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Bonding While You Work

After longing for a child for years, parting ways from nine to five can be painful. How can you grow your attachment? By Lee Tobin McClain, Ph.D.



Once you bring home your long-awaited child, you want to spend as much time as possible with your precious bundle. But after the 9.6 weeks of leave that Adoptive Families readers received, on average, most of us have to rejoin the workforce. Here’s how to make an informed childcare decision, and keep the transition from disrupting your growing bond.

Ease The Back-To-Work Transition
Suddenly being left with a caregiver for nine-plus hours a day, after weeks of spending 24 hours a day together with one or both of his new parents, can be especially disconcerting for a child just forming an attachment. How can you make the transition easier on all of you?

Maximize your initial bonding period. It may be possible for you and your partner to take your FMLA or other adoption leaves one after the other, so that your child can stay home with at least one new parent for as long as possible.

Minimize your hours away. Ask your employer whether you can make any adjustments to your hours. Some couples are also able to adjust their workday schedules, shifting one earlier or later, to minimize the hours a child spends with a caregiver. Other common arrangements include switching to a part-time or four-day schedule, leaving early instead of taking a lunch break, or working from home one or more days a week.

Introduce day care gradually. Your child has a lot to get used to in her first months home. Over the course of a week or two, spend time with your child at day care, then begin leaving her for an hour or two, then a half-day. Let her see you interact cheerfully with the caregiver. If you’re hiring a nanny, have her start while you’re still at home.

Reinforce your presence in your child’s life. Compile a family photo album that he can look at during the day, labeling the pictures “Mommy,” “Daddy,” “The first day we met,” and so on. Create recordings of yourself reading a story or singing favorite songs for the caregiver to play before naptime.

Don’t make separations dramatic. If you’re visibly upset or nervous when you say goodbye, your child will pick up on that. Stay upbeat, give a kiss and a hug, say you’ll see him at the end of the day, then leave with a smile. Never try to sneak away. If a child’s already anxious about separations, this will fuel his anxiety.

Away from Work, Focus on Your Growing Attachment
To build bonds with their new children, working parents should devote their at-home hours to them.

Hold your baby as much as possible when you are at home. Holding conveys affection, tenderness, and safety. Newborns, especially, can never be held too much. A sling or carrier can keep baby close—smelling your scent, hearing your voice—and your hands free. Take your child with you if you have to run errands in the evenings, or do chores around the house with baby strapped in securely.

Eye and skin contact foster attachment. Many adoptive parents continue to bottle-feed beyond age one. Snuggle up, skin-to-skin, during these times, and hold your child’s gaze as she eats. Share a bath before bed.

Develop a comforting bedtime ritual. Read a book aloud, sing, or rock together quietly before laying her in her crib.

Extend your “cocooning” period. Adoption experts often advise new parents to minimize visitors and keep home life simple, so they can tend their growing bond. Keep this up for at least your first few months back at work. Pick up meals on your way home, eat from paper plates, and cut back on social obligations in the evenings or on the weekends.

Don’t feel guilty. For many of us, working is not optional. Infertility treatments and adoption expenses inevitably strain a family’s budget. More to the point, a working parent is not a bad or “less than” parent. In fact, some studies indicate that working parents have a lower risk for depression than do non-working parents. Time spent away from your child, in a calm and predictable work environment, may allow you to “recharge” your parenting battery.

Lee Tobin McClain, Ph.D., an adoptive mother, is the author of three novels about teens in foster care.

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