August 24, 2013: This week on Slate, columnist Melinda Wenner Moyer, at left, ponders a massive and often confusing amount of research in search of an answer to the question: Day care: what's best for the kids?
Self-described as a working mother whose son is in full-time day care, Moyer walks her readers through the data -- does it matter if a child stays home with the mother or goes to day care? Does center-based day care have an advantage over family day care? Does it matter if they spend a lot of time in day care, or start when they are infants rather than toddlers? Does socioeconomic factors affect the child's experience?
The essay is recommended reading in its entirety, but for those who only want to skip to the chase, here is Moyer's conclusion:
...So what’s a parent to take from all this—particularly one whose child is in day care all the time? My first instinct was to cry; my second was to attach a camera to my son’s shirt to see what his days were really like; my third was to get really, really pissed at our government for not doing more to ensure that U.S. child care is higher quality. (U.S. child care workers earn less than janitors and amusement park attendants. Outrageous, right?) But there’s another aspect to this body of research that I haven’t mentioned yet, and it’s reassuring, at least to me. In addition to collecting data on child care use and income and the like, researchers with the NICHD also asked mothers—both those who used day care and those who did not—questions about how they felt about day care. Should a mom stay home with their kids, they asked, or should she feel comfortable using group care and going back to work? When moms said it was better for mothers to stay home with their kids, and these mothers did stay home with their kids, their children fared very well. When moms felt that it is OK to work and put kids in child care, and these moms did work and put their kids in child care, their kids did great too. In other words, “when the mother’s choice was congruent with what she wanted and believed, children did well,” Burchinal says. What’s best for you, then, may well be what’s best for your kids, too.