Working moms who desire the satisfactions of a career are often worried about their child’s ability to separate from them when they decide to re-enter the world of work.
A child’s reaction to his mother leaving is dependent on his age and stage of cognitive development. Before the age of 6-8 months, an object tends to disappear from a babies mind as soon as she loses physical sight of it or when it’s no longer within range of physical contact. However from approximately 7 months to two years of age, object permanence starts to develop. Babies start to learn that objects exist independently of them, and continue to exist even when they cannot see them. When objects are removed from their sight, they will begin to look for them. So whereas younger infants may be able to tolerate temporary separations from their mothers, older infants may have more negative reactions, noticing that their moms are missing and wanting them back.
These infants may often show signs/reactions of anxiety when temporarily separated from their mothers which is evidenced in crying, refusal to eat, sleep and mood disturbances. From approximately three years of age, toddlers generally have less negative reactions to separation as they are able to understand that the separation is temporary. Their increasing memory skills and ability to mentally represent people also assists them in this regard.
It is not always possible to predict how your baby will respond to your leaving. This is dependant on several factors, for example, the nature of her attachment to you, how sensitive she is to separation, and the nature of attachment to her substitute care-giver.
As a mom there are some things that you can do to facilitate your child’s separation from you. During the first year of life, an infant’s primary need is to be able to trust its environment. This trust develops from and depends on having a secure attachment to its mother or primary care-giver. Build a secure attachment with your child. Be consistently available to and in tune with your babies’ needs.
Other practical ways to build secure feelings in your baby:
- Introduce the game of “peek-a-boo”. This game helps infants understand and deal with the temporary disappearance of a parent. As they experience mild, playful anxiety, they learn to cope with the disappearance and reappearance of people.
- Gradually introduce them to anxiety-provoking situations, for example, have your baby gradually spend increasing time away from you
- An anxious child requires reassurance from an adult who is calm and firm. If your child is in distress, staying calm yourself and providing reassurance helps alleviate the anxiety.
- Generally children who do not have strong and secure attachments with their parents find it difficult to form secure attachments with substitute care-givers. If your baby does not adjust well to baby sitters then avoid being away for more than a few hours at a time.
- During the first two years infants go through stages during which they are unusually sensitive to strangers. This may not be a good time to introduce substitute care-givers that are unfamiliar to them. As far as possible try to get assistance from people she has become used to, for example grandparents, other family members or friends.
- Due to the importance of an infant forming secure attachments in the first two years, it is advisable to keep the same substitute care-giver for as long a period as possible. Inconsistency and too many changes in care-givers may make it difficult for a child to develop strong, secure bonds.
- Inform care-givers about your babies needs and behaviours and give them instructions on how you would like them to respond to these. If babies’ needs and cues are responded to in a way that is familiar to him, this can help to reduce separation anxiety.
- It is often preferable for toddlers to be cared for in their own homes as this is a familiar environment in which they can feel more secure.
Finally, take a closer look at your own emotions. Often working mothers experience emotional conflict that’s created from their desires to have a career and societal/cultural pressures to be a mother. As a result these women often feel guilty that they are not being good-enough mothers. Guilt, frustration and personal unhappiness are unhealthy emotions and will affect your parenting skills and your relationship with your children. If you are experiencing these negative emotions do some introspection and try to evaluate what is motivating them. Remember research shows that moms who don’t really want to work but are forced to because of economic pressures often feel as frustrated and unhappy as women who desire to work but feel forced to be full-time moms because of societal expectations. So whether you work or not, your sense of personal fulfilment and hence your ability to parent effectively will be influenced by your ability to make your own choices rather than meet external expectations.