Follow by Email

24 February 2013


When we left off last week, I gave some dismal numbers that probably left you a bit irritated about the condition of parental support for early life childcare. But there was a silver lining: that if America were to support parents in taking extended (6 months) leave to be home with their infants, our society as a whole could see benefits that are valued at as much as $17 to $1 of investment by some world renowned economists.

That's all fine and well, but most of us don't ask the monetary value of nursing our baby 8 times a day, or spending 20 minutes a day stacking blocks, knocking them over and laughing about it for a week. So, let's talk in human terms. What does it mean for parents to be home caring for their infant? and what does it mean for parents to be separated from their baby because they have to work?
  • Recent research has shown a clear relationship between early experiences, like nursing, and longterm behavior reinforcing the commonly held belief that these experiences influence the "wiring" of a baby's brain. To wit: what happens to an infant shapes his or her brain, for better or worse, even as brain plasticity is reduced as the child reaches 3 years old. The wiring of the brain in early years builds a foundation for every developmental ability that will occur in life, literally determining neural architecture.
  • Researchers have seen that both paid and unpaid maternity leaves facilitate maternal benefits including lessened depressive symptoms and severe depression, and support improved health generally. We know that how the mother feels is directly felt by her child and strongly effects how she behaves with her child at this very vulnerable period in brain development.
  • Oddly or not, only paid leave had a beneficial effect on infant health during a mother's leave. Perhaps this is why researchers recommend a minimum of 6 months of full-time breastfeeding, but at least 4 months if 6 cannot be managed, and - as most working mothers have experienced - mama needs to be home to make that happen. (From other sources: all mama needs to do is smell her baby and milk flows. Separate mama and baby, and that process is arrested.)
  • Personally, I was relieved to hear this book report that many moms echoed the sentiments I felt daily, and repeated them: "I know my baby is in a good place, but I know what she needs best." "I feel stressed (or guilty) that I am not with my baby during these months." "I am being 'cheated out of an important experience.'" "If he could only sit up (usually happens reliably between 6 and 7 months), I would feel better [less horrible] about leaving him."
  • Urie Bronfrenbrenner, developmental psychologist, is quoted as saying, "in order to develop normally, a child needs the enduring, irrational involvement of one or more adults in care of and joint activity with that child... somebody has to be crazy about that kid."
  • The authors boil down the relevant research about parent-child relations to this: "It is almost as if parents and babies are programmed to care for each other."
  • Erik Erikson is supported in his notion that the most fundamental task of infant caregivers is to form basic trust.
  • Some research has shown that if the mother returns to work full time at any point in the first year of life, children show cognitive delays at 3, 4 or 5, and sometimes as late as 7 or 8 years old. (New research shows that if that return to work brings significant funding into the house, and care provided is ok, the negative effects are negated.) When fathers supplement some of that care - lesser effects are seen.
  • Additionally, at least one recent study showed that extended hours of nonmaternal care (more than full time work) were linked to greater impulsivity and risk taking as late at 15 years old. Additionally, research has shown elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels in children 12 - 24 months old who were cared for out of the home [I've seen this, it's very disturbing; my child didn't act like himself, he was inconsolable and miserable until falling asleep.] In some kids it gets high enough to call "toxic stress" triggering fear, anxiety and aggression.
  • By the same token, babies 3 to 54 months old who were in 30 hours or less per week of day care did not show greater behavioral problems than those home with a parent full time.
  • But if you're like me, and have no choice but to go back to work when your baby is just 19 weeks old, hear this: "Across all outcome measures, the influence of parents appears to be greater than that of nonparental child care. Put simply, parent-child interactions have a much stronger effect on the child's development than does the child's experience in out-of-home care." So, if you have to go back, and you don't work too much, and you love that child as much as you can, your child is really going to be ok.
But it all boils down to one thing for me: that those irrationally crazy-about-the-baby parents should be able to be with their child at this critical time in their child's life if they chose. And society should help them do it. Our society should help us do it.

