Brian C. Robertson, Day Care Deception: What the Child Care Establishment Isn’t Telling Us (Encounter Books, 2003), 280 pages, $25.95
December 15, 2003
by Kathryn Jean Lopez
Everyone who has ever had a mother knows (and science has confirmed) that there is something unnatural about tearing an infant or young child aware from his parents. And yet, it has become routine for mothers to give birth and then get back to work outside the home as soon as possible. Somehow, in the eyes of many, the work that comes with a paycheck is more legitimate and valued than the work of a housewife and full-time mother. One might well conclude that this attitude reflects a cultural bias not just against mothers but against parenting in general.
In his book Day Care Deception: What the Child Care Establishment Isn’t Telling Us, Brian C. Robertson, a fellow of the Family Research Council, reveals some ugly and dangerous realities about how daycare facilities are run after the parents drive away, and some surprising facts about what “experts” on children really think about parents—as well as the true feelings parents have about day care.
Robertson writes, “While day care advocates insist that pursuing a demanding career and being a terrific parent would be perfectly compatible if only government and corporate interests would invest more in quality day care, most working parents today recognize that this ideal is neither possible nor desirable.”
Robertson’s well-documented book attempts to spark a daycare debate that is urgently needed, but which Americans have long been too polite to engage in. This debate is overdue, according to Robertson, because America has yet to come to grips with the “Motherhood Revolution” that David Gelernter identified in a 1996 piece for Commentary magazine (“Why Mothers Should Stay Home”). Describing this phenomenon, Robertson writes, “In the last quarter-century between 1970 and 1995, the proportion of married women with children under six years of age in the labor force rose from 30 percent to 64 percent (it has not changed substantially since then), necessitating dramatic alterations in the care arrangements made for preschool children.” As a result, more than twelve million preschool-age children—63 percent of the preschool-age population of the United States—are not being cared for full-time by their mothers. Moreover, the amount of time they spend away from their parents is quite startling to consider. Robertson writes, “According to one recent survey, more than half of this childcare population spends thirty-five hours or more per week in non-maternal day care arrangements, and over a third are placed in two or more non-parental day care arrangements each week.” Very few of these children are with their fathers—seven out of ten preschoolers in non-maternal arrangements are with someone other than Dad, and more than half are with a non-relative.
As the nation has undergone these dramatic changes, there has been little serious conversation about the issue. Robertson writes,
People may be willing to entertain private, among-friends complaints about the defects or costs of certain centers or certain approaches, as long as everyone understands that they all believe in day care as an institution. But when the criticism is conducted in public, where the gains by the women’s movement seem so fragile, can it be anything but a hostile act? It is but a short step from criticizing day care to suggesting that there might be fundamental conflicts between parenthood and career.
One might expect Robertson and other daycare naysayers to be shunned by the likes of Working Mother magazine or women’s television networks such as Oxygen and Lifetime, but the academic world has been equally hostile. Robertson tells the story, for instance, of Jay Belsky, a child-development expert currently teaching at the University of London. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Belsky, a champion for day care, was a rising star at Pennsylvania State University. He received an American Psychological Association award in 1983. But then he began to suspect that day care might not be the utopia it seemed. He began to look into what he called “a slow, steady trickle of evidence” suggesting that long hours in day care could lead to behavioral problems, especially in young children. Robertson writes:
As each isolated negative indication came in, [Belsky] was able to discover methodological reasons to dismiss the findings. But “it got to the point,” he said, “where I felt like a pretzel, twisting and turning, trying to explain these things away. By 1986, I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”
Belsky published his tentative conclusions—calling for more research on the matter—in a relatively obscure newsletter under the heading “Infant Day Care: A Cause for Concern?” He was wholly unprepared for the firestorm of controversy that followed. His peers accused him of being a hardline opponent of day care, an enemy of professional women, and a closet misogynist. Belsky was shunned at scientific meetings. Almost overnight, he became persona non grata. From this episode Robertson concludes,
When it comes to day care, in other words, it’s the accepted line, not actual science that even the scientists are looking for. Realize: Academics and scientists are people too—they are mothers or are married to mothers who work outside of the home. Such realities make it a touchy subject. As David Gelernter put it, “Except for a few benighted precincts (the Mormon church, parts of the Orthodox Jewish community, parts of the Christian Right), society from Left to Right is lined up in force behind the idea of mothers taking jobs.
Recently, however, events have begun to force a recognition of the problem to the surface. In the wake of Columbine and other school shootings, politicians and talking heads immediately pointed to gun control. Robertson and others, however, suggest there is something deeper we should be looking at—something not as easy to remedy with quick-fix lawmaking. And most parents in their hearts know this, even if the media won’t report it. “Despite the assurances of the media and sociologists that children have not been negatively affected by a vast shift of time and attention from home to work in America over the past thirty years,” Robertson writes, “most people worry that professional obligations are preventing parents from giving their children the attention they need; that children are not faring well in our society; and that the decline in their well-being is related to changes in the way they are being brought up.” A post-Columbine poll, for instance, found that 83 percent of Americans believe that “parents not paying enough attention to what’s going on in their children’s lives” has become a “very serious problem.” In addition, the “breakdown of the family” was ranked far above other issues as the greatest problem facing the United States.
Journalist Mary Eberstadt, in a June 2001 Policy Review article (“Home Alone America”), made this connection explicit:
Statistically speaking, of course, few latchkey children grow up to be murderers. Yet beneath the public anxiety provoked by every such savage who takes the stage, beneath even the ritual media cycle that follows the recorded-for-television atrocities, lies an element of unspoken truth about the link between these adolescent outcasts and the rest of society. This is the fear shared by much of the adult world that perhaps the kids aren’t all right after all—that perhaps the decades-long experiment in leaving more and more of them to fend for themselves, whether for the sake of material betterment, career fulfillment, marital satisfaction, or other deep adult desires, has finally run amok. What troubles the public mind about these killers is not that they seem anomalous, but precisely that they might be emblematic. And the reason for this apprehension is essentially correct—in important ways, their lives have been indistinguishable from those of many other American children. Most, in virtue of their times, are part of the same trend that has been building for decades now throughout American society—the trend of leaving children increasingly to their own and their peers’ devices, bereft of adult, and particularly parental, attention.
The deficiencies of day care, though quite real, will not cause America to breed a generation of murderers. But there will be fallout. For instance, there are serious health risks associated with daycare facilities. According to a study by the American Academy of Family Physicians, children in day care are eighteen times more likely to get sick than other children. Infants in day care have more than twice the rate of inner-ear infections as babies who are raised at home. At any one time, 16 percent of children attending day care facilities are likely to be sick. They are three to four-and-a-half times more likely to require hospital treatment than children raised at home.
Today, of course, it seems that all segments of the political spectrum are “for the children”; both the liberal Children’s Defense Fund (former home to Hillary Rodham Clinton) and the U.S. Department of Education under George W. Bush have as their mottos, “Leave no child behind.” Why, then, are America’s parents expected to leave their children behind? If anyone in Washington or the academia is truly serious about protecting America’s children, then the deceptions about day care that Brian Robertson chronicles in his book will be acknowledged and addressed, thoroughly, publicly, and quickly. Until then, people like Robertson, who care more about children than about ideology, will continue to feel like the last child at a daycare facility waiting for a parent to arrive.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is an associate editor of National Review and editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com).
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