No, less-than-threes do not need their moms 24/7/365

“A mother shouldn’t leave her child until about the age of three”, declares a father.

Oh, I do not think so.

What infants and toddlers and preschoolers need is attachment — loving, responsive care from people they know and trust, preferably have known for most or all of their lives but at least with whom they have built a relationship. They need to have older people — adults, yes, but also teens, older children — who know them and love them and who they know and love, accessible to them when needed. The placement of that responsibility exclusively on the mother makes it not a joy, a task of life easily fulfilled, but a burden, under which so many of us are breaking.

Something is wrong with a culture that expects a six week old to sleep through the night, that tells a four month old her hunger is inconvenient and needs to be scheduled, that is surprised when a one year old doesn’t want to be left with a stranger. Some of us recognize this, and some have decided the problem must be because women are employed outside the home, have chosen to have lives that do not revolve around our children.

Not that we have moved away from our families of origin.

Not that we have built fences real and psychological between us and our neighbours.

Not that we have tiny families and a dearth of siblings and cousins.

Not that we have segregated adults and children, and alternately marginalize people with fewer years as second class citizens and exalt them as angels on earth (but never simply honor them as perfectly imperfect persons).

Not that we hold ideal a single family home, and define family as up to two parents and 2.5 children.

Not that we have taught half the population to deny and repress any nurturing potential, for fear of being “unmanly”.

No, it is, as always, entirely the fault of women. Of mothers, for daring to stand up for our humanity and our autonomy, for daring to do the work that earns power and prestige and some amount of protection, for daring to say we have needs and wants and goals too, for daring to take even an hour away to nurture ourselves so we have something to give to our children.

How dare we?

What some misguided whistleblowers (on the problem that is our parenting culture) have deemed is the solution — a mother, subsuming her own desires entirely to her offspring for a full three years each, minimum, accessible at all times of day, all days of the week, all weeks of the year — is just as unnatural and damaging as the model it rebels against.

We are not supposed to do this gig — which risks becoming labor and work and mind-breaking, body-destroying toil the less it is shared with loved ones — all by ourselves. We are not. That some can do it and survive, even enjoy it and would pick it first over any other idealized options, speaks far more to the diversity and flexibility of humanity than it does to the failure or unnaturalness of any woman who doesn’t choose or wouldn’t enjoy (possibly wouldn’t survive) 24/7/365 sole caregiving.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person is going to break if she has to clean up one more fecal-smeared surface.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person is snapping and yelling and cannot catch her breath alone.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person’s back is breaking from twelve hour shifts of bending and lifting and carrying and holding.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person has lost herself and her center and has no core around which her child can revolve, no life from which her child can learn.

Kids need people, people they know and love and trust, people who are with them and responsive to them day after day, who know their rhythms and their personalities and their needs and their wants, who have done the work of endless toiletings and feedings, who have assisted nap times and play times, who have tickled and carried, who have been there through laugh fests and crying jags. Kids need as many of those people as possible. Blood relation entirely optional.

One? Is a bare minimum. The kid might survive, even thrive (because humans are fantastically adaptable); and the parent might as well (ditto): but it comes at a high risk of burning out the carer, torching the relationship, scorching the child. And if that happens, there is no one for the child to turn to.

Two is better.

Three or four are better still.

Half a dozen is getting closer to ideal.

Half a dozen? Sure: a parent or two, a grandparent or two, a parent’s sibling or two, a couple teens or older kids: it’s not a big family, as primate evolution (or human tribal history) goes. But good luck growing it in this society.

(My infant only wants me. She’ll have nothing to do with her dad!

Has her dad been there? Does he know her? Does she know him? Did she hear his voice in the womb? Did she breathe in his smell within hours of birth? Did he carry or wear her her first day out of the womb? And the second? And the third? Does she sleep with his breath on her face, his heat keeping her warm, his body keeping her safe? Does he respond to her attempts at communication about her hunger and elimination? Does he help keep her clean? Does she know him?)

Kids — the younger they are the truer this is — need to be with people they know, and trust, and love (who among us doesn’t, really?). They need attachment; this is immutable biological fact. They’ll make do with almost whatever we give them, but the more the better. It is only our messed up society — or the very rare, very exacting child — that says that this means all-mom all-the-time.

(Oh, the breasts. The sweet, sweet breasts. Yes, infants need near-immediate access to milk at basically all times; known and trusted lactating breasts are biologically expected to be on call 24/7. Only humans — and only some humans — would translate this as mother’s-breasts-only, and even fewer as mother-as-primary-minder-at-every-moment. But a ten, a twenty, a thirty month old gets ever less in need of such omnipresent access, even as their need for it sometimes, and their need for constant nearby presence of trusted caregiver(s), might remain unabated.)

Do you, caring mother, have to leave your less-than-three? Of course not. (If there’s no one around we trust our children to trust, why would we want to? If we have enough people to share the load with that it is still a joy and not a toil — however many that is for us, zero or a dozen — why would we want to?) But you could. If you wanted. If your child wanted. If there are other people your child knows will care for them.

And I promise — it wouldn’t destroy them.

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69 Responses to No, less-than-threes do not need their moms 24/7/365

  1. I guess those long, long toilet breaks are gone then.

    • Helen — They’re only allowed if you’ll jump off without wiping should Junior need you. Or he’s asleep. Apparently.

