Daycare Debate

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One of the discussion threads on H-Women, a website at Michigan State University for anyone interested in women´s studies, challenged members recently with the question ´What has happened to the Daycare Debate? When did it change focus from children´s well being to universal availability?´

With the proverbial ´click´, the realization of another instance of women being blindsided raised its head. Knowing how universal in my 25 years´ experience was the misery of young mothers trying to return to work in the corporate world, I couldn´t believe that their intuitive discomfort was not being validated or even recognized in the current public dialogue, surely somewhere in the consciousness of our leadership. So I cruised the web looking for other discussions on daycare.

The revision of focus seemed to be an accurate assessment of the debate´s current extent. It was recognized that there was a variety of daycare arrangements, some better, some worse. No one was dealing with the perception among many mothers that their child in daycare was not better off than in their care at home, not just in small negotiable affairs but in some important way.

Research done with daycare children in Israeli kibbutzim a few years back had shown that these now grown children had more difficulty in intimate relations as adults than Israeli children from the same areas of Israel who´d been raised in their own homes. In addition there was evidence that their relations with their parents was not as positive and affirming. The kibbutzim, in response, had altered their childcare philosophies. Had no one done similar research on American daycare children? It´s not as though maintaining intimate relations is not a problem here. It´s not as though parent-child relationships are smooth and no concern here in the States.
Checking my sources in developmental psychology for the state of daycare research was enlightening, showing again how the really critical questions can get lost in the myriad dimensions of interesting puzzle pieces. Most frequently quoted and ´highly regarded´ in the field was the book, Children at Home and in Daycare by Clarke-Stewart, Gruber and Fitzgerald, published in ´94. The book details the studies done, who participated, the test structures, actual results and what researchers concluded.

Yes, they said, daycare children were more compliant with strangers and less cooperative with parents and siblings. They called it social competence and patted the daycare on the back for it. The ´positive´ side of this outcome, namely getting along with outsiders, was contingent on the child spending only 10-30 hours a week away from mother but the implications for working mothers was never mentioned.

They studied the child´s environment at dinnertime through early bedtime and concluded that there was little difference then between mothers who worked outside the home and those who were home with their children all day, never asking whether there was any logic or way for there to be a difference during the pressure of meal preparation and cleanup. Then they concluded that mothers´ importance was overrated relative to fathers and siblings.

They ignored the children who are put in daycare before the age of two without concern about the significance of this omission for working mothers nor its relation to the old daycare debate. They defined the outcomes for which being in daycare was not positively predictive -- namely compliance with parents´ requests, socializing with mother, and aggression with peers -- as not measures of development! Then, from the remaining data, concluded that being in daycare contributed to the advanced development of 2-4 year olds. Similarly, the results that showed that peer interactions were beneficial when they were fewer and with older, more mature children did not lead researchers to any negative conclusions about daycare´s age-stratifying impact on children. I suppose that would have been politically incorrect, too.

Over time, they noted the diminishing impact of mothers on their daycare children and said that the image of mothers as shapers of children´s development was a stereotype that didn´t hold up. The alarming fact that this was a vicious downward cycle with mothers who had troubled relationships with their children being ever more likely to put them into daycare did not concern them. Nor did it disturb their child welfare instincts to note that today´s parents´ satisfaction with their daycare arrangements was based primarily on the similarity of parent and daycare philosophies instead of on the factors most indicative of children´s benefits. They did not even flinch in demonstrating that mothers´ satisfaction with daycare correlated strongest with their lack of knowledge and involvement in the daycare arrangements.

In the end, the authors only quote from satisfied mothers whose peculiar views depict the home as a deprived environment in which children would have no access to peers, be confined to stultifying one dimensional activities without stimulation or variety. These women envision themselves at home as overly involved in menial chores with which they decide daycare providers do not have to cope, concluding that training for daycare providers makes them better able to educate children, even though the research on mothers in the daytime casually, intimately interacting with their children shows the reverse. Instead of realizing that there´s a connection between the results on satisfaction and the disparity between these peculiar views of home and that the only viable conclusion is that these women have been blindsided by political correctness, the authors congratulate these women as wonderfully insightful!
So how long will we have to wait for the research on childcare here and intimacy skills that should have been redflagged by so many earlier studies? How many generations will it take before political correctness is forced to deal with the issue and how do mothers make decisions about their children´s welfare til then? Will it take a backlash? How many experts told us the benefits of bottlefeeding our babies before the truth came out? Already our young adults seem to have two strikes against them: ever weaker relationship with family and lessened abilities to form their own. The dynamics of the research indicate that this loss of relationship will compound with time. How long might it take before young women will need mothering lessons and who will provide them?

Nor is there convincing evidence of better learning skills among daycare children. The landmark study sited to support the learning advantages inherent in daycare turned out to have included only severely disadvantaged children. Done to defend a threatened social program, promoted to build empires, and now misapplied universally. Yet this obvious omission of most of the population did not seem to inspire further research. Nor does it inhibit proponents of daycare from claims of academic wellbeing of daycare children. Another example of the wonders of political psychology.
In this environment, women choosing interesting homebased careers need our support and encouragement as they pioneer the only path that looks right, both for women and for young children. They are not abandoning their quest for liberation, not betraying their sisters, though the accusations will undoubtedly surface, because there are painful realizations involved with past choices for our children, and because those idealistic young women who entered the daycare profession in spite of its payscales need to know what they are really dealing with. The politically correct advice we are being inundated with needs to be questioned, most effectively by older women struggling to understand why their grown children are having difficulties. There are roles each of us can play as we resolve this mess on our doorstep. Let us begin.

Twenty Years Later: Kibbutz Children Grown Up by Rabin & Hallahmi
Young Children Learning by Tizard & Hughes

LastStraw Revolution
LastStraw Revolution
... a feature of bergerac.tv

Opening the discussion...

To begin, we can share strategies to cushion impacts, modify daycare, identify needs, find remedies while we change gears.

From experience, I can share a few tactics that seemed beneficial; ranging from creative use of flextime, parents arranging staggered schedules, the comfort of the family-bed and intensive togetherness, a live-in grandmother, home-schooling, revising priorities. Of these, time and priority juggling were basically short term solutions.

For those choosing limited hours or not yet ready to make their move...Who has experience with on-site daycare; do parents freely, frequently spend time with their children? Has anyone seen or tried daycare with more sibling-like age groupings, more extensive parent involvement, programs to help parents promote intimacy skills?

From those who´ve made the transition to homebased self-employment, did you observe transitions and stages as your children learned to be with you? What helps for what age groups?

Send responses, questions, anecdotes, suggestions to the editors. We will gather and post them here in a future edition.


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