Here is a piece on well-known attachment parenting site, peaceful parenting from Dr George Wootan that would have French author, Elisabeth Badinter raising an eyebrow and “I told you so”-ing at us all.
Right off the bat Dr Wootan warns us that this will be contentious and he is not wrong, though you would have a hard time seeing that from the comments the piece has generated, which are largely in full agreement with him, in spite of the difficulties many are encountering living his one-size-fits-all parenting approach. Dr Momma’s peaceful parenting is not for the half-arsed. So, Dr Wootan’s rule on the temporary separation of toddlers from their mothers is as follows.
A mother shouldn’t leave her child until about the age of three, when he has developed some concept of time. You’ll know this has begun to happen when he understands what “yesterday,” “tomorrow,” and “this afternoon” mean, and when your child voluntarily begins to spend more time away from you on his own accord.
Wootan is at least specific, none of those wishy-washy statements about ‘as best as you can manage’ or ‘what works for you and the baby’. No, Wootan means you can’t leave your child at all until they are three; and no, not even with a loving grandparent, trusted babysitter or the devoted father. And no, certainly not so that you may return to work (unless your job is the kind where you can sneak out briefly during the toddler’s nap, but then Wootan warns, nap times can be unpredictable and who is to say this isn’t the day when your toddler will wake up a little earlier than usual from their nap? Play it safe, don’t go). Let’s face facts – you either really love your child or you don’t.
However, I believe that many women return to work not out of necessity, but because they (or their spouses) want to maintain the two-income lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. These parents need to do a little soul-searching about what they really need and not sacrifice their child’s best interests.
This is probably the right time to admit that not only am I an attachment parenting type - our children are co-sleepers, including the older one who is now five years old; I breastfeed the toddler; and we have more slings than vehicles in our house – but for the record, I am also a mother who works part of each week outside the home. I have been separating from our toddler since before he was a year old. And to be perfectly honest, Wootan’s advice doesn’t really rattle me. I have done my share of soul-searching over the last five years about being a working mother and I feel confident that our decisions have been good ones, and what’s more, that the children are ok too. But I know Wootan’s position will distress many other women in my position; I know a few years ago it would have thrown me for a loop. And while I am sure Wootan is a very caring doctor, anyone who makes a statement like that, about how women should live their lives, deserves a little scrutiny.
Wootan is aware that his advice might be restrictive. Helpfully, as father of eleven and grandparent to twenty-one children, Wootan offers a suggestion from his own experience on meeting the specifications of the no-separation-until-3 rule.
In our family, we have found that many events that would require leaving our baby or toddler at home are the ones that we don’t particularly mind missing.
Sounds a little isolating. Well, for the mother anyway. Presumably Wootan, as the father, still managed to attend plenty of events without the children, allowing him to pursue his career as a doctor, health writer and attachment parenting guru. Still, don’t bother talking injustice here, you’ve already been trumped, because everybody in this discussion on peaceful parenting is talking about the needs of the child.
Let me submit to you that the need for mother is as strong in a toddler as the need for food, and that there is no substitute for mother. When he’s tired, hurt, or upset, he needs his mother for comfort and security.. If he scrapes his knee, or gets his feelings hurt, he can’t put his need on hold for two hours until Mommy is home, and .. even Daddy – just won’t do as well as if Mommy was there.
Dr Momma likes to use ‘all caps’ when she refers to what babies NEED in her comments on this piece, just in case you didn’t get the memo about how your own considerations are really about something a little less worthy. Because really, aren’t your ‘needs’ more ‘wants’ than ‘NEEDS’?
But our struggles (in society and with ourselves) does not change a human baby’s NEEDS. And in infancy, no one else can meet these needs perfectly like Mom can. If we elect to bring a baby into this world, then we certainly should think ahead of time about how we are going to meet the needs of this new little life.
This is all very well, babies and toddlers do have needs, but I am yet to see a definitive study on exactly how often and for how long separations of a toddler from a mother can be deemed psychologically safe. Certainly there are studies about attachment disorders and critical stages of development for babies and toddlers, and studies abound about the essential need for a primary attachment (which incidentally can be someone other than the mother), but where is the conclusive study to support Wootan’s blanket statement about separation? None are referenced in the piece on peaceful parenting and as far as I am aware, correct me if I am wrong, Dr Wootan is not an expert in attachment disorders, rather he is specialising in.. nutrition.
Dr Wootan and Dr Momma, when advocating the rule of no-separation-until-3 are both envisioning a terribly privileged home – a home where every woman is partnered and every partner earns sufficient income (and health benefits) to support an entire family; one where no mother or partner has a life-threatening illness and no siblings have serious disabilities; one where women exercise full control over their reproductive choices; one where there is no violence in the home; and one where women are homogenous beings biologically destined to be prefectly suited to the demands of attachment parenting.
To be fair Wootan does allow one exception.
I would not argue that a mother who must work to support her family is doing less than her best for her children by working.
Really? Because Wootan sounds awfully unyielding throughout the rest of his piece, and if there are degrees to which it is alright for toddlers to spend some time apart from their mothers then why make the blanket statement in the first place? And if there aren’t degrees to which it is ok for toddlers to be temporarily separated from their mothers, if we really know it to be that bad for young children, if we see it as akin to these children being without food (as Wootan says in his piece ), then why is it good enough for the children of poor families? The bigger question is why isn’t Wootan directing his pressure towards those institutions which have the power to change the circumstances of poor mothers instead of generally guilt-tripping women?
Don’t get me wrong, it is my belief that the workplace has exploited a lack of awareness of children’s attachment needs to escape an obligation to shape working conditions around the lives of mothers and children. Bring on the information, promote the findings, support stay-at-home parents and legitimise their choices, and rally for those parents heartsick over the inflexibility of their working lives. But leave the blanket statements prescribing exactly how mothers should parent behind. Attachment parenting needs feminism because without feminism women’s lives have a tendency to be decontextualised and devalued, and that isn’t good for mothering. Mothering is an act that occurs in a relationship, with all the compromise that implies. It is not the subjugation of one’s needs entirely for the benefit of another. It is not an act of guilt. It is an act involving sacrifice not martyrdom. It is an act best performed by someone empowered.
(Thank you Hunter for the article tip-off).