An excerpt from The New Mom's Companion
by Debra Gilbert Rosenberg
Question and Answer from the section
Balancing Home and Work
I am working outside the home full-time. Am I ruining my baby's life?
No, your baby will be fine if you are fine. Babies are resilient and trusting creatures. It's so much more complicated than "To work or not to work." To ruin your baby's life you have to do much more than simply go to work full time; you must deny him the physical essentials for living and emotionally break his spirit. Luckily, as long as their own needs are met, babies are pretty accepting and understanding, and a baby's needs are surprisingly straightforward, once you get the hang of it. Mothers who work full-time can easily provide well for their babies. No one says the same person must attend to your baby twenty-four hours a day, or that that person has to be you. You may sometimes want to be that person, but and your baby can do nicely even if you aren't the designated full time nurture. In fact, your baby might do better with it than you do.
I've found that women who work because they enjoy it and sorely miss their professional lives when they stay at home sometimes have a harder time being certain they aren't hurting their babies. They feel guilty that they have chosen to work rather than be the one home with the baby full-time. If that's what you're feeling, it is no wonder you feel so bad! It seems to you that, by choosing to work, you are intentionally abandoning your baby, or putting him as a low priority. But everyone deserves to spend the bulk of their lives doing what suits them, if at all possible. If you love your work and you are unhappy at home full-time, and if you have good child care, then you might actually be a better mother (as you will be more contented and happy to be with your baby when you are together) if you do work.
If you are working strictly for financial reasons, then trust that your decision to work is in his interests as well. If the income from your employment provides a more comfortable life for you and your family, if you clearly love your child, and your child care is excellent, this story has a happy ending. Sometimes women who, without a doubt, must work to keep the family afloat financially have an easier time coming to terms with their decision; if they feel their working is essential, they may feel some sadness at leaving the baby, but less conflict over the rightness of their choice.
Regardless of why you are working, feeling guilty about it, although common, is neither a requirement nor productive. Studies show that babies who receive good child care when they are not with their mothers do just as well as babies whose mothers stay at home with them. Babies who are well cared for do not necessarily, as their mothers usually fear, have trouble figuring out who their real mother is; they do not lag behind their peers in any significant areas; and they do not grow up hating their mothers or having low self-esteem. If they do, you can be reasonably certain that it wasn't the mother's working that caused the problem.
Even mothers deserve to spend the bulk of their lives doing what suites them. If you provide good child care, and are happy yourself, you can work full-time and your baby will have a wonderful life.