      (I will say I was happy to take the Boychick with me to the toilet for the first year or so. It really didn’t bother me, though when his dad was home, I usually didn’t have any call to. And sometimes I still don’t mind. But sometimes I lock the door.)

  2. I love, love, love this. Yes, I do believe in attachment parenting. No, it doesn’t just mean attachment to me. It’s attachment to her father, who she will ask for throughout the day: ‘Josh?’ Me: ‘He’s at work today’. Cue grumpy face: ‘Work!’. It’s her Aunt who she adores like crazy and will often ask for after a nap and we will often call in the afternoon. And who spends all manner of hours in boisterous play with her. It’s her paternal grandparents who she visits with her Dad so I get an afternoon alone and she comes back with a belly full of chocolate cake and brand new games to play. It’s her maternal grandparents who live far away but thanks to Skype she still greets them with glee when they visit ‘Grandma! Oh wow!’

    And it is so nice, when after a few rough days and she’s trampling all over my last freaking nerve, to have someone else swoop in who has the energy that I temporarily lack.

  3. Many many adults to love. The non-blood-relations ones I can think of offhand, for my kids, are 70-something, 20-something, 30-something and 40-something.

    My children’s father highly values the bond created by doing necessary work for them – and so do they. When he started a new job and increased his time away from the family 25%, they didn’t clamour for him to read more stories or play more games when he came home – they wanted him to cut their bread and butter, brush their teeth, help them dress or undress, serve their food. All this stuff matters far more to all of them than reading stories and playing games.

  4. “Kids don’t need one person, if that person has lost herself and her center and has no core around which her child can revolve, no life from which her child can learn.”

    You made me cry. Yes, I have issues.

    • *hands tissue* *hugs*

      Just to clarify (in case anyone looking on is confused): I do not believe that a woman who is “just” (hah!) a SAHM has necessarily “lost herself”. But that can happen — in SAHMing, in WOHMing, in whatevering. And it’s not a situation I’m willing to accept women routinely being placed in, whether in the name of “giving her all to her child” or “climbing the corporate ladder” or anything that is coming from outside herself rather than being what she, herself, wants and choses.

    • Me too.

      Arwyn, I have a hypothetical (ha!) situation for you: how does a somewhat broken, bipolar SAHM convince her 50s-mentality husband, whose mother believes “feminist” is a dirty word, that providing for the family financially is all well and good, but that doesn’t make him a father?

  5. So glad you picked up this article. It has been bothering me for days. It’s articles like the one you quoted that help to promote post natal depression (or any depression really). How on earth can a mama be everything to a child?

    Your comment: “it comes at a high risk of burning out the carer, torching the relationship, scorching the child. And if that happens, there is no one for the child to turn to” is so, so spot on. My son (under 3 ;) has at least 6 other people (apart from myself and his father) who he feels comfortable enough with to spend a decent amount of time with. I set this up early on, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to be that omnipresent parent that some parents seem to be. I also set it up knowing that I’m not able to be everything for my son when he is older either – one day he is going to have a problem that he may feel that he can’t discuss with me. At such a time he’ll have at least 7 other people to turn to who love him, who know him and who have his best interests at heart.

    Thanks so much for this post – it put into words everything that has been running through my head these last few days.

  6. I always thought my job was to build the strong emotional home that my daughter would need to explore her world with confidence. With family, key friends and trustworthy caregivers in her life, she is able to be with me and away from me and be safe and happy.

  7. Yes. And… but… Need to articulate what I’m trying to say first actually, will have a think. :)

  8. Still reading but had to respond to this:
    “Something is wrong with a culture that expects a six week old to sleep through the night, that tells a four month old her hunger is inconvenient and needs to be scheduled, that is surprised when a one year old doesn’t want to be left with a stranger. Some of us recognize this, and some have decided the problem must be because women are employed outside the home, have chosen to have lives that do not revolve around our children.”
    Agree 100% with the expectations being wack. In my experience (as a SAHM), people blame it on exactly the opposite, though! Babies being babies gets blamed on over-availability of SAHMs, while a WOHM lifestyle is seen as healthier for the children because it forces independence. *sigh*

    • Jess — The blame absolutely goes the other way too; I was speaking only of people who promote attachment parenting (which I am entirely in favor of), who then, as the linked article did, blame detachment practices on working mothers.

      It is always, ALWAYS, women’s fault, according to someone, no matter what we do. We cannot win in the public’s eyes.

  9. AMEN to so much of what you’ve written. For the first 20 months of my first son’s life, we were extremely socially isolated. By the time my third son was born, we had forged a community around us, thanks in some part to a local playgroup I joined and a preschool community that helped me to find adults who were easy for me to be with and who treated my children like people (shocking!). Son #3 was born into that community and the support it provided. It’s a wonderful thing to have people in your life who know your children well enough to love them and be able to figure out what that child needs at a particular time. It’s an even more wonderful thing when your child loves those friends right back and can accept their comfort and guidance. Our kids are growing up together, sometimes seeming more like siblings than friends. The adults and kids provide companionship for each other year-round and meals, trips to the store, emergency child care, hugs, care packages, whatever it is we see each other needing. I cannot believe that until 3-4 years ago, I didn’t have this in my life. It is SO essential to feeling whole!

  10. Yes, thank you! We evolved to run in herds, with multiple adults/older children attached to and caring for the young. Shoving an entire tribe’s worth into one mom is only begging for disaster. And it does, far too often.

