A recent poll finds that most parents think outside child care improves their own well-being, and that of their child. But does that mean there’s a growing low parenting confidence problem?
A friend of mine recently shared that she felt her son’s child care provider taught him much more than she ever could. Her son is a year old.
I asked her to elaborate on what the daycare has taught him, and she referred to him sitting up, crawling, and learning how to eat solids — behaviors that, as I assured her, are the results of normal infant development that don’t need to be taught but rather would unfold naturally in any nurturing environment.
This conversation was really about an overall lack of parenting confidence and knowledge of infant development more than anything, but it reminded me of what I read recently on NPR about the results of a recent poll on child care: Most parents surveyed claim that child care improves their own well-being, and that of their child.
A total of 69% of mothers and 53% of fathers said their well-being was improved by having their child in daycare. Similar statistics — 64% of mothers and 49% of fathers — show that parents feel that daycare improves their relationship with their child.
Apparently, child care isn’t just for job purposes anymore. There appears to be real benefit to families to have a third party involved in the care and upbringing of their child, though this sounds a lot like a low parenting confidence problem to me.
Whether it’s an actual feeling that they can’t teach their child as well as a child care provider, or that they can’t find balance without a child care provider, or a whole other reason, I find it alarming that putting their children in substitute care carries more benefits than simply keeping a job.
It brings in the idea that parents don’t understand their value to their children, of what being a parent is all about. Sure, it’s good to strive for life balance and to find support in child-rearing, but daycare isn’t designed to provide parenting support. It’s designed to be a temporary substitute for the parent when Mom or Dad have unavoidable, child-unfriendly commitments.
Moreover, the NPR poll found that a strong 86% of parents feel that child care in early childhood has a major, positive impact on their child’s long-term well-being. Another benefit identified by parents in the survey was the link between daycare and school readiness, long-term health, and even job success in the child’s adult life.
When children are coming from low-quality homes, especially where hunger and emotional unavailability exists, I can see where there would be strong benefits to putting a child in daycare — and research backs this up.
But the research also backs up the reality that not even the best non-parental child care arrangement trumps the benefit of high-quality homes. So for parents to be so certain that substitute child care is so much better for their child’s well-being than a strong parent-child attachment nurtured in a high-quality home, this to me is heartbreaking.
In light of talk for universal preschool in the political arena, I hope that there is a voice of reason somewhere that points instead to the benefits of universal parenting support — an increased emphasis, or an emphasis at all, on the value of improving parents’ parenting know-how and confidence in how they themselves can create the best learning and development environment for their children.
At-risk populations have historically received more public health funding to address their parenting challenges, and that’s what the hope is from universal preschool — to benefit at-risk populations and improve their child outcomes — but we cannot forget the parents who fall in the majority. What will best benefit their children: putting their children in child care that can’t measure up to spending time at home with involved parents, or instead creating programs and opportunities to educate parents that their value far outweighs that of daycare?
For parents who feel that the benefit of school readiness is enough reason to choose child care over home care, I would like to suggest a change in perspective: Let’s consider not putting so much emphasis on academic performance that we forget about the well-researched need for a secure attachment foundation that all children — whether at-risk or not — require for short- and long-term health, emotional well-being, academic success, and job performance as adults. That secure attachment base, if available to a child at all, can only be found at home.