With the increased number of working mothers more and more young children are being left to the care of maids at home. Although raising a child is supposed to be the responsibility of both parents, in most cases the onus is on the mother to find a way to balance work and parenting.
Back in the day working couples would leave their children with their grandparents or other relatives. But this has gradually changed due to the fact that the extended family system has been replaced with the nuclear family model.
So, instead of forsaking work, many parents are inadvertently letting their domestic workers raise their children. In fact, there are horror stories of mothers letting their babies spend the night with the maids. But the sad truth one discovers is that these maids have no experience with children and at times are like children themselves – in need of care and attention.
“It’s unacceptable to let our children‘s caretaker perform our primary role”
Claire*, 25, worked for a young couple living in Kampala, Uganda. The couple was so committed to building their careers that they neglected their roles as parents.
Claire had recently lost her husband and young child to HIV. The couple employed Claire without knowing about her medical history. They gave her pretty much anything she asked for in order to take care of their six month-old baby girl. They even had her moved from her crib in their room to Claire’s because she cried a lot at night.
Each time the baby cried uncontrollably, Claire would breast feed the baby and she would instantly go back to sleep. Claire did this regularly out of love not malice. Tragically, after several months the baby fell terribly ill. When the parents took her to hospital they discovered she had contracted HIV/AIDS.
36-year-old Chantal Uwamahoro is mother of four. While she admits that housemaids help in looking after the children when her and her husband are away, she believes that raising children is the parent’s role.
“We, as parents, need to nurture and teach our children how to behave. It’s unacceptable to let our children‘s caretaker perform our primary role. I have heard of incidents where some parents leave their infants to sleep with the caretaker because they are too tired to wake up and feed the child. I wish to advise such parents to spend the night with their infant, it strengthens your bond with the baby,” Uwamahoro explained.
She further said that parents have to come up with a schedule where at least one of them is around when the child needs them.
“If you are both working parents, make sure one of you is with the child at least every eight hours. A lot of parents come back home late from work and get up early and the children only get to see them on weekends. If this is what happens in your home, then it’s evident that it’s the caretaker raising your child and not in the way you would really want,” Uwamahoro expressed.
She concludes, “I understand that we have to work hard as a couple to sustain our families but let’s not be over-ambitious to the extent that we sacrifice the love of our children. I have visited some families and I have seen toddlers preferring their caretakers feeding them instead of their own mother! This is because the child feels rejected by their parents”.
“The baby may develop separation anxiety”
Dr. Stephen Musiime, a Paediatrician, said that although a mother can begin work after her child is at least two months, for a pre-mature baby, more time is required.
“The mother’s presence in a baby’s life at that tender age will surely have a lot of implication on a child‘s growth and development,” Dr Musiime said.
He added that breast feeding is also another aspect which is imperative to a child’s proper growth. “If a working mother is not able to be around the child all the time, they have to get a reliable person to take care of the child. They can leave some breast milk in baby bottles, which can be fed to the child when the parents are away. Breast milk is nutritious and important to a child’s growth,” Dr Musiime disclosed.
According to ‘The Working Mother’, an article published on a parenting website, mothers often worry that their babies will forget them once they return to work. But they need not fear because babies recognise their mother’s voice right from birth and are not going to forget it even if their mothers are away the whole day. The article further states that the question then is when is the best time to go back to work?
Dr. Sushma Mehrotra, a child specialist, says that Ideally a working mother should only return to work when her baby is at least one year old. “Otherwise, there is a danger that the baby may develop separation anxiety”, he says.
“Children may feel neglected and seek stimulation outside the house. Servants can look after a child’s basic needs, but they cannot be responsible for the child’s intellectual, social and emotional development,” Dr. Mehrotra continues.
Experts feel that mothers should wait till they have bonded with the baby and feel confident in their new role as mothers. For women who don’t have a choice, it really depends on the amount of maternity leave they can get.