  11. Would I like to be available for my child when she needs me? Yes. Could someone else step in, such as her father, aunt, my best friend, her grandparents, when I am unable to meet her needs? Yes. Do I think that she will suffer for this? No.

    People, especially children, are very flexible. We would never have made it as a species otherwise. I don’t even think it’s the healthiest situation for the child to be solely dependent on the mother. People are social creatures, we are meant to bond with many (or a least a few/several). By interacting with, becoming attached to, and trusting others a child will learn valuable social skills. I’m not saying that children whom don’t will become outcasts, just that I think it’s important they form relationships outside of the mother-child dyad. We will meet and have to deal with many, many people over the course of our lives; the sooner we start learning the better.

  12. Yes!

    And…if I did not hold my child in his first moments, or 24/7 in his first weeks, this does not mean I cannot bond with him in that way – our NICU experience shows that very clearly. And if we can bond with all that, any child can bond with dad, grandma, cousin, aunt, neighbor….given the opportunity to know them and given some effort to win that trust on the part of the caregiver.

  13. I have been ranting about that article for days to everyone who will listen. I couldn’t agree with you more. My daughter is deeply attached to a number of people outside of me. She asks to go out on ‘dates’ with her various aunts (all chosen family as my bio-family and my husband’s bio-family are toxic and abusive) and uncles. She asks for time with baby sitters. She wants dates out with just Daddy. She is very attached to me and we have days where no one but Mama will do, but those days are in the minority. In general she loves having an extended clan of people who all love her to pieces and care for her often.

    I feel so angry that anyone would imply in any way that my beautiful, well adjusted, extremely happy child is not being given what she needs. She needs to be loved. She needs to be taken care of. She does not need to get all of that solely from me.

  14. Thank you. That article had been bugging me.

  15. Feeling marginally more coherent now!

    I meant to say. I agree with what you say, but I think there is something else here *in addition*, rather than “but”, if that makes sense.

    I remember when my three year old was born and for the first few months there was no shortage of people who wanted to take him off my hands and coo over him. Maybe that was good for him, who knows, he’s certainly an independent soul now. But it wasn’t good for me. Because I was expected, given that people were “helping” me, that I would be able to get on with the housework, to make the tea, to do everything non-baby.

    And now, I have a situation where he’s at his father’s house two to three overnights a week. So I do get a “break” but I’d swap it for not having a “break” in a heartbeat. It also means that on those occasions I do have him (afternoons, and four to five nights a week) I actually really don’t want to have him going anywhere else.

    What I’m trying to say is, sometimes “help” is indeed someone else looking after the child/ren. But sometimes “help” is letting the mother have uninterrupted, calm time free of chores with her child while someone else takes up the slack. And also that when a mother has her child taken from her to “help” without her really wanting “help” in that way, that in itself can contribute to her “losing herself and her centre”.

    • Rosemary Cottage — Oh yes, all that is very real too. Sometimes family, friends, even postpartum doulas or care nurses, intervene between parent/baby bonding. Sometimes they think they’re giving us a break (which they might be, if we want it), and sometimes they think they’re doing a service by keeping us from getting too close (because interdependence and attachment are bad, don’tcha know), but when it’s unwanted interference, the result, as you’ve said, can be damage — to the parent, to the baby, to their relationship.

      Add in the misogyny of sexist role division, where the woman is still supposed to keep up with the housework, and yeah — it’s like a just-add-water postnatal depression recipe. And it’s fucked up. And it’s not ok.

      Unwanted shared custody (by which I mean not that you’d rather take your child away from his father but that you don’t like being without him) is a whole ‘nother unhappy can o’worms, and, while it might still have some benefits for the child long term (not more than any other arrangement, just in itself), still sucks to experience. My sympathies.

  16. The assumption that mothers want time off from their babies is just as damaging as the assumption that they don’t – the trick is to ask, and give mother-baby dyads what that particular individual mother-baby dyad needs and wants, surely? The adults with the best relationships with my own children (aged 6 and almost 4 now) are the ones who deal with us all as a unit, sometimes doing necessary work with one of us, sometimes with another – sometimes doing mad frivolity with any number of us from 1 to 3 – sometimes saying that they’re too busy or tired right now but will come another time.

    I’ve never looked after a baby while the mother did housework in a different room, that I can think of. I’ve done it while the mother napped, lots. And I’ve held babies while they watched their mothers cooking, and that sort of thing.

    It’s more intimate than dandling sociably, but I think it gives everyone involved a richer relationship.

    • I had a hard time with the article you refer to as well even though I fit the description they outline (SAHM who has rarely left her 3 y.o.) and I’m glad you’ve posted a blog reply. I think Ailbhe echos my own feelings on the subject that “the trick is to ask, and give mother-baby dyads what that particular individual mother-baby dyad needs and wants”

      Telling folks that MOTHER needs to be with the child is presumptuous at best. However, I would have to disagree also with, “No, less-than-threes do not need their moms 24/7/365.” Because my son’s reality was only mama will do. And it wasn’t because his father didn’t and wasn’t involved with every aspect of his care except breastfeeding. Nor was it a lack of support from willing and caring and involved family members. It was simply who he was, which was very attached to mama-only. And I wanted to be with him. But I occasionally (and sometimes frequently) got really burnt out by that. The advice I got from everyone was that “mother needs to take care of herself too” immediately making it an either/or proposition. I realized no one was there to really stand up for what my son wanted except me. I looked really deep at what I wanted and it was to honor my son’s wishes, even though I get burnt out. So I’ve worked on my mental blocks and tried to be really creative in other ways to find self care. I’m not saying this was the correct choice, but the choice *I* made in the current situation. And I wish I had felt unconditional acceptance and support for the complexity of this decision. For me attachment parenting is responding to the individual needs of my child, instead of applying standards of typical development. Likewise, I wish society would respect the complexity of attached caregiver/child dyad and support whichever direction that takes.

