Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Could Talk About My Boobs All Day

So I wrote a post on Chicago Moms Blog about that breastfeeding article. Created some discussion over there too.
One thing that at least one parent didn't like is that I said there are plenty of reasons to believe babies are better off being fed by their mothers than by paid caregivers. I always get in trouble over there when I talk about my belief that parental care is just better for young children. It offends mothers who have made other choices. This time around, some commenter said I "hated" mothers who pumped their breastmilk and sent it to daycare.
This attitude just makes me so angry. There is this unspoken rule that it's forbidden to discuss the qualitative differences between daycare and home care, because it might hurt people's feelings. I find this to be counterproductive and patronizing.
Here's why: We don't really know how much of a difference parental care makes to children compared to daycare, and at what ages. Studies have been inconclusive (like the breastmilk thing, the data seems to imply that while parent care is probably a little better, it's not nearly as big a deal as say, parental sanity). It's a hard thing to study.
But if we stop talking about it and assume the party line that all forms of care are equal, in order to avoid insulting anyone, we are doing families a disservice. For one thing, there is no incentive for government to push for parental leave policies if it's just agreed that babies do just as well in institutional care.
It's patronizing because it assumes that families -- mothers in particular -- can't handle making choices based on the best information available. Saying that Choice A is better than Choice B is not the same thing as saying, "You must choose A or you are a bad parent." We have to make LOTS of choices as parents.
For example, saving for children's college education is obviously better than not saving for it. But because I don't earn much money, our household is not able to regularly save for college. Am I a bad parent because of that choice? Would I be insulted to hear about the benefits of college savings just because I'm not doing it?
Of course not. And I wouldn't call another mother a bad mother for choosing work and daycare, just because I believe home care is better. We can't have everything we want, and different famlies make different choices.
Bah.

10 comments:

margaret said...

Hear hear. I feel like I, too, have to tread lightly on the subject. Great post.

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

Agreed.

Why can't we talk about parenting choices without getting so defensive?

Anonymous said...

Studies from the National Institute of Health present strong correlation evidence that regular day care produces an increased risk of behavior problems in older children. So there you have it.

I just think there's this big "secret" that no one wants to spill the beans on for fear of insulting each other, woman's lib, etc.: two parents working full time just doesn't work. All of my evidence is observational, but very compelling. I see struggling marriages, unhappy and stressed women, and babies/kids with behavioral and attachment problems. And yes, daycare has something to do with it, but it is the symptom of the problem that this country needs to fix. We need to get a a parent back in the homes with our kids. Period.

You can pump your way into believing that your doing the right thing for you baby, but we all know that your time is what your baby needs more than anything. Women need to stop lying to themselves and wake up and lobby for a year maternity leave for each child subsidized by the government.

Sara said...

i have to admit that my haunches were up while reading this (since i am one of those moms who has to work, and therefore has to put her kids in daycare), but you're right. i think conversation about this is a good thing. and i think maybe the reason my haunches were up is because i KNOW that it would be best for me to stay home with my kids (although there are some upsides to day care) and i feel extremely guilty, so this has more to do with my own feelings than anything else.

good stuff!!

Michelle said...

Just wanted to say that I love this post, and also the breastfeeding one (found you through the Chigago Moms' Blog.) You are right about not being able to talk about this. I once commented on a board to a woman who was agonizing about leaving a little baby to go back to work - just something like "maybe you can work out more time off or go part-time" and was SLAMMED for "not being supportive of working moms."

Like you, I will never believe that full time day care for little babies is a good thing. That really has nothing to do with whether mothers should work. But it doesn't have to be all or nothing: 10 hours a day of day care starting at 6 weeks of age, verses never working for pay until all kids are 18. There are other options: dads taking time off, part time work, extended leaves, waiting until kids are in school to go back . . .

Allison said...

Oh, anonymous...I just can't not say something.

First of all, there are so many different studies out there and I'm not going to play tit-for-tat by finding the one (or many) that show that daycare provides great socialization or that daycare babies have a much better transition into Kindergarten b/c they've already learned the socialization skills (not saying that kids with SAHMs don't have this when they have moms (or dads) who have gone out of their way to provide socialization opportunties). But you can always find the study to back up the point you want to make or make yourself feel better about your choice.

I'm also not going to take on the issue of leave -- yes, there should be much greater flexibility in this country. I'm lucky that in CA both I and my husband could take leave.

What disgusts me is comments such as this that assume that because of "women's lib" we're destroying the family. I love my job. AND I love my kids. Women's lib means I have the choice to work just as much as you have the choice to not work. My family is so much more well-adjusted because I work. My kids get my full attention when I'm home and on the weekends. My husband is a FULL partner in our parenting (ok, I cook, but he watches them both while I do that...and he does the laundry). Yes, we might be exhausted once the kids are in bed and we have less time for each other, but we make it our goal to be fully available for them.

