The issue of working versus staying at home with your child raises many questions and feelings for mothers, in particular for new mothers. Whether a mother works by necessity, choice, or both, she may have mixed feelings about going to work and the impact this will have on her baby, toddler, or young child. No matter what arrangement a woman makes, it can feel like a balancing act between the financial needs of the family, her personal needs and those of her child.
Some women find that working outside the home, full or part-time, helps them be a “better” mother, as they can maintain a sense of identity in the work world which balances and solidifies their identity as a mother. Other women may feel that the bond with their child is strengthened by their being home full-time and that leaving their child with someone else in the early years does not feel right.
Mothers often express guilt or anxiety about leaving their child in someone else’s care. “Will my baby be safe?” “Will he miss me and feel abandoned?” “Will she be angry at me?” “How much time do I have to spend with her so that she gets enough of me?” Mothers may worry that their child will become more attached to another caregiver. “How can I be sure he knows that I am his mother?” can be their secret or openly voiced fear. All children are and remain keenly aware of the person who is their “Mommy” and she is never replaceable, but it can be hard for a mother who leaves home for many hours a day to hold onto that conviction. Negotiating the complicated relationship that women have with caregivers outside the family (nannies, babysitters, and daycare workers) and with family caregivers is a common topic of discussion in our Mother-Child Groups.
To make matters more complicated, it is not always easy to plan ahead. A mother’s feelings and needs may evolve and change in the weeks and months following the birth of her child. She may have imagined, before having the baby, that she will never want to go back to work, or, on the contrary, that she will feel trapped by full-time parenthood and will miss her activities outside the home. After the baby is actually there, her reality may be surprisingly different. Some women might find they want to stay home but cannot for financial reasons or because it forecloses the option of returning to their work later on. Or they might want to return part-time and that may or may not be possible. Some women may be able to do their professional work at home, which brings its own advantages and challenges.
Women participating in our groups hear from mothers who have different realities, wishes, and expectations. It helps them to realize that there is no solution that is right for everyone. Through our discussions, each mother has an opportunity to explore her situation and feelings so that she can make choices that feel right for her.