Orlando Sentinel

Don't draw too much from day-care study

By Kathleen Parker
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on September 15, 1999.
Hold onto 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 once and for all to assuage the guilt of working mothers, despite the title's suggestion that we're talking about both parents. Though included in the surveys and statistics, fathers have managed to get through their workweek without obsessive guilt. They were, after all, just doing their jobs.

Not so modern mothers. Having switched jobs midcentury, moms need regular doses of the kind of medicine only researchers can provide. No longer trusting of their instincts, moms turn to the latest study or book to tell them, "You're OK, your kids are OK."

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. That's not all. More than 90 percent of the 13- to 18-year-olds surveyed said that child care (nonparental) has positively or somewhat positively affected their development.

Talk about redemption. To think, if all those stay-home moms had dropped off their babes at day care, their children might have been happier, more positively developed and, no small thing, included in a survey.

Sure, children need all the nurturing they can get, but the bio-parent is nonessential, according to Galinsky's findings. Any good "caregiver" will do, just so long as he or she is nice, attentive, loving and, of course, caring. Not much to ask of a minimum-wage earner.

In 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.

With Nintendo, snacks, television, freedom and friends, why would anyone miss Mom and Dad?

When asked what they wished most for their mothers, 23 percent of children in grades 3 through 12 wished Mom 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 right from wrong.

I don't necessarily doubt 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, 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, Mr. Linkletter, they do say the darndest things. But when adults rely on children to make them feel all better, we're in trouble.

[Posted 09/14/1999 10:11 PM EST]

Copyright 1999 Orlando Sentinel Online.