During the time that both parents are at work, there should be someone (a caretaker) who loves and is sensitive to the needs of the child. This caretaker may be the grandmother, a nanny, a servant etc. For the child it doesn’t matter, as long as he is not being neglected by the caretaker. Alternatively the child can be put in a creche, with the caveat that the creche should be clean, the caretaker should have a genuine fondness and love for the child rather than just going through the motions. There should not be many children in the creche as then individualised attention becomes difficult and hence the child may be neglected. The most important aspect is that the child should not feel neglected.
What qualities should parents look for in a caretaker, say an ayah or a servant?
• Foremost is the person’s disposition towards the child. She should be genuinely loving, affectionate and self-confident. She should enjoy the child. She should be able to control him without nagging, neglecting or being harsh.
• A common mistake parents make is to look for mainly experience in the caretaker.Experience is desirable, but more important is the right personality as enumerated above.
• It is better to have a person who is a bit casual and easy going rather than one who is strict, rigid and full of theories.
• Some parents focus on the education of the caretaker, but this is hardly of any importance. A small child does not require a tutor.
• A very important aspect is the permanency of the caretaker. Frequent changes in the caretaker of a child have negative consequences. A child as small as 6 months may become depressed and lose his smile, interest and appetite if the person caring for him disappears.
These are the main points that the working mother should look for and once she finds a suitable caretaker, she can work freely without worrying or feeling guilty about the child’s care.
As the child grows older, particularly at the age of 1 year+, he starts realising that both his parents are going away leaving him with someone else for a period of time. He may start pondering about it and once in a while, may request the parents not to leave him alone. He may plead and insist that one of the parents (usually the mother) stay back home to look after and play with him. This is a very critical and sensitive issue and should be tackled delicately.
The most important thing is that the parents should not waver in the face of such a request or show evidence of distress and guilt on their faces. If the mother’s heart “bleeds” on such a fervent plea from the child that she starts looking guilty and tends to kiss and hug the child three times over and stays back (thinking one day off duty doesn’t matter), two things happen.
Firstly, the child starts thinking that it was not all that necessary for his mother to go to work and hence by going to work daily, she was not fully concerned about him.
Secondly, the child is happy that the mother has acceded to his plea and starts using it as a “weapon” in the future. So the same story is repeated the next day. Ultimately one day the mother will have to leave the child and go to work, as she cannot take a prolonged leave without a valid reason. At that time it really hurts the child and on seeing his hurt, it cuts the mother to the quick and hurts her even more. So, nip it in the bud and don’t let the story repeat itself. From the first day onwards, don’t waver but rather explain to the child why both of you must go to work.
Ideally the parents should have mentally prepared and “toughened” themselves a long time ago that such an issue will come up in the future one day. They should have decided amongst themselves (after weighing the pros and cons) that it is necessary for both of them to work and that during their absence the child will be looked after well and not neglected. So when this question comes up, as is bound to one day, the parents are mentally ready to be firm and truthful, without doubts or wavering or feeling guilt.
They should explain to the child the exact reasons why it is necessary for both of them to go to work and why they cannot forego it. They should also reassure the child that their love for him is in no way lessened by the fact that they are working. They should tell the child straightforwardly that they go to work to earn money, which is necessary for running the home and if one of them doesn’t work, then the money will become less to support the family. The child understands it and after a period of time and reassurance stops his clamouring for the mother to stay at home.
Never lie to the child. Supposing you are going to some party or market and find taking the child bothersome (though I advocate that you should try to take your child to all social gatherings, market for shopping etc, even though cumbersome). Don’t tell the child that you are going to work while in reality, you are going out to a party. If at all you cannot take the child, explain to him that you cannot take him to the party because children are not invited there (i.e. give a valid and logical reason to the child).