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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
smcriv March 17, 2010, 8:37 PM

What does he know? How can he be an expert in being a mother when he clearly has never or will never be one? Both parents have to work sometimes and that’s okay. Everyones situation is different, all babies are different, this guy needs to shove it.

L March 17, 2010, 9:20 PM

Wow, Dr Jeffery Fine, how long have you been a mother?

Elizabeth March 17, 2010, 10:19 PM

Judgemental much? These types of articles are why SAHM’s and WM’s can’t get along. It just fuels the fire (and insecurities). Do what works for you and don’t feel guilty! If it doesn’t work anymore- reevaluate!

Anonymous March 18, 2010, 10:27 AM

What BS!! How come dads aren’t accused of abusing their children by going to work?

In an ideal world I think most moms would stay home or just work part time but in reality unless you have zero no mortgage, no student loans or a spouse who makes a lot of money you can’t live on one salary. Not possible.

Anonymous March 18, 2010, 10:29 AM

Ridiculous. If anything a lot of the SAHMs I’ve known are just setting a poor example for their daughters by not working - I mean not when they are babies, but once the kid goes to school if you aren’t working you’re just lazy.

Shelley March 19, 2010, 9:45 AM

I applaud both women who choose to stay home with their kids and women who pursue their careers. There is no “right” choice and this man who thinks he can claim there is - much less that working mothers are abusing their children!! - is preposterous. Just because a woman stays home with her children, does not mean she is a good mother or she is giving her children the right kind of care or attention. Also, what about all the things a working mother is teaching her children? About independence, intelligence, varied interests, a well rounded life, etc??? I have a sister in law who has 5 kids, never worked, and even home schooled her children. All in the name of being the best mom possible and giving them the best care & childhood possible. Those kids are the most maladjusted, socially inept, emotionally incapable, miserable children I have ever met. Not only that, but the guilt they feel because they are their mother’s ONLY WORLD is incredible. I say it is no big favor!

Stay at home moms should not feel “less than” because they don’t work, and working moms should not be made to feel abusive. That is ridiculous. Love is what matters, and if you love your children and are providing for them, there are many ways to live and be a good family. Get over it!

Susan March 19, 2010, 12:30 PM

This article says nothing about FATHERS. Why is it only the mother’s responsibility to see that the child is well cared for? Parents need to earn a living and care for their children. We should support them not make them feel guilty for ever hiring a babysitter or using daycare.

Pater Familias March 19, 2010, 2:31 PM

If my wife, who keeps us housed, fed, clothed, etc., is an abuser, what am I, the at-home dad? An enabler, guilty of complicity in abuse?
Don’t buy it a bit. Mom is a hero to our seven-year-old only daughter, who’s going to do a school project about mom and what she has accomplished. Our daughter absolutely treasures “Quality Girl Time” and “Girls’ Night Out” and sundry mom-girl bonding rituals. I’m a bystander, but it’s beautiful and makes me as happy as my own quality time with our girl.
Love and good parenting take many, many forms. This abuse thing is an affront to millions of hardworking, loving families.

anonymous March 19, 2010, 7:59 PM

Once you are blessed with the responsibility of raising a human being as as responsible adult you must ensure that you consider all the complexities of that, including ensuring that your child has a stable life — this is most likely with the support of two incomes from two full time working parents — as well as a promising future — which includes investment in a college education funded by these working parents. There are many ways to show love, and we do just fine as working parents, who are also good role models for sure! This is a ridiculous premise actually.

Wendy Dailey March 23, 2010, 7:32 AM

What a bunch of bullcrap. I cannot believe you would even publish this mularky. One more article like this and I’m not coming to this site anymore.

For the record: I’m a full time working mother, whose daughter went to daycare at 8 weeks old and I STILL managed to keep her on mostly breastmilk until she was 13 months old.

Kathy Slattengren March 23, 2010, 7:33 AM

Parents who work outside the home and leave their children with loving, competent care givers are not abusing their children. They are being responsible parents.

Kathy March 23, 2010, 8:03 AM

This guy is a quack! Clearly HE is working, so why can’t he just leave everyone else alone! And how about the mother who feels it’s too difficult emotionally to be separated? What’s THAT going to do to her kids? At some point, they’ll have to be, and then what will happen? They won’t have the ability to cope with life on their own, that’s what!

Tashmica March 23, 2010, 8:18 PM

I have to pull the BS card on this one. Women have worked for hundreds of years with their children close by or with them being cared for by a loving family member/caretaker. I think this is a ridiculous effort to make women feel guilty for what they need to do to make their lives work. I am a small business owner who works from home part time and does the SAHM thing for the majority of the week. The single most important thing is finding a trusted caretaker for your child. I believe it benefits my child, and myself, to learn to cope separately in a world where my child will need to have his independence eventually. We are constantly learning that lesson throughout the course of our lives.

Allison March 24, 2010, 6:23 PM

I totally agree with this doctor, I am glad someone is saying it. I agree that leaving your child with someone else is unhealthy for the baby and popping a pacifer in the baby’s mouth when it starts to fuss irks me to no end!

Anonymous May 13, 2010, 7:53 PM

Why is there the assumption that the mother is “abusing”? What about the father? Is he being abusive by going to work?
As a working mom married to a great stay at home dad, I really resent the implications of these types of judgements and the assumption that since I work my daughter is at a daycare.

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