High-powered, affluent couples may need to rethink day care

May 03, 1994|By Elise T. Chisolm

He and his wife are in their late 30s. Together they make about $100,000 a year. They are both CPAs. Their three children all have been in day care since they were 3 months old. They tell me they are stressed out all the time, but they can't afford a nanny.

I know a couple in their 40s who are both lawyers. She makes about $150,000 and he makes about $200,000, and their two children have been in day care since they were 6 weeks old.

Something is wrong with the above pictures. My lawyer friend has called me because one of the kids was sick and she couldn't stay home another day -- big case coming up. And her husband was out of town. They often search for a quick fix -- for a person to come in when the kids are ill. Sometimes they can't get anyone, and I have helped in a pinch because I am a friend.

But I am a wimpy friend, because I have not told them what I think: that may be one of them could stay home for a year or two. Many middle-class professionals are valiantly trying to balance their act.

Do couples like that really need day care? Do they both need to work while the baby is still a baby?

A survey in 1989 found that in day-care centers, toddlers spend more time wandering aimlessly about than interacting with caretakers, and infants aren't being held enough.

Until America wakes up and puts children and families first and sees to it that there are new options for mothers who HAVE to work, we are cheating our kids.

But I am focusing on those upscale, two-career families. These parents have less time to spend with their kids, because they are now spending more time at the office. I regret to say a lot of the "I can't give up my practice for two years to have a baby" is in essence a form of greed.

Many of these career parents want boats, better cars and great vacations. Sure. After all, isn't this the American dream, a better quality of life?

Hey, but what about those babies?

Enter Penelope Leach's book "Children First." It is succinct and compelling -- a must for mothers of any economic level. She tells us how we can do better for the poor families and the middle-class professionals who want it all, including to have business and government restructure their priorities.

The renowned child-care guru knows there is no Super Mom. She does not believe young parents are having it all.

She writes that middle-class parents could survive on less and that, in fact, some are now looking for a lower career track. The psychologist suggests paid leaves for parents for six months after childbirth and that businesses allow either parent the choice of working part time with prorated pay and benefits until their children are 8 years old.

Her book is full of possibilities. She writes, "That vital continuous one-to-one attention can rarely be achieved in group care, however excellent the facility may be." She feels that babies need at least one special person with whom to attach.

Dr. Leach may be ahead of her time, but we need to get ahead before the issue of more maladjusted kids becomes a national nightmare.

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