Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ooof! Daycare!

You know, when I wrote that last post, I was zoomed in on my own emotional state, and forgot that daycare is a hot button issue, with strong feelings in various camps. Hence the little throwdown in my comments section. And it makes perfect sense--what could be more emotionally charged than considering how this choice might impact THE REST OF YOUR CHILD'S LIFE, particularly in a community where people waited a long time for this baby and where many face the possibility of never having another. And where the choice is so tied up with one's identity as a person, a woman, a mother.

I don't pretend to have expertise in this area, and I know enough ink has been spilled on the topic to replace all the water in all the oceans. So please forgive me from writing about this from a place of relative ignorance. But as part of my Psych Ph.D., I did take developmental psych courses, and I wanted to share a couple of things.

First, the issue of whether daycare is good or bad for infants (focusing just on infants) is not settled. How could it be? It depends on what you mean by good and bad and how you're assessing. For example, are you measuring effects on cognitive development and later academic performance? Are you measuring physiological markers of stress like salivary cortisol*? Are you measuring levels of aggression or other behavioral problems? Are you measuring attachment or other social/emotional indices? The truth is, you can find evidence FOR and AGAINST on every one of these dimensions. Partly because effects depend tremendously on quality of care, quality of the parent-child relationship, and a ton of other shit. It's a complex multi-dimensional space, AND it's constantly in flux as attitudes change and as care gets better. So the point is: if you want to prove that daycare is bad, you can find evidence, and if you want to prove it's good, you can find evidence. People in both camps are highly motivated to find support for their choices (e.g., as someone who must use childcare, I'm motivated to find proof that it's okay for Bun Bun), but I think we are all obligated to consider the whole picture.

(I highly recommend this lovely review**, though it's got a bit of a metatheoretical take that might not be of much interest if you're just looking for an answer.)

The second thing I want to share is a beautiful study** that I think illustrates just how little objectivity some of us have on this topic. In this (2006, i.e., RECENT) study, college women (you know, modern, educated women) were shown videos of mother-child interactions and asked to rate them on a number of dimensions to do with quality of care (e.g., "The stimulation/encouragement that the mother provides"). Half the participants were told the mothers were stay at home mothers and half were told the mothers were working mothers. There's a lot more to the study, but the finding I want to share is this. Stay home mothers were rated higher overall than working mothers. In other words, being told these are stay at home mothers! led modern, educated women to perceive the interactions as indicating better care than being told these are working mothers. Please read the original study as it's not perfect, BUT, I think anyone who believes there's an objective truth to this question should consider that finding very carefully.

I want to stress that I've written all of this from the point of view of someone who is ambivalent about the whole thing. Plenty of women are eager to return to work and thrilled with the experience of daycare or in-home care. I am delighted for them, and would hate them to think I'm suggesting they should feel bad about their choice. In many ways, I envy them.

Let me end by saying this. Maybe you believe women who can't afford to stay home for 18 months shouldn't have children. I'd say you're only entitled to that opinion if you yourself have elected to forgo reproduction for that reason alone. In reality, it's awfully sad how little choice many of us have in the matter. There's the fact that many of us spent years building our careers and these careers won't wait for us (academia perhaps being an extreme case, where there's no getting off the carousel and then hopping on again--not if you want to ride the same brightly-colored pony). And issues of personal fulfillment and shit aside, there's pure economics. One persistent finding is the BAD effects of non-parental care (in multiple dimensions) often emerge for women who have jobs they don't like and who can't afford quality care. Just think about the size of the segment of the American population that describes, and weep. If you truly believe daycare is evil, take that passion and use it to help these women.

*Want to get FUCKING DEPRESSED? Read a bunch of papers about STRESSED BABIES.
**Leave an e-mail in a comment if you want the full papers and have no way of accessing them. I'll send them if I don't think you're some hater who's just going to plague me with mean e-mails.


  1. Here's my thing: of course, it's lovely to stay home with your baby for as long as you can and it would be great if every mom could do so for the first few years of their baby(ies)' life. But that is not everyone's reality. Some families require a second income to pay the bills. Some moms battle depression or anxiety and need the break to be able to handle the stress of raising a baby as primary caregivers. For some families, it makes more sense for dad to stay home and care for the kids. And sometimes, as in your case and in mine, mom's identity and career accomplishments will be flushed down the toilet if we don't work in some capacity (which necessitates some degree of childcare help). Hardcore SAHM advocates will say, "too bad, you should make that sacrifice anyway" or perhaps (as your anonymous poster implied) suggest that we choose our jobs over our babies, but it isn't so. It's just that we value ourselves, too. We believe we still count.

