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Child Care: Wishful Revisionism

Mothers of young children are taking jobs in unprecedented numbers and they want to know that what they are doing is all right. Child care "experts" who tell them what they want to hear will sell their books and get paid for lectures. Those who still say babies and toddlers need full-time mothering are now often charged with being sexist, manipulative old fogeys who want to keep women stuck at home.

So the revisionism spreads. Ethnological records are searched for primitive tribes where child care is shared and mothers work. Biological studies are probed for animal models which push their offspring off on their own early on. Historical data on child rearing are selectively resurrected. Standard child care research is reinterpreted to give new results.

And contrary to the weight of child development expertise in the last several decades, it's now possible to find considerable opinion telling mothers they can safely take a full time job away from home starting even weeks after a baby is born.

The fashionable new wisdom on child development holds that a baby is better off if a mother works away from him most of his waking hours than if she stays home and wishes she were getting on with her career. The only harm from her working can come from guilt about being away - never mind her fatigue, lack of time for her child or herself, or problems with substitute caretakers, or from her child's resentment, emotional insecurity, or physical or psychological stress.

The new magazines for working mothers are filled with timesaving tips and career strategies and unsubstantiated rationalizations about "quality time not quantity of time" being important to a young child. But young children haven't necessarily changed because women have. To date there is no convincing evidence that wishing they weren't so dependent on parents has meant they can safely get along with less loving, individual attention from a mother or father.

See also: The Daycare Dilemma by Jan Hunt

Reprinted with permission.