This research paper started with the intention of showing that mothers who stay home with their children as opposed to working outside of the home was better for child development. The results were surprising. The research began by exploring the attitudes of mothers toward each other. A number of stay-at-home mothers feel that working moms are neglecting their children in order to “have it all, rather than make material sacrifices.”(Lowery) Various working class mothers indicate that stay-at-home moms are “soap opera watching couch potatoes with no ambition.” (Walker). These mentalities have resulted in the societal war of Mom vs. Mom, pitting the working mom against the stay-at-home mom in a conflict over which model offers what is best for the children. Many of these attitudes are due to lack of education about the true effects of daycare for children. Other problems arise because employers and government policies are ignoring working families’ needs.
In reality, stay-at-home mothers wear many hats. They are the family CEO, the day care provider, accountant, chauffeur, counselor, chef, nurse, laundress, entertainer, personal stylist, and teacher. Salary.com reports that “based on a 90-hour workweek, a fair wage for the typical stay-at-home mom would be $88,276 for executing all of her daily tasks. Factor in overtime, and the appropriate salary leaps to $112,797.” (Robo) On the other hand, working mothers are pulling double duty by balancing work and family, and many are doing so with a divided heart. They are not trying to have it all, but whether working by choice or necessity, they do have to do it all. Both types of mothers deserve credit where credit is due, yet the question remains, “What is best for the children?”
There was a time when the primary role of women was to maintain the family and support their husbands in providing for the family. During wartime, needs shifted and women were forced into the workplace because their husbands were away. Until the 1970s, many studies were biased toward the “negative impact of an unemployed male on his family or on the negative impact of the employed female on her family.” (Ambrosino 484) Those studies influenced the hearts of parents in our nation for decades. Stay-at-home moms feel studies that are more recent are biased toward alleviating the guilt many mothers feel from working outside of the home. That influence is still evident today as shown in the following survey done by Employment.com. Given the choice, more than half of all mothers would prefer to stay home with their children, at least part time. Only nine percent would choose to have a full time career.
This graph may also reflect that parents feel daycare cannot provide the nurture a loving parent can, but do daycares really harm our children?
To counter that inquiry, it is essential to look at the effects of childcare outside the home in relationship to the care a child receives from a stay-at-home parent. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) released its most current study in April of 2001. They preformed a childcare study by “following more than 1,300 children at 10 different sites across the country from birth into the school-age years. The
study looked at the interaction between child characteristics, the home environment and child-care settings to help explain how the children developed over time.” (Todd)
Their study confirmed that the hours spent in various types of care affected child development. More care by relatives was neither facilitating nor unfavorable to child development. More time in “home-based, non-relative care (defined as a non-relative caregiver who cared for the child in the study and at least one other child) was associated with better language outcomes during the toddler years” (Todd) but lower language outcomes during the preschool years. There was no evidence that hours in center-based care during infancy had particularly negative effects on later development, at least through the early school years.
Furthermore, by preschool years, children with “more hours in center care displayed more advanced language and cognitive skills although caregivers also reported more behavior problems among children who had more hours in center-based care.” (Todd) This could be linked to the discovery that center-based caregivers had higher levels of training and education, provided more language stimulation and more structured activities than home-based providers gave. The somewhat higher level of behavior problems in center settings suggests that it is important for care providers to supply experiences that promote social and emotional growth along with providing a cognitively enriching environment. (Todd)
The study also showed that the number of hours in care also mattered.
