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The Abandoned Baby Syndrome

The Abandoned Baby Syndrome

Who Is Loving Our Children?


A well-known rabbi once said to me, "Never write anything controversial. You'll only make enemies, and it won't help." So I hesitated to write this article, knowing that 70% of mothers work and that most will continue to do so. But if this article makes even one woman think twice about returning to full-time work before her baby is 6 months of age, then it is worth the anger which may be directed my way.

I'm not opposed to women working. Many families cannot survive unless the mother works. But people must be aware that the child's emotional development is likely to be affected if she abandons her baby at 2 to 12 weeks. As a psychotherapist, I see the results of severe "mother deficit" daily. When a baby is not allowed to form a secure bond with a loving mother during his crucial first years of life, the damage can be irreversible--no less so than the damage caused to babies who do not get sufficient Vitamin B, C or D. A lack of vitamin L (Love!) can manifest itself in lifelong struggle with anxiety, depression, addictions and abuse disorders. To children, time is love. They sense the hypocrisy when parents proclaim, "I love you but don't have time for you."

When a new mother knows that she will return to work within weeks of giving birth, she avoids bonding to her baby to lessen the pain of separation when she turns him over to a caretaker I was 28 when my first child was born and felt lucky to be able to stay home for four years with her. Yet while I loved her dearly, I did suffer from loneliness as well as lack of intellectual stimulation and financial independence. Thus, seven years later, after my second child was born, I found a teaching job at a day-school near my home for three hours each morning. I gave most of my salary to a loving grandmother named Lori who did nothing but cuddle him and play with him. It was good for me to get away--I needed the structure and creative outlet which only teaching gives me. But by the time my third was born, two years later, I saw that I lacked the physical and emotional stamina to be both a good day-school teacher and a good mother. I am simply not one of those super-efficient, highly organized, energetic superwomen that we'd all like to be. So I switched to evening adult education, which was far less demanding, but provided the interaction I craved.

I am heartbroken when working mothers tell me, "I have no time to love my children. I'm on a treadmill, racing to keep up with all the demands, trying to stay one step ahead of the feared nervous breakdown. Yes, I hit and yell a lot; I'm too overwhelmed to be patient or creative." How will their children learn to love if they've never experienced love?

While working moms tend to suffer from over-stimulation, the at-home mom may feel under-stimulated and isolated, which is also painful. She may look enviously at her well-dressed neighbors who leave home for a day filled with stimulating challenges, or at least adult social interaction. She may think they are advancing intellectually and economically while she is at a standstill, unable to fulfill her intellectual or creative potential. She may be envious of the financial perks and decision-making powers afforded women who can decide on their own what to do with their earnings.

Love has become a rare commodity True, being an at-home mom does not guarantee emotional health in children. If at-home moms are depressed or addicted or bitter about having to do what they see as boring, repetitive chores, they will convey their anger in hundreds of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. And mothers who over-pamper and over-protect may also raise selfish spoiled brats who have no idea how to wash a dish or figure out solutions to their problems. We all have to find a path that satisfies our own needs without sacrificing our children's welfare.

But it is tragic that our schools provide no training for motherhood and that the job of mothering is not given the respect and glory it rightfully deserves. Does G‑d imbue us with all the wondrous instincts and capabilities of motherhood only that we should abandon our babies immediately after birth? Is it a matter of debate whether babies need their mothers' love? Why do people think that it does not matter who diapers or feeds a child? It matters greatly! A child is already emotionally bonded to his mother in the womb, attached to her voice and her heart rhythms. When a mother looks lovingly into her baby's eyes and is in frequent eye contact with him, she feeds his neshama, building a sense of trust in himself and in his ability to love and be loved.

Nowadays, the typical working mother has a "killer schedule" which goes something like this: "The alarm rings at 6 a.m. I must get three children, including a 6 week old baby, off to baby-sitters and be at the school where I teach by 8 a.m. I try to pump milk in the bathroom, but that means giving up my lunchtime, so I grab some nosh to get me through the day. I get home between 2 and 3 in the afternoon, depending on whether I must attend school meetings, try to sleep for an hour while the children play by themselves, but the older two often fight, which wakes me up. I must then cook, feed them and get them bathed and off to sleep, then clean the house, prepare lessons for the next day and talk to parents who call to consult with me. Then I collapse in bed. My husband complains that I'm not the happy person I used to be. I'm so on-edge that I can't relax and so tired that I just want to be left alone."