Please leave your comments, thoughts, concerns and even additional research if you've got it below. Let's talk about what all of this means, for us, today, as moms and dads in the real world.

Research above is reported from  Time Off With Baby: The Case for Paid Care Leave by Edward Zigler, Susan Muenchow and Christopher J. Ruhm, 2012.

17 February 2013


So now that both Howard Dean and President Barack Obama are talking, will the nation start listening?

While Obama took the "attainable goals" (please don't laugh, these are our kids, right?) approach, Howard Dean, followed his typical "hold no prisoners" route. And God bless him, because I'm not likely to drop my zero-to-three advocacy, and Lord knows we could use a very public defender on our side on this debate, yes, even if it's due to make us all laugh (these are our kids, right?).

So, now that the conversation has been publicly reopened on early care by Mr. Dean, and pre-school by Mr. President, let me give you some ammunition. I accepted it as my obligation to read Time Off with Baby: The Case for Paid Care Leave (thank you, Tris) in November after writing my last post. But let me tell you this is one motha' of a text, and it took me a while to distill for you only the most exciting, gut-wrenching and salient points, so that when we do make our elevator speeches, by golly, we leave our listeners downright nauseated. Are you with me!?

I'll try to convey what I've learned in a few posts so we can both maintain sanity. Since it's what America knows best (I have a pet theory that slavery sowed the seed of capitalism), let's put our money where our mouths are. For today, we'll talk economics, because if we don't start there, as you know, in the U S of A, we will never get anywhere. (When you talk to the Devil use his language.)

Major bullets, compliments of authors Edward Zigler, Susan Muenchow and Christopher J. Ruhm:

  • Nobel economist James Heckman determined that investment in the earliest years of life yields higher returns than can be achieved through funding any other time in the lifespan: for each DOLLAR invested in early childhood, between $4 and $17 - SEVENTEEN - are saved. In societal terms, we reduce crime, teen pregnancy and welfare need, and increase schooling, workforce productivity and health. I'd like a taste of that ROI!
  • Full-time Center-based care for an infant in 2009 ranged in cost from $4570 in Mississippi to $18993 in Massachusetts: the average annual cost then was more than the average annual cost of a year's tuition and fees at a 4-year public college in 40 states. Did you plan to pay for 8 years of higher education per child?
  • When Educare, a research-based childcare production set out to initiate programs in a few locations to provide exactly what infants, babies and pre-schoolers needed in day care, cost was estimated at $16K - $17K per year per child ... in Maine. So, when your child receives what he or she deserves by scientifically established humane standards, developed to support your child's beneficial growth - mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and physically - it actually costs as much as higher education.
  • By today's standards, the government has agreed that childcare must cost no more than 20% of income above the poverty line to be considered "affordable". A month of my child's not-bad-at-all, probably not stellar 2-year-old day care for 3 days per week costs me one week of take home pay. That's 25% of my above-poverty line salary, as an officer, by the way. Let's thank God, once more, that I'm married and my husband is home two days a week, because if not, I'd be shelling out 33% of my take home pay on daycare.
I'm going to ruin the ending of the book for you, just so we're on the same page here (ba da bum bum bum). In California parents are already provided with a shared approximately 50% pay for 6 months of early child care leave. And after doing the math, spending some serious time with babies and mothers, then dropping in on the work world, these economists are recommending a federal program that offers California's benefits in all 50 states. Not so much because that's what's best for the family or baby but because of everything out there which would probably be better (in Europe some moms get paid for up to 2 years), this is a compromise that is affordable for our nation as she stands now, and gives families the best start within the limitations we face through a policy that we might actually pass. Attainable goals, people. The authors wanted to be taken seriously.

This is a picture of my son with his Aunt. Why? Because my son is one of those lucky children who is loved and cared for by the whole village. Some children are not that fortunate. And while we may not be able to get everyone involved in taking care of every child, we can all be involved in supporting at least the two people who matter most: mama and daddy, so that they can give everything they have to raising their child.

Not sure moms and dads matter so much?? - check in with me next week.

And let's talk! Add your comments and questions and thoughts below!