Is Day Care Ruining Your Baby?
Does child care impact kids for good?
I am one of eight kids. My mom home schooled all of us until high school and not once did she ever put any of us in alternative or day care. “Home is the best place for children,” she would tell us.
When I had my daughter, I chose to return to work part-time and put my daughter in a home-based day care just up the street from our house. Like all new moms, I felt guilty about this decision. I wasn’t putting my daughter first. Would she feel abandoned? Would she grow up to resent me? Wasn’t home really the best place for children? Also, day care was so outside my life experience that I didn’t know what to expect. That first day, I dropped off my three month old and cried in the car.
As it turns out, I had nothing to fear. My daughter loved spending time at her day care. And our day care provider was a boon for me in those early days of motherhood. She had suggestions for helping my daughter with tummy trouble and nap time and how to help ease chest colds. Her son, only nine months older than my daughter, quickly became a big brother figure. I no longer wondered if day care would ruin my child, but how we would survive with out it.
A year and a half later, I quit my job to stay home full time with my daughter and work part time in the evenings. And again the mom-guilt took control: What lesson was I teaching my daughter about career-life balance? Would she resent me for taking her away from her friends? How would she develop social and verbal skills? Would she be at a disadvantage in school?
The truth is: No matter what you do–stay home or work or some combination of the two–parenting guilt will always tell you that you are doing it wrong. And there are voices on either side of the day care debate that will reinforce whatever guilt you feel. But what does the research say? On Slate, Melinda Wenner Moyer, herself a working mom, took a look at the data from all sides to try to come to a conclusion on whether day care was ruining our children or helping them.
The answer? Well, it’s complicated. Moyer writes, “What I found is that day care can be good (primarily for cognitive development), and day care can be bad (by making kids more aggressive and impulsive)—and the good seems to become less helpful the more educated and well-off parents are. But this is important: It’s impossible to predict how day care is going to affect an individual child, like, you know, your actual kid. ”
Moyer found that a lot of the benefits and drawbacks of day care were hard to quantify. Researchers were loathe to put numbers behind words like “language skills” or “more aggressive.” And in the end most of the studies found associations not causal relationships between these behaviors in day care. Also, the studies didn’t take a more nuanced approach to what “day care.” Really means. Does it mean part time or full time care? Is care by a nanny better than a center? How about an at-home day care versus day care provided by a grandparent? So where does that leave us? Right where it always does: with the parents deciding what is best for their family.
In the end, no one can tell you what is best for your family. Studies are variable and fallible. Your own children are unpredictable and unique. The best science can do is tell you correlations, not predict the future. That’s what is so scary about being a parent: we have to find our own way.
For us, we will be returning to a form of day care for my daughter. Twice a week she will go to a program called Parents Day Out and next year, my son will attend once a week. I think the opportunity to spend time with friends and learn how to be in a classroom setting will be good for my daughter, who is outgoing and loves every chance she can get to socialize. It’s also good for me as it will give me time to work at a time besides midnight and perhaps have time to see my husband. It’s also good for us because we don’t raise children in a vacuum. We’re part of a community and engaging in that community is one of the best gifts of any sort of child care.
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