Studies have shown that when a new mother knows that she will return to work within weeks of giving birth, she avoids bonding to her baby to lessen the pain of separation when she turns him over to a caretaker. Since caretakers also know that this is a short-term arrangement, they, too, avoid becoming emotionally invested. When a mother picks her baby up after work, he may not know who she is and may look at her with apathy or fright, which she may take as a sign of rejection. He has spent the day learning how not to connect, not to cry or reach out for comfort, because there is no comfort to be gotten. While some will view apathy as a sign that he is a "good" baby, this pattern can hamper his ability to bond as an adult. While many people can handle this lifestyle and remain emotionally well-adjusted, for many, it is tragically cruel and inhumane.

Furthermore, while it is economic necessity which forces many to work, other needs are present, such as the desire to escape the chaos and endless demands of home and also to find creative and intellectual fulfillment. Many mothers seek work in order to be in a structured atmosphere which provides a sense of competency and control, which may be lacking in the home, especially if she does not feel appreciated or adequate. Before marriage, many girls overestimate their abilities and blithely promise their future husbands that they can definitely work full time, not realizing how difficult it is to juggle work and family or leave a sick baby with a stranger. Her best efforts are given at work, where she feels valued and rewarded. By the time she gets home, she is likely to be depleted and overwhelmed by her children's needs. No mother can hold her baby in a relaxed and loving manner or attend to her older children's chatter when she is exhausted and distracted by the need to shop, cook, clean and deal with a thousand and one other chores.

Thus, it is no wonder that many "emotional orphans" are angry and unhappy. This is a natural consequence of a life which leaves no room for love. Mothers with Burned-Out Mom Syndrome and children with Abandoned Baby Syndrome display symptoms which are familiar to those who have been there.

Burned-Out Mother Syndrome:

  • Resentment: How does a working mom feel when she hears her baby cry at night because he is hungry, teething, or in pain from an ear infection? Knowing that she will not be able to function the next day without sleep, can she soothe him with the loving caresses that help him feel calm and safe? And will she have the patience to respond lovingly to her children's demands after a long day at work, or will she resent them for making her life even harder with their demands and messes?

  • Anxiety: Working women with young children have the highest level of stress hormones in the world. Sleep-deprivation (less then 7 hours) raises the cortisol level while vitamin B is reduced by the use of caffeine and sugar--quick energy-boosters relied upon by harried workers. Add to this the panic gripping working woman who discovers she, the babysitter or the baby is sick. A woman's nervous system is more sensitive than a man's, and the over-production of stress hormones and C-reactive protein damages the heart and other organs over time. It's no wonder that more and more women are suffering heart attacks in this frenzied age.

  • Guilt and Shame: We all hear stories about "superwomen" who manage full time jobs and large families and still be calm, have spotless homes, be involved in community events and entertain numerous guests. Those who don't work may feel like boring drudges in comparison, unable to fulfill their intellectual goals or creative potential, while the irritable and disorganized working moms feel ashamed that they cannot achieve superwoman status or that their children have emotional disturbances or are rebellious and are often blamed by society for these problems.

And what about the emotional orphans?

Abandoned Baby Syndrome:

  • Anxiety: Cuddling develops the nervous system and builds self-worth and trust in people. Later in life, those abandoned babies often develop addictions and anxiety disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and can be paranoid, insecure and untrusting. (Could one result of this "unbonded" generation be the high number of singles, many of whom have no idea what it means to be loved and to sustain, long-term, loving relationship with another human being?)

  • Depression: Babies mourn when left alone for long periods of time. The lack of touch and attention may result in a life-long sense of unworthiness and sadness. The unspoken message when the parent drops the child off is, "Your needs are not important. You don't really matter." Children make their own conclusions based on their experiences; abandoned babies learn to believe, "I must not be worthy of love if no one loves me." (Could this be one reason that prescriptions for mood stabilizers has risen 4000% in the last 10 years?)

