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The topic of this paper is the debate of whether or not maternal employment has any effect on infant development. Research on this described topic has recently become popular due to the rise of working mothers over the past several decades. Their increasing numbers in the workplace and decreasing numbers as stay at home moms are creating a number of different issues to be studied. The effects of maternal employment are determined by a number of factors that include, the mother’s job satisfaction and drive, amount of work, and the mother’s opinion of quality versus quantity time with children.
The main concept at hand here is the importance of an attachment in the first few years as being vital to a child’s later development. One side of the argument backs up this fact saying that it is important for a child to have their mother home with them during this period of development. The other side argues that they are finding that it may be more beneficial for the child to be placed in some form of nontraditional care environment. This paper will examine these different effects on infant development whether they are positive or negative.
There are two sides to this argument as expected for any issue in debate. I will discuss these two sides by using the arguments of researchers that have studied this topic and written articles on their opposing feelings on maternal employment. I will summarize separately these two researchers’ different views along with their findings. After I have summarized some of their findings I will be presenting my own personal view on this topic. The authors arguing the yes side of this debate are, Jay Belsky and David Eggebeen.
Their purpose in writing on this issue was to touch upon some of the issues involved in what has become known as the infant day care controversy. They reviewed previous studies of maternal employment and of the infants involved receiving various types of non-parental care and found that the children that received the type of non-parental care available in the United States for 20 or more hours a week during their first year of life are at a higher risk of developing insecure attachments to their mothers and have been known to misbehave with adults and act more aggressively toward their peers as 3 to 8 year olds.
It was also found that the children that had received care for 20 or more hours per week during their first year and this care continued through their preschool years did poorly academically and socially than the children that had not received full-time care until sometime later. Sometime later referring to at least after the child’s second year of life; this is due to research that has also shown that children that began full-time care for 30 hours a week in their second year functioned just as poorly as these children whose care was initiated in their first year of life.
These studies have been examined by many researchers, each of them varying and being put together a little better than the last after taking in to mind the criticism for each. After Belsky’s research was criticized another similar study was done but also took into account the background information of the child, mother and the family. The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth was used for these studies which also lead to there being a more representative sample of children. Their research broke up the children, 4, 5 and 6 year olds, into three separate groups so they could be compared on the emotional and social functioning being studied.
There were two groups differing by when their non-parental care started, either the first or second year of life, and a third for those children that had mothers that were employed less than 10 hours per week or not at all employed. The results were similar but they did distinguish that a shy child would be more likely to be affected by non-parental care, having trouble coping with their mothers away from them. Research has also been able to connect aggression toward peers with extensive and early maternal employment.
In comparison to this, children whose mothers did not work during their first three years of life markedly more compliant than their peers whose mothers were employed full-time. The opposing side to this debate, written by K. Alison Clarke-Stewart, also brings up a good argument. It is obvious in our changing society that mothers bringing home their families’ only income or second income has become more common so that every year the number of their children being placed in different kinds of “nontraditional” child care atmospheres is constantly increasing.
In doing her research she is looking for the marked advantages and disadvantages that these various child care environments for the involved children’s social and cognitive development. She seems to have only found advantages after coming to the conclusion, and her article’s title, that, “a home is not a school”. The research used studies involving 150 children that were 2 and 3 years old. These children belonged to one of six different child care situations, these being, care by parents, care by a sitter at home, day care, part-time nursery school, full time nursery or care in a center full-time and part-time by a sitter.
It was found in these studies that children that were placed in the different day care centers and preschool programs are more likely to be socially skilled and intellectually advanced than children that stayed at home with their parents or sitters. This research also gave evidence that these children in the care of a center displayed more positive social qualities such as self-confidence, self-assurance, independence, etc.
Research has shown that when the children were compared on different types of intellectual abilities, those that had been in center care scored better in eye-hand coordination, creative use of materials, memory, problem solving and reasoning, and basic knowledge about the physical world. These children also had better advanced language, showing that differences favor these children in both verbal and nonverbal skills. These differences are correlated with more physical stimulation, the amount of adult attention they receive and the opportunity for the children to interact with peers all available at these care centers.
Many of the care givers in these centers have had education and training for their positions which makes them apt to be more helpful and explain things to the children. Another difference between homes and care centers is the authoritarian discipline that is usually present at home. This difference has been linked to children’s lower intellectual and social competence. All of these aspects lead to the care-center resembling a school-like environment that encourages intellectual and social development at an earlier age.
As for my own personal view, this is a very tough issue as is any with convincing evidence on each side, but I have a more traditional view on mothering and feel that it is important for a child’s development to have that bond with and nurturing from their mother. This has of course become an issue because of our constantly increasing price of living; it seems that some kind of second income is now needed for most families. This issue makes it a tough call but I still feel the same. I do not think that it is easy to develop this kind of bond if the child is immediately placed into the care of someone else.
My own personal experience was that my mother did not go back to work until her youngest child had started elementary school and even then she was sure that she only worked while we were in school and was usually home around the same time as us. I don’t think I could have established the bond that I have with my mother now if she had done anything different with us. I feel that it is important that a mother and father are financially ready enough to have a child without the mother having to work again right away.
I do agree with setting up your child in some kind of pre-school program to help them to develop social skills and an interaction with their peer group is also important. I obviously used some of my own personal experience and feelings to make my decision. After reading the articles my mind was not changed on this debate, they just gave me more support for my position. In the articles, each side discusses how these children do academically; one side placing its emphasis on better adjustment to school and the other on more advanced skills when in school.
It has been discussed that children that were not placed in non-traditional care and stayed at home with their mothers for their first three years do not take long to catch up academically with the kids that had been placed in different care environments. Children that have been able to stay at home with their mothers have also been found to be more compliance and less behavioral problems when placed into school. I think that the one-on-one relationship that they got to have with their mother right from the beginning help a great deal in creating these types of good behaviors.
The children who have been placed in the care of others all their lives would not know this feeling because they have always been surrounded by other children receiving care from the same few center workers. I really feel that the best thing a mother can do for her children to ensure good development and a happy childhood is be a loving mother at home for at least the first three years of life. Once they have had this experience, and they are closer to 4 years old they will probably be ready for some kind of pre-school program.