    Not to mention the numerous other factors, such as paying off the cost of ART (second mortgages, lost savings and retirement, maxed credit cards), the horrible state of maternity leave in the US, and the current US economy. It's so much more complicated than "you should just stay home because you just should."

  2. Damn it all to hell! Blogger hates me and always eats my brilliant comments. This post is great so I will happily rewrite a mediocre one, though.

    Although the intensity of the comments from your last post may prove me wrong, I've always thought that the most ferocious battle in the mommy wars was the one taking place inside of my head/heart.
    There are so many layers to this issue. It seems that really is one of the things that makes it so problematic. We have a really hard time dealing with issues of major complexity (of course, as a researcher you know that entire careers are built on attempts to simplify the complex). There is so much to consider, so many things that we could work toward improving. I'm still shocked that there are people out there who feel strongly that there is one "right" or "best" way.
    In the end, I hope that you will find a solution that you are truly happy about - and then I will be a little jealous, but also delighted for you.

  3. Damned if you do, damned if you don't,there is no way to win this battle in the public's eye. But the thing is,this is no battle, and moreover, it is not public. Each family, regardless of size, decides what is best for that particular family. And that should not be anyone else's problem.
    But since we live in the age of "judge everyone 'cause we're so fucking perfect" and "no matter what you do, here is some more guilt for you", we get to this sort of "discussions".
    I hope you find something suitable for you and Bun bun soon. Something that is perfect for you. And try to ignore trolls - remember, I DO know a guy who knows a guy who canhelp you with that. :-)

  4. Ugh -- Sorry that your blog became the frontline in the mommy wars. Because seriously? No one is more judge-y than people with children. I can't tell you how many times people say to me "oh you are back to work full time? why?" It makes me want to choke. Even my mom and I had a bit of a thing about it. And then she met our nanny and decided that B was better off. Do what works for you -- really. And thanks for the articles. My sister who IS a developmental psychologist has already flooded me with them.

  5. I'm in a lot of denial about all of this child care talk. Perhaps I shouldn't be, but I have not ripped off the calendar month in my kitchen since July. That is my own personal coping mechanism.

  6. Wow, I commented before the reading got good. I really believe if your child and caregiver have a good bond she will be fine. I would love to read the full articles.

  7. This is a great post. Frankly anyone who insists that a stay-at-home mother is the best and only option for every family has not spent a lot of time looking at how families have been structured across eras and cultures. The stay-at-home mom is the product of a very specific confluence of cultural and historical factors, and because the folks who have historically had the option to do it have been relatively privileged, there hasn't been a lot of interest in either (a) looking at other models of family, or (b) helping other less-privileged families get to a place where a parent (not necessarily the mom) could stay home full time. That would require things like paid parental leave, probably some kind of living wage law, real universal health care, and a true commitment to social structures that don't isolate the stay-at-home parent. Staying at home is a great choice for some families -- but it's not the only choice, and frankly I don't see the people who are advocating for SAHM-as-only-choice also advocating for anything that would help the rest of us get to that as a realistic possibility.

    I don't mean for a second that I think staying at home is in any way objectively *better;* all I'm getting at is that for people who do think it's objectively better, it would make sense that they would also be in favor of the kinds of social changes that could make this supposedly better choice a possibility for more families.

    Me, I think the same social changes would also help families in which both parents want to work -- paid parental leave would ensure there is a job to go back to, living-wage laws would make it more possible for people not to spend their entire paycheck on child care, etc., etc.

    (I don't usually weigh in on child care posts, as I have zero credibility and zero experience, but boy that troll in the last post really got me started....)

  8. Wowza! What a s-storm! I think anon forgot who your audience is--career woman--that's right it's not the 1950s we earn the bacon and fry it up in a pan ( unless you're vegan). Whatever decision you make will be the right one cause you're brilliant. :)

  9. Wow. I had read your last post but not the comments. I try not to let the Judgey McJudgerson stuff like this bother me - the "stay home if you can - it's best" or "breastfeeding is best!" stuff. I think when people (myself included) judge others, it says more about them than the person they are judging.

