HERE IS OUR nomination for "statistics of the month": 56.1 percent of the working women in this country have children under the age of 6, and close to 12 percent of these have husbands earning $20,000 annually. With the wolf so safely off the doormat, why are these 12 percent working? What would induce both parents to leave their babies, save economic necessity?
The Labor Department satistician who supplied these figures answers that many people work to combat "boredom," a commodity he says they find nearly as threatening as "hunger." There is something intrinsically grating about that answer.Why would a couple have a baby in the first place if they knew both of them would be too bored to raise the child?
The answer lies in a myth, most commonly associated with the day care movement, that claims: "It's all right to have your children and leave them, too." Day care, the myth states,is not just a substitute for at-home care, but a real improvement over the old, more toilsome do-it yourself method of child rearing.
There is a world of difference between this attitude and the one held by those who actually row the day care boat. They, along with a host of sociologists who study their every move,generally say that if you work at it -- if you leave your child for the absolute minimum time possible, hire one consistent, concerned caretakerwhose ideals are fairly close to your own, and fill your at-home time with family activities -- then day care will probably work.
Most working parents aim for this ideal, and come within reach of its perimeters. But there are parents whose primamry commitment is to their careers, who view their children as people to think about in their spare time, who avow and propagateday care myths to cover their unconcern and salve their guilt. Myths like these:
It's Quality, Not Quantity ThatCounts:
This is the rosary of working parents, who use their quality time," the catchy phrase for their three hours (minus time to make dinner, get the car fixed, start a laundry, feed the dog, and vacuum the living room) of intense, concerned care to rationalize their 10-hour ("quantity time") absence.
Each child deserves as much quality time as possible from his parents, and probably, once the kid is potty trained and able to wander into another room without committing something lethal, three hours a day from each parent should do it.
However, the problem is the timing of those three hours. Children do not conveniently ask the important questions at night -- questions about race or sex or religion. Nor do they thoughtfully save their first steps or broken bones for yours eyes only.
If you are not there when these things happen, you miss them, and your child gets his answers or praise or comfort from someone with a set of ideals that are perhaps better, perhaps worse, but definitely different from your own.
Is this what "raising a child" means?
Winson Churchill Was Raised By a Nanny:
Churchill is one among a few cited as having risen above and beyond a less-than-full-time set of parents, a fact designed to prove that day care can provide and has provided truly superior people.
The obvious point here -- and one that gets overlooked -- is that Churchill and others in this category had a single, concerned, loving, lifetime relationship with a loving nurturing nanny.
Kathy M., a downtown secretary and mother of a 3-year-old, recently recited the list of successive caretakers she found for her daughter.
The list came to five, each with her own drawback. Another child traveled six times between four caretakers in less than two years.
These are cited not as extreme but as ordinary examples. Close to two-thirds of the day care children in the United States are sent to private homes and in this town of rapid transfers, that means a frequent rotation of caretakers. Day care centers offer no greater consistency; with near-minimum wages for their workers, they suffer from the same sort of turnover.
The answer to the crucial question, "Will five people paid to care for a child equal the care and love of one parent?" is a resounding No, according to baby-care guru Benjamin Spock:
"We believe that in some cases where a child's dependence has been repeatedly established and then broken, with a number of substitutes who have taken over a large part of her care," he states, "she may react eventually by refusing love or trust in any more people. This can mean an emotionally cold and lonely life."
Is this what parents should plan for their children?
The Mother Has Primary Responsibility for Child Care:
This is a longstanding, pervasive argument, but its hold on our national conciousness should not blind us to its innate unfairness. If both parents truly long for children, then why shouldn't both parents share the responsibilities that go alongwith the package?
The argument often is one of income -- with women earning 59 cents to every man's dollar, it is hard to persuade families to switch to the lesser of the two earnings. However, there are women earning adequate incomes whose husbands could stay home with the children, if they cared enough.
And there are couples who could, if they wanted to, figure out a host of part-time, flexitime, free-lance, consultant arrangemtnts so that their little children could have one parent there almost all the time.
Admittedly, these arrangements are not easy to make -- it requires a lot of commitment and persistence on the parent's part.
Staying At Home Is Dull:
Here is the nittiest gritty in the day care mythology. It holds up the marketplace as the only source of satisfaction, stimulation, fulfillment and success.
Without pausing to wonder how many wage earners are indeed satisfied, stimulated, etc., a larger question to ask is whether the parents' happiness should take priority over the child's. The largest question is: "Why can't the two be compatable?"
Very few tasks are innately fulfilling or boring; parenting is a job with lots of potential for both -- a jobyou essentially create and define on your own terms. You can decide for yourself whether you want it to be fulfilling or boring. And the time to decide is before you become pregnant.
If you find the idea of raising your own children too dull to consider, then don't have them. They deserve better.