Study shmudy, follow your heart
by Sheila Velazquez
n a recent show, Dr. Laura read a newspaper article about a federally funded daycare for Hispanic children in Georgetown. The program is having trouble filling all the spots. Pregnant and expectant mothers are being visited and pressured to place their babies in the institutionalized setting where "professionals" can teach them things they might not learn at home, such as affection, love, trust and bonding.
Dr. Laura questioned whether there was a "conspiracy" here. The mothers said that in their countries you take care of your own child or have a family member watch him for short periods. Children are not left with strangers.
In the May issue of the Journal of Developmental Psychology, a well-publicized study concluded that it doesn't matter whether moms stay home with their children or leave them in daycare. It hyped the old quality over quantity of time spent with the kids and said much depended on the caliber of the daycare.
In a television segment discussing the study, the working mothers interviewed were well-paid professionals. I'm sure they can afford the best daycare and help at home so that they can spend that quality time with their kids. But even their children are missing out on the mothering that no amount of money can buy.
The study found that language and cognitive development are directly related to the quality of daycare but countered that these deficits diminish as the child ages. Which brings up the question of whether the educational system is working around kids who would be entering school with higher degrees of skills had they spent the first years of their lives getting the exclusive attention of their moms.
Mom has always been the center of her child's universe. She has taught her family's values, developed her children's emotional and learning skills and has been the rock a child could cling to in the choppy waters of growing up.
We condemn child abuse, but what about child neglect? Not just of children who are unfed, unwashed and unwanted, but also of the children who are deprived of nurturing or just plain ignored. Brain development depends on attention and affection. Children need to be held and rocked and kissed and sung to by the people who love them. Purple dinosaurs and electronic toys may be a distraction, but they can't provide the basic needs of childhood.
We've seen studies of baby monkeys and other social animals who develop dysfunctional behavior when deprived of affection and care. We know that most brain development occurs before age five. There are no guarantees of course, and even the most conscientious parenting doesn't always result in perfect children.
But I do believe a rebirth of mothering and family involvement in raising them would be an ounce of prevention--maybe even a cure for what ails us as a society. Our family values representatives should be taking a hard look at supporting families who choose the method of child rearing favored by "backward" cultures.
Sheila Velazquez is an award-winning, self-syndicated newspaper columnist and freelance writer, mother of four and grandmother of five. Her articles also appear in parenting and women's magazines. Sheila posts columns at her modest website.