I find that I tread very lightly and, sometimes, nervously, into conversations with other women and mothers about my belief that mothers are the best caregivers for their little ones. I do so because the last thing I want to do is create any guilt within another mother nor do I believe any mother can judge another. At the same time, I think it is important for our society to address the issues now facing us as a nation that result from our practice of day care and early parent-child separation. I am convinced that the first 3-5 years of a human being’s life require the unique essential effect that mothers have upon their children.
It is frustrating to me that it isn’t a cultural understanding and recognition that “mothers are the first educators, the first mentors; and truly it is the mothers who determine the happiness, the future greatness, the courteous ways and learning and judgement, the understanding and the faith of their little ones” (Baha’i Writings).
I am not speaking as a religious fanatic nor as a conservative political advocate. I am speaking about what we actually know as humans about the chronological, emotional, spiritual, and physical development of our species.
In nature, most animals have little or no contact with their biological fathers. It is always amazing when we hear about a frog species or the seahorse, or a kind of bird, or unusual mammal like the Emperor penguin or Marmoset who have active animal fathers who take on that role mothers are known for. Strange that our own species is not emphatically stating, “Baby humans ideally thrive when cared for by their biological mothers.” Have we? Obviously, as humans, we know that children need caregivers and we strive to ensure children are adopted or fostered to loving caregivers when their biological parent is unable to do so. But are we convinced that our babies need us as much as we should be?
Anne R. Pierce, author of “Ships Without a Shore” is a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and in her research had the guts to say… “steeped in intellectual permissiveness, we have convinced ourselves that parental substitutes are as good as parents themselves at caring for children, that the concepts of nurture and of the maternal are archaic and irrelevant…”
“…the idea that men and women, boys and girls are the same except for “social conditioning” is collapsing beneath the weight of brain research, new findings about the impact of hormones and cross-cultural anthropological studies. Then there is the issue of day care. In spite of persistent attempts to cover it up, there is now a mountain of evidence that day care for babies is generally detrimental to optimal emotional and cognitive growth, and to the development of conscience” (Anne Pierce, author and Ph.D.).
My own 11 year old daughter has had many beautiful dreams of her future ever since she could talk. Her many aspirations have included becoming a teacher, a cafe owner, a midwife, an actress, a farmer, and, always, a mother. Despite my own example of being home with my children for 7 years and incorporating my work as a parent educator and now working full-time, my daughter has asked on several occasions, since about age 7, how she will manage any one of these careers and be there for her babies.
It appears that the current American Dream of the middle to upper class consisting of owning a home, 2 cars, taking 2-3 vacations per year, eating out, and being able to afford all the lovely comforts society impresses upon us has led us to believe that babies are second to lifestyle. Additionally, it has become sexist to believe that a baby does best with his or her mother. How dare I think that? There are plenty of fathers who are at home with children, some even better than mothers would be. Why should the mother give up her education or career? Why can’t a father stay home or be asked to give up his career?
Sometimes I feel like these arguments are just whiny. As Pierce states, “We modern Americans tend, at times, to doubt the obvious and believe the absurd.”
I don’t doubt that there are great fathers. This doesn’t change the nature of humans. Human babies need human mothers in the first few years of life. Is it fair? Should that be the question? It seems that wanting to provide the very best for our children might be our top priority and not what would serve our self interests. Could our society be creating better solutions for families that would allow mothers more support? Heck yes.
Once my husband and I made the decision to have children, we had to downsize. Finances would not allow us the luxury of living the same lifestyle and accommodate our decision that I would be home with the babies. We moved from owning our own home to quite a dismal apartment. We had one car. We didn’t vacation. It was hard and it had a purpose and it wasn’t forever.
From the moment our daughter and son were born they wanted me: my milk, my arms, my comfort, my attention, my goodnight kisses. I gave into their desire wholeheartedly and out of my need for support, balance, and sanity their father still provided them with his comfort, attention, and kisses despite their passionate protests. Dr. Gordon Neufeld, developmental psychologist explains: attachment is like a polarized magnet or the pursuit of proximity with one person which results in resistance of another. A baby’s desire for its mother means that the child resists closeness to the father because young children can only develop one human attachment at a time and that initial attachment naturally is inclined toward the mother. As a child matures, he or she can maintain multiple attachments.
Our lifestyle has significantly improved, as we always knew it would, now that the kids are older and we are a two-income family. Those 7 years of being the primary caregiver (7 years with my daughter and 4 years with my son) were accomplished out of a strong conviction that I was critical to their healthy development.
According to Professor Mohammadreza Hojat:
“Those who, in fact, have been abandoned early in their lives, every day for many of their waking hours, may not develop real concepts of mercifulness and concern for others. Since more than half of the mothers in this country are employed, a great many of our children do not gain early, first-hand understanding of concepts such as maternal love, concern, responsiveness, mercifulness, dignity, respect, etc. consequently, there will be no internalized image of a nurturing mother; there will be no object of love; there will be no concept of love” (Ships Without a Shore, p. 87-8).
My work as a Simplicity Parenting Counselor has allowed me the honor of inviting parents to create a less stressed home life that includes moments of more connection. Kim John Payne, author of “Simplicity Parenting”, wrote the book in response to the many children he began diagnosing with Post-Traumatic-Stress syndrome not because of war or abuse but due to their incredibly overscheduled, unfiltered, media-saturated, and unpredictable lives. As a result of our current approach to parenting and education, we have an epidemic of anxious children.
Interestly, I also discovered the theory of Stephan J. Suomi, author of “Parents, Peers, and the Process of Socialization in Primates”, who found “When infant resus monkeys are reared away from their mothers, “the attachment relationships that these peer-reared infants develop [i.e. human day care centers], are almost always “anxious” in nature.” it appears that our children are additionally becoming anxious, not only due to their stressful lifestyle, but additionally due to an insecure parent-child relationship – an outcome of our practice of day care. Again from Pierce, “The immediate effect [of children in day care from infancy] is an insecure parent-child relationship…If children age 2 or younger are too young to be institutionalized in child-care centers, a bare minimum of two years of intensive parenting is essential.”
In regards to mothers who have had no choice but to return to work and relinquish their baby to a day care center, despite their desire to be home with their baby, – this opinion is not meant to impose pain and guilt upon you. We have created a society that makes it very difficult emotionally, mentally, and financially to choose our babies over economic survival. We live in a world that has created systems that won’t allow a gap in work or education for childrearing.
For mothers who have the privilege to ponder what choice to make (the choice between staying home or returning to work when their baby is young), I hope this information provides a foundation for you to feel comfortable in choosing your baby. Think creatively, don’t fear living simply in order to take care of your little one.
For mothers who may think this poses an unfair position – no matter how inconvenient, unjust, or difficult – we don’t need to create a culture that believes denying the needs of our own babies is necessary in order for us to establish the equality of the sexes.
Need more companioning regarding your role as a mother? Please visit my Coaching Page for more information on working with me individually.