  • Aggression: Many children become nasty and rebellious in their attempt to achieve a sense of power and win precious drops of attention. They don't care what others think and have not been trained to share or care or respect others' feelings. Small children are often left in the care of older siblings who resent the loss of freedom and resort to cruelty to get their younger siblings to cooperate.

There is no substitute for a mothers' love! Forget quality v. quantity. Children need soothing when they are in distress, not at a scheduled time.

Who will take the time and effort to instill positive character traits in our children, teach them self-restraint, teach them to share, stand up for their rights, deal with intense emotions, plan for the future and find non-violent solutions to problems? Who will protect them from abusers in schools and neighborhoods? Not the baby-sitter!

What Can You Do?

G‑d chose to give you a child. You can choose to take responsibility for him or her:

  1. Stay home for at least the first 6 months of the child's life, which sets the foundation for his future mental and physical health.

  2. Smile--a lot! Happy mothers, whether they work or not, have more well-adjusted children.

  3. Try to find part-time work so that you are gone no more than four hours a day.

  4. Work at home. Can you do freelance work or start a computer-based business?

  5. When you do have time with the kids, enjoy them! Shut the phone off between 5-8 p.m. Cherish your time with them. Show interest in the things they care about. Tell them that they, not work, are your priority in life.

  6. Lower your material standards. You won't have the fanciest home or brand-name clothing, but you will, hopefully, have saner children.

  7. If you work, don't go off again in the early evening to classes or social events. Wait until the children are asleep. They need your presence to feel loved.

  8. Get your husband involved. Women are far happier, even if they are working, if their husbands are true partners who help with the chores and child-rearing.

Love has become a rare commodity. May we all do our best to give ourselves and our children the respect, appreciation and support which we all need.

Dr. Miriam Adahan is a psychologist, therapist, prolific author and founder of EMETT (“Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah”)—a network of self-help groups dedicated to personal growth. Click here to visit her website.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Anonymous October 23, 2017

I struggled with the decision to stay home or go back to work after my sons were born. My husband and I kept saying we’ll see how it’s going in a few months and if it’s needed I’d go back to work. I never went back to work outside the home anyway. When my boys were in school full time I started catering small parties and that led to bigger events and I could work around their day and needs doing this. They’re grown men now and I wouldn’t trade one day of being with them for anything. Reply

Anonymous August 21, 2017

Thank you so much for this article. It made me cry out of concern that I may be damaging the development of my older child. I have a 26 month old and a 4 month old. I have the option of staying home and so I do it. But I allowed the responsiblities of helping my husband run his business take priority over my children. I failed to be attentive and give my oldest the attention he deserves. Not to mention he is also dealing with less attention from no longer being an only child. Your article made me realize I have the freedom to put my children first by handing my responsibilities to a part time worker. It is worth the money. I hope it is not too late. I feel like he is already damaged. I can see the affects it has on him. Especially after my second child was born. That was like the icing on the cake. Reply

Anonymous sunnyvale September 7, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I certainly do not think it is too late for you to rectify any damage that was done. It is for sure hard being the older child, and seeing your mom's time and love go toward the youngest, often cuter child. Then adding any further attention diverting work on top of that would be hard. However, you sound like a very sensitive mom to notice and realize it, and you can start spending a lot more time with him and paying him attention, and it will help him so much! Please do that. Even though I stayed at home with my children, I see that I doted on my baby instead of my older son, and if I could go back in time I would change that. I would laugh a little more at his jokes, tell him how cute and smart he is, and put the camera on him a little more instead of always on the baby. I wish you luck in changing the course of your relationship with your older child! Reply

JDV Paramus October 29, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Do not pound yourself over the head because of a situation that might not have been totally within your control. Reply

Anonymous August 7, 2017

I agree with your perspective, on the effects of a baby or child. The one thing I get frustrated by is when the discussion turns to fathers not being as present in the family. I don't know why that's accepted in a relationship. Everybody in a family should be doing their part. It's different if your single, but it should not be accepted for one to be handling all the parental duties. It's a partnership. I have friends who are moms who complain their husbands don't help. Ask them, and if they don't do it your way, don't be upset, have to let go of some control. i realize this doesn't apply to everybody, but I do get frustrated with moms who want to do everything and then complain they have no help, when they have set up their family dynamic that way. It's a lot of unneeded stress. You have to set up rules and boundaries with your partner! Reply

