Being There: The Benefits of a Stay-at-Home Parent
During the past few years, few issues have generated more heated debate and emotional response than the subject of this book. Being There: The Benefits of a Stay-At Home Parent deals with the dilemma many new and expectant parents face when considering who will care for their Infant toddler, or young child.
This book is written mainly for those parents who are, or can be, in a financial position to make some choices involving child care. It attempts to help those mothers and fathers appreciate the value of their presence in the lives of their children, and the profound importance of continuity of care in the first preverbal years, particularly for parents who feel they must work full-time. Furthermore, the book explores how each parent can play an essential role in discipline, cognitive function, language development, and the teaching of social and moral values.
I warn of the dangerous effects of "caregiver roulette." This term describes the pervasive use of frequently changing caregivers that is now endemic to millions of young children. Usually, when both mother and father are employed full-time, 80 percent of the child's waking hours are spent with substitute caregivers. Unfortunately, these caregivers change with disturbing frequency, often every four or five months. I explain how such discontinuity of care is emotionally devastating, with life-long negative results, because it affects the ability of children to trust their important primary care-givers. This in turn affects their ability to relate to others, to learn, to develop an optimistic approach to life, and even to abide by the rules of society.
The many problems relating to changing caregivers seem to be overlooked probably because their consequences often do not show up until years later. Only recently have we begun to realize that children can experience serious emotional reactions to this "loss" during infancy.
It is also clear that this message concerning the importance of continuity of quality care is disturbing and, for many, guilt producing. As a result, parents may reject the conclusion that frequent changes in caregivers can have long-range effects. It is understandable that many may grow angry at the message, and look elsewhere for comfort.
I realize that some mothers and fathers may be hostile, rejecting, or non-responsive to their own children. It is also true that many substitute caregivers can provide a nurturing environment in which infants and toddlers thrive. However; this book addresses the majority of mothers and fathers, who do have the emotional health and motivation to become involved and loving caregivers to their children.
I want to emphasize my own commitment to the idea that career fulfillment is just as important for women to achieve as for men. I have no wish to raise a regressive voice in the struggle of women to further their professional goals and ambitions and to enhance their economic power base. Nor do I care to be a part of any "backlash" against the feminist movement. Rather; my aim in writing this book is to shift the focus to the needs of our infants and toddlers and other young children as well as attempting to raise the consciousness and status of parenting so that both mothers and fathers grow to respect and appreciate this role.
One of today's difficulties is that many young people are programmed to feel they can have all aspects of the "good life" at the same time. In other words, they feel they should he able to simultaneously experience the joys of parenthood, the stimulation and ego gratification of a career; and the increased material benefits of two incomes, and to do justice to all of these goals. Actually, it is possible to achieve all these goals in a lifetime, but not concurrently if young children are to be considered.
My position is that one parent, either mother or father, should act as primary caregiver at least during the child's preverbal years. This is approximately the first two or three years of life. During this time, a parent may find it necessary to put his or her career "on hold" while parenthood temporarily takes precedence. During this brief part of the child's life, parents who provide positive and responsive parenting make a valuable investment in the future of their child, their family, and society. It is an investment that has the potential to pay large dividends to all in the years to come.
I have enormous sympathy for today's parents who are confronted with many economic, social, and media pressures that past generations have been spared. But, I was motivated to write this book for the sake of our young children who are often the victims of today's parental choices.
These young children, who cannot speak for themselves, have few support groups. They have few advocates or spokespersons to plead their cause. They cannot pressure or plead for quality and continuity of care with money, votes, or energy. They are too young and too powerless.
Therefore, this book attempts to speak for these young children, while recognizing the difficult dilemma their parents face today.
Four Central Goals
My book has four central goals:
1. To impart an understanding of basic attachment theory. Attachment theory explains how we become secure, first as children and later as adults. The English psychiatrist, John Bowlby, was one of the first authorities to observe and describe the significance of early bonding between infants and their mothers and to develop attachment theory to explain behavior. The theory explains that the infant feels most secure when it is in close proximity to the person who cares for him or her. This "attachment" between the newborn infant and the caregiver begins to form very early in the infant's life, as he or she is nurtured during the hundreds of interactions necessary for survival. Slowly, the infant learns that a particular caregiver provides a predictable, safe, and comfortable world for the infant. An attachment begins to form and grow with this caregiver who is constantly available to the baby. It is with and because of this person that the very young child develops a secure base from which he or she feels free to explore their world.
