Jewish World Review May 9, 2001 / 16 Iyar, 5761
Yes, there was first the report that young children in regular childcare are almost three times as likely to be aggressive and disobedient as are those kids at home with mom. Then days ago came the information that staff turnover rates at childcare centers are notoriously high, making the chances of finding "good quality" childcare that much harder.
But "duh." This is hardly rocket science. I could have told anyone that that's what you would find about kids and childcare, without these expensive studies. I mean, we might just as well do in-depth investigative work to come up with the radical finding that "kids shouldn't eat just Ho-Hos and ice cream all day long."
No, the most interesting fallout in the weeks and days since these studies have been released is our culture's response to it. It's been all about working moms and relieving their anxiety when, of course, "it's the kids, stupid." Or at least it should be, but it isn't.
Most news stories have focused on how this new information is just dumping more angst on already over-guilty moms. Or as one daycare mom after another has put it in news reports - "oh great, more guilt for working mothers."
But of course the only moms who can feel guilty about putting their kids in daycare are those who have a choice about whether or not to do so. And, if they choose that option, they darn right should feel guilty. Maybe the guilt will cause them to wake-up.
The only parents I've found who don't rationalize what an awful option institutionalized childcare is are those who have no choice about using it. They are the first ones to say, "Hey, I hate this - the childcare center can't give my child anywhere near what I could, but I don't have a choice right now." It seems to me that kind of awareness is going to be extremely helpful in softening the childcare blow to any little one.
But those moms who could choose not to work full-time, who could be home more with their little ones even if it meant cutting back on their own aspirations or fancy vacations or cars, well they are the first ones to wax rapturous about their "wonderful childcare center." All these other centers are awful, don't you know, but theirs, well theirs is terrific. It's filled with loving providers, and high tech equipment, and state-of the art blah blah blah and "Johnny just LOVES it." I've heard more mothers than I can count say "they take better care of him than I could."
No wonder these moms are professionally successful. The rationalization and con artist skills they need to convince themselves of this nonsense must be really helpful on the job, too.
The truth is that moms who have any choice at all about the matter should feel guilty about dumping their little ones into institutionalized care. Guilt is a great motivator. And glossing it over so that these moms don't feel bad doesn't help them to make selfless, loving choices and it certainly doesn't help their kids.
And that's what this whole debate should be about but isn't. Why, as a culture, do we put blinkers on as we pursue the unobtainable goal of "providing quality childcare," an oxymoron if ever their was one, instead of making our goal "more kids at home with their moms and fewer in child care." The deep, dark secret that few in polite society dare mention is that that's where young kids - and the vast majority of moms once they listen to their hearts instead of elite culture - want to be anyway. So why not make what is just about everyone's first choice the most socially acceptable one?
The economics of it, whether it be more tax cuts and credits or more
households getting their priorities right, can fall into place. But the first
thing to do is to get the focus off the moms and their self-inflicted angst,
and onto the kids and what's best for