If you have one foot on the off ramp, it’s likely that someone in your life (mother? sister? friend?) has you worried that your hours at work are damaging your child. Certainly there have been enough articles that point to that conclusion–making you feel that you have to hightail it home.
The debate between working and non-working mothers will likely never end, but the many articles you may have read about day care leading to behavior problems are unfounded at best. To calm your fears, you should read a great article KJ Dell’Antonia wrote for the New York Times Motherlode column, “Day Care and Behavior Problems, Unlinked”.
It’s far more interesting (and sensationalized) for journalists to write about bad working mommies who are damaging their kids. That’s probably why, KJ noted, the work of a team of Norwegian researchers did not make headlines. Her article points out that in Norway day care is subsidized, and in 2009 almost all three to five year-olds (97%) spent long days away from their mothers. The study found no evidence of “externalizing problems” like defiance or restlessness as a result of their away from Mom care.
What I find most profound in KJ’s article is her focus on the researcher’s comment…”childcare in the U.S. is generally treated as an unintended and unfortunate consequence of workforce participation among women…childcare in the Norwegian corporatist economy is part of a broader family policy to promote maternal workforce participation and employment rights…as well as universal access to high-quality environments for learning and development beginning in the second year of life.”
I have not heard that Norwegians suffer from a lack of maternal caring, and I know there are actually benefits to day care (read the 9 Lives for Women blog post, “Escaping the Motherhood Guilts“, as just one example of a loving mother who is a fan) in fostering both independence and socialization. That, however, was not my childhood story. When I was young, my mother did not work and basically did not let me out of her sight. I think I was left with a babysitter about three times in my life. While that’s an extreme and slightly bizarre example, it took me years to learn to be independent and overcome big fears of being away from home. It’s easier for a mother to teach independence when she is not standing right in front of her child.
I applaud Hillary Clinton’s “it takes a village” concept, and I’ve helped my daughters form close relationships with adults outside of our family who care about them and play special roles in their lives. I’ve always been a working mother by choice, and they’ve had many very good experiences with babysitters and nannies–who exposed them to different cultures, family recipes, childhood games, books and thoughts on life. I know our children benefit from our loving care, and the loving care of other adults, too. –KAS
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