I consider myself a natural parent (in progress) in most aspects of the term. From early on (when “little” was in the womb to be exact), my husband and I were naturally inclined to follow what might be considered Natural/Attachment Parenting techniques. We had a very gentle homebirth, seek to avoid unnecessary medical intervention, continue nursing into toddlerhood, co-sleep, baby-wear, and so on. We love it! I have been lucky (or stubborn) enough to stay at home with my now 20-month-old son, while my husband works largely from home. It has been a financial stretch, but well worth the effort. To give you perspective, we could survive financially if my husband’s business stays at the current rate, but there is no guarantee that this will happen past July. It is probable, but not certain.
I have now been presented with what might seem like an ideal opportunity from my previous employer (who was gracious enough to give me an extended leave of absence to spend this time with my little guy). They have offered that I work part time (24 hours per week) in the local office starting next month in what seems like a good, relatively low-stress position. The salary and benefits are great, as are the colleagues. I am not bored at home and, in fact, would be just as content to be a stay- or work-at-home mom as far as I can imagine; however, the idea of a little professional challenge, plus the perks, doesn’t sound all that bad. My husband has agreed to care for our son while I work and focus on his business when I return (he is a Realtor for the time being, but not by trade). I would not need to travel often and, if I did, my husband and son would come right along with me.
To most, this seems like a no-brainer, a truly ideal situation. I get my “fulfillment” outside the home, but still spend time with the family; my husband gets more time with our little guy; we get more financial stability; etc. But, as you might imagine, it’s not that simple.
I simply cannot imagine leaving my son 24 hours (plus drive time) a week. I am so grateful for the opportunity. I am grateful that he would be with his father. However, I am not sure I think that it is what is best for my son or for me. I have major anxiety about ever leaving him if he is crying for me to stay. I’m not sure I could do it. What should I do? Can I still be an attached/natural mother and work part time out of the home?
Thank you in advance!
Here’s what our natural parenting mentors had to say:
Amanda: I believe this is one of the most difficult decisions any mother (or regular caregiver) can make because it is literally a choice between two parts of yourself. You want to remain with your child for as long as you can, but at the same time, you need time to recharge yourself and remember that you are an individual with many dimensions, not the least of which is mother.
If you choose to return to work, please know that this will not make you any less of a natural parent than you already are. You will still be the same woman, wife, and mother and though it may be challenging, your beliefs and desires for how you raise your child will remain constant. As someone who worked part time through the first years of each of my children, I can also tell you that they did not suffer in any way by being with a caregiver other than myself. It is always heart-wrenchingly difficult to leave your precious child when all he wants is for you to stay, but in leaving and coming back you have the opportunity to teach him that no matter the circumstances, you will always be there for him and you will always come back. You can teach him that when you leave your work environment, everything related to work stays there and you will never impose upon him the stressors you might experience from your job. Finally, you can teach him that you can be a wife and a mother and an employee all at the same time, because you are strong and can do what is necessary to help your family.
All that being said, I am not going to tell you to return to work or to continue to stay at home. That is an answer I believe you will find in your gut, using your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right, then absolutely don’t do it, but if it does feel right, more power to you. You already know the answer; all you have to do is find it.
Moorea: I would encourage you to look around to find any friends or acquaintances who have managed engaged and attached parenting while having a career. For me, it was important to have mentors like that. I was inspired by friends who seemed to manage natural parenting even while working full time and it helped me realize that working part time was a good medium that would fit my comfort zone.
For many of the moms I know, the decision to work or to add hours as the child grew older is actually decided by three things: first, whether you have passion or an appreciated talent for the work, or if your work helps society; second, if the childcare situation provides an attached caregiver and a place where your child’s personality will thrive; and third, if you feel ready to share attachment in a new way.
You may also consider your breastfeeding relationship; some toddlers nurse infrequently, and some are still nursing very frequently on demand, which would change a bit if you were working.
When all else fails, this is not the only moment you can make a decision. You can try working and end it if it doesn’t feel right for your family, or you can decline and trust that another great opportunity will come your way later.
So your answer is, yes, you can still work and be an attached parent! From where I see it, your situation is beautiful, but you also have to listen to your heart. I work more than part time now, but when I was working only part time, I missed my child and had guilt. I was also fulfilled, blessed to have a great caregiver, and refreshed as a mother by being away for a few hours. All of it.
Nathan: First, let me congratulate you on following your natural inclinations to be an attachment parent! My partner and I also found this way of child-rearing (and life) to be a natural fit and are also loving it. We, too, have committed to a similar financial situation: I’m a part-time teacher and earn the paychecks while she stays home full time with our little one. While our son is just a bit younger than yours – he’s now 17 months – I can imagine us having a very similar difficult time if such a tempting situation presented itself. Hopefully our similar situations and ages of our sons can help us connect a bit. Additionally, I hope that as a dad I can give you another perspective on the situation.
You sound like a great mom. This is obvious by virtue of the fact that you care about this at all. I know that you are anxious at the prospect of leaving your son, but let me assure you that doing so will not make you one iota less of an attachment parent. Attachment parenting in your household is a two-person job; therefore, as long as one of you is with your son, as far as I’m concerned, your household’s devotion to natural parenting is intact. You don’t stop being an attached parent the moment you close your car door. I work outside of the house three days a week for about nine hours per day. Even though I’m out of the house, I go through my day assured that our son is with his mother. As soon as I get home, I’m right there by their sides. When his mother leaves for various meetings and activities, the boy and I are home together. As long as someone dedicated to natural parenting is with him, I feel secure.
I don’t see this as a door closing, but rather a door opening for your husband and son: a new stage for your family. The benefits for your son are two-fold. First, he gets to improve his relationship with his father. Second, he gets to see that women aren’t just mamas, but also women who work in the “real world.” Additionally, your husband will benefit doubly: first, by bonding more with your son, acting as the primary parent more often, and second, by gaining a better appreciation for all of the hard work that you have done thus far.
In all likelihood, if you haven’t left your son for any amount of time, he will cry, but this will pass. He will soon come to understand that you will be home soon; meanwhile, he will come to enjoy his time with his dad. To soften the blow of being gone, perhaps you could try taking trips for increasing stretches to ease him into your leaving on your work days. To add a little fun for both you and your son, at work you might try sending him pictures via email or phone. Your husband could also help him leave you voicemail. Also, you could call him on your breaks to let him know what you’re up to and to check in on his day.
Whatever your decision, I hope that you feel secure with your choice, free of guilt.