- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

The more time tots spend in child care as babies and toddlers, the more likely they are to become aggressive, cruel and demanding in other words, bullies by the time they reach kindergarten. Thats the word from a government-sponsored study begun in 1991 to track 1,100 girls and boys rich, poor and in between across 10 cities where they have been cared for in a variety of settings, ranging from homes with personal nannies, to the homes of relatives, to crowded day-care centers.

These findings, egalitarian though they may be, do not bode well for the brave new world originally engineered in the name of feminism. They suggest that there is a steep, possibly prohibitive, cost in the so-called "liberated" life of countless American women, who, for reasons ranging from desperation to desire, have seen fit to warehouse a whopping 75 percent of the nation´s youngsters in some form of child care to further or maintain full-time professional careers. Indeed, it is to these mothers that this study most plaintively speaks, given that the kids most prone to scientifically quantified meanness were those who´ve effectively made a childhood career out of day care, spending 30 or more hours a week there.

While the impact of these findings, financed by the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a branch of the National Institutes of Health, is chiefly a family matter, already the jockeying in the political arena has begun. Indeed, even as a summary of the findings was being presented last week, The Washington Post picked up on a bit of a squabble that broke out among the lead scientists on the project. Jay Belsky of London´s Birkbeck College drew the logical conclusion that since "more time" in child care seems to lead to behavioral problems in kindergarten, reducing the time in child care would likely reduce the chances of such problems. "Extend parental leave and part-time work," he suggested.

"On behalf of mothers or fathers?" interrupted Sarah Friedman of the NICHD.

"On behalf of parents and families," responded Dr. Belsky.

"The NICHD is not willing to get into policy recommendations," retorted Dr. Friedman, contradicting her colleague. "The easy solution is to cut the number of hours but that may not be beneficial for the development of the children in terms of economics."

No one says economics aren´t important in the lives of children particularly ones with behavioral problems who may need costly therapies down the road but one has to wonder whether Dr. Friedman´s tart response is the most significant and humane conclusion to be drawn from a study that strongly suggests that very young children need Mom more than money.

Some experts have already decided that motherless child care has zero impact on Billy and Belinda´s bad behavior. "It´s not being in child care that is the problem, it´s that employed parents are tired and stressed," the Families and Work Institute´s Ellen Galinsky explained to the New York Times. Oh yeah we forgot: Full-time mothers are never tired or stressed. Meanwhile, Dr. Friedman continues to ponder whether disobedient bullies might not be the products of child care providers who haven´t been properly trained to give emotional support.

Dr. Friedman might do well to consider the untapped potential of a plentiful child care work force hard-wired to give children emotional support: mothers.

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