March 31, 2005
Anticipating Mommy Anger
Posted by Christine Hurt

Seethe early, seethe often, that's my motto.  The WSJ is reporting that in the next two weeks, several studies are going to come out that will report that children are in child care too long and that lengthy child care is bad for children.  So, I'm going to start fidgeting now.

First of all, conversations on these issues among my Mommy friends is almost impossible.  We have all struggled with decisions over our work/family balance, and once we make a decision (or something makes it for us), then we are vested in that decision.  I personally believe that I have made the perfect decision for my children and therefore the perfect decision for any mom, although I realize that my "choice" to be a law professor involved a lot of changes and luck and some more luck.  My stay-at-home moms believe their decision was the best for them and every one else.  My part-time and full-time attorney friends are the same way.  It is hard for us to respect other people's decisions without admitting that our decision is not perfect.

That being said, all of us live these lives with imperfect decisions doing the best we can, and then researchers tell us that we're not doing the best we can. 

Here, researchers will tell working women that we are "blithely warehousing" our children in day care for our selfish pursuits.  Then, stay-at-home moms who watch the budget will sneer at two income couples that claim that they can't possibly cut back.  Single moms will stew because they have no choice but to work and don't have these options.  Two-income couples barely scraping by will watch with astonishment as high-income families with stay-at-home moms say that all moms could stay at home if families just adjusted their "lifestyle." 

And yes, if child care is truly harming our children, then we should know that and do what we can to minimize it.  High school harms our children, too; most of us don't pull our kids out of high school, though.  We employ other strategies to minimize the impact of the Mean Girls jungle.  However, I wish that these articles about child care realized that most parents are just doing the best that they can.

Two things about these studies.  One, the WSJ reports that "child care" is defined as any care not given by the mother.  I'll just let that slide for now.  The second is that the studies don't differentiate among different kinds of child care.  We have tried all kinds of child care, from a nanny to a corporate franchise, to secular Montessori, to our current Jewish Community Center preschool.  The care varies widely, even among expensive options.  (We love the JCC, btw.)  During the semester, Luke stays long enough to be in the "red zone" according to the WSJ -- 35 to 45 hours a week.  At the JCC, I think that amount of time is full and rich.  At "the snakepit" (a former facility in Texas), 20 hours was too much.

OK.  I'm going to stop now.

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