Monday, April 20, 2009

Working and Attachment Parenting - Incompatible?

July looms. Before then I have to thrash out the decision of whether to return to my previous life as a PhD student or not. Before Cave Baby came along it all seemed so simple: walk out the door, switch off the mother in me and pull on the hardworking researcher self like a cloak. But I suppose every previously employed mother has gone through this same angst: being a mother isn't just a persona that I can adopt or cast off at will.

There are so many questions and they are all jumbled up inside my head. There is the priority of my needs versus hers. There is my past, my future, and our finances. But first there are two questions I need to work through and they are both "How can I keave her?". How can I bear to leave her, when I have been with her almost every second of her life so far? And how can I ensure that her material and emotional needs are met whilst (if) I am away? Being primarily a practical person I find it easiest to deal with concrete logistical problems. But even within these are challenges posed, I reluctantly admit, by my attachment parenting philosophy .

First, will she be nourished adequately if I am not there? She is a great eater (we have not gone the baby-led weaning route, mainly because I had not heard of it, but I am satisfied with our current balance of spoon and self-feeding) but she has shown no inclination to drink anything but my milk, from my breast. At the moment I am happy with this, but I do not want her to become dehydrated in my absence. And call me selfish, but I do not want to wean her down to night feeds only. I love nursing her. She loves my milk and it is perfect for her nutritionally. Why should I compromise on that?

Secondly, how will she get to sleep without me nursing her? She will go to sleep in her slings and even in her pushchair if necessary, but if she becomes over-tired and decides to fight sleep, only the breast will do. I could not bear the thought of her crying hysterically for hours because she needs to sleep and would, if only she could be comforted by me.

Thirdly, how will she cope emotionally without me there? I have no doubt that she would cope and, if I do leave her, she will be cared for by grandparents who love her. But her life has been spent by my side, day and night, so is it cruel to break such a strong attachment for a few hours just for my convenience? And, speaking of hours, how long is too long? Do I have to wean her off my presence by leaving her for longer and longer periods? And if this is the case, is she not paying even more of a penalty for my desire to leave her?

Gosh, these are really tough questions for me and I haven't even got on to grasping the really stingy nettly subject of whether I actually want to finish my PhD and what the heck I will do if I don't.

I love being a attached parent and I would not have it any other way. I am lucky to have her grandparents living nearby who would delight in taking care of her. I am really lucky to have the luxury of considering not going back to my studies - we are fortunate that Cave Father earns enough to keep us all fed and watered. And I know lots of really loving mamas that balance work and children and even manage to continue breastfeeding. But for the life of me I just can't figure out how they do it and I know I'm going to be turning this over and over in my mind until I am forced to make a decision. Are work and attachment parenting really incompatible?


Joxy said...

**hugs** Yes tough questions. It is possible to do both; it's tiring, and demands a lot from us mums but it is possible.

I wonder though, could you wait a wee bit longer before returning to your studies? From the way you write, the questions you ask it seems a shame to forego your doctorate and perhaps you could investigate childcare available on campus?

I would write more however Rye has just plonked a book on me - guess he wants a story read :)


Liz said...

No, work and attachment parenting aren't incompatible per se, but work as arranged in our culture is tricky to balance with it, I have found.
The only reason we have trouble with this balance is because work and home are such separate spheres and we've been taught they do not and can not mix.
I don't think this is really true, but it is certainly hard to go against this as any kind of more flexible working pattern than 'go to work place and work for 8+ hours, return home' is seen as rather odd at best and downright flaky at worst.
Also, our modern tendency to live miles away from our workplace scuppers us as well as it's difficult (and impractical) for most of us to just pop into a workplace for an hour or 2 each day.
I don't know how to solve this one either. I was lucky in that I never really sorted out my career before the children and finished my degree when I was 6 months pregnant with my eldest, so I didn't have anything I was interested in 'getting back to' and so I've stayed at home with them.
It really dependson them too. My daughter was incredibly clingy as a baby and fed 6 or 8 times a day (and a night) for at least 14 months. She did also eat solids well and take water from a cup, but there was no way I could leave her before she was about 15 months, but after that time, she was fine as long as she had a carer she was happy with (Daddy or grandparents). My son is completely different. He cried and cried if I went out for a few hours without him until he was about 2.5 years. There are so many variables to consider that it's hard to know where to start really!
Me and my DH are currently trying to sort out this balance so we each can do some sort of work outside the house and each spend more time at home. So far what that has meant is that my DH is now unemployed, we're living on benefits which don't pay all the bills even though we're living as frugally as we can, and we're just trusting that everything will work out for the best! My husband is retraining currently and I'm also hoping to retrain so we'll both be mainly self-employed. I currently do part-time flexible (but badly paid) work from home.
If you come up with any ideas or insights, I'd sure like to hear about them! ;)

Amanda said...