“At age 4-1/2, 16% of the children who were in care 30 hours or more per week showed higher levels of problem behaviors (such as fighting) than children in fewer hours of care. This effect was also evident in kindergarten where 17% of the children showed higher levels of these behaviors. It is important to note, however, that another study showed 16-17% of all children typically exhibit higher levels of these problem behaviors.” (Todd)
Therefore, the incidence of behavior problems for children in full-time care was no higher than that found in the general population of children. On the other end of the scale, children in care less than 10 hours per week showed very low levels of problem behaviors. Only six percent of these children demonstrated higher levels of these problematic behaviors at 4-1/2 years, although this increased to nine percent in kindergarten. (Todd)
Earlier research has shown that children in childcare may also experience normal events sooner than children cared for at home because of the nature of the child-care setting. For example, children in daycare tend to have more respiratory tract infections (also colds, ear infections, sore throats, flu, etc.) as preschoolers where children who stay at home tend to have more of these illnesses in later life. This may happen sooner for children in daycare than for children cared for at home…[because they are exposed to other children sooner.] (Todd)
Finally, the quality of childcare, parenting, and the home environment was also related to children’s behaviors in the NICHD study. Children whose mothers were more sensitive and responsive to their needs displayed better pre-academic and language skills and had fewer behavior problems. It is also important to note that in this research, it was discovered that the most important influential factor on children, whether reared solely by a stay-at-home parent or in some form of childcare, was the parents’ attitude. Mothers who are working when they want to be home negatively affect their children, as do mothers who want to be working when they want to be home. (Todd)
While exploring possible answers to the question ‘what is best for our children’ three things became clear after looking at the research done by NICHD: the amount of time children spent in care mattered, the attitude of the parents mattered, and the quality of daycare and home life environment mattered. The dilemma is, only 28% of day care centers can be considered quality childcare. (Friedman) Quality day cares cost more money than lower quality day cares. (Knitzer) Some parents rely on family members to help care for their children while they work for financial reasons and because it is thought that family members have more emotionally invested with their children. While family members and/or friends can be helpful in providing quality care, friends and relatives can be burdened by the extra responsibilities, which only add to a mother’s feelings of guilt. It would be beneficial if there were more on-site, affordable, quality day cares provided by the employers.
There are also studies that show children less than 9 months of age should be with their parents. (Phillips) Coupled with horror stories of daycares across the nation like the ones found in Brian C. Robertson’s book in Day Care Deception: What the Child Care Establishment Isn’t Telling Us it is no wonder parents are confused and torn between the need to stay home with their child or return to work. (Lowery)
Many mothers work outside of the home for a variety of reasons and have many different feelings about it. Some mothers want the self-fulfillment of having a career, while other mothers are economically forced to work. During an interview with single working mother “Margie”, she revealed that working made her a better mother to her son. “Working makes me happy. If I’m not happy, that’s going to spill over into our daily lives. Staying home day in and day out would not be good for my son or me. Besides I’m teaching him about good work ethic, pride, and enthusiasm, and still manage to do a lot of the things stay-at-home moms do.” While the economy plays a large factor in Margie’s decision to work, she revealed that she is content in working because she knows her child is in a great daycare center and she has very flexible hours… but she’s lucky. (Margie)
While interviewing “Jennifer”, a married working mother of two, it became clear that not all mothers are content working outside of the home. “I’ve had some horrible experiences with day care. It’s very hard for me to take off work when my children are sick. My net spendable income of about $1100.00 a month is whittled away by childcare, car maintenance, and other work related expenses.” Jennifer explains that health insurance for herself and her family, along with the need for a retirement fund is the driving force behind her working around 50 hours a week outside the home.
Jennifer expressed that would love to cut her hours back to the minimum 30 hours per week needed to retain her benefits. She stated that her employers are not willing to allow employees to reduce hours that much. (Jennifer) In order to do ‘what is best for the children’ we have to find a balance between keeping the parents and the children happy while meeting the needs of all parties involved. Work related expenses that keep moms who would like to work from working are no happier than moms who want to be home but cannot afford to be.
One of the core beliefs of group ‘Mothers and More’ is that “a mother is more than any single role she plays at any given point in her lifetime. She is entitled to fully explore and develop her identity as she chooses: as a woman, a parent, or an employee.” (Mothers and More) Their goal is to “reorganize and redefine work such that the work of caring for others is seen and treated as equal in value to paid work.”(Mothers and More) Many of today’s work policies and programs are still based on “family and work demographics as they existed in the 1950s” despite the fact that fewer than 10% of families in America can be classified that way. (Ambrosino 486) One of the ways Moms and More are trying to achieve their goal is to “support legislation …that ensures proportional pay, benefits and advancement for part time and contingent workers.” (Mothers and more)
The organization would also like to raise awareness “about how current tax policies affect family decisions and constrains the options available to parents for combining paid work and care giving over their lifetimes.”(Mothers and More) An issue that is a particular concern for moms who want to stay home is the impact of their absence from the workforce when they are ready to go back. With more efforts to include all types of mothers by employers and government policies, many issues of guilt and the need for flexibility could be addressed.
