Working Mums and Attachment Parenting
As maternity leave runs to a close, soon-to-be working mums become very aware that the bubble of family togetherness which formed over the last few months is expanding to include a little bit of ‘pre-mum’ life. The idea of leaving baby and stepping back into a work persona can be scary enough for anyone, but for mothers who’ve chosen to follow the attachment principles of childrearing, this presents an extra layer of conflict.
Attachment parenting methods aim to form close infant/carer bonds through actively responding to infant needs in a consistent and constantly emotional way, avoiding issues such as separation and anxiety, which can occur though methods which ‘ignore’ children, such as sleep training.
As such, being a working mum who also adheres to an attachment lifestyle would seem to contradict the key principles – but it doesn’t have to! In order for working attachment mums to raise happy, well-adjusted, empathetic children and balance a work life with family living, there are a number of things which can help:
Remember that the seven principles are not strict rules – don’t be overwhelmed
When selecting attachment parenting, many parents may initially disregard it as incompatible with a working lifestyle. Following seven guiding principles: birth bonding, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, bedding close to baby, belief in baby’s cries, beware of baby-trainers, and balance and boundaries, the attachment method has a reputation as an ‘all or nothing’ approach. But this apparent restriction is not as definitive as it first appears, and working parents should always remember that the seven principles are not strict rules.
Adaptable to individual routines, the seven principles are designed to mark the options you have, and like any method (if not more so, owing to its sensitivity to child needs), AP should be tweaked to reflect family dynamics and unique child needs. Because of this, though at times working parents may feel guilty or ‘a failure’ for not following principles exactly – or even for just returning to work – keep in mind that all points are open to interpretation and adaptation; find what works best for you!
For example, if your child won’t or can’t breastfeed, and you need to express (for when you are at work) or use formula, don’t panic. No two situations are the same. You may even find that bottle-feeding works best for you right from the start as it allows feeds to be split more evenly between caregivers, and eases the transition of feeds once mum goes back to work!
Balance, balance, balance
Arguably most important, as long as parents strive to bond (and maintain that bond) with their child from birth, principles such as baby-wearing can also be adjusted to fit. However, it’s crucial to keep the principle of balance. When deciding what’s best, keep in mind that attachment parenting does not have to take over every aspect of life. If you’re returning to work, you should already recognise that being a mother is only one piece of life as a whole – an incredibly important piece nonetheless, but a piece which needs to be shaped to fit with everything else. Sacrificing everything (careers, financial security, personal and social life) is not necessarily the healthiest move for you and your family’s future happiness and well-being.
This balance of attachment principles and working life will evolve as you return to work, your child grows, and daily needs change. Remaining loving, flexible and willing to accommodate those changes as a close, understanding, and supportive family is one of the most important parts of attachment parenting, regardless of the impositions of working life.
Make the most of the time you have together
“But how can I keep a bond with my child if I’m not there?” This question can be heard from mums across the workforce; but there’s no reason working mums can’t maintain that connection.
Placing more importance on available time, ‘after-work’ attachment time can be of just as much, if not more benefit than constant one-to-one availability; and enhanced appreciation of the time you spend together will be the result after time apart. But as long as dedicated time is still allocated between the two of you, sensitivity, and a strong connection will be maintained and children will become more emotionally available as their network of care extends to multiple loving caregivers (such as other family members).
There are a number of things working mums can do to enhance their reconnection time. For example, if co-sleeping works for you, stick with it. Choosing to breastfeed too (rather than sticking with the day’s bottle routine) can maintain a dedicated bond of trust and comfort. The transition into this routine may be difficult to begin with of course (often for mother rather than child: children will still have a caring presence with them 24/7); but after a while, little ones will learn that you’ll always come back; and any initial stress will soon disappear into understood and comforting ritual.
Babysitting and childminders
Following this importance of mother/baby bonding time after time apart, and in the same feeling that AP’s seven principles are not strict rules, it’s OK to have caregivers other than yourself! Whether that caregiver is a close family member or a professional; if you can find someone stable, who understands and is willing to stick with your lifestyle and principles, then your child will not go emotionally wanting – a point which attachment parenting aims to avoid. Bonds between infants and caregivers are all valid and help children form an empathetic view of the world. If you do decide to hire outside help, be sure to outline your requirements (such as ‘beware of babytrainers’ over zealously structured parenting methods).
Regarding the issue of initial separation anxiety, building a bond between your child and other caregivers can get them used to being away from their mother, yet keep them emotionally bonded within a close, loving, and responsive community. This doesn’t disregard one-to-one child/carer bonds – if anything, it enhances them. And though mother-baby time is of course undeniably important, your child will have an enhanced and wider bonded network, so will know love and support are always available. Remember: children are incredibly adaptable beings, and will soon adapt to this, and other changes in routine as they grow. You are likely to find it more difficult than they do!
About the Author
Suzanne is an advocate of attachment parenting methods and runs a business called Bundles of Joy, a UK based company which provides quality baby gifts.