Anyone who says working or studying outside the home away from baby is completely compatible with attachment parenting is spouting complete sh*t. Sorry for the explitive, but I am angry that I was told women can have it all. The truth is that we cannot have it all entirely. Something always gets short changed.

I was painful for me to go back to work full-time when my son was nine-months old. I hate to complain because I was EXTREMELY luckly to get that much time at home with him. But that doesn't negate the truth of my emotions and the sinking feeling that a mother should not be expected to leave her baby who is not yet walking, not yet talking, not yet able to effectively communicate his wants, needs, emotions, physical state, etc.

I was angry (and still am). At our "advanced" society for suggested that such an arrangement is preferable and, even more so, at myself.

It can be and is done all the time. It certainly won't kill you or your little one. But, it was amazingly difficult for both my son and myself. When is the appropriate time to "leave" your child? I don't know. Kids are flexible creatures. They do adjust. But they very comfortably adjust "back", too. My son had almost completely weaned himself by the end of last summer. As soon as I was laid off in December, he started nursing again. And, for the two months I was home, he exhibited and expressed anxiety about me leaving.

Some mamas and supposedly their children do great going to work/daycare. It's a decision a woman can only make for herself. And, don't get me wrong, we made the very best of work and daycare and the time we did have together. And we were all reasonably happy for the year and a half I was working out of the home. It just wasn't the ideal, that is for sure.

If you do decide to head back to school/work, I do have some tips on what worked well for us. But, I fear I've rambled on way longer than I intended here!

Maternal Tales said...

Hi Cave Mother. I stopped by yours last night but didn't have a moment to leave a comment - so thanks for visiting me back. I agree with Joxy on this one - is there any way you can put off going back to your PHD for a while?? I definitely don't think yu should give it up entirely - you never know how you'll feel in the future and it would be such a shame to bin it after working so hard. Babies are gorgeous and wonderful creatures and it would be a shame to leave yours before you feel ready. However, they are also very adaptable, so I am sure your baby will adapt to whatever decision you make and whatever situation they are put in. No decisions are every easy, but do what is right for you first and foremost x

Cave Mother said...

Thank you all so much for these comments - I read them last night, but didn't have time to reply, but they did make me feel better. Liz and Amanda, thank you for telling me about your experiences. It really is so useful. I find it very liberating to know that other people have found it difficult to manage a closely attached parenting relationship alongside work. I had been worried that I was making it sound more difficult than it was in order to justify not going back to studying yet - but after reading your words, I don't think I am. I think I am being realistic, and paying my daughter the respect she deserves.

Amanda, it is particularly interesting to read how you resent having gone back to work so soon. I am sorry you had to do this and I hope I can learn from your bad experience and delay my own return. As you have all said, I think I need to delay my return. It gets complicated with funding and I don't think I am meant to take more than a year's break, but at the end of the day my daughter is my priority. I do have the option of downgrading my PhD to a Masters and that might be a more realistic goal with my limited time.

Liz, I read your posts about work with interest and I hope you manage to find something that suits you eventually. I have done two different "career" jobs before even beginning this PhD and I was totally wrong for both - so I feel just as unsure about my future as you probably do.

Cave Baby is doing her best to contribute to this message so I'd better go! Thanks again everyone.

Earthenwitch said...

Hmm, well, speaking as someone who finished a PhD since having a baby, I have a few questions. First, where are you in the PhD process? I managed to get a full draft submitted, by the skin of my teeth, around the time the witchling was born (finished it literally on the Thursday, and had her on the Sunday). This is just me, of course, but I would have found it nigh-on impossible to complete if I hadn't reached that stage. That said, you are contemplating resuming much later on than I'd thought I'd have to if I hadn't managed to get a full draft done; I was thinking about starting again only a few weeks later. I do manage now, for example, to do some freelance work while she sleeps, so I guess I could, at this point (eleven months in, nearly), have managed to resume research, albeit at a slower pace. I'm not sure what your area is - as an arts student, largely 'research' = reading arcane books on my own, mainly at home; of course, if you're science-based, I realise it might be more of a 9 - 5 thing for you.

