A well-known rabbi once said to me, "Never write anything controversial. You'll only make enemies, and it won't help." So I hesitated to write this article, knowing that 70% of mothers work and that most will continue to do so. But if this article makes even one woman think twice about returning to full-time work before her baby is 6 months of age, then it is worth the anger which may be directed my way.
I'm not opposed to women working. Many families cannot survive unless the mother works. But people must be aware that the child's emotional development is likely to be affected if she abandons her baby at 2 to 12 weeks. As a psychotherapist, I see the results of severe "mother deficit" daily. When a baby is not allowed to form a secure bond with a loving mother during his crucial first years of life, the damage can be irreversible--no less so than the damage caused to babies who do not get sufficient Vitamin B, C or D. A lack of vitamin L (Love!) can manifest itself in lifelong struggle with anxiety, depression, addictions and abuse disorders. To children, time is love. They sense the hypocrisy when parents proclaim, "I love you but don't have time for you."
When a new mother knows that she will return to work within weeks of giving birth, she avoids bonding to her baby to lessen the pain of separation when she turns him over to a caretaker I was 28 when my first child was born and felt lucky to be able to stay home for four years with her. Yet while I loved her dearly, I did suffer from loneliness as well as lack of intellectual stimulation and financial independence. Thus, seven years later, after my second child was born, I found a teaching job at a day-school near my home for three hours each morning. I gave most of my salary to a loving grandmother named Lori who did nothing but cuddle him and play with him. It was good for me to get away--I needed the structure and creative outlet which only teaching gives me. But by the time my third was born, two years later, I saw that I lacked the physical and emotional stamina to be both a good day-school teacher and a good mother. I am simply not one of those super-efficient, highly organized, energetic superwomen that we'd all like to be. So I switched to evening adult education, which was far less demanding, but provided the interaction I craved.
I am heartbroken when working mothers tell me, "I have no time to love my children. I'm on a treadmill, racing to keep up with all the demands, trying to stay one step ahead of the feared nervous breakdown. Yes, I hit and yell a lot; I'm too overwhelmed to be patient or creative." How will their children learn to love if they've never experienced love?
While working moms tend to suffer from over-stimulation, the at-home mom may feel under-stimulated and isolated, which is also painful. She may look enviously at her well-dressed neighbors who leave home for a day filled with stimulating challenges, or at least adult social interaction. She may think they are advancing intellectually and economically while she is at a standstill, unable to fulfill her intellectual or creative potential. She may be envious of the financial perks and decision-making powers afforded women who can decide on their own what to do with their earnings.
Love has become a rare commodity True, being an at-home mom does not guarantee emotional health in children. If at-home moms are depressed or addicted or bitter about having to do what they see as boring, repetitive chores, they will convey their anger in hundreds of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. And mothers who over-pamper and over-protect may also raise selfish spoiled brats who have no idea how to wash a dish or figure out solutions to their problems. We all have to find a path that satisfies our own needs without sacrificing our children's welfare.
But it is tragic that our schools provide no training for motherhood and that the job of mothering is not given the respect and glory it rightfully deserves. Does G-d imbue us with all the wondrous instincts and capabilities of motherhood only that we should abandon our babies immediately after birth? Is it a matter of debate whether babies need their mothers' love? Why do people think that it does not matter who diapers or feeds a child? It matters greatly! A child is already emotionally bonded to his mother in the womb, attached to her voice and her heart rhythms. When a mother looks lovingly into her baby's eyes and is in frequent eye contact with him, she feeds his neshama, building a sense of trust in himself and in his ability to love and be loved.
Nowadays, the typical working mother has a "killer schedule" which goes something like this: "The alarm rings at 6 a.m. I must get three children, including a 6 week old baby, off to baby-sitters and be at the school where I teach by 8 a.m. I try to pump milk in the bathroom, but that means giving up my lunchtime, so I grab some nosh to get me through the day. I get home between 2 and 3 in the afternoon, depending on whether I must attend school meetings, try to sleep for an hour while the children play by themselves, but the older two often fight, which wakes me up. I must then cook, feed them and get them bathed and off to sleep, then clean the house, prepare lessons for the next day and talk to parents who call to consult with me. Then I collapse in bed. My husband complains that I'm not the happy person I used to be. I'm so on-edge that I can't relax and so tired that I just want to be left alone."
Studies have shown that when a new mother knows that she will return to work within weeks of giving birth, she avoids bonding to her baby to lessen the pain of separation when she turns him over to a caretaker. Since caretakers also know that this is a short-term arrangement, they, too, avoid becoming emotionally invested. When a mother picks her baby up after work, he may not know who she is and may look at her with apathy or fright, which she may take as a sign of rejection. He has spent the day learning how not to connect, not to cry or reach out for comfort, because there is no comfort to be gotten. While some will view apathy as a sign that he is a "good" baby, this pattern can hamper his ability to bond as an adult. While many people can handle this lifestyle and remain emotionally well-adjusted, for many, it is tragically cruel and inhumane.