My kids are so much better off in daycare with loving caregivers than if I were home with them all day. I just know myself and I'd be miserable. Both boys (5 and 1.5) are very well-adjusted, no behavior problems, no ADHD, attachment, or any other issues. My 5-year-old also has a much better sense of how he can't always win games...when he's at school. And when he gets upset at us for winning, I can point to how he interacts with his friends, and that points him in the right direction.

In my peergroup, my working parent friends are also happy with strong marriages and stress levels that are appropriate for having kids and a job. I have SAHM friends with happy, strong marriages, and I have SAHM friends who are miserable about how their husbands don't pull their fare share and who talk about how stressed and exhausted they are at the end of the day, week, etc. Actually, their days and weeks never really end, while I look forward to Saturdays with my boys.

Yes, there are tons of women who lament that because of the economy, they HAVE to work when they'd rather be at home with their kids. But anonymous, I KNOW that I have done the right thing for my babies. Even if I had the right to take a year's worth of leave...well, it would NOT have been the right thing for me and my family. I'm not lying to myself. And if the only evidence you see of working women shows you unhappy women with messed up kids, I believe you're lying to yourself and not allowing yourself to see situations that are working -- because it doesn't fit into your picture.

And Carrie, I'll tell you (obviously coming from the other side of the fence) that the reason the comment tends to get working moms' hackles up is because the assumption is that moms who work are NOT considering what is best for their babies. I absolutely know that I did was best for my baby by "outsourcing" care to the best caregivers I could find. Center care is truly what mine needed -- H needed the stimulation and interaction when he was little that just one parent couldn't do on a full-time basis. So much of the media paints working moms as "moms who unfortunately have to work and can't care for their children fulltime," and by insisting (rather than saying, as you do, it is your personal belief) that mother care is best, people are also discounting that some working parents have made choices best on the best information available. As you said, the studies are inconclusive...

I almost didn't post...as I didn't on the BF post...b/c most people in the blogosphere want to just hear what validates their points and makes them feel better, or to just curse at those with the opposite view. But I feel as though I have a valid, thought-out counterpoint -- even if it pisses off "anonymous."

Signed, a happily, guilt-free, with well-adjusted, cared-for and loved children who get great care Monday-Friday, 8:30-6 and who get full-on, full-attention, mothering and fathering, mornings, evenings and weekends, mom.
-allison

Carrie said...

Allison -- Believe me, I don't only want to hear people echoing me on here. I appreciate your comment very much. It's not as if I've never had my kids in substitute care myself, or know that I won't again in the future.

I would like to point out that beyond the nursing age (and I don't even know how to define that), I don't see the important difference as between mother care and other care. I think the most important factor is spending the day with someone who loves them. That could certainly be a father or grandparent or even a nanny that has a long-term relationship with the family (and I know how difficult that can be to maintain).

What makes me even more angry than the lack of adequate maternity leave in our country is the lack of flexibility that would allow parents to more equally share breadearning and childcare duties. If my husband had the chance to cut back to 30 hours a week and take over for me during those hours, we would do it in a heartbeat, even though I would probably not be able to make up the difference in earnings. One of the best things that has ever happened to our family was the California Paid Family Leave Act, which allowed Epu to work part time and still get some of that pay when our first was between 6 and 12 months old. It allowed him to learn how to do the job all day, without me there, and it allowed me us to give our child a 12-month window of parent-only care before we brought in a nanny.

Like you say, Allison, studies are inconclusive on this. Most of the questions we have could probably never be answered definitively. If a parent is better than a paid caregiver, just HOW important is that difference? Is it important enough to outweigh the things kids learn in daycare? Important enough to outweigh the fact that the person who loves the child might nevertheless hate being at home with him and even resent the child?

I think it's clear enough that being in daycare is not ruining children. It's not a matter of, we have to study this to save the children. It's more a matter of showing -- and acknowledging -- that parental care has value, so we can get policies that make it more attainable for families that want it.

mamalion said...

I think what gets lost in this discussion is that 2 parents working full time is the historic norm. Granted, those parents were usually working at or close to home, but loving attention to your child's needs falls away when you're truly slaving over a hot stove all day.
There are lots of studies that show contemporary parents spend way more time interacting with their children than people did even 25 years ago. There are tradeoffs to every situation, and we never know what the full impact of our decisions will be. The best parenting decision is the one that brings the greatest contentment and security to the family, not any one individual in it.

Carrie said...

Mamalion -- Interesting point, so much so that I'm thinking of using it as a launching point for a whole new post.

university_canadian_student said...

i do not have children but...
this is one of the best 'arguments' i have heard regarding this issue.

i completely agree there may be a 'better' choice but maybe not a better choice and without discussion, no one is better.

also.. if it was better to stay at home but by working a parent could provide their child with other opportunities (now or later) then how does that factor into which is better?

its all what works for you. people need to relax a little and let other people be free to their own choices.