The Lounge Room 29-Nov-2012
'Separation Anxiety Disorder' Debunked: An attachment parenting perspective
By Chaley-Ann Scott
Governments have been promoting the positives of early separation and childcare for decades with financial incentives to get us back into the workforce as soon as possible after birth. In Australia, Commonwealth Government spending on childcare has increased by 4000 per cent in real terms since 1980. British psychologist, Dr Penelope Leach (Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five, 1997) conducted an anonymous study of 450 infant mental health professionals from 56 countries who were members of the World Association for Infant Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines. When asked what care they considered likely to be the best from birth to 36 months, the majority said that from the infant’s point of view it was ‘very important’ for babies to have their mothers available to them ‘through most of each 24 hours’ for more than a year and ‘ideal’ for infants to be cared for ‘principally by their mothers for durations averaging 27 months’. Leach concluded, ‘Those findings suggest that there are many professionals in infant mental health who believe that a child’s best interests would be best served by patterns of early child care diametrically opposed to those politicians promise, policy-makers aspire to provide and mothers strive to find’.
The Australian Association of Infant Mental Health states that recent studies of the concentrations of the stress hormone, cortisol, in young children in long day care show that the stress hormone in infants and toddlers in child care rises throughout the day compared with children who remain at home, even in high quality care for infants and toddlers. One very recently published paper has found associations between time in long day care and cortisol levels in adolescence related to antisocial behaviour. They state that, “secure attachment relationships are one of the most important foundations for future development and is totally dependent on appropriate relationships'.
Does Separation Anxiety Disorder Exist?
Separation anxiety disorder is a myth, a creation, a fallacy. Are our children anxious about being separated from us? Yes. Is that abnormal or dysfunctional? No. The idea that it is has been created by a society that encourages us to separate from our children from such a young age, and doesn't support us to do otherwise. Our babies and children are just responding to being separated from us the way nature intended – by protesting as loud and as long as they can stand. Eventually they will give up (depending upon their personality), but they will still be emotionally affected by it.
Attachment parenting guru, Dr Sears, stated that, “Mothers themselves experience separation anxiety when not with their baby. If this "anxiety" appears in normal mothers, shouldn't it also be normal in babies? ...Labels such as "stranger anxiety" or "separation anxiety" are adult jargon, reflecting our expectations of how we want babies to act for our own convenience, not how babies really are, or what they really need.”
What if I need to work?
Both men and women feel the increasing pressure to provide in our consumer-driven world. There is a checklist of must-haves for families today that is desperately hard to achieve on two incomes let alone one, making the working mother and childcare train very difficult to jump off once you get on. We know the economy requires our labour and our spending power, but surely our children must have first dibs. Their need is greater.
Getting through the glass ceiling, better services, sexual harassment laws, equal pay, maternity leave, employment laws – all important gains that were hard fought and won for women. But motherhood is feminism's unfinished business. Our governments are choosing to ignore the accumulating evidence of risk to the mental health and wellbeing of mothers and children resulting from early separation. They don’t promote social settings, which support healthy, more natural mothering of small children. Despite all the information readily available out there about the negative effects of childcare and early separation, the ‘good-for-women-good-for children’ argument is a powerful one that has convinced many women in top positions in the social sciences and politics, that more non-parental childcare is a positive step forward.
Things aren't going to change anytime soon however, so what can we do? We can remember that our children are small and need our close attachment for such a few short years that, if we think outside the box, we can normally find a way to meet their needs. Ways I have seen this achieved by families is by living more simply or what is known as 'downshifting'. This can include downsizing, moving to a cheaper area, taking a mortgage-break or reduction, changing work arrangements (part-time, work-from-home, job-share, bring baby to work), setting up a family business, and reducing outgoings considerably (no holidays, car, expensive clothes etc). And remember these 'sacrifices' are only for a few years and are made to insure the wellbeing of our children at a time when they need us most.
What if I want to work?
We all have needs as mothers and they shouldn't be ignored. Our needs don't have to be at the expense of our child though. If our work is important to us and fulfils us and is not something we can live without during those crucial early years, we could find a way to fulfil that need that takes us away from our child for the shortest amount of time possible.
Suggestions for working mothers:
* Bring your child to work with you if you can. This will make breastfeeding easier and minimise your child’s separation from you. You may also be able to carry your baby in a sling while you work.
* Make sure your child is left with a trusted person that he/she is very attached to and enjoys being with.
* Continue breastfeeding by expressing breast milk and breastfeeding before you leave and on your return to encourage attachment. Consider having your child brought to you at breaks and lunchtime to breastfeed.
* The person who cares for your baby while you are working may be able to bring your child to visit you during the day (maybe at lunchtime). This can create an opportunity for breastfeeding and a time to re-connect and play with your child.
* Consider changing the nature and schedule of your work to make it more child-friendly. For example, start your own business from home, or work more flexibly around your child's needs (such as when they are asleep).
* Consider living off one income or an income derived from both parents working part-time.
In our print edition we included the first paragraph of this article with the article, Separation Anxiety. Chaley is an attachment parenting expert and passionately believes in what she writes about. I believe that this is a great opportunity to discuss this topic in an open forum, so please read the article and comment below with your thoughts. You can read the article on Separation Anxiety from a different perspective here. My children both attended (and one is still attending) childcare. My family made choices that best worked for us. As parents, we need to make the best decisions that we can for our children and try not to second guess ourselves too much. I am looking forward to talking about this more, so please comment below and join the conversation.
Attachment Parenting Australia: http://www.attachmentparentingaustralia.com/