      • Rebecca S — My life looks rather like the ideal described in that article as well, aside from starting school once (and then twice) a week when he was 1.5yo.

        What I meant with the title — and this article — was not that no child only needs their mother, or that if a child is only attached to one person then that parent is doing something wrong (which is so, so far from what I believe), but rather arguing the generalities, the ideals, like the article I was responding to did.

        I got a lot of “but what about YOUUUUUUU??” when the Boychick was an infant, and it always aggravated me: other than wanting my partner home (yet still not be homeless), and my family closer, and my society more supportive, and to have a lot more things to do within walking distance (ok, so those are some major other-thans), I was doing what I wanted to be doing. I wasn’t sacrificing myself, because I wasn’t giving up anything I wanted, wasn’t doing anything I hated; I was just living, with my kid, and other than being far far too undersupported by society (can we say “parental leave”? give me my baby’s father back, corporate world!), I loved it. Not every minute of it, but what can be that good?

        Er, all of which is to say: yeah. “Likewise, I wish society would respect the complexity of attached caregiver/child dyad and support whichever direction that takes.” This.

        • I got a lot of “but what about YOUUUUUUU??” when the Boychick was an infant, and it always aggravated me: other than wanting my partner home (yet still not be homeless), and my family closer, and my society more supportive, and to have a lot more things to do within walking distance (ok, so those are some major other-thans), I was doing what I wanted to be doing. I wasn’t sacrificing myself, because I wasn’t giving up anything I wanted, wasn’t doing anything I hated; I was just living, with my kid, and other than being far far too undersupported by society (can we say “parental leave”? give me my baby’s father back, corporate world!), I loved it. Not every minute of it, but what can be that good?

          Yeah. This. Well-said.

          What I meant with the title — and this article — was that no child only needs their mother, or that if a child is only attached to one person then that parent is doing something wrong (which is so, so far from what I believe), but rather arguing the generalities, the ideals, like the article I was responding to did.

          Did you miss a “not” in that first sentence?

    • Ailbhe — “The assumption that mothers want time off from their babies is just as damaging as the assumption that they don’t”: Oh absolutely. I really didn’t want any time off from the Boychick for at least the first year of his life. (His dad didn’t, either, but had to work. Off work? Every available moment was spent with his kid. Not because he loved him more than other dads, just that that was what he wanted.) We got invited to a kid-free wedding when he was 1.5, and we said no: we couldn’t imagine leaving him with someone else for three or four hours at that time. We simply didn’t want to.

      But that was just us. That’s just our relationship. Yes, it was in part because we had a close, attached relationship, but also just because that’s our inherent personalities. The Man and I will happily, ridiculously spent 24/7 with each other and not get tired of it. We’re not codependent, we don’t love each other more than other couples, that’s just how we work.

      Humans are fabulously different. I got my soul-sustaining time entirely with him in tow for the first year and a half. Others need physical separation. Others don’t need time apart from their families, ever. There is no one script to meet the attachment needs and nurture needs and growth needs of all members of a family (and thus acknowledging those needs doesn’t mean we all need to start living identical lives).

  17. Jess – as a WOHM, I occasionally get that my baby being a baby is because I’m not there. Honestly, I think it’s that society thinks it must be Mom’s fault SOMEHOW. (As if there’s any “fault” in a baby being a baby.)

  18. My family, with the exception of an aunt and uncle, are all quite far away (and the aunt and uncle are an hour’s drive away). (Okay, another aunt/uncle are in the area but due to severe health issues have never even met him in person – his childhood colds could be a major issue in that household.)

    But still, he is attached to me – and to his Dad – and to a half-dozen people at his day care center – and to four or five of our friends who come over 2-3 times a month to game and pass him around the table, to the tune of giggles and snuggles and cuddles and so on.

    This is a good thing for several reasons. First, I would LOSE MY MIND as a SAHM (thanks, nearly did the first 9 weeks before he started going to day care). I am an introvert. My son, near as I can tell, is an extrovert with a double helping of energy. To be his mainstay by myself…no. I adore him. I will do anything I can for him. But that? Ultimately, I would fail. And he doesn’t need it. He does need me to make sure others are also there to help take care of him, others that I like and trust.

    That I can do.

    I get the occasional odd reaction from people who discover that my son attends day care five days a week, and I work four. But that fifth day is handy for medical appointments (sometimes, if they’re his, he doesn’t go in for the full day to day care), for errands, for household chores that he is not so helpful with, etc. He’s only 18 months. There are lots of things that are safer and calmer without him in the middle. And I’d love to say that when he’s 3, or 4, or 5 perhaps I’ll spend that day with him. But I don’t know if that would be good either, whether I’d handle it well or whether he’d rather be with his school-friends. I’ll know then, and if it will work I’ll give it to him, but right now this works very well. He comes home from day care smiling. He sometimes cries when dropped off, but the first time he ever cried for separation at day care it was because he was leaving and wanted to stay there. (One of the many ways I know I’ve found a good day care for him, at least for this time.)

