The pros and cons of day care have been hotly debated for some time. Critics of day care have often been portrayed as self-satisfied middle-class mothers who do not need to work outside the home and who have no sympathy for the problems of mothers who do. Day care’s critics question whether day care is damaging to the child’s emotional development; day care’s defenders say that “quality” time is more important than “quantity” time.
Fredelle Maynard’s recently published book, The Childcare Crisis: the real costs of day care for you – and your child, (Penguin Books Canada, $17.95) puts the issue in its proper perspective. She discusses the kind of care children need at different stages of their development, the kind of care available, and the advantages and disadvantages of each kind of care.
Dr. Maynard notes that there are many reasons for the current heated debate on day care. Today, one out of two married women works, with the fastest-growing sector of the work force consisting of mothers with infants. The women’s movement, she says, “has legitimized the ambitions of job- and career-oriented women, regardless of maternal status.” She adds, “for many women today, self-esteem and confidence are linked to outside employment.” Delayed child-bearing, small family size, lack of extended family support, increased divorce, and economic necessity, are all contributing factors to women’s need to work outside the home. The author says that the “new scarlet letter, a badge of shame, is H- for Homemaker, Housewife.” She notes that the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Dictionary of Occupational Titles,” which ranks occupations according to skill levels, places homemakers at the bottom – along with washroom attendant, parking-lot attendant and poultry offal shoveller.
In a chapter called “Do you really want a child?” Dr. Maynard asks, “is it appropriate, is it right to bring children into the world with the confident expectation that someone else will care for them during the entire period which experts agree is critically important, the first five years of life?” She notes the increasing phenomenon of “single-by-choice” mothers, whose desire to have a child is an extreme example of the narcissism of the “me” decade. John Munden Ross, a clinical psychologist, describes their motives as “focusing on personal fulfillment rather than thinking about what’s best for a child.”
Dr. Maynard’s book is neither advocacy for large-scale day care, nor a platform to promote the virtues of the at-home mother. Her primary concern is that parents should be aware of the crucial importance, to early development of the child, of the kind of care given.
“There’s no one answer to the child care problem,” says Dr. Maynard, “no course that’s right for every family. If a mother absolutely must work, then she owes her child the best care possible. If she does have a choice, then I think she owes it to herself, as well as to the child, to take two or three years for the most important work she may ever do, nurturing a new life.”
Dr. Maynard is a recognized Canadian child development expert. She notes that there is very little long-term research available, although one British study which observed children from age six to 15 suggests that developmental differences persist over a period of time. She says, “initial differenced between the two groups – those who had been in some form of day care and those who stayed at home – increased progressively over a nine-year period, the later effects of substitute-care being more marked (and more disturbing) in boys than in girls.” As Dr. Maynard observes, “the first generation of children raised largely in day care has yet to come of age.” She also notes that “there has been very little investigation of day-care children from intact, middle-class families. Major projects generally involve ‘disadvantaged’ children and so, not surprisingly, find that their charges make considerable progress in a stimulating day-care setting.”
At least one reviewer in the Toronto press has criticized this book, saying that “it isn’t what the parents of young children in day care want or need to hear,” and accusing the author of trying to turn back the clock and send mothers back into the home. In my view, The Child Care Crisis gives parents the information they need to make an informed choice on the most suitable kind of care for their children at various ages and developmental stages. Large, regimented day care centres are not the best environment for children under the age of three and this book clearly explains exactly why they are not. Dr. Maynard offers parents alternatives and, equally importantly, offers stay-at-home mothers both reassurance that their choice is a valid one and practical help in the form of a list of resources available to help whenever mom and the kids are going stir-crazy.