Please allow me to begin this post by stating it is in no way my intention to judge or criticise choices made by any parents. I know how exhausting it is to manage the daily parenting decisions and dilemmas such as how to get the baby to eat his peas, let alone the big and important things that actually really mean something. I just wanted to get out some of the thoughts that are going round in my head this evening, and was wondering if there is ever a perfect answer to the question about how best to raise our children.
Before I had my boy or even became pregnant, I had a pretty well-considered idea about what sort of a parent I wanted to be, and what my life as a mum would be like. I then went along to my NCT classes and my ideas changed. I decided I would give breastfeeding a go. I would think about co-sleeping. I was worried about the effects of cortisol on the development of my baby’s brain, so Husband and I agreed we would try not to let him cry.
Once he arrived I decided to parent by instinct, and what felt best to me was holding him close to me at all times, carrying him in a sling, breastfeeding on demand, comforting him, being available, taking responsibility for fulfilling his every need. The mummy friends I made were making similar decisions. I discovered that natural parenting, attachment parenting and gentle parenting were pretty popular amongst the NCT allumini, and that skin-to-skin bonding and breastfeeding were actively encouraged by midwives and health visitors. Let’s not forget at this point that these things really don’t come easy. Breastfeeding on demand is exhausting to the point of madness; meeting the every need of your child comes at the expense of your own needs in the early days and weeks and months, meaning that the sense of achievement and pride from actually doing this stuff is beyond amazing. My pre-baby self set a goal of breastfeeding for the first 3 months. In reality, I was still exclusively pumping every feed at 8 weeks. Once my baby finally learnt how to latch on and nurse directly from the breast it was something I would not give up for anything or anyone, testament to this is that we are still feeding at 15 months with no plans to quit.
And so Baby R and many of his peers grew together, sharing life experiences cheek to cheek with their mums, secure and comforted, mother and baby entwined and coexisting symbiotically. Positively attached, if you will.
Just as life started to feel manageable again, that’s when the emails started. Invitations to team meetings, reminders about KIT days, discussions about return to work dates. Along with this came the reality that I would have to hand over my baby to someone else, put him in their care. They would not let him nap on their lap, sing his special happy song to him, or wear him in a sling. They would give him milk from a bottle. He would not be the centre of their world.
I found this thought too hard to manage, and so with great sadness I resigned from my job. I had not planned to, and I did not do it primarily for the reasons discussed here, I did it because I love my baby more than I loved my job, and I could not bear not to see him. But had he gone to nursery at 9 months, would it not have been kinder to my child to raise him is an unattached way, being used to receiving love and care from a variety of important people, minimising the inevitable devastation of separation? Why are we being encouraged to raise our babies in a way which seems so incompatible with a return to work early on in their precious lives? Are the benefits of attachment style parenting in the early months not undone through the act of returning to work and forcing the child to have to re-learn a new way of life, to discover how to exist in a world where conflicting expectations are placed upon them depending on whether they are with mummy or not?
I don’t know the answers to these questions but I think it is important to start considering them. My experience of watching friends return to work is that the preparation for nursery happens through taking their baby to the childcare provider for a couple of visits, not through altering their own parenting style. In fact, most of them are re-doubling their efforts to keep the attachment strong. Suddenly they are once again co-sleeping. They begin breastfeeding more frequently. They carry their babies around when they are with them, unwilling to let them go. The differences between the two worlds their children inhabit are made more distinct not less, the stress of having to to constantly move between them and re-learn the rules must be overwhelming at times for babies of all ages.