Furthermore, while it is economic necessity which forces many to work, other needs are present, such as the desire to escape the chaos and endless demands of home and also to find creative and intellectual fulfillment. Many mothers seek work in order to be in a structured atmosphere which provides a sense of competency and control, which may be lacking in the home, especially if she does not feel appreciated or adequate. Before marriage, many girls overestimate their abilities and blithely promise their future husbands that they can definitely work full time, not realizing how difficult it is to juggle work and family or leave a sick baby with a stranger. Her best efforts are given at work, where she feels valued and rewarded. By the time she gets home, she is likely to be depleted and overwhelmed by her children's needs. No mother can hold her baby in a relaxed and loving manner or attend to her older children's chatter when she is exhausted and distracted by the need to shop, cook, clean and deal with a thousand and one other chores.
Thus, it is no wonder that many "emotional orphans" are angry and unhappy. This is a natural consequence of a life which leaves no room for love. Mothers with Burned-Out Mom Syndrome and children with Abandoned Baby Syndrome display symptoms which are familiar to those who have been there.
Burned-Out Mother Syndrome:
Resentment: How does a working mom feel when she hears her baby cry at night because he is hungry, teething, or in pain from an ear infection? Knowing that she will not be able to function the next day without sleep, can she soothe him with the loving caresses that help him feel calm and safe? And will she have the patience to respond lovingly to her children's demands after a long day at work, or will she resent them for making her life even harder with their demands and messes?
Anxiety: Working women with young children have the highest level of stress hormones in the world. Sleep-deprivation (less then 7 hours) raises the cortisol level while vitamin B is reduced by the use of caffeine and sugar--quick energy-boosters relied upon by harried workers. Add to this the panic gripping working woman who discovers she, the babysitter or the baby is sick. A woman's nervous system is more sensitive than a man's, and the over-production of stress hormones and C-reactive protein damages the heart and other organs over time. It's no wonder that more and more women are suffering heart attacks in this frenzied age.
Guilt and Shame: We all hear stories about "superwomen" who manage full time jobs and large families and still be calm, have spotless homes, be involved in community events and entertain numerous guests. Those who don't work may feel like boring drudges in comparison, unable to fulfill their intellectual goals or creative potential, while the irritable and disorganized working moms feel ashamed that they cannot achieve superwoman status or that their children have emotional disturbances or are rebellious and are often blamed by society for these problems.
And what about the emotional orphans?
Abandoned Baby Syndrome:
Anxiety: Cuddling develops the nervous system and builds self-worth and trust in people. Later in life, those abandoned babies often develop addictions and anxiety disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and can be paranoid, insecure and untrusting. (Could one result of this "unbonded" generation be the high number of singles, many of whom have no idea what it means to be loved and to sustain, long-term, loving relationship with another human being?)
Depression: Babies mourn when left alone for long periods of time. The lack of touch and attention may result in a life-long sense of unworthiness and sadness. The unspoken message when the parent drops the child off is, "Your needs are not important. You don't really matter." Children make their own conclusions based on their experiences; abandoned babies learn to believe, "I must not be worthy of love if no one loves me." (Could this be one reason that prescriptions for mood stabilizers has risen 4000% in the last 10 years?)
Aggression: Many children become nasty and rebellious in their attempt to achieve a sense of power and win precious drops of attention. They don't care what others think and have not been trained to share or care or respect others' feelings. Small children are often left in the care of older siblings who resent the loss of freedom and resort to cruelty to get their younger siblings to cooperate.
There is no substitute for a mothers' love! Forget quality v. quantity. Children need soothing when they are in distress, not at a scheduled time.
Who will take the time and effort to instill positive character traits in our children, teach them self-restraint, teach them to share, stand up for their rights, deal with intense emotions, plan for the future and find non-violent solutions to problems? Who will protect them from abusers in schools and neighborhoods? Not the baby-sitter!
What Can You Do?
G-d chose to give you a child. You can choose to take responsibility for him or her:
Stay home for at least the first 6 months of the child's life, which sets the foundation for his future mental and physical health.
Smile--a lot! Happy mothers, whether they work or not, have more well-adjusted children.
Try to find part-time work so that you are gone no more than four hours a day.
Work at home. Can you do freelance work or start a computer-based business?
When you do have time with the kids, enjoy them! Shut the phone off between 5-8 p.m. Cherish your time with them. Show interest in the things they care about. Tell them that they, not work, are your priority in life.
Lower your material standards. You won't have the fanciest home or brand-name clothing, but you will, hopefully, have saner children.
If you work, don't go off again in the early evening to classes or social events. Wait until the children are asleep. They need your presence to feel loved.
Get your husband involved. Women are far happier, even if they are working, if their husbands are true partners who help with the chores and child-rearing.
Love has become a rare commodity. May we all do our best to give ourselves and our children the respect, appreciation and support which we all need