3-year-olds are hard to leave, too

In writing my recent post about studying for the bar, I revisited a couple of old posts that I wrote when I was studying for the bar. I came across one that has always stuck with me & it’s about leaving my son to go take the bar exam.

Well… That’s sort of what it’s about. It’s also a response to an old blog post by Dr. George Wootan, in which he argues that mothers should not leave their children until they reach three years of age.

Having been through life with a three year old, I now ask myself: What’s so special about 3?

Definitely at 3 my son had a better sense of time… in that he was aware it exists & passes, though it was (& still is) all clearly very confusing to him. But every leave-taking is interminable to him still… It’s more the routine than anything else that has improved. But he’s been used to our routines for a long time now. He knows someone he loves will pick him up from school. He knows I will come home from work… eventually.

But at three he was still sometimes asking for me when he would wake up from his afternoon nap, as if hoping that by some magical turn of events I got to come home early. Except for the weekends, I’m never there when he wakes up from his nap. A sleepy phone call to my office is our substitute.

It’s definitely not easier to leave my previously-three-now-four year old.

He’s so engaged & engaging. His emotional needs are so much better defined & articulated. He’s more interesting to be with (though I thought he was pretty darn interesting on day one).

Our relationship is more complex. He needs me just as much. In many of the same ways (to fall asleep, to nurse). In some new ways (to decompress, to read, to share exciting interests). In the evenings & on the weekends, there is never enough time to do all the things we’d like to do together.

There are also consistency of care issues that are unique to the preschool set (as I’ve experienced first-hand). Once T started school, it became extremely difficult to find a quality childcare solution on such a part-time basis. That messes with the routine, which makes leave-takings more unsettling.

Luckily we’ve settled into a new, different routine. And just as when he was an infant & toddler, T has MFA Dad & loving substitute caregivers who can give him all he needs & more.

I suppose Dr. Wootan’s response to all this might be, “Well, mothers should stay home indefinitely, until their children are ready to move out of the house.” (That’s a totally uneducated guess!) Fundamentally, though, I still think it is unfair to both mother & child to suggest there is a right & a wrong way to go about balancing our family & community/work/social lives. (Not that I actually believe there is such a thing as “balance.”)

I still feel a twinge of sadness every time I have to say goodbye to my mother. I think she feels the same. So I don’t believe there is any magic age at which this gets easier. There is no magic formula, only incremental adjustments & coping techniques & lots of kisses & hugs.

So I still think Dr. Wootan is wrong to have used his platform to suggest that I was wrong for having left my son to go to work before he was three. I also still think he was wrong to use his title of “doctor” & the specter of guilt to influence any woman’s decision to work or not work. There is nothing magic about a child turning three that makes it more or less “ok” to leave in order to pursue work or studies or whatever brings a mother fulfillment outside the home. Life just is what it is at each age.

Of course attachment & bonding are important during the first few years. But they’re still important later. And attachment & bonding have always been (& still are) possible, even though I catch a train to work during the week.



Filed under Attachment Parenting, Feminism, Mothering, Parenting, Working

3 responses to “3-year-olds are hard to leave, too

  1. Well, I am finding this incredibly timely as I am away from my 3 and 2 year olds. It’s fairly unpleasant to be separated and the 2yo has a fever. Skyping isn’t the same and I am sad about it. I simply can’t be everywhere at once and his father is fantastic. He’s had to travel a lot and no one ever told him to stick around. The breast pump is on and that’s the best I can do. I can’t imagine this trip would be easier on my daughter in 4 weeks, when she turns 4.

    • Oh no! I hope your 2 year old is feeling better. They’ll be ok – even better – they’ll be great with all the daddy time! I hope you were able to enjoy your time away a bit. Definitely harder on parents than it is on the kiddos!!

  2. Pingback: The Network-ing | Mom, JD

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