Anonymous June 7, 2017

Don't feel guilty writing controversial pieces. They are the best way to spark conversation and exchange opinions. Reply

Anonymous Ca January 11, 2017

Feeling guilty- you have your priorities so straightforward. You understand staying home is the best thing and even did it for 16 months! When there comes a point when you can't afford a living gotta go to work. The problem is when moms go to work so they can afford the vacation and fancy car or go to work to have status or feel that staying home is not the best thing for the baby.
Please don't feel guilty- you stayed home for as Long as you could and your daughter is lucky to have a mom like you. Reply

JDV January 11, 2017

Abandoned baby To woman in Finland - are there any part time jobs available? The more you earn, the more you are taxed and child care isn't free either. If you take those things into consideration, lesser pay might not be less at all! Reply

Anonymous Helsinki January 11, 2017

Feeling horribly guilty. couldn't agree more with your words. I have a beautiful, sweet, mischievous, 21 month old daughter. I love her more than I ever knew was possible. My issue isn't love, or lack of. My issue is that my husband doesn't earn enough money in his field even working 50 hour weeks so I have to work full time. I love my job. I'm a social worker/ teacher in a kindergarten (In Finland BSW can teach early childhood. :) ) I try to treat those children as I'd want my daughter to be treated. But I hate dropping her off at daycare. We both cry. I stayed home for the first 16 months of her life but after almost being evicted from our cheap apartment I had to work again. I know I'm lucky in that Finland gave me the opportunity to be home a long time with a small mothers pension but I feel so heartbroken that I couldn't be with her longer. What can I do to cope? When I come home we have only 2 hours together before her bedtime and one hour in the morning. I just want to be with my child but I can't. Reply

J December 30, 2016

I feel the article was very insightful. Like many written pieces I feel it is an observation and opinion.
I makes perfect sense to me that a baby and child needs the parents love and security. This seems clear, however I think the home life of a stay at home Mum is not always instantly a positive outcome. So many factors contribute. What sort of Mum are you? How much love do you show? Do you give your best?
I work part time with 3 children under the ages of 6. This is what I feel is the best choice for my family.....mainly my children. However I do not feel cock sure of myself or overly confident that I am a better care giver or more deserving of reward than somebody working more hours than myself.
I do not honestly believe it is as simple as it seems. Non working Mums can be just as 'absent' as working Mums. Your heart needs to be in it when you are with your children atleast surely. Rather than wrong or right is not best to just encourage or teach parents that quality time is key. Reply

JDV Paramus December 4, 2016

Abandoned baby To Amber - I agree, there are two perspectives to every story. But who took care of you when your Mother was working? That is a big part of the problem - lack of reliable and trustworthy child care. Many foreign countries do more in this regard. Reply

Amber December 2, 2016

I think it is awesome if you get to stay at home with child; I know when my brother and I were children my mom wished nothing more than to be with us always. But I do have to say that my bond with my mother is the most special bond that in my life right now (I'm 22). My mom and dad working so hard everyday to give my brother and I a great life is what I believe brought us to respect and love our parents even further. And despite my mom working 60+ hours a week she always has time for us even now. And both of us are very successful despite the fact we didn't spend every moment of our life as babies or children with our mom. There is always two perspectives to every opinion and this is mine. Reply

Anonymous November 24, 2016

I cannot stop crying after reading this article...sitting at my desk when I should be at home with my little flock.
Especially with the state of society being what it is, this is the admonition, if you like, that we need. Reply

JDV Paramus August 31, 2016

Abandoned... I do not know you but agree with you - 100%! I waited until 35 years of age and planned our circumstances so I could be a full time mother. More people should read your article - painful or not! Reply

Anonymous August 5, 2016

to "bonding", aka Gloria, I hope that you can talk to a lawyer, and see about what rights you have. Also, the child has rights. The mother legally abandoned the baby, in my opinion. I'm not a lawyer, a real one could advise you. You may not have to surrender the child. Also, if the mother does return, I would think that having her live with you, or ease into the relationship would be the best thing. That the toddler stays with you, but she enters his/her life slowly, to gain trust. If she blows it again, due to drugs or whatever, that will really mess this child up. Good luck with your situation, and please consult a counselor or lawyer. Good for you for giving the child love and consistency all of this time. Take good care of your health so that you can be around in the future, for this child. God bless you. Reply

