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The Working Mother’s Dilemma

  Getting back to work after a break comes with its own problems where kids are concerned. Kids raised by stay-at-home moms in early childhood are used to attention ‘on-demand’ which can create a lot of stress when mom starts working again – both for the child and the mother. The sudden transition from 24*7 mom to ‘part-time’ mom can make kids cranky and difficult manifesting in temper tantrums, clinging, introverted behaviour, insisting that mom should be at home when she returns from play school etc.

Kids who have been painstakingly trained to be independent by the mother so she can get back to work regress to overly dependent behaviour when they are denied the security blanket of her constant presence. It is amazing how quickly a sunny child can become moody, withdrawn and insecure when the mother starts working again. How does one handle this issue?

The solution is certainly not in the mother staying at home till the child turns 18! But it would perhaps be better to wait till the child starts school (1st standard) before starting to work full time and opt for parttime or work-from-home options in the meantime. This will allow the child to gradually adjust to the mother’s absence and is also less stressful for the mother in the sense that she does not have to handle the fallout of the sudden transition.

Also, at six, the child is a lot more independent, has got used to being away from home during kindergarten/Montessori, has made friends and is comfortable interacting with her peers without mom being around. A friend, who started full time work too soon and was forced to quit because of these issues, opines that even carefully preparing the child and talking to her about mom’s return to the workforce does not help. A two or three year old is perhaps not able to understand the repercussions of mom returning to full time work.

Support from extended family goes a long way in reassuring the child but if one lacks a family support system, returning to work too soon could traumatise the child. Mothers who have taken a break and contemplate returning to work should carefully handle this issue. It would be better to take up part time work and get the child adjusted to her absence even before the child starts playschool so that the she does not equate playschool with the mother’s absence in her life. Also, the presence of a constant caregiver – grandmother/nanny – with whom the child has spent extended periods of time since birth will better prepare her to handle the mother’s absence. Women who have a constant support system to fall back on do not face the same kind of issues as women who are dependent on irregular/changing hired help. The child has already forged a bond with the caregiver and does not feel as insecure in the absence of the mother.

There is, however, no one-size-fit-all solution for this problem and each woman has to evolve her own method to deal with the issue. Moreover, every child may not react as negatively to this situation; there may be some children who are able to handle the change with equanimity.

Also Read : Work-Life Balance


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S A Sudha is a content writer/editor and helps create marketing collateral for clients from different verticals. Sharing her varied and, at times, volatile parenting experiences, and reading about the parenting adventures of other parents has helped her to look at issues from a different perspective, and gain valuable insights on how to connect with teens. While not arguing with her teen, she loves to read, listen to music and watch Hindi movies.

6 thoughts on “The Working Mother’s Dilemma

  1. Gayatri

    Nicely written Sudha! This is an eternal tug-of-war between the needs of the mother, the child and the family. Change is always difficult in the beginning, so we should do everything we can to ensure the transition is as smooth as we can make it. And accept that there will be hiccups and bumps along the road….

  2. ramyas

    Been there, done that:)
    I’ve tried all options – flexi-time, wfh, full time with nanny, part time with maid , part time with maid and granny!! As you say – there is no one size fits all here & each mom has to find a support system that suits her and her child the best. That said, sometimes, a firm hand is needed in making the child understand that mummy will go to work just like daddy and is not going to be around all the time.


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