  19. I agree with the assessment that our culture has set up a series of child-raising unfriendly scenarios as you outline in in your bullet points starting with: “Not that we have moved away…”. I also think these traps are way more treacherous in the infant years and many families fall right into even they ones they could avoid if they knew better (myself included) partially because many of us haven’t experienced integrated family life (including babies and children who are treated as valued members of our day-to-day!). I think this kind of stuff is what sets up what is referred to as “detachment” practices, which are really just strategies parents employ be are cause they don’t know better, they think they’re doing the “right” thing (how many times have we heard the “don’t spoil the baby” warning!), they overwhelmed and buy into zero-sum theories re: human needs, or they are resentful and abusing their power. So by the time is older and “help” is available like school (which serves among other things as a childcare resource) some of these parents breathe that huge sigh of relief at having “survived” the baby years and move forward. Most parents/carers love their children and are doing the best they can. But that doesn’t mean our best is all that awesome.

    (Some day I’m going to have to write a blog post (tome) about what my “best” used to be and what it is today, and why/how I’ve improved.)

    In the partnered baby-raising relationships I observed when my children were babies, I really saw what you’re talking about re: mommy-only time with the baby – fathers/partners not being nearly as involved. I saw this over and over and heard it justified in a myriad of ways, from “I *like* spending time with the kid” to “He can’t handle it” to “He *won’t* handle it and I’m too scared to know what to do” etc. I saw it times ONE MILLION and I lived in a “progressive” place with plenty of families who weren’t in dire financial straits.

    But things seemed to change around the time the kid is preschool-aged. I’ll be interested to hear if you have an experience simliar to mine.

    This pressure mothers are under – that leaving a baby is Wrong or that they need to be there for Everything seems to brew a backlash – or something – by the toddler years (coincidentally when institutionalism ie preschool and/or school becomes deemed an OK choice even in AP circles, AP circles who look down on parents – mothers – who use daycare for smaller children). Maybe mothers resent deep-down the lack of “help” their male partners give (I love it’s called “help” because, you know, a dude is only auxiliary backup). I honestly don’t know. I can say from my experience more often than not I hear preschool- and school-aged kids’ parents (including mothers) complaining about *needing* time AWAY from their baby/child/children. There’s a difference between a person who genuinely knows they need a break, and is able to arrange one, and takes one – vs. what I’m talking about, parents who have the agency and resources for “breaks” and even have hours away from their child(ren) daily but genuinely seem resentful of their children in a deep way.

    I am with my kids more than ever (they are 6 and 8 and I homeschool). It’s been a long time since I had that “need to get away” feeling (concomitant to raising children while learning to joyfully meet their needs I have children who get up to so much on their own, and are so independent and happy and active during the day, that sometimes I get lonely!). And yet when people hear I homeschool one of the primary responses is, essentially, “Oh I could never do this… I need a break from my kids” (I could write a small book on the predictable nature of responses I get).

    I honestly believe we are a child-unfriendly culture and many awesome parents – especially mothers – are working their asses off during the part of infancy/toddlerhood because they get slammed with the responsibility. Until our men and our culture at large starts treating babies, infants, toddlers, and children as a treasured class of people, it will be up to the carers (with no pay and little cultural status) to do the best they can in a hostile environment. I salute the many parents and carers who are doing this hard work because in many ways its inadequately supported.

  20. Let me also weigh in, as a separate comment, in support of WOHMs. I am tired of hearing their love for their child, their integrity and Femaleness called into question, the endless mom-policing laid at their feet. This is often done by strangers (and sometimes friends and family) who almost categorically are not lifting a finger for that family, mom, or child.

    I was a WOHM for a year and I didn’t love my kid(s) less than I do now, nor was I just “letting someone else raise them” (almost always spoken with a sneer).

    Once children are on t his planet, someone does have to raise them (and this doesn’t stop at age three), and mothers are often left to figure out how, when, why, what, where. Then skewered or Othered whatever choices they make.

  21. oh yes yes yes…

    so grateful for everyone who has come in and built relationships with aza. it is really one of the more radical things you can do in your community in my humble opinion….

  22. My response to your article is yes and no. Not all of us live near family that can come in and help out with our children and even if we did, not everyone has family they would let near their young children. Also not everyone can afford the appropriate care a babysitter or nanny costs in a big city. Not all of us are willing to pay under that table and witout reporting the income to the IRS so that we can afford child care (we may not like the law, but it is the law and not worth some future trouble down the road so you can go out a get a manicure and go to a book club meeting). Also not all of us have jobs/careers that afford such luxuries either. So many of us have no choice but to be our child’s primary caregiver. Today is not Leave it to Beaver time when dad came home every night for dinner at six pm. When there is only one income coming in dad will work as many hours as he can and if he has a major profession, these jobs entail working 24/7. And contrary to common opinion, only a very few elites get the major salaries in any profession especially when just starting out.

    That being said, I always made sure to leave our children from birth with dad every Saturday for hours so that he not only spent time with his children but learned a little about parenthood and that it isn’t watching soap operas and eating bonbons on the coach. Furthermore, there are more organizations and ways for SAHM to get together either virtually or in playdates through baby classes and social media then ever before. You do not need to loose yourself ever in the modern world unless you really want to.

