Is a mother more needed by her kids at home — or at work?
“Our society tells women, ‘Go back to work, do what you want, [the kids will] be OK,'” psychoanalyst Erica Komisar recently wrote in a New York Daily News op-ed. She was explaining her theory that working moms are, in part, causing a mental health crisis for their kids. Then she dropped another bomb: “The truth is, children are not OK.”
Komisar makes her case in a provocative new book, “Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters.” She says moms who go back to work too early in their children’s lives, and who are too busy to be present with little ones even when they’re home, are creating a new generation of kids with mental health issues.
She’s says there’s a cost with trying to “do it all.” “In my work with young mothers and women contemplating mothering, I find that fear predominates: fear of loss of a job, fear of loss of a ‘spot’ at work, fear of having less money, fear of loss of self, which is often connected to work,” Komisar said in her Post piece.
“Driving those fears are notions of success tied to financial, professional and material endeavors rather than relationships,” she continued. “For too many, the 24/7 workplace has replaced the value of mothering as a priority. Having a successful career and making lots of money that allows you to buy more stuff doesn’t help you to be more present for loved ones: children, spouses, family and friends.”
She also explained, “I was actually seeing an epidemic level of mental disorders in very young children” caused by the “absence of mothers on a daily basis.”
It’s not just the subject matter that’s bothering people, according to Melissa Langsam Braunstein, a former U.S. Department of State speechwriter and now an independent writer in Washington, D.C.
“I found [the book] ‘Being There’ incredibly disappointing,” Langsam Braunstein wrote in a review for the Institute for Family Studies. “In insisting that parents’ presence matters to their children’s well-being and that society would benefit by paying more attention to those relationships, it offers an important and frequently overlooked view. However, these crucial points are likely to remain unheard because of the author’s alienating tone. If I hadn’t promised to review it, I would have angrily flung it out the window by page 50.”
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She added, though, that if parents do that — toss it aside in frustration — they’ll miss an important message.
Dr. Rosemary Stein, a Burlington, North Carolina-based pediatrician, agreed with that.
“There’s a thought [among many] that because a kid doesn’t know where he or she is until about two years of age, that as long as they’re with someone who is not abusing them and who is taking care of their needs, then the kid is going to be fine,” Stein told LifeZette.
“I’m not seeing that,” said Stein, who’s been in professional practice for 25 years. “They’re not unhappy. But in many cases I don’t see those children adapting as well.”
Stein calls moms “the people builders,” and when a mom isn’t around, she says kids don’t do as well. “For the mom to be able to build the people, Mom has to figure out what’s going on from day to day,” she said. “Kids grow distant if Mom is at work all the time, and that relationship is not there. And when the kid is a teenager, that relationship fades away with all of the activities and everything if you haven’t grounded that relationship.”
There is no one like a mother in a child’s life, said Stein. Kids, she added, “need that kind of guidance and molding that a mom gives.”
I love my mom. No matter what we go through, no matter how much we argue, because I know, at the end, she'll always be there.
— Dailyteenwords (@dailyteenwords) April 27, 2018
Today, most mothers are working full time or at least part time — so there are challenges.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s almost too much to ask for a parent to be able to do that on a consistent basis. I can see moms saying, ‘What do you expect from me? I have my career. Are you saying my kids’ needs come before my family’s needs?’ But I can see the differences, subtle and not so subtle, in these little kids. As a pediatrician of 25 years with many of the same patients, I see those kids grow up.”
Stein shared five pieces of helpful advice for those who want to work or who simply can’t stay at home, especially during the first year of a child’s life:
1.) Don’t settle when it comes to daycare. The place needs to be more than just “safe.” If your gut tells you the environment isn’t right for your child, listen to it.
2.) Look for stability. Find someone who can help your child learn how to make good decisions — and be there to talk with your son or daughter throughout the day.
3.) Develop a bond. Do what you can to create a strong connection with the person who watches your children. You want this person to invest in your child’s well-being. “Make [the caregiver] part of your family. We don’t do that very often anymore — we just think they ‘work for us.'”
4.) Think outside the box. If what you’re doing isn’t working for you and your family, look for alternative solutions. “Pray on it, give it a little time — but make changes” if you need to do so.
5.) Turn off those electronics! As much as possible when you’re home with loved ones, put down that phone and turn off the computer and television. “For the sake of the children, our time on electronics has got to decrease.”
I love my mom with all my heart! Always there at my lowest.
— michelle (@xomichellle1) May 3, 2018
I LOVE MY MOM SO MUCH. SHES THE BEST HUMAN IN MY LIFE. GOD BLESSED ME WITH SUCH A GREAT PERSON TO GUIDE ME THROUGH LIFE. ❤️?
— Mir ? (@MireyaSalas14) May 4, 2018
Carly Wilson is a freelance writer and photographer from South Dakota.