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Motherhood: Making Choices About Working

Adding to your stress, kids are often cranky from long hours in childcare and more frequently ill from exposure to other children who are sick - and this brings us to the complex, sometimes touchy subject of the impact on kids of childcare. Some research has found that moderate, high-quality childcare, especially past the first birthday, has, on average, some benefits for language and social development without disrupting the attachment relationship between a typical parent and child, though it does seem to make some kids more aggressive. But the actual childcare the majority of kids experience is completely different: it lasts for many hours each day, sometimes 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; it is performed - often by one adult for four to six children - by poorly trained, poorly educated, and poorly paid staff with high rates of turnover; and it starts when children are just a few months old. Plus, the research instruments used to assess potential psychological injury to children cannot fully measure many subtle issues, such as a person's lifelong capacity for a deep, trusting intimacy. Then, even if one assumes there is no injury to a child, no lasting impact, there is still the matter of suffering: most young children do not like being separated from both of their parents. Finally, research on childcare may not apply to your own child, who may be more sensitive or vulnerable than some other kids.

Our point here is not to make anyone feel guilty about using childcare. Your child may do very well in childcare or preschool, especially if it's a well-run program. And if your options are not so great but you still need childcare, you pick the best setting possible and compensate for any less-than-perfect care in other ways. It's simply that childcare needs to be used with a sensitivity to the possible impacts on your own unique child, for her sake as well as yours.

Resources for Childcare
The Anxious Parents' Guide to Quality Childcare by Michelle Ehrich
The Unofficial Guide to Childcare by Ann Douglas
The Nanny Book by Susan Carlton and Coco Myers
Child-Care Research in the 1990's by Deborah Vandell
National Network for Childcare: www.nncc.org
National Childcare Information Center: ncclc.org
Single Parent Central: www.singleparentcentral.com/childcare.htm

Your Options for Childcare
The main options include:

  • Mr. Mom: Dad stays home and watches the kids, either full- or part-time. Besides being the ultimate way for the father to fully engage the parenting role, this option sometimes makes economic sense, since a growing number of women make more money than their husbands.*
  • Relatives: Could be the child's grandparents, older stepsister, aunt or uncle, or other kin. Care by people who consider the child "family."
  • Nanny, baby-sitter: Possibilities range from a live-in, professional nanny to an older, good-hearted child who plays with a preschooler while Mom does work at home. The caregiver is not distracted by other children, but is often more expensive than a childcare center. Also lacks the safeguards against potential abuse that exist in childcare centers with other people present. Generally zero state regulation. You are legally responsible for paying employer taxes.
  • Home childcare: Frequently in the neighborhood close by. Convenient, informal, inexpensive. Often run by a kindly woman who is a mother herself. Typical ratios of one adult to two to six young children; caregivers may be spread thin. If solo caregiver, no checks and balances provided by other caregivers. Depending on the state, zero to moderate regulation.
  • Childcare centers: Sometimes conveniently located at job sites or preschools. More formal and usually more expensive than home childcare. Usually moderate state regulation.
  • Preschools: Same pluses and minuses of childcare centers, plus a more explicit educational component (e.g., Montessori, Waldorf), and sometimes a religious one. Moderate state regulation.

*This option and the two that follow naturally need to include appropriate time for your child with other children.

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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