All of this begs the question is early childhood, out of home child care, the best thing for children? I believe the answer is clearly no. While some parents are no doubt forced through circumstances to use day care programs, for many it's a desire or want not a need. Now the state is entering the arena with the goal of incentivizing and encouraging more out of home care. (When was the last time there was a state initiative to encourage parents to provide their own at home child care?)
Of course, the early childhood industry trots out their studies saying how beneficial it and the growing need for ever more expensive child care programs. I recollect the last numbers were $11,000 or $13,000 per year, per child. The question wasn't whether this was good or cost effective but rather where can we get the money.
However, the massive studies I've seen, from Canada, Stanford, Berkley, Georgia, etc. on preschool and day care programs are quite clear that such programs are a detriment to a young child's emotional and social development. And any academic improvements generally disappear by the fourth grade. Yet we march along, driven by ideology, not reality.
I came across this refreshingly, candid WSJ interview with radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger who makes the case for stay at home moms as the way to go for young children. Laura is part of the social counter-revolution aimed at doing what's really best for children not what adults want and then say it's best for children.
The Wall Street Journal: When did you get the idea to write about this topic?
Dr. Schlessinger: Probably about 25 years ago. I'm very open about this issue because I've been on both sides of this choice. For a long time, I was a career woman and that was it. I didn't want to have a baby. But I kept feeling as if something was not there. Then one day, I was watching PBS Nova, and a one-hour program they showed on the creation of a life. I just broke down. At that time, I was 35 and had already had my tubes tied. But in that moment, I realized what was missing: this womanly part of me. So I got married, struggled a bit to get pregnant and finally made it happen after a surgery. The feeling of your baby taking nourishment from your body for the first time is amazing, and it remains the most touching moment of my life. So that was the genesis of the book -- my transition into motherhood.
WSJ: You're very insistent that mothers should stay at home as full-time moms for the sake of the child. But given our current economic crisis, is that feasible for couples who may require two salaries to make ends meet?
Dr. Schlessinger: Of course this is a huge concern right now with money issues being so tight. But what I have discerned is that people of modest means have been able to handle what's going on far better than people who are used to having a lot of stuff; it's the people who put their life's worth into products, and not people, that are probably the most shell-shocked.
One thing I've been happy as peach pie about -- because I'm all about the children and the happiness of a woman because that makes the happiness of the home -- is that nannies, day cares and babysitters are all collapsing, which is forcing moms and dads to raise their children at home. I've gotten a huge surge of mail and calls from people who didn't make the choice to be at home with their kids, but are just now realizing how wonderful and beautiful it can be. A home should be more than just a place to park yourself after a frenzied day of too much work. So even though there's less cash, people seem to be happier.
WSJ: What do you tell women who are hesitant to leave their jobs?
Dr. Schlessinger: You know how when you try to quit smoking you chew gum? You replace one thing with another because it distracts you. What I would tell these women is that they're spending too much time thinking about what they have to give up, and feeling angry about not being valued. Look at me -- I made the transition from being a powerhouse to being at home, folding laundry. What they need to do is find value elsewhere. I tell these women to look in their children's eyes. When your husband comes home, wrap your body around him at the door and look at his eyes. What people need to learn is that it's not about the drudgery of housework -- it's about being at home for all of those incredible moments that make your life more valuable than the person who replaced you at work. No one can replace mom. Kids who don't have moms suffer a lifetime.
“I have been attacked incessantly for supposed hypocrisy concerning this issue of child care; I couldn't possibly have done all the things required of my career without neglecting my son. Well, those critics are just plain wrong” Read an excerpt from "In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms"
WSJ: What questions should working mothers ask themselves when deciding whether to quit their jobs and become stay-at-home mothers?
Dr. Schlessinger: The nut questions should be: Do I feel fulfilled as a woman? Do I feel like my husband's girlfriend? Do I feel like I have touched the soul of my kids? Those will help you decide.
WSJ: Where do stay-at-home dads fit into the picture?
Dr. Schlessinger: I recommend that during the first three years, the mom should be at home because all of the research shows that the person whose body you come out of and whose breast you suck at, at that stage, really needs to be the mom -- unless she's incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial. After that, flip a coin.
WSJ: At what point do you advise mothers to go back to work?
Dr. Schlessinger: The answer is never. One woman asked me the other day when I think mothers should be home, and I told her, "Whenever your kid is at home." When [my son] Deryk started kindergarten, it was from 8 to 3. So I arranged to be on the air from 11 to 2. That was it. He always had a mom. Quite frankly, my mom was one of the least warm mommies out there. Nonetheless, when I came home from school, she was always there and it made me feel safe.
WSJ: What about the women who can't choose their hours?
Dr. Schlessinger: Well, everyone's capable of it. For everything in life, you have to make a priority list. This must be done. If we truly believe in something and cherish it, we find a way to make it happen. Women go from making seven-figure salaries to staying at home, and things just start to be less important. I remember once our house burned down, and another time there was an earthquake in L.A. and I'll tell you, this family [of mine] never had so much fun. My kid was still little so we played "Sorry" and card games and laughed and giggled and told stories -- none of which costs money. Families across the nation are starting to discover that it's the smallest things in life that make you smile. You don't have to work 9 to 7. If your priority is to raise your child, it's not just a matter of making sure they don't get killed or have food to eat. The question is, "Do you want them to learn what's moral and of value from your perspective?"
WSJ: Do you think it's possible for a working mother to raise a smart, successful child?
Dr. Schlessinger: I didn't write this book about working moms. I wrote it in praise of stay-at-home moms. It's a wonderful choice, but to be absolutely truthful, having been on both sides of this mentality, my heart hurts for what these women miss and what their children miss from them. No argument, no criticism. My heart just hurts -- because when you get those pudgy arms around your neck, and being told you're someone's lullaby -- the fact that a woman would miss that is so, so sad.
WSJ: At the end of your book, you provide a list of Web sites stay-at-home moms can consult for further insight and advice. How important is this part of stay-at-home motherhood these days?
Dr. Schlessinger: I think that social networking is something that all moms who made the choice to make a house into a home should engage in, so they can find other women with similar values, arrange play dates for their children and just generally support one another. There's a particularly wonderful group called Mom's Club that consists of women helping each other out and networking all over America. They also get involved with charity work, so it's not just women sitting around having cupcakes, whining about their day. The kind of thing I would not suggest is using the Internet to put out information about your family, which is kind of dangerous these days.