Last week, “Living” looked at the newest study to conclude the obvious — little kids do best when taken care of by the loving, involved parents who brought them into this world in the first place.
It’s not the first study, nor will it be the last, on this important issue. For over 10 years, countless reports on non-parental care have warned parents and society that early daycare, and especially state-funded universal daycare, has been failing the nation’s children.
Research conducted by Dr. Claudio Violato and Clare Russell of the University of Calgary discovered that non-parental care of more than 20 hours per week inhibits children’s bonding with their parents, especially in boys. Violato and Russell conducted a meta-analysis of all the studies of daycare published in English since 1957, for a total of 22,000 children from all social clases, and 88 studies in all. (Meta-analysis is a statistical method that allows researchers to summarize in totality what is know about a subject or problem.)
Violato and Russell found that children in daycare are 63% more likely to fail to form a secure attachment to their mothers than children who have full-time parental care. The harm done by lack of maternal bonding leads to behavioural problems. Middle class male children in non-parental care were 24% more likely to have poor marks in school and on standardized tests than children raised at home full-time.
And it doesn’t matter how “good” the non-parental care is; supposed high-quality non-parental care turns out to cause as much harm as low-quality. The issue is not the staff-to child ratio, or even if the care comes from a relative, etc. The issue is that any signficant amount of care other than by parents is harmful to a child’s development.
So what’s the solution? If you’re a parent, the answer is simple. You. You’re the solution.
While most working parents, and especially working mothers (who, sadly, often perceive news about the dangers of daycare as a personal attack), agree that the “ideal” environment for raising an infant or child involves care by one or both of the parents, many also suppose the “ideal” isn’t an option. Which isn’t all that surprising. The whole word brings with it connotations of the unattainable, of dreams, wishes, desires. “It would be ideal if we won the lottery and could pay off our mortgage,” we tell ourselves at other times, or, “It would be ideal if it didn’t snow this winter.”
But children and their care deserve better, harder thinking. Parents caring for their child shouldn’t be the “ideal”; it should be expected and ordinary, and seen as one of the most important contributions they can make to that child’s life. Sure, it means rearranging, planning, strategizing, and working to make sure one can meet the obligations that having children creates. But excuses should not get in the way of meeting commitments.
Most parents from two-parent families today do have a choice when it comes to parental care. They can try and talk themselves into believing they don’t, but it really boils down to priorities.
Often, it’s a matter of money and career goals having more value and importance than they should. Sometimes, people get so accustomed to a certain standard of living that they are unwilling to simplify their lives, live on less, in order to be their child’s parent. Adding to the quandary for women is their desire to achieve career status and equality in a work world dominated by men. Ambition, in itself, is an unremarkable facet of being human. But add a child to the equation, and work and motherhood quickly become incompatible.
Parents can think of hundreds of reasons they can’t be there, but at the heart of them is usually the sad fact that they don’t think caring for their child is important enough — or, more specifically, they’re not convinced the care they can provide as their child’s parent is critical. That’s not to say working moms don’t deserve compassion and support for attempting to balance it all. This isn’t about picking on parents. Rather, all moms and dads need to know that the job they do raising their children is one only a parent can do well. No one else will love your child like you do. Only a parent will attend properly to the thankless, demanding, tiring, albeit rewarding task of raising a child, day after day, without being paid, with little appreciation, and with even less societal support and recognition.
Do many parents look back and wish they would have spent less time with their children? Do many parents feel joy looking back knowing that it was the nanny or daycare worker who heard their child’s first word, watched their child’s first step, and heard their child count to ten for the first time?
Listen to your instincts. Listen to your heart.