I explain how stranger anxiety and separation anxiety is a normal part of the infant's development, how children become "securely attached," "anxiously attached," or "detached." Furthermore, my book discusses how infants and toddlers create "working models," which are expectations of how they will be treated in the future. The reaction of children to loss and separation are also
2. To show the advantages-to both the child and the family-of parental involvement in the child rearing process throughout the childhood years. Parents can play a very important part in the cognitive, emotional, and social development of their children. While substitute caregivers may offer adequate care, motivated parents will usually be able to provide a far richer and more nurturing social and intellectual environment for their children. Such parental involvement is of great value in the early preverbal years as well as the later years of childhood. Generally, the parent will be more willing and enthusiastic in protecting, holding, cuddling, comforting, feeding, playing with, stimulating, and communicating with their infant and toddler. And, as the child grows and matures, both in the preschool and school years, parents are also generally better able to stimulate, educate, and protect the child and enrich his or her life. Parents play an important role in language development, in discipline, in communicating moral and social values, in providing enriched play environments, and in the creation of family rituals and traditions for the family.
3. To explain how "caregiver roulette," or frequently changing caregivers for infants and toddlers, can cause profound emotional damage as bonds and attachments are disrupted and how these events can produce long-range and even lifetime problems. Researchers have confirmed that many children who experience discontinuity of early primary caregivers, and who therefore do not develop secure attachments, are at a much increased risk for the development of problems that increasingly plague our society.
inability to learn a moral code and obey our laws;
inability to successfully learn from teachers and traverse our educational system;
inability to resist the temptations of drugs, alcohol, and substance abuse;
inability to form and sustain intimate relations and consequent problems in getting and staying married;
increased susceptibility to serious mental illness such as depression.
4. To provide solutions and practical approaches for all families in providing continuity of care for young children. I explain how all parents can take steps to provide continuity of child care. These suggestions cover single parents as well as parents in "nuclear" families. They cover families with minimal incomes as well as families with ample incomes and assets.
a description of the many different methods by which parents with varying incomes can find substitute care-givers who could provide the needed continuity and thus help to avoid disruptions caused by changing caregivers;
alternative arrangements that will allow parents themselves to more fully participate in the childrearing process. For those parents whose finances are tight, but who nevertheless wish to care for their own children, suggestions are made that will help parents to achieve these goals utilizing their creativity and motivation.
My book acknowledges that the grave social problems I describe are not entirely caused by frequently changing care-givers in the preverbal lives of our children. Of course, there are other causes. However; there is a growing body of clinical evidence to show that frequent losses and separations involving primary caregivers are factors that have a profound impact on a child's future, and that poor attachment experiences are one of the significant causes of long-range problems for children. These concerns have been voiced by many prominent authorities in the mental health community, such as John Bowlby, T. Berry Brazelton, Alan Sroufe, Jay Belsky, Mary Ainsworth, Mary Main, Selma Fraiberg, Ken Magid, Penelope Leach, and others.
It is my concern that many parents in the 1990s are not aware of the existence or the significance of caregiver roulette. Nor are they aware of the profound benefits provided by a stay-at-home parent.
There is another less obvious and less discussed benefit from parental presence. Whether or not both parents work away from home, accidents can happen to infants and toddlers. Also, we know that angers can flare, negative care can occur, and children can be frightened. But at least parents who are at home know of these events and have the opportunity to take their child to a doctor if sick or injured, or to otherwise demonstrate concern and affection. Thus, they can more immediately and appropriately respond as loving parents to their child.
It is my sincere hope and intent to encourage both expectant and new parents to make whatever temporary sacrifices and adjustments are required in order that they can be there for our youngest citizens during their most vulnerable and formative years.
We all know that seeds are more likely to flower abundantly and bear delicious fruit if they are planted in fertile soil, watered regularly, and nourished with plenty of sunshine. Children are no different.