Over the years, it seems some of our common sense for mothering has been lost. Maybe its because so many young mothers no longer enjoy the proximity of extended family, where skills and insight are passed from older moms to younger ones. Maybe it’s because before we have kids, we think that knowing how to be a good mother and having the right answers just come naturally. But we soon learn better.
A lot is expected of moms today. Well-adjusted kids don’t just happen. Developing their hearts and spirits must be the main thing, the central focus of our efforts. As the German proverb says, “The main thing is to make the main thing always remain the main thing.”
Well-adjusted kids come from families in which mothering is seen as a complex, beautiful challenge worthy of everything Mom can give to it. Mothering shapes lives and attitudes, one way or another.
The truth is, motherhood can’t be discounted. That’s why I’m concerned as I see more moms fitting work outside the home into their schedules and having to deal with the issue of childcare.
I know I’m stepping into dangerous territory by talking about childcare. My friends at Focus on the Family tell me that whenever they air a broadcast or publish an article about working mothers, regardless of what they say, they get critical letters representing both sides of the issue.
Moms who work outside the home write, “Why are you trying to make us feel more guilty?” Stay-at-home moms write, “Why are you downplaying the importance of what we do?” It seems to be a real Catch-22 subject.
Nonetheless, I know you love your children deeply and want to be the best mom you can possibly be, and because I want to be a friend who helps you toward that goal, I’m going to venture boldly into this arena and say what I believe with all my heart.
I know there are many moms who have children still at home and who truly have no choice but to work outside the home. For them, it isn’t just a matter of wanting to maintain a certain lifestyle. Even in those cases, however, as in all others, a mother’s care is the preferred choice. I don’t say that to make anyone feel guilty; it’s just a fact.
Even if you have no choice but to work outside the home, please stay with me because I will offer some suggestions for finding the very best child care available to you.
The search begins
For some reason, telephone poles seem to have become billboards around our community. I can stop at almost any intersection and read a number of flyers:
- Garage sale, 9 to 2, Sat. only
- Firewood, Maple & Fir, Delivered
- Reward: Have You Seen Our Golden Retriever?
- Quality Child Care in My Home
Quality child care? From a phone number stapled to a telephone pole along Hogan Road? Is that all the recommendation needed today to consider placing children in a stranger’s care? Have we become so desperate?
Not long ago, I received a letter from Kendall, a young friend who works in a daycare center. It read: “Working here for the past three years has given me a stark view of where families, especially women, are headed. Motherhood is no longer valued, and it is seen more as a mark of prestige than as the precious gift it truly is. Our little girls are growing up playing office, banker and travel agent while they take their baby dolls to a daycare center or sitter.”
That was a strong statement, so I called Kendall and asked her to tell me more about her concerns. She replied, “Not all mothers who bring their children to day care are bad mothers. But I see a lot of tired women who don’t have any patience at the end of the day. I see too many of them whisk their kids off to another babysitter for the evening while they do things for themselves.
When Kendall was little, she played house. There was a mommy and a daddy “These little girls don’t play house,” she told me. “They never cook a meal; they microwave everything. I never see them nurturing their dolls. They just put them in a crib and have their friends take care of them. These little girls all want to be like boys. They’re very competitive, but they’re not at all nurturing.”
Kendall works in a daycare center because she loves children. She has no ax to grind with day care and no grudge to bear against mothers, She’s merely reporting what she sees. And what she sees is too many mothers forgetting to nurture and using child-care workers as substitute parents. And she sees little girls mimicking their mommies — putting their baby dolls aside and going to the office.
What the research says
I shudder when I read what researchers are discovering as they study children placed in child care at early ages. This research doesn’t point a finger at the abilities or intentions of childcare providers. Instead, it points at the effects of parental absence. No matter how great the caregiver, the parent is needed most.
Brenda Hunter, writing in Home by Choice, said, “Babies need their mothers. They need them during their earliest years, more than they need baby-sitters, toys or the material comforts a second income will buy. The evidence since 1980 indicates that when a baby is placed in substitute care, even good quality care such as with a nanny, for 20 or more hours a week during his first year of life, he is at risk psychologically. If a mother returns to work during her baby’s first year, there’s a significant chance the child will be insecurely attached to its mother and/or father.”
Freud describes the relationship of a young child to his mother as “unique, without parallel, established unalterably for a whole lifetime as the first and strongest love object and as the prototype of all later love relationships for both sexes.”
If that relationship is interrupted by child care substituted for the mother, the impact is immense. British psychiatrist John Bowlby states, “The young child’s hunger for his mother’s love and presence is as great as his hunger for food. Her absence inevitably generates a powerful sense of loss and anger.” Young children desperately need the emotional accessibility of a parent. That stability forms the foundation for all relationships to come.
Patterns are set
Childcare advocates will tell you a child naturally establishes strong bonds with a caregiver, and that’s true. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. “A child’s mind is like a videotape recorder, carefully transcribing every word, right down to the tone of voice and facial expressions,” wrote author Richard Strauss. “And all of it contributes to the person he will become. Some psychologists say his emotional pattern is set by the time he is 2 years old.”
Whom will your child pattern himself after? Whom will he see when he wakes? When he experiences the rushes of good feelings from being fed, changed or bathed, who will be indelibly etched in his mind, you or a caregiver?
Others just don’t have the deep concern for my children that I have. No one else is ready to make the sacrifices, to take the time to nurture and encourage as I am. So who could better care for my child, especially during his first years when he is so impressionable and easily molded?
Many people can carefully attend to your young child. Many people can provide quality food and supervision. But that doesn’t ensure the emotional health, stability or well-being of your little one.
Mom, your child’s identity will be indelibly stamped with the identity of the significant caregiver. His security and self-esteem will be permanently affected by his setting, especially if he has to establish himself in a crowd of other little folks all clamoring for attention, recognition and regard. You must look deeper than good food and supervision when you determine for yourself, “What is quality child care?”