Is My Daughter More Attached to Her Caregiver? Parental Advisory on

Working Mom Blues

by Rebecca Odes & Ceridwen Morris

October 7, 2009



I‘m a working mother of a twenty month-old girl. Recently I’ve been having a very hard time with the reality of being away from my daughter. It’s never been particularly easy, but now that my daughter can talk I can literally hear her call out for her daytime caregiver when she’s hurt or hungry instead of me. And it makes me so sad. Though I am glad she has great care during the day – she has had a really nice nanny since about eight weeks – I still feel like she’s missing a connection with her mom. I also worry whether she’ll have attachment disorder from the back and forth. I can’t quit my job so that’s not an option but I would like to know if there’s anything I can do to make her feel more connected to me. (I still breastfeed by the way). – Detached and Despondent

Dear D& D,

Clinical Attachment Disorders develop when an older baby/young child is repeatedly ignored, abandoned and/or abused. The basis of these disorders is Attachment Theory, which grew out of the study of orphans in post World War II Europe. These kids were so deprived of ANY responsive care giving whatsoever that they developed severe problems. We’re talking homeless kids in dark rooms with no one answering their cries. It’s super depressing and extreme stuff. And it’s not what’s happening to your daughter.

On the contrary, your daughter has a loving caregiver and a very connected, loving working mother. Hearing her call out someone else’s name can pull at a mother’s heartstrings. We’ve been there, and we know it’s not easy. But you are her mother. Her caregivers will flow in and out of her life – some will be consistent for years, some will be relatives, some will be short-term sitters. But you’ll always be there. You gave birth to her, you nurse her, you go to work, you come back.

Though more of us are working mothers than not these days, the idea of the mom as the only one who can be the primary caregiver 24/7 can be hard to shake off. In her book Mother Nature, anthropologist Sarah Hrdy explores, among other things, care giving across time and cultures. And guess what. It’s not just “natural” for a kid to be raised by a community of caregivers while the mother works, it can actually be good for them. It’s great if a baby/young child feels loved and cared for by a small or even large network of people. Young kids do develop primary attachments, but this can be with someone besides a mother. Like a dad. Or a grandmother. Or a caregiver. And they have room in their hearts for more than one. Many of us have two parents, after all. Completely random, massively inconsistent care is not good – and could, in extreme cases, lead to attachment issues – but a loving, regular nanny: AOK.

It doesn’t sound like you need to do more to be connected but there are some things working moms do. Some co-sleep or continue nursing into the toddler years for some overnight bonding. Others push bedtime back a little in order to spend a couple/few hours with the child/ren after work. If she takes a whopper of a nap midday, she’ll be up past nine o’clock , no problem. This can get difficult once school starts, but toddler’s sleep is usually more flexible.

As much as you may feel jealous of your caregiver – which is, by the way, a totally normal, understandable feeling – remember that a good, responsive caregiver is not taking away from your love. It’s just adding more, from another direction. If your daughter felt cranky and detached from her daytime sitter, she would probably call out your name more . . . but she wouldn’t be any better for it.

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