    That being said, as the parent of two boys on the autism spectrum, I know first hand how it takes a village to raise your children and how it is a vast network of people that help prepare them for the furture. There is the need for an even larger cirlce for these children than any parent could ever imagine. Yet, at the same time, I would never have left the care and progress and development of my children up to a stranger and a nanny. I brought them into this world. I made that choice. Once I made that choice it is MY responsibility to ensure that they are prepared for the future, not a second or third degree relative, a nanny, a therapist, a teacher, but me and their father. It begins from the moment they are born. You choose to be a parent, the child had no say in the matter and it is the child who needs to come first.

    Lastly, and then I will stop my rant…now nothing I said above counts if you are terribly unhappy at home and want to work, not even need to work, then you are better off and the child is better off if you do so. There is the old saying that a happy home means a happy mom. It is the reality and there is truth to the saying. However, I am tired of people telling me I need to value myself and that I have decided to be a lesser person because I have chosen to raise my children myself. Too many within society, may decry women that work as the problem with children today, but on the other hand too many on the other side look their noses down at us as if we are ignorant and stupid without a thought in our heads because we chose to be SAHM. (I can’t tell you the number of times people have turned away from me at the husband’s work related social events becuase they found out I was a SAHM. Ironically most of the shunning came from other women.)We are as entitled to our choices as the mom who goes to the office everyday. We are no less valuable, nor value oursleves, for what we do and we are no less intelligent because we choose to use our intelligence to make sure our children are prepared for come what may.

    Anyway thank you for letting me have my very long say.

    • Elise — What you’re talking about in the first part of your comment is all the reasons that we might not be able to create the large sort of families I’m talking about as ideal, and I completely agree. There are a ton of obstacles in our way.

      The Boychick does have a strong attachment both to me and to his dad, but that’s basically it. We have a few other wonderful friends we can call on sometimes, whom we all trust (including him), but they live 45min, 45min, and 1.5hr away. And when he was an infant (up to a few months old), we didn’t even have that. For the first months of his life, it was me, and his dad, and his dad had to work, half an hour away, forty hours a week. It sucked. His dad coming home and lunch (yes, even though he worked 25 minutes away), and wearing him for at least one of his naps after he got home in the evening, were the only things that kept me even as stable as I was (which, looking back, wasn’t very). And that? Is a big ol’ whopping heaping of not only partner-privilege but decent-partner privilege. Not everyone has that. And it’s not their fault. And it sucks.

      The only thing I would disagree with in your comment is this: “You do not need to [lose] yourself ever in the modern world unless you really want to.” Things like social media and internet-based meet up groups and play dates and whatnot can make it easier for women, but do not necessarily make mental survival inevitable, or a matter of will-power alone. There are a lot of privileges there: the ability to ACCESS social media, to attend the play dates (think about transportation difficulties, or — like me — social anxiety, just to name a couple), to pay for the classes. We all have different levels of obstacles; that all those trappings of (some kinds) of “modern life” are enough to make it possible for some SAHMs to do well doesn’t mean it’s enough for all of them.

      For this: “We are as entitled to our choices as the mom who goes to the office everyday. We are no less valuable…” A thousand times agreed.

  23. WONDERFUL post! Took the words right out of my mouth. If only the better-than-you people out there can take a moment to get off their high horses and stop philosophizing from a distance but get into the dirty like the rest of us do. We’ll see how quickly they eat their words then.

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  25. Arwyn,

    Thank you for your feedback and view of social media and the complications for young mothers even today. I suppose we all come to our “life conclusions” from our own perspective. When my children were young, there was no social media , in fact there was no internet to speak of (ok I am dating myself. AARP is sending me solicitations in the mail since I wil be 50 next month). When you were alone with a small child you were truly alone. Now add the isolation (due mostly in part to the rejection by the moms of typically developing children)of having a special needs child and you may understand just how alone some of us were at the time. Luckily I did live in NYC at the time so it was easy for me to put them in the stroller and go out for a walk. There were museums (dsicount and free days), parks and playgrounds that you could go to if cabin fever and the need for human companionships hit. However, once we moved to the suburbs the ability to go even for a walk with the kids changed, since we moved to a place that did not even have sidewalks. What I do know is that about two years ago, my sister introduced me to social media and the internet (facebook and twitter have become a mainstay in my world). It did remove alot of my isolation and allowed me to interact, even virtually with an entire world of bright and intelligent parents from all over the globe. I no longer felt isolated and found people that I could talk to and commiserate with.It is why I value so much social media. It did bring back a part of my life that had been missing for so very long. But I do understand your point and how it is not the panacea for many that I found it to be for myself. But at least for me it was a long overdue start to figuring out alot that had been missing and what my next move would be.

  26. My god, there’s just so much THERE when you use such a loaded word as “need,” ol’ Dr. Wootan. That article is so loaded with heterosexual and economic privilege.

    I’d argue that every child’s needs are different. I’d argue that every mother’s needs are different. I’d argue that every FAMILY’S needs are different. And the key to attachment parenting is to develop an attachment in the wee early days and months so that as your child grows into a toddler, that you have the ability to figure out what those needs are.

    Can you always immediately meet those needs? No. Unfortunately there will always be babies who may need their mother until they are three, but the mother needs to work. Hopefully those women are able to be supported either by a network of family and friends or the baby will be supported in having consistent, loving care while they are separated from their mother.

    I believe someone somewhere said something about a village and raising kids and it wasn’t about placing the kid in front of the village idiot (box.) **Don’t misunderstand: there are times I totally rely on the electronic babysitter.

