"Choosing or needing to work does not necessarily eliminate a mother's strong desire to be home caring for her baby," says Dr. Stanley Greenspan, pioneering federal researcher in infant mental health. "In many instances, this desire can cause a sense of loss."
A mother should not try to deny these feelings, he says, but she can help assuage the sense of loss by making sure she spends time with the child each day when she is enjoying the baby and taking care of his or her basic needs.
"Immediately upon coming home," he suggests, "plan some relaxed time with the baby and other children rather than occupying yourself with getting dinner. This gives you a chance to tune in to your baby's -- and your own -- wishes and needs."
Staying home with a newborn for four to six months helps mother-baby intimacy develop, Greenspan says. When a mother returns to work, he says, "she should make sure that she is a major caregiver in the baby's life even if she is not the only one. The key is for the mother herself and the environment she orchestrates for the child to provide warmth, security, love and protection" as well as the experiences appropriate to the baby's developmental stages.
A frequent challenge for employed parents of infants -- particularly after the baby is 6 months old -- is "how to deal with the youngster's show of annoyance and negativism at mother's having been away so long," Greenspan says. "Rather than give mother a warm, welcoming smile, some babies turn their faces away as though to say, 'Where have you been?'
"All mothers, whether working or not, must be prepared to tolerate their baby's negativism and signs of annoyance as well as his expresssions of satisfaction and pleasure. Taking time to gently woo baby back into a loving and satisying sense of relatedness may be crucial. This can take anywhere from a few minues to a half hour of patient, tender, loving play.
"The working mother should especially be wary of a tendency to ignore her baby's withdrawl from her by rationalizing this behavior with, 'Well, we each have our own life spaces' or 'Well, if he doesn't like me, I won't like him' or 'It's good he's becoming independent.' Babies need to learn that even when they are having feelings that are uncomfortable, their loving caregivers can show them that the human world is a world which is comforting and pleasurable and can help them overcome their sense of discomfort."