Fifty years ago in America, the majority of mothers stayed home with their children and the majority of fathers went to work to support the family. There were women in the workplace, but generally these were young or unmarried women. Mothers needing additional income found ways to work out of the home. Then came the Women's Liberation Movement, seeking to "free" women from the servile duties of housewife.
"Being a housewife is an illegitimate profession," Vivian Gornick said in The Daily Illini, April 25, 1981. "…The choice to serve and be protected and plan towards being a family-maker is a choice that shouldn't be. The heart of radical feminism is to change that."
Perhaps some women didn't want to get married and spend their days cleaning and changing diapers. Some may have preferred to explore the Amazon or practice law or sell toasters, and they should have been free to do so. The radical feminists, however, hated the housewife role of women with a passion. They fought to undermine not only the cultural role of mother as homemaker, but the very institution of marriage itself. Their goal: get women out of the home and into the workplace and send their children into the world of daycare.
A great deal has changed in the past half century. Millions of mothers do go off to work - whether to bring in a second income or as single parents trying to make ends meet. Their young children are sent to daycare or babysitters. According to Healthychildcare.org,
"In just 20 years, the percentage of children enrolled in child care has soared from 30% (1970) to 70% (1993). It is estimated that 75% of women with children younger than 3 years of age are employed — and in need of child care."
What affect has this cultural flip-flop had on the children?
Research indicates that the more time that small children spend in non-parent care - especially in center-based daycare - the greater the negative impact on their behavior later on. A new study, published in the March/April 2007 issue of Child Development, concludes that children who spend more than two years of their early lives at daycare are slightly more likely to have behavioral problems in elementary school. The longer the time spent at daycare, the greater the impact. On the other hand, those children who never went to daycare had the fewest behavioral problems. The study did indicate that one-on-one care - whether by a nanny or a babysitter or another family member - had no statistical impact on children's behavior or grades.
Behavior and grades are not the only things that are affected. A 1999 study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development concluded that children in daycare bond a little less well with their mothers than those in full time mom care.
Another study done in the United Kingdom in 2005 demonstrated that small children who stayed with their mothers did better developmentally than those who went to daycare. According to researcher Penelope Leach, a leading British childcare expert, children who spent their days in group daycare fared the poorest and those cared for by their mothers did the best. Relatives' care was better for children developmentally than group care, and nannies were just less beneficial than moms. "The study does not mean every child in a large nursery will become a monster," Leach said. "Nevertheless, it shows a small but significant difference in a large group of children."
The researchers in all these studies were quick to defend working mothers and deny that women should leave the workforce. Rather, these researchers all argue, non-parent child care simply needs to be improved and parents need to be careful about the childcare providers they hire. The researchers push for parents to spend more quality time with their children, even if they cannot provide quantity time.
However, all admitted that - all other factors being equal - parental care was statistically the best for children.
Of course, statistical studies on behavior and grades and development alone cannot measure the full impact on children of spending their days away from both parents. The presence of a parent provides children with a sense of safety and well being, personal love, the instilling of family values, and a stronger family bond. Parents are parents best when they are actually present. A nanny or other child care provider may be able to love a child and teach him to follow all the rules. But more than the feminists will admit, children often...simply need Mom and Dad.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. - Proverbs 22:6