Do people who criticize us working moms have a point?
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 MyWorkButterfly.com. 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.
|Gina Kaysen Fernandes is an award-winning documentary producer and a former TV news producer/writer. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.|