The A, B, C’s of Childcare Hell
On my About Peace of Cake Parenting page I vaguely mentioned how our family dynamic was rocky for the first couple of years. Something I unintentionally omitted from that page is that my husband and I had separated for about a year and half due to our dysfunction and lack of healthy communication skills, one of my major regrets in life. While we were separated I found my way to a podcast called Free Domain Radio hosted by Stefan Molyneux. I was presented with some divorce statistics and I had to swallow what’s called the jagged red pill. I had to admit that I screwed up big time and this mistake was significant. Luckily, my husband and I somehow found each other’s hearts again, and avoided giving our children a catastrophic childhood.
While my husband and I were separated I made the terrible decision to put my children in childcare so that I could work. About a year later I found some statistics on childcare; unfortunately, I had to swallow yet another very large and extremely sharp red pill. I had made another disastrous choice which could have been avoided if I had just done a little research.
Do I think you are a terrible and irreparable parent if you have put your child in childcare? No, but now that I have done the research I certainly have an obligation to share it with you.
Let’s start with attachment theory, which “is a psychological model that attempts to describe the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships between humans.”1 The main focus of attachment theory is the importance of an infant developing a relationship with at least one primary caregiver in order to flourish both socially and emotionally. John Bowlby did a lot of work on this theory in the 1930’s while working at clinic in the child psychiatry unit. “Bowlby stressed the importance of the mother’s physical accessibility.”2 Accessibility being described as the mother being physically available to the child if the child were to call out in need. Consistent accessibility in the first two years is crucial for the child to understand that they will have continuous access to their mother despite minor absences that they will experience later. So how does this play into childcare? Well when you leave a baby at a childcare center for hours a day the infant does not have access to the mother, her milk or her comfort, which results in anxiety.
Naturally, the longer you are away from someone the more distance there is between you. I understand that long-distance relationships can pump your body full of lust giving you the illusion that you are emotionally close with someone despite physical distance between you. While some of you might try to argue using this common example, the fact is distance cannot create closeness.
Adult couples living together have the matured understanding that when their spouse leaves for the day they will be returning at the end of that day (obviously, unless otherwise specified). For a small child with premature understanding this is not the case. On top of their lack of understanding, “When children spend more time in the care of someone other than their mothers, those mothers tend to show lower levels of sensitivity and there are fewer positive interactions between mother and child.”3 I don’t think that it is a coincidence that when the mothers get home they have less positive interactions with their children. Inescapably, distance between mother and infant results in a disconnect.
So, what happens when the child’s attachment to the mother is weakened? Behavioral problems? Social issues? Anxiety, as Bowlby suggested? Yes, yes, and yes. “Two new studies in the journal Child Development have rekindled the debate over the effects of non-maternal childcare on children’s behavior. Both studies found evidence that suggests the longer a child spends in child care, the more stress they may experience, and that could lead to the young to become aggressive and disobedient.”4
There is actually a stress hormone; it’s called cortisol. Cortisol is designed to aide our bodies in dealing with stress by shutting down functions, such as our immune system, when our cortisol levels rise. This explains why kids in childcare are always sick. Breakingmuscle.com explains, “In the morning, cortisol rises until it peaks around 8:00am. This helps us feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. As the day wears on, it falls gradually, reaching its lowest levels around 3:00-4:00am.”5
The question then is: Do these cortisol levels change when children are in childcare? Yes. The Institute of Child Development of the University of Minnesota found that kids younger than three had increased levels of cortisol in the afternoon during their full day in childcare. They say these cortisol levels fall again once they get home, but not until they get home. If your child is in childcare they probably aren’t home until after 5. That’s extra cortisol production daily for five days each week. Plus they’re missing the window for when their cortisol levels are naturally supposed to be lower. That’s awful! Before I move on from this point breakingmuscle.com mentions another significant problem with cortisol levels being too high:
(Note: They’re talking about adults here and not developing children whose hormones are trying to find balance.)
Bones and muscles are also affected by cortisol. Cortisol inhibits the uptake of amino acids into the muscle cells, making it damn near impossible to fuel muscle cells when cortisol levels are too high for too long. It also inhibits bone formation and decreases calcium absorption in the intestine. So, when cortisol is high, there’s no bone growth and no muscle growth. This could be problematic, no?6
Now that we know that the child’s relationship with their parent is weakened and they absolutely experience stress while in childcare, let’s proceed to the other consequences. Children who do not have a strong attachment bond with their parents have a greater chance of experiencing depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal. “Boys who do not have a secure attachment to their mothers are more likely to exhibit confrontational and aggressive behavior.”7 Psychology Today lists similar conclusions:
• Behavior problems: Even high-quality care did not reduce the number of behavior problems among those in childcare.
• Conflictual relationships: More time spent in center-based child-care led to reports of more conflict—with parents and teacher.
• Work habits: The greater the amount of time children spent in childcare in kindergarten, the more their teachers later reported that they do not work independently, did not use their time wisely, and did not complete their work promptly in grade school.
• Social-emotional functioning: How skilled children are with peers and how well they solve problems with them was negatively impacted by many hours in daycare.8
The fact that so many behavioral problems result from more hours in childcare, by definition, tells you that this way of life is dysfunctional.
You could try to argue that children in childcare tend to have better vocabularies, which seems to be the only positive that I have found, but honestly what kind of tradeoff is that? My child can speak well but they aren’t able to problem solve with peers, get work completed on time, and they tend to have a lot of conflict with authority figures as well as with peers. Besides the fact that that’s a bad trade, there’s two things: One, ending up with higher vocabulary skills isn’t the result of childcare magic. The employees need to be able to communicate with the children and, by nature, they won’t coddle them the same way mothers do. Which leads me to point number two; if parents put more effort into working with their child on communication, instead of allowing them point and grunt, then I would be willing to bet almost everything that stay at home moms would get the same (if not better) results.
If you have read even one of my other posts then you know that I think that parents have the biggest role in their child’s development. That is, unless you choose to give your child to someone else for eight or more hours a day, five or more days a week. That includes public school, which I have already covered in The A, B, C’s of Public School Hell. You are the parent and the choices you make is what impacts your child the most. Your child doesn’t have a choice but you do.
1) Attachment theory, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory
2) Early Mother-Child Separation, Parenting, and Child Well-Being in Early Head Start Families, by Anne Martin , Lisa J. Berlin & Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, on Jan 13, 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3115616/
3 & 7) The Negative Effects of Day Care on Children, by Maria Magher, on August 12, 2015, http://www.livestrong.com/article/77119-psychological-effects-sending-children-day/
4) The Negative Effects of Childcare?, by Rome Neal, on July 16, 2003, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-negative-effects-of-childcare/
5 & 6) The Ups and Downs of Cortisol: What You Need To Know, by Vanessa Bennington, https://breakingmuscle.com/learn/the-ups-and-downs-of-cortisol-what-you-need-to-know
8) Daycare: Raising Baby Does daycare affect a child’s behavior and development? It all depends on the quality of care., by Hara Estroff Marano, on April 29, 2007, https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200704/daycare-raising-baby