This message is left on my voicemail from Lily, the mother of twelve-month-old, Mary Kay: "I have a baby question for you. Mary Kay has just started to really talk in the past few weeks. She can say 'Mommmy.' But yesterday, she called her childcare teacher 'Mommy!' Could she be confused about who her real mommy is?"
I continue to be surprised by how much families say about themselves on a simple voicemail.
This young mother's question expresses a common and stressful reality in the life of a working mother. She is jealous of times when others care for her baby. In addition, she worries that the closeness her daughter feels to the childcare teacher will take away from the closeness she feels to her mom.
Of course, the first need here is some basic information on child development. A baby's first use of words "Mommy" and "Daddy" are important previews of language to come. However, at this point they acknowledge the baby's grasp of the concept that sounds she can make connect to the world around her. It will be several months before "Mommy" will be specific for her mom. She will learn another sound for her teacher's name. Mom can rejoice that Mary Kay's use of this word indicates a brain bubbling with growth and development.
Next, Mom needs to know that babies who feel secure and loved throughout the day are developing the building blocks of good self-esteem and emotional competency. Again, Mom can rejoice in the attachment she sees between Mary Kay and her caregiver.
However, it is important for the teacher to be aware of this normal, and expected jealously, and to consider what her role might be in supporting the developing parent-child relationship. Imagine the impact of the childcare teacher's saying instead, "I could tell Mary Kay was thinking about you all day 'cause she kept saying 'Mommy.'" Lily would have beamed with delight instead of feeling worried and left out.
My older son is 25 years old. I still remember how sad I was when one day his childcare teacher claimed to have seen him pump on the swing for the first time. How could I have missed this important event?! "Looks like he's getting ready to pump" would have sent me home to a fun evening on the playground to catch this next "first" in my little one's life!
Lily seems relieved after our brief conversation. At our next well child visit she shares that Mary Kay now "calls me, and only ME,'Mommy'!"