Stay at Home or Go to Work? New Research Prioritizes Those First Crucial Years



Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters by Erica Komisar, LCSW, TarcherPerigee, April 2017, 257 pages

First, know that this book isn’t fuel for mommy wars, that I’m-a-better-mom-than-you debate played out across social media. Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters by Erica Komisar, LCSW, is about the relationship between the mother’s physical and emotional presence to the chances that the child grows up emotionally healthy, secure and resilient. Komisar shares the results of her research: The more time a mother spends with her child between the ages of zero to three, the better.

 Komisar wrote the book to generate discussion about those crucial three years and to ultimately influence the debate on maternity leave. It’s a conversation about both what is good for children and what is good for women’s success.  She’s not shaking a finger at the mother who chooses to spend time away from her baby; instead, Komisar slings an arm around her shoulders. She digs into what makes for an emotionally insecure mother and how that affects her connection with her child. Her research urges all mothers to re-examine how they nurture their children.

Read it if you are getting ready to go back to work after baby.

You’ll pick up strategies to nurture your child while managing your professional responsibilities. Komisar shares her research-based conclusions unapologetically, but she does it from within a judgment-free zone. If your gut says that your child needs you more, Komisar affirms that. 

Read it if you’re a fact-finder, a mom who wants to gather all the info before making a decision to stay home or go to work.

If you want stats, you’ll lap them up in this book. Komisar shows how culture and mothers’ personal struggles get in the way of children’s emotional and mental growth in the early years. She has accepted the facts produced by her years of research—even though the truth makes many mothers uncomfortable.

Read it if you’re screening caregivers.

Whether you’re interviewing a teenager next door or a candidate you discovered online, you will want an extensive list of questions that covers professional background, education, certifications, personality, and ability to do the job. Her list includes questions about discipline style, and familiarity with allergies and disabilities. Komisar reminds the parent of the questions that she is not allowed to ask, too. This book is worth picking up for this professional resource alone.

Bored but Engaged: Choosing to Nurture Your Kids

Not many women still enjoy playing with Barbies, and they aren’t ecstatic about reading the Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar for the hundredth time. “In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf…”

Groan.

Play time with baby can be, well, boring. Babies need a slow and quiet mode, and we’re addicted to fast, said Erica Komisar, LCSW and author of Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. Our brains are overstimulated. As much as mothers adore their babies, the adult world is understandably more engaging.

When the day-to-day grind feels weighty on the mother’s soul, how does she refocus on her child? “Gratitude,” Komisar said. “It reminds you of what’s important.” Mothers can forget to be in the moment, she said. Being quiet with your baby, studying the baby’s facial expressions, and marveling at their exploration, can bring the mom back to center.

 “We can’t do everything all at the same time to the best of our ability,” she said. Busyness gets in the way of connection. The inconvenient truth is that while women can choose to have it all, research shows that it’s not the best idea for raising children.

Having it all is stressful—for both mom and baby. Komisar said that babies and their mothers experience a surge in cortisol (the stress hormone) when they separate. Togetherness reduces the stress. When a mom feels the pressure to bond quickly with her baby before she returns to work, she sometimes experiences anticipatory anxiety and postpartum depression.

Some women see their ambitions like a train that leaves the station in their 20’s and doesn’t brake if they choose to get off it to spend more time mothering. “You have a lot of years to work,” Komisar said. There’s a kind of panic that if moms don’t take advantage of their career opportunities that there will never be another train, she said. In fact, she counsels that parenting can take mothers in many different and positive directions.

Nurturing your children comes in different forms. “I was never the parent who felt like I needed to spend $200 on tickets to take my kids to Sesame Street Live and hate every minute of it,” said Mary Rumble of Granger, mother of three. She and her husband chose to view nurturing their children as time spent doing what they all loved. “I think that if you do things you genuinely like with your kids then they can relate to you better and then it turns into a positive experience for everyone.”

Kelli Collins, a single, working mom in Granger, said that the weekend is her quality time with her son Collin. “I do my best, whatever we do, to create memories.” She said that when she is doing something constructive with her son that he shares more with her than if she sits him down to have a conversation.

There is a difference between nurturing versus entertaining your kids. You can’t spend every single moment together. “It’s ok to disengage,” Komisar said. “When you come back you re-engage; you repair and engage.” Mindfulness is another tool for mothers that helps them to engage with their children.

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