    My twins are six and they still don’t effing understand the difference between today and tomorrow and the concept of time. Does that mean we should still be side-by-side 24/7? Hell no! When kid milestones that are way more obvious and concrete (crawling, walking for example) have such a large range of variety among children, it seems really ARBITRARY to pick the age of three out of your ass and determine it to be when a kid can sense time and then slap the label on it of when said kid should finally be allowed to be away from mom.

    Putting that kind of pressure on a mother does NOTHING for her except serve up a big platter of guilt in the event that she is unable or unwilling to meet those expectations. I have been at home for the past eight and a half years and not by virtue of my husband having an MD after his name – it’s been a terrible road economically and, at times, emotionally. “Experts” weighing in with advice like this? Picture that given to a woman who potentially has PPD and man, that’s just trouble waiting to happen.

    Also trouble waiting to happen is how I told my kids 10 minutes ago it was time to leave for camp and I’m still clicky-clacking away here!

  27. This is what turns me off so much about some folks in our AP tribe, but particularly that website. This idea that it is women who work outside of the home/don’t make themselves available to their children 24/7 who are the root of all evil. And the article was written by a man to boot. My husband and I are very lucky to have a wonderful home day care to drop our son off to every day. The woman who runs the day care loves our son, just as she loves the other little boys & girls in her care. How can this possibly be a bad thing? My son has been raised in an attached and loving manner but sometimes I need a break from him and sometimes he needs a break from me!

  28. “This is what turns me off so much about some folks in our AP tribe, but particularly that website. This idea that it is women who work outside of the home/don’t make themselves available to their children 24/7 who are the root of all evil.”

    Absolutely. I am a WOH mom and when I first had my baby I started looking into attachment parenting. I agree with many of the AP values, but since I have to work to support our family, I felt I was “ineligible” to be an attachment parent. Add to that, I can’t co-sleep (I literally CAN NOT SLEEP with my baby lying next to me) and I realized that no AP group would have me and even if they did, I would constantly be justifying my situation.

    Arwyn I want to thank you for this article. For making me feel better. For putting into words what I know in my heart. I know that as a parent it is my job to make sure my daughter is properly cared for. It is NOT necessarily my job to do 100% of the caring.

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  30. Thank you for this post. I was going to recommend Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy to you, but I see (quick search) that (of course) you’ve already read it. The best book I’ve read (and reread) since becoming a mom.

  31. You rock, Arwyn.

    I’m not sure what the answer is in our culture. But I know it’s not meant to be this way. On the other hand, I’m not particularly inclined to move in with my extended family. Even though I suspect that my life would be easier, and possibly more in line with my biological expectations, if I did.

    One thing I will say is that I find this balance easier with my second than with my first. Once children have siblings, there is another person there at all times to bond with. While I wouldn’t leave my 2-year-old in the care of my 5-year-old, if I leave both of them in the care of someone else my toddler is far happier than his big sister would have been at his age. So I have that, at least, and it does sometimes actually make life with 2 kids easier than life with one.

    • Amber — I don’t think there IS a “the answer”, in this culture or any other. I just know that being culturally so far from ideal/biological expectations leaves so many of us unable to cope or only barely able to cope.

      And no, I don’t want to move in with my extended family, either. But it would be nice to have a few more family members within a fifteen minute drive of here.

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  33. This is an excellent article. I’m glad I read it before reading the article you’re critiquing, because if I’d read that one first, it wouldn’t have been very good for my blood pressure, or sanity.

    But I’m coming at this issue from a slightly different direction than most people who’ve commented here: I’m one of those “other” adults that my child’s attached to, who apparently Dr. Wootan thinks shouldn’t be allowed to spend time with my son, because he should be exclusively with his bio-mom 24/7/365. Now that I’ve probably thoroughly confused everyone, let me clarify: I’m a non-biological mother, the “Other Mother” in a (former) same-sex marriage. And my wife and I split up when our son was eight months old.

    He’s almost three now, so according to Dr. Wootan’s theory, he’ll be ready to have visits with me next Monday. Well, fortunately we didn’t come across that theory before now, because I’ve been having regular visits with him ever since we first separated. And he’s never seemed to be remotely stressed by being away from his bio-mom for several hours – far from it. He’s happy and excited when I come to pick him up, and the biggest challenge is getting him to calm down and stop jumping around the hallway like a manic monkey so that we can get his shoes onto him.

    Why? Because of exactly what you said in this post – he’s securely attached to both of his moms (and also to his dad, for that matter). He feels happy and secure with me, and he also feels perfectly confident that mom #1 will still be there when he gets home – as would any kid who’s had a chance to form bonds with more than one caregiver.

    I guess my point in replying is just to note that not only does Wootan’s article do an injustice to bio-moms who might want, or even desperately need, a break from time to time, but also to fathers and non-bio moms – because by the logic of his article, we shouldn’t have any access to our kids in the event of a breakup – or hell, even spend any time alone with our kids in the first place! This bio-mom-as-the-only-caregiver-that-matters mindset shafts everyone.

  34. Fabulous, fabulous post! Came here from PHD in Parenting, and I agree one million percent with everything you’ve said.

    I’m a WOHM who has a very-involved DH and a relative nanny – both of whom my son is securely attached to. Indeed, this morning when she arrived – he cried at me to put him on the floor so he could go see her. I may have had some minor jealousy issues at first with that, but these days I’m happy there are three adults in his life that he loves and trusts.

