Making the choice to stay at home.
Why Parenting Needs Parents.

Many parents do not get to choose to stay at home with a newborn child. The pressures of a career, financial constraints and the reality of a total life change often mean that parents try to balance parenting and the workplace. The working parent is left trying to find a way to satisfy the needs of the newborn with the demands of employers, clients or patients.  The needs of the child are most often fulfilled by various child care providers or family. The working parent has to spend more time away from the new child than with the child. When a parent can choose to be the only caregiver for the newborn and commits to that relationship, a child and the parent have advantages that most parents never get to experience. Often new parents do not feel there is much support for the decision to be a full-time parent or do not understand the full benefit and consequences. Below is some authoritative research and information that supports the parent choosing to stay home with the new baby.

 

I. Bonding/Attachment Children need continuity in their early years to properly develop.  In this case, continuity is defined as the “predictable presence of the primary caregiver. This is the person who cares for an infant during most of his or her waking hours and with whom the infant forms an attachment or bond.”  Dr. Elizabeth Fox in Being There.  When both parents work full time, a child is cared for on average about 80% by an alternate caregiver during their waking life. This means that a child is going to develop a bond with whoever is caring for them during the vast majority of their life, which is not the parent. This is not nearly as detrimental if it is the same person day in and day out, however, when caregivers are alternated, such as at a day care center, or multiple individual child care providers, severe attachment issues can result. Because a child in these formative years cannot yet fully communicate, they cannot voice that they feel deserted, depressed, or sad when their parents leave every day. The person or persons consoling the child are not the parents and the child comes to look to others for comfort, guidance and love.  When children have continuity with one caregiver, the parent, the children are more apt to feel a sense of optimism and self-esteem, and are better able to form intimate relationships in adolescence and in adulthood. The idea of children needing continuity relates back to the psychological theory of attachment. This theory states that in pre-verbal children, those that do not have a “secure base” suffer more emotional damage than children that have a parent stay home with them. In other words, infants instinctively behave in many ways that serve to maintain close proximity to their primary caregiver. Without continuity in the primary caregiver, children are less likely to be emotionally stable, and develop and fully throughout life. With a consistent primary caregiver, a child is more likely to learn to trust and love, to internalize a positive moral code, and to avoid depression and other emotional problems. The theory of attachment was originally developed by John Bowlby. He was a British psychoanalyst attempting to understand infant distress experienced by infants separated from their parents. His research demonstrated the need for security of infants and the correlation to anxiety. Further research on the topic was then done by Mary Ainsworth who engaged in a systematic study of infant-parent separations. Ainsworth found varying levels of behavioral reactions in children separated from parents. There were a range of reactions. 1) Children are upset due to the separation and experience anxiety, but are able to be soothed upon reunification; 2) Children that become extremely distressed by the separation and even upon reunification struggle to calm down; and 3) Children that experience little distress and upon reunification essentially ignore the parent. The research demonstrated that the individual differences in the children were correlated with infant-parent interactions in the home the first year of life. The first grouping of children who were able to be soothed upon reunification, were correlated with very strong infant-parent interactions in the home for the first year of life. The children in the other two groups often had parents who were insensitive to their needs or not consistent at the child care providers. While it was Bowlby that developed the initial research on attachment theory, it was not until the mid-1980 that researchers began to take seriously the possibility that attachment processes may play out in adulthood.  Hazen and Shaver (1987) explored these theories in the context of romantic relationships. Hazen and Shaver noted that the relationship between infants and caregivers and the relationship between adult romantic partners share the following features:

  • Both feel safe when the other is nearby and responsive
  • Both engage in close, intimate, bodily contact
  • Both feel insecure when the other is inaccessible
  • Both share discoveries with each other

The summary of their research was that the attachment of a child with their primary caregiver has a direct correlation with the bonding and relationships that an adult develops with other adults and partners. See, A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research, Internal Psychology, 2010, author, Chris Fraley. In the Baby Book, known by millions as the Baby Bible, by W. Sears et all reports that studies have shown that infants and toddlers who develop a secure “attachment” with their mothers (or fathers) during the first 60 months of life are better able to tolerate separation from them when they are older.  The book states that the benefits of “attachment” are that the baby:

  • is more trusting
  • feels more competent
  • grows better
  • feels right, acts right
  • is better organized
  • learns language more easily
  • establishes healthy independence, and
  • learns intimacy.

 

II. Cognitive Development Growing bodies of research shows that children with a stay at home parent are more likely to move successfully through the education system. The child will be better able to trust and learn from teachers, to face and overcome school problems, and to achieve the maximum potential his or her native abilities allow. This makes complete sense. When a child can look to one parent for comfort, support, mentoring, education and where the complete focus is on that one child, the child starts far ahead of others. Further, a child that feels safe, secure and bonded, also feels comfortable to explore, push boundaries and take in more information about the world and his/her surroundings. Rather than fighting for attention with other children in a day care environment, the only focus is the one child at all times. This exploration is vital to development. When an infant does not feel safe or comfortable because of detachment, they do not explore, play or develop new motor skills, vital to development. An exhaustive study was conducted by Christopher J. Ruhm of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, with the results published in April of 2002, exploring parental employment and child cognitive development. The following was discovered:

  • Working an extra 20 hours per week is anticipated to reduce test scores.
  • Job-holding during the second and third years has particularly deleterious consequences if the mother works long hours or was also employed in the first year.
  • Early work may be particularly costly for children in “traditional” two-parent families and the data also hint at the importance of time investments by fathers

Michael Meyerhoff of the Center for Parent Education has said,

“Over 90 percent of the professionals we deal with agree with our basic position-that full time substitute care for children under age three is not ordinarily in the best interest of the child.”

