Even though it was 10 years in the works, a study on the long-term effects of daycare on children was all but thrown out by scads of vocal “children's activists” who did not like the results.
Not surprisingly, their dismissal found plenty of support from the mainstream media.
The study, sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, found that the more time kids spend in daycare, the more likely they are to engage in aggressive behavior. This, of course, flies in the face of those who profess the “super-mom” creed — the myth that women can “have it all” without sacrificing something, or someone.
When the study was released in late April, immediately, the media and left-wing advocates like Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund acted on their instincts: They rushed to the rescue of the career mom — making excuses for her and ignoring the science, however preliminary, before them. Anything to make sure she is not made to feel guilty.
On the day the study was released, the major news networks led with stories discussing the lack of federal money spent on daycare in the United States. The clear implication: The only problem with daycare is that we don't have enough of it.
And it's not like this point of view is limited to those on the left.
When Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, the magazine I work for, wrote a cover piece in the wake of the study suggesting that the rush to exonerate working women is a bit too enthusiastic, that perhaps they have something to feel guilty about if they have put career over kids on their list of priorities, he was quickly attacked — from the right as well as the left.
Friendly fire came from a conservative columnist who has, in fact, written about the perils of institutionalized day-care herself. She objected to Lowry's call for a return to stigmatization, for cheerleading the idea that there should be some sense of shame in carting your kid off to a center every morning. It's just not normal, he wrote, to want to leave your young child to work in an office. But that's not something you can say much anymore, in a culture where nothing is normal.
At the time, Time magazine reported on the epidemic of the “empty swing-set.” It told of one mother whose kids play video games instead of playing outdoors, or with each other. When she was asked why she doesn't take them to the nearby park, she told the reporter: “It's boring. And I don't have time. When I'm home, I have a lot to do here.” Not to pick on one harried mother in particular, but the dishes can wait, if work can't be avoided. But that's not politically correct.
And not to pick on Time, but the same issue also included a classic example of excuse-making. Reporter Nancy Gibbs wrote: “Should we even be worried at all? The researchers noted that almost all the ‘aggressive’ toddlers were well within the range of normal behavior for 4-year-olds. And what about that adjective, anyway? Is a vice not sometimes a form of virtue? Cruelty never is, but arguing back? Is that being defiant — or spunky and independent? ‘Demanding attention’ could be a natural and healthy skill to develop if you are in a room with 16 other kids.”
None of this reaction should come as any surprise. Jay Belsky, the chief researcher on the study, has been made a bit of a pariah for his findings. But he's not new to the guilt wars. He fell victim to those some 15 years ago, when he published findings revealing that children who spend more than 20 hours a week in daycare are at risk of insecure attachment to their mothers.
Again, his scientific research was construed as some kind of attempt by the patriarchy to set back the women's rights movement. The fact that the mother of his own children stayed home to raise their kids, of course, didn't help.
All you have to do is turn on cable-TV's “Nick at Nite” or, perhaps, open your own family scrapbook to remember a day not too long ago when not only was it normal for a mother to stay at home and raise her kids, but it was — imagine — even encouraged. Stay-at-home motherhood was a respected vocation, one to be proud of.
Not long ago, a mother would hold her head up high, aware of what her infant or toddler had been doing throughout the day. Today, mothers consider themselves pretty lucky, and loving, if they get to watch their kids by Webcam from their office desks, if they have enrolled in a state-of-the-art, guilt-free center. Meanwhile, mothers who stay home report being casually insulted by friends on their choice to do “nothing but” raise their children. If they have three or more tykes in tow in public places, they risk being upbraided by strangers who accuse them of disrespecting our precious planet.
The celebration of “choice,” so revered when it comes to the right to end human life, is suddenly silenced when a woman chooses to embrace life, and to put parenting above all her other priorities.
Let them squawk all they want. We know who the true heroines of our times are. So do the kids — and, deep in their hearts, the daycare workers.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is an associate editor at National Review (http://www.nationalreview.com).