Will My Child Forget Me?
By: Mary Dixon Lebeau
Q: I have a three year old, and he is the love of my life. I did not go back to work after his birth, but recently decided to return to the corporate world, as my husband and can benefit from the second income. I put our son in daycare, and am worried that with me being gone almost all day, he will forget me. Additionally, I am also worried that he will bond more with his caretaker and will not want to interact with me, as much, when I am home. Help?
A: First of all, rest assured – you are not alone. The fear of being forgotten – or, even worse, replaced – while away at work is very common among working mothers.
“This fear is perfectly natural and moms should go easy on themselves for having it,” says Nataly Kogan, founder and CEO of Workitmom.com. “Leaving your child with a caregiver is a big deal.”
But children are smarter than we may give them credit for. They know the difference between mom and a caregiver, even if they slip up once in a while and call the babysitter “mom,” or call you by the sitter’s name. (Prepare yourself for it – and remember, it doesn’t mean a thing.)
Your real fear is the bond you have with your child will be weakened by your time apart. To ease that concern, initiate some special rituals, suggests J.C. Conklin, co-author of Comeback Moms: How to Leave Work, Raise Children and Jumpstart Your Career Even if You Haven’t Had a Job In Years.
“A friend of mine made a point of having tea with her daughters after work each day,” she says. “She did this until they went to college. Now that they’re away from home, they call their mother at what used to be tea time, because it’s a special moment they associate it with her.”
So try establishing a drop-off or after-work ritual, so the two of you look forward to that time surrounding your separation. Some ideas include:
• Make up a silly saying each morning, and use it to say goodbye at drop off. Then, repeat it during the day to make your child feel near.
• Choose a doll or toy that the two of you play with a lot and let your child bring it with her to the sitter.
• Sit down for snacks and conversation after work each day.
• Put notes in the lunchbox to be read mid-day.
• Have a goodbye ritual – for example, as you part, always say the same thing (“Have fun today!”) and have your child respond the same way (“Be careful!”) each day. End the goodbyes with, “I love you.”
No matter what your ritual, make sure the time after work is focused on your child. “The quality of time a mom spends with her child is more important than the number of hours,” says Kogan. “Try to focus on being in the moment. Put away the cell phone, turn the TV off, and take a pause with chores. Spending a half hour playing, singing or reading together is a great way to bond.”
And don’t worry if your child bonds with the caregiver. In fact, you should encourage their closeness. After all, if you’re not there, you want your child to have someone the child trusts and feels safe with to be with him.
“If your child is happy with the sitter, it should give you a lot of comfort, knowing you made the right choice and you’re being a great mom by choosing a great caregiver to help you care for your child,” Kogan says. You can support the child-sitter bond by speaking positively about the caregiver in front of the child and settling any issues in private.
Just keep in mind – you are irreplaceable. “You are his or her mother, and there’s only one of you,” says Conklin.
Need proof? You’ll find it in your child’s face each day. Just look at her big grin as she rushes to your arms for a hug.