Gloria Arizona August 4, 2016

Bonding We have gaurdianship of our great grandbaby we have been primary care giver since he was 6 weeks old he turned 2 in June. Mom has been completely out of picture since he was 12 weeks. Now she wants him back. I worry about the bonding. We are all he knows. Childs mother reportedly neglected child since birth. We took him before cps did. Anyone know where to go to get help to know how to properly bond mom and child? Mom has had issues herself and honesty not one of her strong points. I worry that it would not be a safe healthy situation for her to have him let alone the bond issues. I am at a loss as to how to handle it. Reply

Anonymous Penzance July 19, 2016

I hatedmy mother working as a teenager as she brushed my needs aside and she only worked school hours. She liked her status and salary, but i preferred more poverty than there was and to have had a mother who made me realize i was important. I did not work when i married and children, but i did care for the grandparents! My neighbour, a headmistress looked down on me as i did not work, but expected me to take in her children if she was at school meetings! Some of my friends home educated so had to be in the home. WHO recommends each child is breastfed exclusively for 6 months with weaning, slowly over 2 year how can you work doing that! And care for the old in tbe family. Expressed milk in bottles does not help good jaw and teeth formation. There are morebenefits to child and mother; breastfeeding should occur as long as necessary. You cannot care for a family properly if you have a career. Mothers could unite to stay at home and husbands should not bully mothers to work. Reply

Early 1980s baby Canada June 21, 2016

Abandonment is Emotional Murder Thank you for your article. I am a product of baby abandonment. My mother abandoned me at 6 months to work as a nurse full time and my childhood was full of emotional pain, hurt, incompleteness, separation, anxiety and shame which affects me to this day. I have a twin sister who was also abandoned and I see abandoned baby syndrome characteristics she had as a child from your article. A woman who abandons her baby to work for her "empowering career" is emotionally murdereing her child which destroys that baby's self-worth/soul with repercussions for the rest of that baby's life. When you deprive a baby of your time/love before they can talk you are starving that child of what he/she needs to survive (a stable environment of love aka You). The feminist movement and this supposed "progress" has destroyed children, families, and societal wellbeing. Reply

Anonymous May 19, 2016

Thank you so much for this article. I have been helping care for a one year old baby of a single mother for a few months now. It was supposed to be just while she was working but quickly turned into evenings she was out partying with her friends. During the day she was putting him in daycare and in the evenings he is left with a sitter almost every single night. Soon after that, it turned into week long trips out of town with friends at least once or twice a month. This poor baby is passed around so much that he doesn't know where he will be sleeping and who will be there when he wakes up. The one thing he does know is that it more than likely won't be his Mommy (if he even knows who she is). This situation has been weighing heavy on my heart and mind. I am a mother myself and my children are my world. I was blessed to be able to stay home with them those first critical years of their life. Do you have any advice for me to help this child? Reply

Anonymous May 18, 2016

I've been on the fence about staying home fulltime with babies. This article has provided me a clear indication of what I need to do.

Thank You! Reply

Keila Vieira February 23, 2016

Thank you so much for your article! Reply

Anonymous california January 21, 2016

No one even questions it anymore. I work part time in one of the "best" university daycares in the country, and I stayed at home to raise my own small children. It's clear to me that babies and children under two should be primarily with mom or dad, and not in daycare full time. Yet, no one even questions it anymore. Berkeley Parent's Network, a supposedly "open minded" parent's forum, will not even print an opinion piece which is against daycare. Obviously it is run by working moms, and the bias is there. In the Bay Area of California, mothers have their babies and plan on leaving their babies in daycare or with a nanny; any debate or question on the ethics of doing this have been silenced. Want your PhD? Need to prove your intelligence? Then making sure that your baby is loved and cared for by you is out of the question. Hire the help you need, free your day and do your own thing. This is the new mantra. How many years must pass before we see the folly of this thinking? Reply

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