IT IS now a worldwide trend. Not only in industrialized societies, but in developing areas, such as in the islands of the Caribbean, rising numbers of mothers are joining the work force. Here, statistics show up to 90 percent of the children were in day care before they were 2 years of age. Demand for day care in Australia, New Zealand and in Latin America is strong. In Canada, more than half the children 5 years and under are supervised by some sort of non-parental care. About 40 percent of Britain's under — 5s are in day-care facilities. More than 35 percent of children of 6 years and less are in day care in West Germany. The United States is experiencing another baby boom, but this time, only a few months after the birth of their babies, mothers are returning to their jobs. More than half of U.S. mothers are now working outside the home. Mothers of children under age 3 are a significant part of the record-breaking increase. Who will care for these children? And the hundreds of thousands of children in other nations whose fathers and mothers have both joined the labor force? Is organized, government — licensed or subsidized day care really providing the answers to the need of today's families? Or can franchised or corporation — provided day care or nonprofessional care answer those needs? And what about the needs of the children? How does custodial care in an indifferent day-care environment affect fragile, impressionable young minds? Let's look at average day care, hopefully with competent personnel and clean, properly furnished facilities. (It's not our purpose here to include the horror stories of the tragically mismanaged day-care facilities we've seen portrayed in our newspapers and on television. But we should not ignore these dangers in the system.)
Infants Learn Early
Human infants begin to learn at birth — some experts believe infants perceive information even in the womb. Before babies are a year old, they will have acquired more knowledge and awareness of their surroundings than they will in any other comparable year of their lives. Before infants 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 researchers are emphasizing the added importance of father's play with the child in the beginning years of life, as well as later.) By the time the baby is 5 or 6 months old, the degree of mental and physical abilities acquired will depend upon the response and interest of parents, especially the mother. Parental response increases alertness even in the tiniest of 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 being learned. Later the frequency with which the infant expresses himself or herself in making sounds will decrease if not stimulated, and the child's language development will slow. Infants and young children do not thrive physically, mentally or emotionally in an environment where they are denied consistent loving attention — the case in average day-care institutions. Sobering studies reveal that a child's ability to form a lasting attachment to another human being — the capacity to love — is learned before age 3. This ability to form a lasting mutual attachment seems to be inexorably tied in with the development of the child's conscience. In other words, no human attachment equals no properly developing conscience. Yet how many toddlers today have been confused at one time or another, calling some part-time caretaker "Mommy"? What does the absence of a fulltime mother do to impressionable young minds? From studies over the last 20 or 30 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" (Every Child's Birthright: In Defense of Mothering). Day-care advocates have not been fully aware of the limitations of a caretaker environment. Most of their studies were made in day centers of above-average quality. Few of these facilities are available and would be out of the price range of most families anyway. It's a controversial subject and books and articles expressing opposing views are numerous, but it's hard to deny living, breathing evidence. The effect on the future character development of these children is not even addressed in the studies.
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, guided by loving parents, have exercised their God-given right of independent thought and action. The developing of such character in young children is the responsibility of parents. Our transient mobile society has robbed our children of the stable extended — family ties enjoyed by our grandparents. 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 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 parents more than ever. To avoid future deep-seated emotional problems, there is no substitute for mothers during those early years. For those with older children, depending on the family circumstances and children's ages, some form of day care may be an alternative, but for those with young preschool children, mothers are indispensable — at home!
Daring to Question
For many there's no alternative, of course — single parents trying to single-handedly hold their fractured families together physically and economically, as well as emotionally. They're caught, we're all caught, in a system we didn't create, but to which the majority are paying more than lip service. But what about the rest? Some women are reanalyzing their priorities. Husbands and wives are going over their budgets, taking the time to count the cost of turning their children over to others to rear. Is it really worth it? Cost of day care is rising — some women are paying almost 50 percent of their paychecks for child care. Other women have stopped long enough to take a good look at their goals in life and how they plan to accomplish them. They've plotted a time to have children and to enjoy rearing them. They believe child rearing is a career. These goal-oriented women approach training and rearing their children in the same way they have successfully accomplished responsibilities in other areas of their lives. More companies are offering job-sharing opportunities and flexible working hours to their employees. Some will allow working hours to be scheduled around family responsibilities. In this computer age, various corporations are encouraging employees to work from their homes. Cottage industries are another alternative. Some people, even those who aren't parents, prefer to pursue their careers from their homes. Don't think you have no choice when with a bit of ingenuity you may be able to come up with a workable solution. Avoid day care for your infants and preschoolers if at all possible. Give your children the priceless gift only you can give — yourself, at home. They're worth it.