Women have had their traditional responsibilities of homemaking downgraded and devalued. Now they are out in vast numbers to prove their worth but at what cost?
OUT OF the throes of inferiority a growing number of women are turning their backs on hearth and home. They are reaching out through a myriad diversified fields and occupations to prove their worth — but at what cost? The undermining of the family! And that is the admitted goal of a few zealots who feel women should be "freed" from the patriarchal nuclear family, who feel that society — not the family — should be more responsible for the care and development of children. But not all working mothers are women's libbers — most women do not automatically agree with the so-called utopian social changes fostered by the feminists among us. Many women are forced to work in support of their family situations.
Families, today, often find themselves in precarious situations economically because of illness or death of the father, divorce, loss of work opportunities, high medical expense — situations that demand almost immediate solution. Mother goes to work and the preschool children go into some kind of day-care or nursery-school arrangement. Right or wrong, these are today's emergency tactics. In the past thirty years, apart from emergencies, the number of women in the labor force has increased dramatically. Far beyond the emergency needs of their families. Why? Besides more opportunity, a major factor is that women, along with men, have been deluded in this society to believe that materialistic gain is the primary measure of success. Working in a home environment does not reap the immediate rewards offered in the business world. And women, just as much as men, want and need to enjoy feelings of self-worth too often missing in cramped urban apartments. Also, women's value as the primary nurturers and educators of their children has been downgraded. Psychologists and others use such terms as "smother love" and "momism" to describe motherhood. Women who choose to stay home with their children feel they are expected to apologize for their occupation. Even on legal forms a distinction is made between women who "work" and housewives. With most of the responsibilities of parenthood thrust upon them and the importance of this commission devalued and downgraded, the outcome was predictable. The female invasion of the market is one of modern history's great sociological changes. So who's taking care' of the children? At the time of World War II day care was considered another war-time evil similar to rationing. During the Great Depression (the only other period when there were national childcare policies) nurseries were created to provide jobs for unemployed adults.
Government Steps In
Government bureaucrats and others in the social reform era of the sixties were plagued with the results of the breakdown of social institutions. They reasoned that they needed to push organized day-care services as a means for reform in welfare. Day care for fatherless children — it was hoped — would compensate for faults in the family structure by allowing indigent mothers to work. Politicians and educators, alarmed by studies showing the relatively lower academic abilities of "culturally deprived" children, began to advocate day care as a means of early child development. In the United States the Head Start program, for example, was established in 1965 and by 1975 was serving 350,000 children a year. In 1971 the U.S. Congress authorized about two billion dollars for childcare services. But the Comprehensive Child Development Bill was vetoed by then-President Richard Nixon with these words, in part: "... our response... must... be consciously designed to cement the family in its rightful position as the keystone of our civilization.... Good public policy requires that we enhance rather than diminish both parental authority and parental involvement with children...." "... for the federal government to plunge headlong financially into supporting child development would commit the vast moral authority of the national government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing over against the family-centered approach." "This President, this government, is unwilling to take that step." Nevertheless, studies have shown, over the past ten years, the number of families headed by women with children has increased at about ten times the rate of the traditional two-parent families. Today's licensed facilities do not begin to provide adequate space for the consequent influx of children.
Who's Taking Care of the Children?
Back in the sixties, day-care chains began to spring up — some still survive — but by and large, only the "white-collar" professional women — teachers, executives, lawyers — can afford these services. More and more companies, educational and medical institutions are providing their own daycare facilities for their employees. Nonprofit day care is provided by churches and religiously affiliated organizations, city and state government, foundations, private schools, etc. These may be subsidized by the federal government through food programs and other funding. But the majority of working parents' children receive more informal care. Relatives or baby-sitters provide for more than half, while many others are cared for in family day-care homes. Can organized, government-licensed and/or subsidized day care or franchised or corporation-provided day care or nonprofessional family care provide the answers to the diversified needs of our nation's families? It depends on whose needs you are most interested in — the parents' or the childrens'. Let's examine the evidence.
