 9 years. After giving birth to my son I just couldn’t leave him but we also needed my extra income I love staying at home with my kids but I miss the interactions with adults I sometimes feel like I would be a better mom if I wasn’t home with them all the time but I also love hearing about my sons day right when he gets off the bus and being the one that works w/ my daughter and learning to write her name, she has started preschool two days a week and next year she will go for four days from 8am-1130am. I think this will be very good for her and I. Now I am left with the decision to I continue daycare after my children r in school m-f all day, what kind of job can I get that will make as much as I do now, and what about summers I would have to leave them with someone then… All and all I would have to say with me being a sahm its made me not truesting of people I have never left my kids with someone who wasn’t my parents or my siblings I worry when they even go to a friends house for a play date becuz I have no idea what they r doing and what if they get hurt and I’m not there… Then I would be in my mind a bad mom becuz I wasn’t there for them…..

Me March 17, 2010, 8:20 AM

If a parent can then I think they should stay home with their kids or if they must work they should reduce their hours if at all possible so that they’re child isn’t in daycare quite so much. BUT I realize that is not always possible.

I run a childcare and I assure you that while these children are not with their parents all day every day, they are in no way feeling “neglected”!! They love coming, they love seeing their friends and playing and they love to go back home at the end of a busy day with friends. These are happy thriving children who are extremely bonded to their parents. If a parent must work then the most important thing is to find good childcare. As long as you have good childcare your child will be FINE!!!!

michelle March 17, 2010, 9:29 AM

What evidence does this person have for his claims, besides his opinion? Oh, right, none. [But good job driving lots of pageviews, momlogic.] Also, the woman who said she finds it “emotionally difficult to separate” and therefore is never, ever apart from her child (except to reluctantly send him to preschool, probably only because she feels social pressure to send him)? Doesn’t she sound like she has some issues? Doesn’t this put a little too much emotional pressure on her child? That goes beyond mere SAHM vs WOHM — why couldn’t they find someone psychologically normal to quote?

Anonymous March 17, 2010, 9:36 AM

Pure Bull***t!

Anonymous March 17, 2010, 10:22 AM

I guess single mothers who have to work to provide for their kids are just awful people, right? This article is absolutely full of crap.

Black Iris March 17, 2010, 12:30 PM

Why do people have to go so far to one extreme or the other? Children cared for by people other than their parents don’t turn into criminals. It’s not abuse.
On the other hand, many parents would sincerely like to be with their small children more. It is different from having someone else care for them.
If only we could support the value of the care parents give their children without calling wage-earning parents child abusers!

tennmom March 17, 2010, 1:37 PM

I breastfed both of my daughters (now 10 & 12) and we have are very close. My mother, due to complications could not breast feed me but we are…very close. So, I just dismiss the whole “bottle fed babies don’t bond with mothers as well as the breast fed babies” crap.
My late-husband and I waited until we could afford to live on his salary (after being married for 10 years) before we had children b/c it was important to me to be able to stay home with my daughters. Even after my late-husband’s death and marrying again to a great man, I still stay home. I like being available to take my kids to school, pick them up, volunteer at school, run the home. My husband works 90 miles away so I am the manager of this household.
Some women want to work outside the home, some have to. I’m pretty sick of people bashing either for the choice they make or for having no other choice.
If these smart-*ss know-it-alls really want to help, how about they chose a family with a mom who would love to stay home and pay her the salary she needs to support her kids?

Pam March 17, 2010, 2:42 PM

Thanks for trying to making all of us working moms feel guilty and inadequate. If the MEN that fathered our children had stepped up, maybe we wouldn’t have had to work to take care of our babies. Figures this article was written by a man. I’ve done it all by myself - been both mom and dad. At NO time did my children feel unloved or neglected. We are a very tight family unit to this day - children are 28, 21 and 18. Mr. Fine can pound salt!

tammy March 17, 2010, 4:29 PM

This is ridiculous ! I am a Stay at Home Mom and have nursed four children but I would never criticize another woman for working. Life is so demanding of women , especially those taking on a husband’s role out of necessity. Give them a break and cheer them on !

Mamamiiia March 17, 2010, 8:09 PM

Dr. Fine is just another one who is trying to make mothers the only ones responsable for the well-being of their children. What about fathers? Aren’t they in the picture too?

Chrissy March 17, 2010, 8:25 PM

My mother waas from a generation where the medical community pushed formula on mothers as being “healthier”. Hence. myself and two brothers weren’t breastfeed. we ahve no issues with our mother. We’re all close to her. Now my father (and his generation) was the hands off, doesn’t change diapers, bathe the baby or feed it. We not so close to him.

And Mamamiiia is right. What role does Dr Fine says about fathers’ role in their children well being?

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