Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Elul 5763 - September 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Children in Care
by A. Ross, M.Ed.

In today's world, it is almost the norm for children to be out of the house for part of each day while mothers go to work. In 1991, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) initiated a comprehensive longitudinal study of almost 2000 children from various social walks of life. The participating children were in a variety of child care arrangements, ranging from relatives to center-based care, for a part of each day. Phase I of the study was conducted from 1991 - 1994, and followed children from birth to three years. Phase II followed these children between 1995 - 2000 through their third year in school. The next phase is slated to continue till 2005, but already the findings are alarmingly clear.

The NICHD does not have our hashkofa nor did they study children from our particular background. Moreover, investigators often draw on the same research studies but interpret the findings differently. Below is a very abridged form of their findings, and before mothers get hot under the collar about pontificating researchers, we will discuss our own children and whether any of these findings apply to them.

The more hours that toddlers spend in child care, the more likely they are to turn out aggressive, disobedient and defiant by the time they are in kindergarten.

This correlation holds true regardless of whether children come from rich or poor homes, regardless of their sex and regardless of whether they are looked after by a nanny or at a day care center. The findings throughout these ten years were alarmingly conclusive. On the other hand, one view is that quality day care from infancy clearly has a positive effect on children's verbal and cognitive development, especially when children come from homes where they are not well stimulated. This does not preclude the fact that their behavior is affected if they are sent out of the house for more than ten hours a week, especially in the first two years of their lives.

To summarize, there seems to be little doubt that children who are given out for care, regardless how good the arrangements are, are less well off than those children who are looked after by mothers at home. Babies who are fed exactly when they want to be fed, picked up and rocked every time they cry, in short, who are looked after by a mother who is their devoted slave, seem to surpass their peers in most things. Older children, too, whose mothers are not at home when they come from school are at a decided disadvantage.

Research into human behavior has several drawbacks. First of all, the subjects and their parents have to be willing to be studied. Secondly, the care the children receive is studied by the researcher's standards. For instance, the yiras Shomayim which a child might receive from an unqualified caregiver can far outweight all the verbal and cognitive development which are the secular criteria. Lastly, in spite of the check list of the yardstick on which the child and the caregiver are measured, the researchers themselves are human beings, not computers. Thus, what one might class as disruptive behavior, the other, from a different culture, might feel is good healthy class participation.

For example, an observer walking into a roomful of thirty- five cheder boys may not find a quiet controlled atmosphere. Yet the six-year-old boys may be doing very well according to their rebbe's standards and expectations. This particular rebbe does not insist on a quiet classroom. Since some of these boys may well have been out of the house since the age of three months, the question arises whether they are worse off than those who have been at home with their mothers since birth.

Many mothers go out to work because they want to do so. Either because they think that being `just a housewife' is in some way degrading to a girl who had a successful career before she was married, and they are bored at home. Or because they feel that the extra income makes all the difference between being able to afford a few luxuries, or only having just enough for the bare essentials.

These mothers might do well to consider the findings in this research and look after their own precious children for the first two or three years of the babies' lives. Furthermore, once the children start school, the mothers would do well to see their children off in the mornings, and to be there to greet them and give them time and attention when they come home. Some mothers find, to their dismay, that their baby is more attached to the babysitter than to them! Older children, too, tend to confide in a nanny, or maybe a grandmother who has looked after them in their early years, rather than in their mother. (Perhaps the Torah exempts women from all time- bound mitzvos so that nothing should interfere with the upbringing of their children.)

However, quite a large proportion of working mothers go out to work out of sheer necessity. They are more or less the sole breadwinners, as they want their husbands to be able to learn, and thus, they are prepared to juggle the impossibly difficult tasks of running a home, keeping a job and being a good wife and mother. They do not particularly enjoy going to work, but have no choice. Naturally, they will find the very best care possible for their child. A capable and willing grandmother is a wonderful mother substitute. Some grandfathers are also eminently suitable. A babysitter who takes in many little children in order to supplement her own meager income, while she might live conveniently near, is not always a wise choice, especially if she has a baby of her own.

Some of these working mothers adjure the babysitter not to let the child nap while he is in her care, since they want the child to sleep as soon as s/he gets home so that she can sleep, too. This is very logical, but not quite fair to the child, on two counts. Firstly, when a toddler or baby wants to sleep, he needs to sleep! And he will cry and be cranky till he is allowed to do so. Secondly, a child needs the love and attention of his own mother, in his own home, and the fact that she works does not interest him in the least. Mothers should not feel guilty if they cannot manage all the time, but should bear in mind that the more time and attention they give the child, the better it will be for both of them.

As mentioned, many women go to work in order to buy bread and milk for the family. It is essential that the children see a happy face and contented demeanor. The working woman supporting a learning husband is not a martyr, and must not give her children that wrong impression. She is doing a wonderful job because she WANTS to do it, and if she is fully convinced of this fact, b'ezras Hashem, her children will not be part of such `statistics' and will not have the negative characteristics of those children who have been cared for by others. Incidentally, I doubt if any of the children who participated in this study came from families of a dozen or more children...


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