Editors Note: In her latest guest essay, Jana Thomas Coffman offers her experience in being a successful attachment parent while still working.
When I read about attachment parenting online, most of the moms posting, blogging, and commenting seem to be stay-at-home moms, often homeschooling their children. Yet as a working mom, I can say attachment parenting does work for us, although perhaps with a few tweaks and modifications to the more “traditional” model.
I teach full-time at a local high school, and I love my job. I find working with my students rewarding and stimulating, and doing something I enjoy makes me a happier, more well-rounded person in general, which I believe translates directly to me being a better mother. Teaching plus my extra-curricular duties do keep me busy, but my husband and I have persisted in attachment parenting with our 14 month old. Here are a few ways we keep it up:
1. Find the right caregivers. When you have to be away from your child for eight hours a day, my advice is this: don’t just find caregivers you trust, find caregivers you love! I prayed hard about finding the right babysitter for my daughter, and I interviewed several people when pregnant.
Ultimately, I settled on two choices: my mother keeps my daughter once a week, and the other four days she stays with in-home caregiver less than a mile from my school. This arrangement is perfect for us! She loves the built-in Grandma time every week, and I rest easy knowing my daughter is being cuddled, played with, cherished, and absolutely showered with attention from a doting, adoring family member.
At first, I was a little more nervous leaving her with the babysitter, but she has proved to be a Godsend. It is obvious she adores my daughter. Every time I pick her up, even at unannounced times, my daughter is being cuddled, or having her diaper changed, or being fed, or playing happily. I get a detailed update on all her activities throughout the day. The babysitter sends me text updates, photos, and videos throughout my workday so I know what my daughter is doing and can enjoy her smiles and grins even at work. She has also been very supportive of my desire to breastfeed and has been flexible with me showing up unannounced to breastfeed when I get a break. I love our babysitter and feel she is a perfect fit for our family. Even when her father and I aren’t with the baby, I know she is being cared for and showered with attention and affection in an environment that is very compatible with our attachment-parenting philosophy.
2. Remember why you work. Many moms have to work for financial reasons, and many choose to work. Either way, keep focused on why you are working. I keep a photo of my daughter right by my desk so I can see her and remember I work, not just because I enjoy it, but also so I can support her, provide her with a fabulous insurance plan and medical care, enjoy holiday vacations and long summer breaks with her, and have a family-friendly workplace that understands when I take sick days to be with my ailing baby.
3. Make the time you do have count. Although we’re not with my daughter all day, my husband and I make up for it in the time we have with her in the evenings. We follow the CAPC building blocks of baby bonding, empathic response, playing together, and gentle discipline. We fill our evenings and weekends with playtime, cuddles, and family bonding. I nurse her on demand, one of us rocks her to sleep, and we bed share for at least part of the night so she can nurse more at night to make up for the time we miss during the day.
4. Advocate for yourself and your baby. Some elements of attachment parenting, especially breastfeeding, are made more difficult in a full-time work environment. I solved this problem by becoming a self-advocate. As a teacher, I have a set lunch hour and planning period and cannot take several short breaks throughout the day as many breastfeeding websites recommend. While this was not ideal for pumping, I made the best I could out of the situation. I insisted on having my own space to pump, and with the help of our school’s wonderful secretary, finally found a closet/office space with privacy and a refrigerator. I had another teacher watch my lunch class so I could pump longer. When my supply started to dwindle, I prayed hard about it, and I also tried herbal supplements, lactation tea, and a higher-powered pump. When that did not keep up with my growing daughter’s intake, I prayed harder, and I also started pumping hands-free on the car ride home and waking up at 1 am to pump. Thankfully, these measures allowed me to exclusively breastfeed my daughter until her 6th-month birthday, at which point I gratefully stopped stressing out about my supply and started supplementing her diet with solids and formula as well as continuing to pump.
I was also not afraid to stand up for my pumping rights myself during in-service days, parent-teacher conference nights, or on field trips, when I had no planning period to pump. I simply told my principal where I would be and disappeared for a half hour, and my school leadership was very understanding.
When the next school year came around, I asked the counselor to arrange my schedule to better space out my pumping breaks. She bent over backwards to accommodate me, and I was very pleased to be given a schedule with two evenly spaced breaks to pump, as well as a free lunch hour so I could continue breastfeeding my daughter for longer or leave to feed her in the middle of the day.
5. Prioritize. Finally, my husband and I had to prioritize. God comes first, followed by each other and our family, followed by everything else. I enjoy holding leadership roles at work and church, and when I wanted to take part in committees or extra-curricular activities, we prayed about it and discerned which opportunities to accept and which to pass up. I accepted an offer to be a dance coach at my school, with the understanding my husband would pick up the baby after work and bring her to dance practice to spend time with me or take her home to have much-needed Daddy time. I also happily agreed to go to a professional development weekend in New Orleans, where I maintained my supply by pumping. However, we decided to pass on the opportunity for me to attend a weekend conference for the National Teachers Association, not willing to spend too many weekends away from home. At church, I decided to volunteer my time as a cantor and Eucharistic minister, but regretfully declined to be a group leader for a new women’s Bible study, citing my busy schedule and need to spend some time at home with my daughter. For every opportunity, we try to balance our work, church, and social lives with our daughter’s needs and our time together as a family.
As attachment parents, my husband and I strive to make our time with our daughter precious. We try to maintain a balance between our need for professional development and social time, and our daughter’s need for love, attention, and affection. We’ve found that if one of us is working or busy on a weeknight, it’s a great opportunity for her to have some quality alone time with the other parent or with one of her grandparents. It also helps that we’re both blessed to have very family-friendly jobs that let us off early (my school day ends at 3:00 pm and my husband gets off work at 4:30) to spend our afternoons and evenings with her. Both my parents live near us, so we’re lucky to have helping hands around whenever we need a break.
We also try to watch our daughter to gauge how well we’re meeting her needs. If she is sick, or tired, or simply acting clingy and whiny for a day, we realize that’s her way of telling us she needs some undivided Mommy and Daddy time, and we cut back on our schedule to really focus on her and her needs. For us, it’s the perfect balance of work and family.
Jana Thomas Coffman lives near Kansas city with her husband, Chris, and their daughter, Kaylie. Jana and Chris serve in their parish as marriage prep counselors and Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Eucharist, and they are an NFP (Natural Family Planning) teaching couple through the Couple to Couple League. She holds a B.S. in Spanish with a minor in religious studies from Missouri State Universiy, as well as a M.S. in Spanish Education and a graduate certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Jana teaches high school Spanish and college ESL.
Childcare image credit (childcare): Diego Cervo