Many researchers have studied the relationship between changing caregivers and development. In children that lived through two or three changes, lack of development in language expression has been noted. Many teachers note a lack of general knowledge, colors, shapes, opposites, directions, parts of bodies, and so on. Similarly, frequent change in caregivers causes children to be more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior. They are more likely to threaten, swear, and argue with other children and figures of authority. Further, the US Department of Health and Human Services has said that children with a higher quantity of non-parental care exhibit increased behavioral problems. Lastly, children who experience inconsistent caregiving are more likely to develop depression and other emotional problem. Children experience anxiety when separated from their primary attachment figure. In cases of prolonged or sustained loss, an intense mourning process follows. When this mourning process continues beyond a normal period of time, it is viewed as an unresolved loss, which affects a child’s psyche. This is one of the many European countries provide new parents with 12 months of maternity leave. Child abuse can take many forms. Kids who are old enough to talk can at least tell us how they feel. But what about infants, and preverbal toddlers? In the 1990’s they have become helpless victims of “caregiver roulette”—frequent change of primary caregivers. Dr. Fox describes how these “can cause lifelong and severe emotional damage.” She charges that today we put our children at risk for lifelong behavioral problems by dumping them into daycare when they are too young. Nor is Dr. Fox alone in her concern about our youngest citizens:

  • Dr. T. Berry Brazelton (May, 1995) “Never before has one generation been less healthy, less cared for, less prepared for life than their parents were at the same age.”
  • Dr. Edward Zigler of Yale University—founder of Head Start “The years children spend in subpar daycare is a major cause of child violence and depression.”
  • The 4 College (Yale, California, North Carolina & Colorado) Study of 1995 reporting their findings about the quality of daycare pro-vided for infants and toddlers: 92% of all United States daycare facilities are “poor to mediocre.”
  • Dr. Burton White— author of New First Three years of Life: “After more than 20 years of research on how children develop well, I would not think of putting a child of my own into any substitute program on a full-time basis, especially a center based program.”
  • Dr. Laura Schlessinger stated: “Being There offers to parents a profound and unique understanding of how important it is to raise your own children.”

 

III. Economics There is a misconception that staying home does not provide any economic benefit, and that by working, a parent is better able to care for their child. By having one parent stay home, a family will avoid day care cost, likely be in a lower tax bracket, are less likely to eat out, spend less on commuting, and are able to lower the cost of home maintenance. The need for early pre-school or educational support tools is eliminated, because the at-home parent can provide those resources. There are also long-term economic benefits. Children that thrive with an at home parent are higher achievers, better learners and more likely to put less financial strain on parents in later years.  

 

IV. Parental Gains Initially, many parents view staying at home with a child as a career setback. It can be seen as a step away from social circles and in fairness a very large sacrifice in many respects. It would be ridiculous to ignore the social stigma that seems to have arisen for those parents who chose to be at home parents. What does a parent actually gain? Certainly there is no bonus for a job well done, or an opportunity to move up the ranks in parenthood. Instead, the gains are things that are difficult to measure and can only be evaluated on an emotional basis.

Knowing your child When someone else is with your child for 12-14 hours/day, they are the bonding unit, and they dictate your child’s eating, sleeping and play schedule. They provide the stimulus for the child’s development and they dictate what your child will see, learn and be exposed to. As a working parent, you have to rely upon those decisions and there is no opportunity to provide a complete control system. Often, the skills, values and opportunities that were important to you as a parent in the development of your child are replaced by the caregiver’s ideas of what is best for the child.

Reducing Guilt Associated with the Working Parent Often new parents are so overwhelmed by having a child; it is difficult to comprehend what lies ahead. It is impossible to imagine that your child will be in school in a very short period of time, and even in high school. Everything feels very now and very rushed. Nearly every parent will admit that they wish they had spent more time with their children. They will state that they wish they could have worked less and had more time to focus just on their children. Every parent laments how quickly the time passes and that there is no way to get it back. When children experience cognitive, social or emotional problems later in teenage years or adulthood, often parents look back at his/her employment decisions, knowing that not being there may be a contributing factor. When other people provide the child-care, they get to see the first of everything. They often feel the first tooth, see the first crawl and first steps. They often hear the first words and the get to revel in the milestones that are so essential to how our children grow and develop. Parents that chose to stay home get to be the first to watch their children struggle, succeed and grow. When the magical moments are relayed from a third party, they lose the magic. Instead of being etched in memory in a very visual way, the memory is that someone else saw it first.

Reduction of Stress While stay at home parents have an incredibly difficult job, they can focus on that job and not be torn into a million directions with the pressures of day-care, commuting, and job demands. The focus can stay in one place, rather than trying to split the parent into multiple worlds and roles. Trying to respond to the needs of a child and the needs of the workplace create constant conflict and stress to the working parent that is then carried over to the child. Exhausted and stressed parents, also creates conflict between parents and anger that can be felt and sensed by the child.  

 

V. Conclusion Making the decision to be an at home parent requires sacrifice and commitment. Most parents view what they give up in making the decision, rather than focusing on the gains to the child and to themselves. The research supports the fact that children with stay at home parents are more bonded, more secure, more stable, have better educational success rates and have better development. But, the gains to the parent are also apparent, in having the ability to shape the personality, values and goals of the child, as well as the constant satisfaction of the day to day role as an invested parent and caregiver.

 

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