Marshaling the Evidence
In the Soviet Union, with a rigid commitment to the equality of women, highly trained personnel have been provided for institutionalized child care for years. The participation of the Soviet population in these services has dropped to about ten percent. The adults who have emerged from this government-instituted day care are generally competent, responsible, hardworking and cooperative. But those unique traits that identify the creative person are too often missing. In the People's Republic of China, day-care services are believed to be utilized by about 40 percent of the population. Older women care for the infants in facilities in or adjoining the factories where the mothers work. The Chinese culture is very different from that of Western nations. Their definition of creativity is anything that innovatively furthers their cause. An individualistic, independent population is not in accordance with national goals. Group-dependent children mature into adults, also dependent upon the group. The majority of Americans would not agree with Chinese techniques of teaching a nationwide system of thought to preschoolers. Unlike the Soviet Union and China, some in Israel (less than four percent) have used day care to restructure the basic family unit, almost completely freeing women from their domestic role. In the Israeli kibbutzim (conditions vary), four- and five-day-old infants are taken from their mothers to the nurseries where they are cared for twenty-four hours a day, except for feeding times. The babies are weaned at about six to eight months. At one year they are transferred to the toddler's house, at four to the kindergarten, and go on into primary school at seven. Also unlike the Soviet and Chinese children, the kibbutz toddlers are left unsupervised for long periods of time in playpens. Finally, in the absence of a supportive adult, the children begin to look to one another and learn to depend upon their peer group. Again, many researchers agree that although kibbutz children generally grow up into competent, hardworking adults they often lack certain characteristics of personality and individual creativity. And note this: in the three nations we've examined, the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China and Israel's kibbutzim, all provide basically competent caretakers who generally take care of the same children throughout their tender early years. Unlike the United States, for example, the families in these countries are not so transient. Most U.S. children in day care will experience at least three or four caretakers annually because of the high rate of turnover among day-care personnel alone.
Impact on Infants
How does custodial care from this parade of caretakers in an indifferent environment affect fragile, impressionable young minds? Remember, this is an examination of day care at its best — with competent personnel and clean, properly furnished facilities. Human infants begin to learn at birth, and before they are a year old, will have acquired more knowledge than they will in any other comparable year of their lives. Before babies can reach out, some researchers find that they have stored up, through sight, information about an object, and are not totally surprised at its shape, when able to handle it. A baby quickly learns to recognize mother and definitely prefers her face and voice. (And more and more researchers are emphasizing the importance of the father in a child's beginning years of life, as well as later) By the time the baby is five or six months old, all mental and physical abilities acquired will depend upon the response and interest of parents, especially the mother. Parental response, of course, increases alertness even in tiny infants. A baby left alone for long periods of time becomes not only lonely, but also frustrated. He or she is not able to exercise, and thus develop, all the new skills he or she is learning. Later the frequency with which the infant expresses himself in making sounds will decrease and the child's language development will slow. Infants and young children do not thrive physically, mentally and emotionally in day-care institutions. Even more sobering, studies are revealing that a child's ability to form a lasting attachment to another human being — his capacity to love — is learned before age three. And that this ability to form a lasting mutual attachment is inexorably tied in with the formulation of the child's conscience. In other words, no human attachment equals no conscience. From studies over the last twenty to thirty years infant psychologist Selma Fraiberg states: "...we have learned that the human qualities of enduring love and commitment to love are forged during the first two years of life. On this point there is a consensus among scientists from a wide range of disciplines. "We are living in times," Professor Fraiberg continues, "when there are voices which denigrate the human family and even cry for its dissolution or its recomposition. I cannot identify the voices of infant psychologists among them" (Every Child's Birthright: In Defense of Mothering). It's unnerving to visualize what final impact the emotional near abandonment of our children will have upon our society. Childcare advocates would not agree, of course. It's a controversial subject and books and articles expressing opposing views are numerous, but it's hard to deny living, breathing evidence.
The God-ordained Family
Broken homes are a tragedy. Children need two loving, concerned parents (especially their mothers, at an early age) to develop into mature adults capable of loving and caring for other human beings. Adults who can enrich the lives of others with their own unique creativity, who have exercised their God-given right, guided by loving parents, of independent thought and action — parents are responsible for developing such character in their young children. Preserving the nuclear family is not the panacea for all the world's social ills, of course. Our transient mobile society has robbed our children of the stable extended-family ties enjoyed by our grandparents. Therefore, most young people have little sense of the past and less regard for the wisdom of their elders. It should come as no surprise that youths have been wandering around for the last two decades wondering who they are. The modern, highly transitory society we live in has made child rearing doubly difficult. Without the support of the extended family, parents' responsibilities today have never been more important. Children need both their parents more than ever. To avoid future deep-set emotional problems, there is no substitute for mothers during those early years. For some of you — too many — you see no alternative available. Single parents trying to single-handedly hold your fractured families together physically and economically, as well as emotionally. You're caught, we're all caught in a system we didn't create for ourselves, but which the majority are paying more than lip service to. For those with older children, depending on the family circumstances and children's ages, it may not always be as harmful for women to work, but for those of you with very young preschool children feeling the pressure to make a decision you may regret, quit feeling inferior — you're indispensable! There are those already concerned about our children who are becoming the vanguard in a movement to turn parents back to their children and children back to their parents. Read our article reprint series titled "Are We Neglecting Our Youth?" for more information on this subject. And don't let anyone rob you, and therefore your child, of either of your birthrights.