I’m always leery of research by people who desperately, desperately want a certain answer. So when I hear shouts of joy over a new study running counter to previous studies in its conclusion that putting small children in daycare has no adverse effects, I develop a more skeptical eye than usual.
Which I know is pretty skeptical. But still.
The thought behind the study is wise, it seems — rather than simply comparing small children in daycare to those who stay with their mothers, consider whether some children in the former camp in fact demonstrate no differences with the control group, and then assess whether they have commonalities. Doing so, the researchers claim, reveals that when mothers put their babies in very high-quality daycare centers, earn significantly high levels of income, and spend considerable time in their off hours engaging with their babies, there are no adverse effects.
“Babies don’t suffer when mothers return to work,” The Guardian all but shouts from the rooftops. “Millions of working mothers,” claims Motoko Rich at the New York Times blog, can breathe a sigh of relief.
Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Millions of harried working mothers should breathe easier about the heart-wrenching decision to give their babies over to daycare company employees, just so long as they take a considerable portion of whatever precious time they have left to cook and clean and manage the bills and pick up the dry cleaning and try to find a half-second to themselves, and spend it on deeply engaging their babies, to make up for the hours they’ve been apart.
Further, they should be sure to get the kinds of jobs held by women who are friends with women who write for The Guardian and The New York Times, which I’ll venture to say is not waitressing or bus driving or shoe selling, all so they can earn enough money to pay top-notch professionals to do with their children what most of them in their hearts would rather be doing themselves.
Breathe easier indeed. The people who can breathe easier are the ones for whom this question of daycare is not an open research endeavor, but an ideological commitment.