    Now I just need to work on building my own tribe, so he’ll have some friends to play with too:)

  35. My comment will not be as eloquently voiced as the ones before me, as I am feeling quite emotional after reading your article. I am a SAHM to two little girls with a third bub on the way and I live in a small town where the friends I had from work have disappeared due to us being at ‘different stages of life’, our attempt at joining in the community of mothers and playgroups around us was a miserable failure and the family that lives near us (in-laws) are either unwilling to help out or untrustworthy with my children’s safety.
    I have been suffering PND since the birth of my second child and to get help my husband and I need to travel 5 hours away where my mum, dad and brothers are able to have my children. I have struggled to get my husband to understand my need for a trusted support system. We’re planning a move closer to my family and friends, but my urgency is met with misunderstanding. The last thing I want is to have bub #3 here, all alone, not just for myself but for my girls as well.

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  37. Interesting to note the smart MD who wrote the article had ELEVEN children. He must have had quite the life during the years his wife spent with his kids — because he of course must apply his own principles.
    I’m very surprised to read so many mothers are supporting his point of view (see comments to his article).
    As was mentioned earlier, moms need to keep their sanity, and for that they require breaks. And HELP. As it’s very often the case, what makes mommy happy is good for baby.

    Unfortunately, there are simple-minded people everywhere, even among MDs. I do worry about him spreading his “knowledge” as he appears to be some sort of a public speaker. Ouch!

  38. Thank you for a well-thought, well-argued, passionate piece of writing that I fully agree with. You speak clear and true, my friend.

  39. This was a wonderful post which brought me to absolute tears. Thank you. I also would love to read your book whenever you do write it :-) and I will speak for myself- not going anywhere :-) Breathe.

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  41. This is a great post.

    We’ve done plenty of the usual AP “things” — babywearing, lots of time home, some EC. My wife even induced lactation so we could both nurse our second child. But I can’t handle hard-line AP.

    When I picked up Dr. Sears when my wife was pregnant with our first, and looked up anything for dads (the closest thing I could find to myself as a lesbian non-bio-mom) I got the clear message that the best way I could parent was to do all the the dishes and never ever touch the baby lest she never nurse again. Great. Just what I was hoping for.

    We need to be engaging non-gestational-parents (and grandparents, aunts, uncles, chosen family, cousins, brothers, sisters…) with babies, not shutting them out and cutting moms off from the rest of the world. Babies and kids need more people, more love, more connection. They get stronger, happier families thrown in as part of the bargain.

    As much as I hated that initial post, the replies here and at blue milk are the first AP reading that has made sense to me. Thanks.

  42. Great, great post.

  43. Beautifully said.

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  46. Great post.

    I am blessed with a large extended family. I work full-time, because it makes me happy. My son spends his days with his grammy, his daddy, his papa, his aunt, cousins his uncle, until Mommy gets home. He is the happiest, most well-adjusted baby I have ever encountered.

    I agree with you completely; extended families and closer relationships with a LARGE support system are the key to happy children. Not chained-up mommies too guilt-ridden to take a bubble bath.

  47. About the idea of having more than two adults in a household or nearby to help with children…it is unfortunate that extended families are such a rare thing. If you look at the disparaging attitudes that people have about anyone over a certain age that lives with their parent(s), I think that is a huge part of the problem.

  48. I’m just finding your blog- I’m a poly, bisexual, fat woman with a family of five that intends to raise children together. I just want to say how much I appreciate that your voice is out there talking about these issues and recognizing that there are people out there who don’t really want to take the mainstream party line on parenting. It drives me nuts to see people praising the nuclear family in one breath and accusing women of not being able to keep up with working and having children in another- give me a break, the nuclear family is practically a brand-new concept, not the tradition it’s made out to be. Bah.

    Anyway, thanks for being there for me to read and to remind me that there are other mothers like me. (Or, like I will be- whichever.)

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  50. I wish there was someone for my kids to turn to other than me. It keeps me up at night, when I should be recharging.

  51. Wow…I am from India and the stigma attached to a working mother is too much here.
    This post was so liberating. A big thanks for writing this :)

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  54. (If it’s not too late to comment…?)
    This made me realize that I and my husband need to think about how to avoid being the only people who know and can care for the baby we want to have (hasn’t happened yet). Our parents and siblings all live in other towns, and our friends who have children live in other parts of town. Also, neither of us is spontaneously very social even without a baby, we usually have to remind ourselves to keep in touch with people even if it’s just meeting friends we really like over coffee…
    Of course, we’re privileged since we live in Sweden. I always think it’s strange how the way you care for your children in the USA is talked about as mostly a personal choice made by the mother, and no matter what “choice” she makes there’s something wrong with it – when you don’t have all that much to choose between in the first place! Hello – public affordable daycare? Paid maternity leave that can be used in a flexible way, months at a stretch or just some days of the week? Not to mention paid paternity leave? No? Then why the pressure on mothers to make a near-perfect “choice” with such limited alternatives?
    It seems to me that there are two things wrong here: that caring for children is assumed to be women’s work, and that it isn’t valued by society. People who only go against the first end up arguing that since women are important too, mothers should spend more time working professionally and less with their children, therefore no attachment parenting. People who only go against the second end up arguing that since childcare is important, women should spend more time with their children, therefore no equality in the workplace. We really have to question both – childcare is important, AND fathers (and grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends) should be doing it too, AND society should support it!

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