I recently left my son for just over three days (& three nights). At first, when I purchased my plane tickets, I felt great guilt at the thought of leaving him. Maybe “guilt” is not the right word… Anxiety would be more accurate. And even then, “anxiety” isn’t quite right either… I knew my son would be safe & well-loved while I was gone. I suppose I worried some about nighttime wakings. And nursing. Mostly the nursing. And my missing him. Mostly my missing him.
I had to travel out of state to take the bar exam (it’s over! woo-hoo!) & there was no way my little guy could go with me. I mean, technically I suppose it was possible… But, yeah… NO!
Well, after phone calls, texts & daily skyping here we are… He is not traumatized. I’m not traumatized. He’s happy. I’m happy. He’s still nursing (for better or worse). Yeah, I have to say leaving him for a few days was far easier on us all than I ever imagined. His grandma tirelessly played with him each day I was gone & at night he snuggled with his dad when he needed to.
Yes, he asked about me. But each time, someone reassured him that I would return & every night I told him that I would be home soon.
All of which leads me to contemplate the fuss many of us, and many attachment parenting types in particular, make over leaving our babes.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m of the mindset that any unnecessary separation from a young child is just that… unnecessary. We don’t take vacation without our son, we don’t go out much in the evenings, there’s really not much we do without him aside from work & some hobbies. We simply get on with our lives with him in tow. But just because I avoid unnecessary separation doesn’t mean that I believe separation (necessary or not) is by definition harmful or traumatizing.
You see, while I identify with attachment parenting, which assumes a certain level of … um … attachment… I don’t quite like anyone telling me that I can’t or shouldn’t leave my child in the care of another person, even his dad, for reasons a, b, or c. (See a prior rant on this general point here.)
And, as any of you other lawyer-mamas out there can attest, it’s darn impossible to be a law-student- or lawyer-mom without leaving your little one at some point. It’s a fact of life for us.
I, therefore, had to giggle out loud when I read this blog entry by Dr. George Wootan suggesting that mothers should not leave their babies/toddlers until they reach three years of age. Can you imagine?! Three years old!
The argument goes that babies & toddlers have no sense of time & that any leave-taking is akin to telling the child that his mother is gone forever. Dr. Wootan tells us that it’s ok to leave your child during naptime, so long as you leave him with someone familiar to the child. Those who return to work for any reason other than (absolute) necessity need to do some “soul-searching.” Oh, but thankfully he has some advice for you if you must leave your child for several hours!
OK. This seems like awful advice on so many levels! I’m not going to argue the rightness of his idea about toddler concepts of time & I don’t doubt that they cannot truly tell the difference between 30 minutes & 8 hours. But there is no logical connection between that fact and the conclusion that any leave-taking amounts to total abandonment. I mean, dramatic a little? It takes practice (& time that many mothers don’t necessarily have during the transition, if any, from maternity leave to returning back to work) but gradually increasing a parent’s absence will help even a young baby learn that she can trust mommy or daddy will always return. (And, yes, I’m including daddy, because I simply don’t buy it that maternal attachment is the end-all-be-all while paternal attachment is optional.)
(Unrelated to my overall argument: I think it is terrible to unexpectedly skip out on your child during nap-time as general tactic for finding alone time! It’s really akin to sneaking out the back door without saying “good-bye” after the babysitter’s arrived. I know my son would flip out if I put him down for his nap & he woke early to anybody but me! Likewise, he has been known to flip out on me when his dad is the one who put him down for his nap.)
So I suppose I may be guilty of being hypocritical… Earlier I mentioned that we generally don’t leave our son unless it’s “necessary” & now I’m criticizing this poor doctor here for telling me to do some “soul-searching” if I leave my son for any reason other than (financial) necessity.
I definitely have my own ideas about what’s “necessary,” but I’m not going to share them here because every woman, every family, every mother has a different idea of what a “necessary” absence means for them. But, I will say that my definition of “necessary” is a lot broader than Dr. Wootan’s, and it includes development of a life & existence that is separate from the child and personal to the mother. Dr. Wootan, on the other hand, seems to think that anything other than a need to fill basic financial needs is unnecessary. (Though don’t worry, if you, poor soul, are among those who must work to support your family, Dr. Wootan isn’t going to tell you that you are “doing less than your best”… But he’s also unlikely to argue that your best is the same as his definition of the best…)
I will concede that a little soul-searching never hurt anyone, especially not when it comes to families. Reprioritizing is a fact of life for working moms & working parents in general, & taking into account a child’s needs is certainly part of that process. But such advice is hard to swallow coming from someone (a man, no less… sorry… just had to point that out) who is suggesting that those of us who care about our careers & individual pursuits are bad mothers for leaving our children before they turn 3.
I also love that the author admonishes mothers for leaving their young children and then goes on to give us advice… “If you must leave your child…” Yes, please. Tell me what I can possibly do to avoid being the worst mother on the planet in your view, because I really care about what you think the second best (or worst) option might be. (Cue eye-roll.)
Again, I don’t actually disagree with the advice that follows in the article. (Extended breastfeeding & sharing sleep, if you’re curious.) But, again, alienating your audience & then giving sound advice is hardly the way to convince folks of your point of view. But I suppose this is not the point of this blog entry, as evidenced by the comments section, in which readers overwhelmingly praise the piece as the gospel truth.
This is the sort of nonsense that alienates working women from the idea of attachment parenting & fuels the belief that attachment parenting is really anti-feminist, if not anti-woman (see Erica Jong’s WSJ article). Which is too bad, because I think attachment parenting actually has a lot to offer working moms… real tools that make parenting more fulfilling even with an overly-full schedule.
Rant aside, how do you stay connected when you have to leave your child(-ren)? Especially during a stressful period at work or a business trip or finals or just a long day?