The Italian media constantly bombard us with news that some actress, model or TV presenter returned to work just days or weeks after giving birth -- preferably without an ounce of extra fat and with baby and nanny in tow.
But nobody ever asks whether it is good for baby during the first months of life to have a mother whose energy and attention are diverted elsewhere.
I start fuming when I hear Italy's minister in charge of the country's future generations declare: "Going back to work immediately does not mean being a bad mother: every woman should do it".
Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini gave birth 10 days ago. In an interview with Corriere della Sera she talks of the difficulties of balancing work and kids, and declares herself "privileged" because she can already do her regular job from home, interrupting work "only to breastfeed".
Soon she and her baby will return to the capital to resume her ministerial duties full-time.
Maybe these Supermoms are unaware that babies need their mother not only as a traveling restaurant. Stopping work briefly to breastfeed, then off-loading the infant into the arms of someone else until the next feed, is anything but ideal in creating that initial -- and crucial -- mother-child bond.
Babies know full-well who mother is, and are very capable of making this distinction (as any new mom will proudly tell you). After all, having been in her womb for 9 months, hearing her voice and feeling her caresses on the bump, we can hardly be surprised if a baby is calmer when mummy is around than with nannies, grannies, daddies or others. (And I'm not saying this to let dads off the hook. On the contrary. Father is the ideal 'assistant' to mother, and baby is also attached to him --and we can assume even recognizes his voice, after those same 9 months. But in this case, sexual equality is nonexistent.)
But Supermoms do not understand this, partly because psychiatrists like Dr Federica Mormando (quoted in the Italian daily), proclaim:
"Children do not need mommy all the time in the first months of life. On the contrary, an ever-present mother not only makes the mother dependent on the husband and reduces her world to four walls and diapers, encouraging depressions and making more complex the mother-child relationship. An exclusive two-way addiction is created that is hard to undo (...)"
Fortunately, the same paper also quotes psychologist Silvia Veggetti Finzi with her far saner her views on maternity:
"In the first months of life, the newborn needs the total dedication of the maternal figure. Like all cubs, the baby needs closeness, cuddles and skin-to-skin contact (...) The mother is the best person to carry out these functions, because she was prepared for it during the gestation period by a deep bonding process that makes her the privileged object of filial attachment. Substituting her is always possible, but if the detachment is premature, the baby's basic sense of security and trust in others -- that are fundamental for future development -- is jeopardized."
The psychologist concludes saying that from the moment a mother assumes the responsibility of bringing a child into this world, the little one's wellbeing needs to be the priority. A view that I fear is not shared by many in this country. Women do not want to 'sacrifice' themselves for their kids. Even though today's children are tomorrow's adults.
So, who gets priority -- today's adults or tomorrow's?
We frequently hear well-worn phrases like 'Children are the world's most precious good." Fine, then those who truly care about the future of these children should realize that wanting the presence of mummy is not being capricious.
It is a need that has to be respected, taken care of and -- above all -- not undervalued with throw-away phrases such as: "And then the little kid will simply get used to being the centre of the world." (Again, Dr. Mormando).
Remember this: Children are the centre of the world. Of today's world and of tomorrow's.
Sadly, most debates on balancing work and motherhood routinely fail to ask: What's best for the child?