When my daughter was born, I knew how I wanted her to be looked after. I also knew that I wanted to return to work. I considered without a doubt that I would be a much better parent if I still kept part of me for me. That part was my career. I had never been a stay-at-home-person and realised that having a child wouldn’t change that.
I absolutely adored my baby and was fiercely protective of her. I also realised that the two significant men in my life, my father and my husband, expected me to become a housewife and more or less informed me that this was all I could expect. I just couldn’t allow this to happen. I wanted to be with my daughter but I also wanted to maintain my professional status. I didn’t want to disappear.
I returned to work after the then statutory maternity leave of three months. I worked in a child guidance clinic, supporting troubled children and their families. I was very fortunate that I was allowed to bring my baby to work with me. She turned out to be the best visual aid I ever had.
Parents, especially mothers who had in the past physically abused their own children and were unable to form a close relationship with them, found great pleasure and comfort in looking after Nicola. They hugged her, carried her about and gave her lots of verbal praise. In time and with some careful nurturing, some of them even managed to make the emotional transference towards their own children and the tentative beginnings of a proper bonding relationship developed.
Nicola remained with me at work for three days in every week until she was 3 years old. For the other two days, either my mother or her father took over her care. I missed her so much when she wasn’t with me, but I felt it was important for her to experience being cared for by other people whom I could trust.
When she was two, I took her to a local playschool for two hours once a week. I was concerned that she would begin to copy the behaviour of the children I worked with if I didn’t offer other examples of children at play. She hated playschool because it was a very noisy, chaotic environment. She cowered and cried when I took her along.
Reluctantly, I removed her from the place after only a few sessions due to her distress. My daughter was growing into a very independent child who was able to feed herself and make some attempts to get dressed. She needed the company of ordinary children. I registered her in a local authority day nursery where the fee I paid subsidised those children whose parents were unable to pay.
After a few weeks, I collected her one day and was informed that she was very lazy. I asked how the nursery nurse had reached that conclusion. She told me that Nicola didn’t know how to feed herself nor would she take off or put on her own shoes. I couldn’t bear the thought of her regressing so much even by attending the nursery for only a few hours twice a week. I removed her and she remained at work with me.
By the time she turned 3, some of the children who attended child guidance were very aggressive. I didn’t feel it appropriate for Nicola to remain. I found a private nursery with a woman who clearly loved her work with children. Nicola went there three days a week until she was four and a half. There were often times when I would go to collect her and she would refuse to come because she was enjoying her play so much.
Once she started school, she didn’t enjoy it quite so much. I think she found it difficult to be a small fish. I know the teachers found her frustrating, but I don’t think she was always at fault.
During her fourth year, her father and I separated. He ceased to have any significant contact with her. When he did visit, he was quite critical of her and she responded by letting him know that he couldn’t hurt her feelings even at such an early age. I have spent quite a bit of my life supporting people in need, whether they were children or adults. For some time I was heavily involved in Women’s Aid. Nicola would visit the refuges with me and play with whichever children were living there at the time. She must be the only child to play at refuges during role play!
She is now an adult. She is a remarkable young woman who is compassionate without being soppy. She has a gift with children, especially those experiencing problems. I have never seen her hit out at anyone in anger. She can lose her temper and speak her mind, but that is the extent of her aggression. Her intention once she becomes a parent in her own right is to stay at home and look after her child. She is adamant that it is no one else’s responsibility but hers. She is a strong-minded individual with firm views on parenthood. She claims that she didn’t feel neglected by me during her childhood, but is of the opinion that a mother’s place is with her child.
This is a column written by parents, explaining why they took key decisions in the lives of their children. Send us your story; each one is important.