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There are increasing number of women continue their careers after given birth to their childs. They are regarded as “working mothers”, whom are facing many difficulties to keep balance between the work and the family. This phenomenon led to many studies about the effect of maternal employment base on a secure mother-infant attachment.This paper raise the question: many mothers are often confronted with the dilemma of choosing between their jobs or careers, and their children, whether they should come back to work after post partum. The attachment theory in this paper was found by John Bowlby, whom emphasized the importance of mother’s attention and care on the infant. He argued that there was a long time last influence on the infant future life. There are also contemporary reasearches suggested that maternal employment have benefits on the family and the infant. The paper analyze the deveopment of mother-infant attachment theories and current studies, to evaluate the positive and negative effect to the infant of working mother.
Attachment theory was formulated by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby. It is a psychological, evolutionary, and ethological theory concerning relationships between humans pointed out that a young child needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally . According to his study of attachment theory, infant behaviour associated with attachment is primarily the seeking of proximity to an attachment figure, moreover, secure base and safe haven are the features and function of attachment relationships. Infants become attached to adults who are sensitive and responsive in social interactions with them.
Many experts agree that the mother-child attachment bond is the term for our first interactive love relationship-the one we had with our primary caregivers, our mothers. The mother-child attachment bond shapes infants’ brains, profoundly influencing their self-esteem, their expectations of others, and their ability to attract and maintain successful relationships . Nowadays studies also support that during the early development, the infant-mother interaction and the early social experiences may produce long-lasting changes in the brain of the infant with profound behavioral and emotional effects throughout the whole life . The infant behaviors that have been implicated as resulting from this theoretically compromised mother infant relationship have included slight, transient effects on sociability and affective sharing to results suggesting significant increases in irritability, cognitive delays, behavioral problems, and difficulties with attachment among others .
Overall, following attachment theory, the early connection developed between a primary child care provider and an infant is essential for development. Lacking of experience make it difficult for them to handle the issue about this new member and family transition, especially for the first-time parenthood. The success or failure of the attachment bond has a life-long effect in a person’s life.
Maternal employment and infant attachment
Whether and how about the mother’s working status affect the infant was a topic of great interest in the 1980s. In the context of mothers’ increased participation in paid work, attention has also turned to the impact of maternal employment and the use of nonmaternal child care as additional factors likely to affect maternal caregiving and the developing attachment relationship. Many scientists, politicians, and parents were worried about the children, especially infant, would suffer if others but not the moter cared for them most of the time , others argued that such worries were based on oppressive sexist prejudices not data . So debates started, positive or negative influence on the attachment of mother and infant, whether working mothers is taking the responsibility of the infant or not.
Why do mothers go to work
Why mothers go to work; in Hong Kong society, women go to work for more personal and social reasons than for financial reasons. In traditional society, mothers are performing stereotyped roles as be responsible for the household, such as doing housework, preparing dinner, caring of the children and husband. Now in modern society, women are no longer restricted by the traditional mother and wife role. For the economical reason, they want to make more benefits to the family and gain more independence in economic position. For the education standard, women who achieved high educational qualification, want to apply their knowledge to the work and pursue a successful career, and they are needed by the society. For the changing social norms, women are achieving more equalities in work, morevoer, they are not acted as “bad moms” when they go to work and pay less attention on the children. The whole society tend to accept working mothers.
Though several reasons and conditions mentioned above seem to allow mothers to join the workforce, still many of them face with a dilemma regarding their career and family . Still so many mother feel struggling in the situation of whether to work or not.
Negative aspect of working mothers
According to the above attachment theories, it is easy to acknowledget the harm that would do to the infant lack of attachment. It is to say that negative influences on the development of secure attachment, or even potentially damaging . Fail to provide the child with sufficient structure, recognition, understanding, safety, and mutual accord may lead to become physically and emotionally distant in relationships in later relationship, remain insecure, become disorganized, aggressive and angry, and develop slowly. . A working mother is tend to create an insecure and inconsistent attachment.
Stifter, Coulehan, and Fish , found no significant connections between work status and attachment security, but did caught the public attention of the consideration and inclusion of other variables such as maternal separation anxiety and maternal sensitivity. Specially the research did find that infants of mothers who were employed but reported high work-related separation anxiety were more likely to develop anxious-avoidant attachments. And then, a finding suggested that employed mother were less invested in parenthood and had high level of anxiety , implied high anxiety would get in the way of taking good care of the infant.
A baby is supposed to grow up to be loving, well adjusted individual. A full-time employed mother would have missed out on being there and watching the baby from up close. These are important formative period, as a mother’s instinct, want to be around to strengthen the attachment bond between mother and infant. The effects of maternal employment of secure mother-infant attachment relationship to be negative of majority according to those researches. These evidences support the hypothesis that working mothers increase the risk of some undesirable outcomes, espacilly in the baby’s first year.
Positive aspect of working mothers
Do maternal employment have an adverse effect on the children? The answer may be no. In fact, mothers with careers have a positive impact on children, as they serve as good role models. A study in Australia found no relation between maternal employment and infant attachment.
In the early study, Bowlby insisted that separation from the mother should be kept to a minimum . However, in the further study, he developed his statement as ‘a subsidiary attachment figure can meet an infant’s needs adequately in the primary figure’s absence’ . In another words, mother was not the only attachment bond to the baby and this finding gave the mother an opportunity to take a breath during the overwhelming duties. She did not need to take the only responsibility to the feedback towards the infant.
Later, some scholars emphasized quality but not quantity of the attachment. Too much and too sensative responds to the baby may triggered a spoiling parental style. Prior to an infant’s self-regulation of external stimuli, parents are responsible . Parents have to learn the difference between too much and too little responds for managing the infant inattentiveness and excessive stimulation. Providing the appropriate amount of feedback for the baby is conducting a healthy attachment bond.
I was impressed by a professors’s saying that many parents feel very selfish and cruel in leaving their crying young child for the absence time. However, it is not only a beneficial opportunity for her parents, it is also an important lesson in trust for her that you will always be clear about when you are leaving, you will always provide a caring protector while you are gone, and, best of all, you always return to love and protect her . Parents should be comforted that, properly leaving but not always stick to the baby is also buliding a trustful relationship.
For the further concern of the baby, Such working mothers tend to emphasise education, and also manage to spend quality time with their children. Talking about the dual income, the standard of living is higher, children get access to better quality education and extra-curricular activities. Acadamic statistic demonstrated this fact: secure parental employment lowers the incidence of poverty and the associated risks to children . ‘The increase in the percentage of children living with a working parent is welcome news,’ said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health. ‘Secure parental employment helps to reduce the psychological toll on families, brought on by parental unemployment and underemployment.Secure parental employment may also enhance children’s psychological well-being and improve family functioning by reducing stress and other negative effects that unemployment and underemployment can have on parents.”
As we can see, there are pros and cons about maternal employmet. So we still have to deal with this dilemma and make our own decision. I think there are no right or wrong answers in this case. Whether you want to get back to work from the day you stop nursing your child, or whether you want to be a homemaker your entire life is entirely up to you. Some women find joy in the workplace, while others find it at home.
In some conditions, women can handle both children and work well though it is a hard task. Maybe having one does not require sacrificing the other.
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