I think this is fantastic. Why? Several reasons. Get ready!
It’s a fact. Mothers work.
Forgive me while I briefly get my wonk on…
- Many American households rely heavily – and sometimes exclusively – on women’s earnings.
- Forty years ago, just 27% of mothers with preschool aged children worked outside of the home.
- In 2000, 60% of mothers with preschool aged children worked outside of the home.
- In 2001, nearly 15% of mothers in the U.S. worked more than 40 hours a week outside the home
(Crosby & Hawkes, 2007)
…but wait, there’s more…
- In a year between 1998 and 1999, 58% of mothers worked outside the home before their child was one year old (Belsky, 2006).
Of those employed mothers:
- Only 28% of employed mothers remain on leave two months after the birth of their child (Han, Ruhn, & Waldfogel, 2009).
- Just 13% of employed mothers remain on leave after three months (Han, Ruhn, & Waldfogel, 2009).
So mothers work, and some go back almost immediately after giving birth.
It’s also a fact that infants (less than a year old) need loving, consistent caregiving to develop their genetic potential cognitively, emotionally, physically and socially. They need to “attach” to someone, which is a concept that goes beyond simple bonding. More wonkiness ahead:
- The human infant is biologically wired to seek out a particular adult figure with whom to connect and on whom to rely to meet their needs (Schachere, 1990).
- The attachment relationship emerged over the course of evolution to allow an otherwise helpless infant to maintain proximity to their caretakers under conditions of danger or threat (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991).
- Attachment behavior in an infant serves a biological function that is as important – in evolutionary terms – as eating or sexual behavior. Its function is to achieve protection (Bowlby & Ainsworth, 1991).
Many experts believe achieving healthy attachment to another person is the single most important predictor for a host of things, including how well a child will get along with others, how well they do in school and even how well they navigate romantic attachments as adults. There’s more research supporting this idea than I can cite here (but I’ll be citing it all in my upcoming thesis on attachment and the working mom). Here’s a taste:
- The quality of an infant’s attachment provides the foundation for how an individual perceives itself and how it perceives others through the development “internal working models” (Schachere, 1990).
- Bowlby (1973) described the processes that lead to the development of the two internal working models. An infant perceives:
- Whether the attachment figure is judged to be the sort of person who in general responds to calls for support and protection.
- Whether the self is judged to be the sort of person towards whom anyone, and the attachment figure, in particular is likely to respond in a helpful way (p. 204).
“The overwhelming evidence of empirical studies makes clear that the quality of attachment is a fundamental mediator of development (Davies, 2004, p. 22).”
The primary attachment relationship (usually with a mother) is where a little human learns how to trust. We cannot overstate its importance.
So Moms work, yet babies need their moms. What do we do to make sure our babies achieve their potential while we’re working because we need to or love to or both?
I believe strongly that it can be done, and each family has to figure out for itself how it’s going to do it. One helpful factor, however, is a supportive workplace, and the enlightened folks at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners have taken that concept to a whole ‘nother level.
It blows my mind that there is a place in the fairly family-unfriendly U.S. that welcomes infants up to six months old in the workplace. Can you imagine the positive impact that has for both mother (or father) and baby? Research allows you to imagine the babies will be sick less often, parents will sick to work less often, they’ll be less stressed, and better, more productive, employees. In fact, as you saw in the video, management at NAIC believes the policy allowing moms and dads to bring their infants into work until they’re six months old is its secret weapon which allows it to recruit and retain the best employees. Researchers on work-family conflict probably aren’t surprised. The correlation between happy employees, happy parents and well attached babies is strong (more wonkification):
- Life satisfaction is an outcome of both job and family satisfaction.
- If interrole conflict is high, life satisfaction decreases.
- Life satisfaction can be linked to the quality of the attachment relationship between a working mother and her infant. (Schachere, 1990; McElwain et al, 2005)
I’m not saying every or even most companies need to adopt this exact policy. I’m saying it takes a village, and while families are being creative in their efforts to build happy families, it’s in an employer’s best financial interest to help them. So they oughta get creative, too. Paid maternity and paternity leave, flex time or making everyday take-your-baby-to-work-day are all ideas worth playing around with until you find the right fit for your company and employees.
In the meantime, I’m moving to Missouri!
Ainsworth, M. D., & Bowlby, J., (1991). An ethological approach to personality development. American Psychologist, 46(4), 333-341.
Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of the four category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(2), 226-224.
Belsky, J. (2006). Early child care and early child development: Major findings of the NICHD study of early child care. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 3(1), 95-110.
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation. New York: Basic Books.
Crosby, D. A., & Hawkes, D. D. (2007). Cross-national research using contemporary birth cohort studies: A look at early maternal employment in the UK and USA. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 10(5), 379-404.
Davies, D. (2004). Child Development. New York: The Guilford Press.
Han, W., Ruhm, C., & Waldfogel, J. (2009). Parental leave policies and parents’ employment and leave-taking. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 28(1), 29-54.