    My mom worked outside the home and I think it made a positive difference in my life. It taught me that women can have careers and be good at them. And it made me value the time that I had with her.

    I can't get all worked up over this because my options are to work or to default on my mortgage. I just wish that instead of having stupid mommy wars fights on the internets, we could band together and fight for decent maternity leave.

  10. I think I lost a good fifteen minutes entertaining myself with your commenter's throw down. Awesome. Emotionally charged? Yeah, of course. If I ever have the luck to successfully produce offspring, I will also need to have that hard won child in daycare. I might not want to, either, but this is the world we live in where we can't take a year to just bond with our child.

    There is no competition on who's a better mommy, after all. You only get the one you get. I think bun bun will have a tremendously great mommy, military schooling or no, because her mom is a great woman making thoughtful, bun bun best interest decisions, about her upbringing and development.

  11. So, I kinda want to apologize for my role in dust-up of your previous post's comment section, mainly because I certainly didn't elevate the discourse by calling Anonymous an asshole. Do I think Anonymous' comments were short-sighted and enormously insensitive? Hell yes. Did it warrant oafish name-calling? Er, not really.

    You see, here's the thing: this infertility shit is fucking hard. What each of us goes through in the mere attempt for the elusive Take Home Baby is torturous. Many of us endure enough self-blame and self-doubt and self-scrutiny to sink a motherfucking battleship, and the LAST THING any of us needs is to be served a fly-studded, steaming shitpile of more of that from our fellow IF peers. THAT is what really pissed me off about Anonymous' judgemental statements. Because maybe some of us are perfectly secure in our decision/obligation to stay home or work outside of the home, but I'd wager that some of us aren't. And it's precisely what we go through to get that Take Home Baby that can make that SAH/WOH issue so particularly painful. Instead of that negligently simplified view of "Oh, I judge people who wanted a baby so badly only to then schlep them into daycare every day", why not take the more ecological view that it is precisely that infertility baggage that can make the daycare condundrum even more complicated and intense?

    "Best" is relative. Just because someone stays home with their kid doesn't mean that they are present and engaged in their parenting. And, inversely, just because one works outside of the home--for whatever reason, financial necessity or personal fulfillment--doesn't mean you aren't attentive to your child. In my 10+ year social work career I have seen what true fucking neglect looks like. I have wrapped my arms around true fucking neglect. To even suggest that the mere act of placing a child in daycare is tantamount to poor parenting is cruel and juvenile and just plain WRONG.

    I hate this woman-on-woman shit (assuming that Anonymous is a woman). It is evident that many social structures need to change--fair and competitive compensation for pink-collared work, parental leave following the birth/adoption of a baby, etc--but those things take time and process. What takes less time is changing your attitude about other women, about respecting and appreciating--especially those we know through our blogging community--that they make well-informed, insightful choices based on their family's needs.

  12. Not at all, Trinity, not at all. Plus, by getting you to do my dirty work, I can be all Let's hold hands and consider things like rational people!

  13. I still cannot be civil.

    Keeping it zipped,
    Your angry friend,

  14. Oh, Roccie, we want to hear from you. (Hi, Bunny! Hijacking the comments for a sec, here). I am intuiting what you're pissed about and here's the deal: the people who rage on about how we're RUINING God's children if we put them in daycare instead of homeschooling them with Bible-based curricula and prayer sessions and snake-handling lessons are a very vocal subset of SAHM advocates. Like, real vocal. (I have relatives in this group. They are not a silent minority.) So I totally get your commentary on that. You'd be hard-pressed to find a person who self-identifies as "liberal" who takes as strong a stance on it, based on my experience. It's a giant Venn diagram, you know, wherein the Jesusy GOPers are fairly well-contained within the bigger circle of vehemently pro-SAHM people. I think of myself as open-minded, but I also find myself making the same kind of sweeping generalization all the time. So don't get all clammy on us now because one person took offense to your generalization (which is generally correct much of the time). I often find that when someone takes serious offense to some characterization of a group they belong to, when there's evidence to back it up (not like if I say people from Chicago eat too many hot dogs or something, which I can't be sure of), it's a case of "the lady doth protest too much." We should all be able to take a step back and look at groups we identify with and recognize the good and the bad elements, if we are thinking rational people.

    Back to your regularly scheduled programming.