When I went back to work after my first baby was born, I felt guilty and excited at the same time. Guilty because I'd fallen in love with my baby and wanted to spend more time with her. Excited because I'd be able to have conversations with actual adults again, and be productive in a pre-parenthood way. And guilty, of course, about feeling excited about being back in the office.
Being able to leave the baby at home with my husband made me feel better (here's how we managed that and how I dealt with the second-shift stress), but if my company had offered to allow me to bring her in to the office with me for those first few months, I would have turned them down. It was hard enough trying to concentrate on work once I was back in the office, I can't imagine trying to multitask with an infant at the same time.
Every company is different, and allowing a new mom to keep her baby with her at the office may work in very small, family-oriented companies -- or if the new mom is also the CEO, as is the case with Sabrina Parsons, who blogs at MommyCEO. But even in those cases, it's not so much of a perk as it is a necessity.
"I can't take maternity leave. I run a company. So I didn't bring the baby "back" to the office after maternity leave, I brought the baby to the office when he was 3 weeks old," she told me when I broached the subject on another blog post. One of her employees had a baby at the same time she did; that employee was able to take the maternity leave Parsons' company offers, but "I don't get to have maternity leave, as there is no one else to run the company for 3 months," Parsons pointed out. "This is part of the reason there are not as many women CEO's out there."
BabiesAtWork.org says that there are many benefits to allowing parents to bring their babies to work with them -- at least until the child is 6- to 8-months-old or crawling. Those include lower stress levels for parents, better bonding and breastfeeding experiences, lower daycare costs, better financial stability, greater paternal involvement, and less incidents of post-partum depression.
But I disagree.
In most work environments, even a happy baby can be a major distraction; a fussy baby does not make for a low-stress or productive work environment for anyone, parent or non-parent. (And if studies show that people are less happy when they're parenting, do we really want to make them do it at the office as well as at home?) Wanting employees to be more financially stable is admirable, but if a new mom cuts short her maternity leave in order to maximize her paycheck, the company is the one that benefits most. I don't buy the idea that it promotes greater paternal involvement -- I know that studies show men are trying hard to juggle work and family, but how does keeping the baby with mom at work help a dad to bond? And as for those lower daycare costs: Even passionate baby-to-work advocates admit that once the baby is crawling it's time to find another child care plan, so the savings would be for a couple of months, at best.
I think there are several other options companies could consider before implementing a babies-at-work program. On-site daycare, guaranteed daycare at a nearby center, paid maternity leave, encouraging fathers to take parental leave, and, most of all, allowing schedule flexibility and telecommuting would have similar benefits for families while causing far less disruption in the workplace.
We faced the issue again a couple of years later, when my youngest son was born. This time, my husband switched to days, so we had to weigh our childcare options more carefully. Would I have preferred to take my then 5-month-old son with me to the office, to save on daycare costs or to make breastfeeding easier? Absolutely not. At 5 months, my son was hilarious, very active, and a ton of fun. I would never have been able to get anything done at the office with him there -- and neither would any of my coworkers.
Don't feed the Mommy War trolls, please -- this isn't a SAHM vs. Working Mom post. But do tell us what you were up against when your babies were brand-new. Did you wish you could bring them to the office with you?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.