Also, although I haven't gone back to work yet, I will be doing so on June 4, though I've negotiated down to half-time hours. The thing we've come up with is that Quercus will look after the witchling when I'm out; the first time I left her for a couple of hours with him, and I cried all the way into work, and again at the time when I would otherwise have been feeding her off to sleep, sitting in the disabled toilets and pumping. That said - and I like to think that this is primarily because of all the time that Quercus and I have put in, taking an attachment route too - she was honestly fine, and didn't cry herself to sleep in my absence. Quercus offered her some expressed milk which I'd built up in preparation for this couple of hours; she had a little, and he held her and gentled her until she was sleepy before doing what I'd normally do when she's tired. She slept, albeit for less time than she does with me, and was fine - bright-eyed and perky when I got back. I literally ran down the lane to get back to her! When I do go back in June, I intend to keep up the pumping - it's just for one feed out of six - so that there's no way we have to wean. I would miss it too much, and, as you say, it's the perfect foodstuff, so it's far too important to risk.

In practical terms, I wonder, funding permitting, if you have the option to 'interrupt'. I'm not sure if all universities operate the same policy as my own, but I managed to stave off having to pay tuition fees when my funding ended and I needed more time by interrupting, from periods as brief as six weeks to six months. Perhaps that sort of thing might be an option? Alternatively, can you consider re-registering part-time to buy yourself more time?

Sorry - this has turned into something of an essay, but I really feel for you, and this is so close to the questions I found myself asking, particularly as, during pregnancy, I'd thought I'd be quite happy to go trolling off back to work without so much as a nursery-wards glance. :)

Cave Mother said...

Hi Earthenwitch, thanks for this post. It's really useful. I am only 1 year into the PhD. Briefly, I feel there are challenges - time and motivation. Even to do it part time I would have to go in 2 days/week (I am economics/statistics based but part sponsored by industry, so I need to work in that company occasionally). I can't imagine getting much work done at home - maybe 1 hour/day max. Motivation-wise, I don't know if I can be bothered. 2 years full time = 4 years part time (that's if I write up exactly on time) and realistically I think we would like to have another baby in that 4 year timescale. And I can't see myself then having the commitment to pursue an academic career, which leads me to question why I want to do the PhD in the first place. Before the baby was here, it was fun - more fun than working. But now, it feels more like work because it will take me away from where I really want to be.

From this comment it sounds like I do not want to go back. In truth, I don't. But I don't want to waste the work I have done and I do not want the gap on my CV (which is bitty enough as it is, as I have a nasty habit of leaving jobs after 2-3 years due to boredom). At the moment I feel like I don't care about the PhD but in 5 or 6 years, with children going to school, I will have to pick up my 'career' somehow. That is what I am concerned about.

Cave Mother said...

Oh and about interrupting - I have taken a year's interruption and I believe that they do not like people to take any more than that. Another problem is the maternity pay they gave me. I don't know whether I will have to pay that back if I end up writing an MPhil rather than going the PhD distance.

Mon said...

Oh CM, this is a tough one. However, after reading everything and all your comments, it seems you know the answer - you don't truly want to.

For me, leaving the baby would need something stronger than a gap in my CV or wasting any previous work. Like feeling completely unfulfilled NOT studying/working, or no choice due to finances. That's just me of course.
But I just feel that if the motivations are as you say (gap, etc) then you're much more likely to feel bad about returning to it.

There's always the future right?

Cave Mother said...

Mon this is a perceptive comment and to be honest, you are completely right. In fact it feels quite nice to hear someone else say it. It's like so many "mothering instinct" type feelings - I so often ignore what I "feel" and instead do the "right" thing. And here, what I feel is that I just ant to stay with my baby. But that brings up a lot of guilt re wasting my education, not contributing financially to the home etc. Thanks so much for saying this.

Mon said...

Honestly, I just picked out what you were saying. :)

I hear ya about wanting to do the 'right' thing. I've found the Right Thing has big sharp teeth and a tendency to come round and bite you in the ass. :D