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Balancing Working and Caretaking
Goals in the Family

QUESTION: My husband and I are in desperate need of advice. My husband is away seven days at a time at work and is home seven days at a time. We just found out that he will be away 14 days at a time after the first of the year. My mother has always kept our daughter, who is now one, since she was six weeks old, and I had to return to work. Our problem is, my mom is acting like it will be big bother for her to keep our daughter now that my husband will be away for two weeks instead of one. She says this will interfere with her and her husband's relationship.

Our daughter has never been left with anyone other than my husband or my mom for her entire first year of life. I do not know what to do. How traumatic will it be for her to go to a sitter or day care at her age? As much as I wish I could stay home with her, we cannot do without my income too. What can I do to make a transition to a sitter or daycare less traumatic for our daughter?

This is tearing me up. Please offer some advice or encouraging words.

Your daughter has been fortunate to have loving care from her grandmother consistently in her first year of life while her parents worked. No doubt your mother's loving care also gave you tremendous confidence in leaving your newborn, beyond what a "sitter" or "daycare" could have offered you. She is irreplaceable in her unique role to your daughter and to you and your husband!

It is understandable that your mother must set limits around her needs and relationship. She has a life of her own and providing ongoing primary care for your daughter in a more continuous fashion has led to overload of your extended family system. The good news is that your daughter is one year instead of 6 weeks old. And it is possible for her to adjust to a new daycare situation.

However, before arranging for extra care, talk with your husband about any possibility of delaying his new schedule. Do not automatically presume that decisions about work must take precedence over caretaking your daughter. Consider the possibility of rearranging your own priorities. Your mother has stretched herself to meet your needs as a family. Perhaps you could consider stretching your own parameters to maintain your current arrangement with your mother. In fact, Grandma may be suffering from the devaluation present in our society around caretaking children. She may even feel that she is taken for granted.

If change in your husband's work schedule is tied to a promotion, can he forego the advancement for 6 months or one year, when your daughter will be old enough to benefit from peer play in a small quality daycare? Is it possible for you to adjust your work schedule in the upcoming year to maintain the care schedule your mother can currently provide for your daughter?

Your arrangements for the care of your daughter have been exceptional this year. Put priorities of care above others. Do not overlook possibilities to choose to make the maintenance of your current daycare schedule a priority in this next year.

If maintaining the current one week on and one week off schedule with her grandma is not possible, rest assured that your daughter has had a very good first year. She has no doubt established a sense of trust in the world which will help her to adjust to changes if they are needed.

Perhaps your mother could be available to help with the transition if an additional caretaker becomes necessary. Ask her for help in the transition. Her supervision and/or feedback about the new caretaker could help your daughter adjust, and give you a pair of extra eyes to calm your fears. In fact, she could be invaluable in helping you to secure a quality person to care for your daughter while you and your husband are working.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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