In spite of all the rhetoric in the public square expressing concern about “our children,” their well-being is being sacrificed in the quest for advancing so-called “women’s rights.” Special interest groups, especially non-government organizations, are aware that federally-funded childcare is a vital key to unlock the door of equality for women in the workforce by freeing them from the duties and responsibilities of motherhood.
However, the women may be paying a higher price than they realize for their much-vaunted “freedom”: childcare offers a solution for employed women at the expense of their children’s needs.
This month, after a long delay so that childcare experts could vet, and thus perhaps defuse some of the controversy the findings would evoke, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) released findings that show a link between childcare and aggressive behaviors. The study started in 1991 with 1000 participating children from an ethnically and economically diverse sample of families. The NICHD reported “The link between time in child care and problem behavior occurred across all family backgrounds and all types and quality of care.”
The University of Minnesota also recently released a study recorded in the journal, Child Development, showing a significant increase in cortisol, a stress hormone, for toddlers, particularly shy ones, who attend childcare centers. USA Today reported on the study stating, “About 7 out of 10 toddlers 16 to 38 months old increased their output of cortisol at child care. On the days at home, most didn’t have increases in the stress hormone.”
The NICHD study also noted that the strongest predictor of a child’s positive behavior directly relates to how sensitive or aware and responsive the mother is to a child’s wants and needs. According to the NICHD, “Children of more sensitive mothers were more competent socially, less likely to engage in disruptive behavior, and less likely to be involved in conflicts with their caregivers and teachers.”
However, this conclusion assumes that some mothers are just intrinsically “more sensitive,” and that there is no connection between time spent at work and a mother’s sensitivity and her ability to bond with her child. In order for mothers to develop a “sensitivity” toward their child’s deepest needs, they have to spend sufficient, quality time with the child.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, an official U.S. delegate to the 2002 United Nations Children’s Summit and an expert in women’s and family issues, reflected, “These findings echo similar findings from previous studies and point to an irrefutable truth that is substantiated, yet again no one can take the place of parents in providing the bonding, nurturing and care giving that is best for a child’s well-being. Yet, some people continue to refuse to accept facts and try to explain away reality. And, children continue to pay the price of mistaken ideology.”
For years special interest groups have managed to minimize publicity on research contradicting their day care agenda, and downplaying the recent study continues to characterize the politically controversial issue. “The study does not, however, say that long hours in day care cause behavioral problems,” NICHD researcher, Sarah L. Friedman, told The Washington Times. Yet, findings released in 2001 for the same 10-year NICHD study showed that children age four-and-a-half who spent on average more than 30 hours per week in day care displayed more behavior problems than those who spent under 10 hours per week in day care, even after controlling for the quality of the care. Dr. Crouse added, “Even expensive, full-time, live-in nanny care, which many parents believe is the best day care option, is risky when children spend too much time without their parents.”
Friedman also stated, “There are many influences on a preschooler’s behavior, with a mother’s sensitivity to the child being especially important.” She seems unaware of her own potential contradiction. More hours in day care equals fewer hours at home with a mother, which negatively affects some mothers’ sensitivity to and awareness of their children’s needs.
The statistics are not new. Experts in child development and psychology have released previous research reporting the link between childcare and aggressive behavior. A 1999 article in Developmental Psychology based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found more working hours for mothers was associated with lower academic achievement scores for children before age seven and lower cognitive development scores for children before age nine. In 1990 child-care expert, Dr. Jay Belsky found that infants during their first year who encounter “early and extensive non-maternal care” fail to develop the level of secure infant-parent bonding that children with maternal care develop.
Those promoting childcare centers argue that many women turn to childcare out of financial necessity. As a result, the existing government childcare fund currently stands at $4.8 billion and will be increasing. Earlier this year Congress passed a welfare bill adding $2 billion over five years to existing childcare funding. The TANF reauthorization bill (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) is currently under debate with Democrats pushing for more money within the childcare element; they argue that women cannot get off welfare without childcare centers.
Nevertheless, proponents of childcare ignore the fact that the studies show the quality of childcare “did not eliminate the link between hours in care and behavior problems” and that problem behavior was “greater for children in center-based care.” Investing billions of dollars into a program that perpetuates child behavior problems is not the solution working mothers need. It insults both women and motherhood and costs children.
Why should ANY woman accept a potentially harmful system as the best choice available for her child? Many don’t; mothers consistently choose care by relatives or family friends over day care centers. According to the 1998 U.S. Census Bureau, 70 percent of children under age five with employed mothers are cared for by a parent, relative, or family friend. Only one-fifth of children under age 5 with employed mothers are placed in a day care facility.
Furthermore, a poll conducted by Glamour magazine found 88 percent of women agreed with the statement “If I could afford it, I would rather be at home with my children.” A Wirthlin Worldwide poll asked respondents to rate nine choices of care for pre-school children, and child care centers came in last. Most parents intuitively understand that no one can raise and meet the needs of a child better than the parent, and the environment of a young child profoundly impacts his or her development.
“Equally important in children’s development are the influences on personality and emotional development. Some psychologists indicate that by the time a child turns six, about 85 percent of its personality is already formed. Therefore, parents cannot overlook the scientific link between early child care and the development of aggressive behavior,” said Dr. Crouse.
The most noble and rewarding sacrifice a woman can make is to invest in life, and viewing children as a burden on women and a detriment to equality must shift to viewing motherhood as a privilege. Children were created to be raised in a family and they thrive best there rather than in a day care center. Early separation from the family environment brings too high a risk of negative consequences in a child’s development.