No light shed on day care debate

September 17, 1999|By Kathleen Parker

HOLD on to your bassinets, the day care story has a new twist, this time from the mouths of babes: Day care kids are OK.

So say the kids themselves in a new book to be published next month. Written by Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, the book is based on interviews with 1,000 children across the nation.

"Ask the Children: What America's Children Really Think About Working Parents," promises to assuage the guilt of working mothers. Though included in the surveys and statistics, fathers through the ages have managed to get through their work week without obsessive guilt. They were, after all, just doing their jobs.

Not so modern mothers. Having switched jobs mid-century, moms need regular doses of the kind of medicine only researchers can provide.

Ms. Galinsky materializes just in the knick of time bearing these glad tidings: Only 10 percent of children in grades 3 through 12 wish they had more time with their moms. And more than 90 percent of the teen-agers surveyed said that child care (non-parental) has positively or somewhat positively affected their development.

Talk about redemption. To think, if all those stay-at-home moms had dropped off their babes at day care, their children might have been happier, more positively developed. Who knew?

Sure, children need all the nurturing they can get, but the parent is non-essential, according to Ms. Galinsky's findings. Any good "caregiver" will do.

In Ms. Galinsky's survey, children reported that they don't need much, either. A typical wish list would look something like this: one caring, responsible adult, who preferably will provide an after-school snack and help with homework. Other after-school "wants" included Nintendo, television, play time with friends and "freedom," but not too much.

When asked what they wished most for their mothers, 23 percent of children in grades 3 through 12 wished their mothers would earn more money (there's Super Nintendo, you know); 20 percent wished Mom were less stressed and only 10 percent wanted more time. Smart kids: More time with mom means less money for Nintendo.

As usual, I'm skeptical about new books and research that make guilt go away. Guilt is unpleasant, but it's the best information we have in determining whether we're doing the right thing.

I don't necessarily doubt Ms. Galinsky's findings or the children's comments. Children reared by caregivers under the mantra of quality time can't offer much insight into the concept of quantity parenting. You can't miss what you've never had.

Nevertheless, Ms. Galinsky's book is disturbing, not so much for her conclusions but for the premise itself. America has become a nightmarish Never Never Land, where no one wants to grow up and parents just wanna be friends. In such a culture, it is perhaps inevitable -- though no less scary -- that we would abandon adult wisdom and seek solace from the commentary of kids.

Children are notoriously cute and, yes, Art Linkletter, they do say the darndest things. But when adults rely on children to make them feel all better, we're in trouble.

Kathleen Parker is an Orlando Sentinel columnist. Her e-mail address: kparker@kparker.com.

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