“Guilt among women is bacteria gone wild, one that eats away their pleasures and ruins their lives.” (Halcomb) Because of societal confusion about women’s changing roles, the media tends to over report negative findings about day care and under report or misreport positive findings. “It is important for mothers to feel that their work and daycare use is positive since prominent research shows that guilt and anxious feelings, not daycare,”(Phillips) are what is damaging to children’s development. In somw cases, parents confuse feelings of guilt with feeling of missing their child.(Callahan) It is also important to educate parents that some separation anxiety on both the parent’s part and the child’s part is normal and not damaging.
One growing trend that addresses the lack of flexibility in the workplace is a newer category known as “Work at Home Moms.” Many mothers are finding that working from home can meet many of the needs they are facing. If working from home in conjunction with the employer is not an option, starting a home based business might be an option. Yet “the fear of no benefits keep many a mom from working at home.” (Folger) Saving for the future is hard for many families and it is even harder when a person is self-employed. Nevertheless, with some self-education about traditional, Roth, and rollover IRA’s, work at home parents can have the same retirement benefits as any other self-employed worker. If health insurance cannot be obtained through the spouses’ employment, it can often be purchased through a private company, although often at a higher price.
Another option might be extended paid maternity leave. There was a time when maternity leave was put in place in order to “protect the mother’s physical health.” (Kamerman) Now other concerns, such as the well-being of the child and paternal involvement, are being addressed in countries such as Europe by implementing 14 weeks of paid leave for both parents. (Kamerman) Other countries offer up to a year in partially paid leave such as New Zealand. (Friedman) The Institute for Child and Family Policy states, “The United States is alone among the advanced industrialized countries in the briefness of its statutory leave and among the very few countries with its unpaid leave.” (Kamerman) Many parents cannot even afford to take the paternity and maternity leaves offered to them because they need the money. It is our own country that inducing guilt and hardship on our families by not addressing the issues of today’s society.
There are many opinions about whether mothers should work or stay home with their children. There are as many studies to support whatever side a person stands on, all of which are in conflict. The fact is American employers and government should examine other countries’ plan to handle these types of issues… and then apply the ideas. Ann Crinntendon, author of The Price of Motherhood, points out that in Sweden, women are given a year’s maternity leave with 85% of their pay “up to a certain ceiling”. In addition, when they go back to work, they have the right to a six-hour workday “with the law on their side.” (Crinnntendon) Businesses in America are one of the last holdouts for paid leave. While America may be one of the richest countries in this world, the most important job to America is still the least valued: parenting.
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Callahan, Patrick, (1999). Researcher Finds No Developmental Differences in Children With Working Moms Versus Non-Working Moms. News Release, March 1, 1999. Homepage. Retrieved November 25, 2003, from http://www.umass.edu/newsoffice/archive/1999/030199moms.html
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Lowery, Rich. (2003). Bring back the stay at home mom. Homepage. Retrieved November 26,2003, from http://www.townhall.com/columnists/richlowry/rl20030808.shtml
Mothers and More. (2003). Mission Statement. Retrieved December 1, 2003. from www.MothersandMore.org
Phillips, Deborah. & Adams, Gina (2002). Child Care and Our Youngest Children. The Future of Children. Volume 11, Number 1 – Spring/Summer 2001 Friedman, Dana. (2002). Employer Supports for Parents with Young Children Knitzer; Jane. (2002). Federal and State Efforts to Improve Care for Infants and Toddlers Retrieved November 21, 2003, from http://www.futureofchildren.org/pubs-info2825/pubs-info.htm?doc_id=79324
Sutton, Kyanna. (2003). Do Working Moms Make Better Moms? Retrieved November 25, 2003, from http://www.familyeducation.com/article/0,1120,62-287,00.html
Todd, Christine. (2001) NICHD Child Care Study Results: What do they mean for parents, child-care professionals, employers and decision makers? Child and Family Development University of Georgia. Retrieved November 28, 2003, from http://www.nncc.org/Research/NICHD.ECIresponse.html
Walker, Julia. (2002)How Much are Stay at Home Moms Worth. Homepage. Retrieved November 14, 2003, from http://www.employmentspot.com/features/mom.htm