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The Big Answer


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Making Care Work: Employed Mothers in the New Childcare Market

a book by Lynet Uttal and Linda J. Waite

(our site's book review)

What some call the "most wrenching personal problem facing millions of American families" (finding quality childcare) has not been eased by the development of market-based daycare services during the 1990s. And having more childcare options does not create more confidence and trust in other people's care for one's child, report the authors.

Parents have good reason to doubt the quality of care, especially in childcare centers and family childcare homes. In 1995, one study of centers and family childcare homes determined these unfortunate statistics:

(The trends in childcare quality are not encouraging: From the 1970s to the 1990s good/excellent quality care went from 38% to 12% in childcare homes and 26% to 13% in centers.)

 From the 1970s to the 1990s good/excellent quality care went from 38% to 12% in childcare homes and 26% to 13% in centers
From the 1970s to the 1990s good/excellent quality care went from 38% to 12% in childcare homes and 26% to 13% in centers

Most mothers, whether in married couple arrangements or single mothers, are joining the workforce or continuing work in the workforce. So the transfer of the daily care of young children from their employed parents to other caregivers like daycare and home care and relatives and friends has become common practice in the United States. Most mothers find it difficult to determine the true quality of care when they leave kids in daycare or home care, and most worry a lot about that care—or lack of care.

“In 1997, the White House Conference on Childcare formally shifted the debate from whether children should be in care to what kind of care should be provided and by whom,” report the authors. The shift from “whether mothers should be working” to the question of “how the quality of care could be improved,” caused national attention to began to focus on supporting working families through creating quality childcare programs to promote healthy child development. This was a very healthy development that was a long time coming, since conservative, regressive ideologies held it back.

In 1997, the NICHD found "no direct effects of child care, either time of entry, amount of care, quality, stability or type of care, on infant-mother attachment." This silenced many of the fears mothers had about using childcare centers, since many sources, especially traditional conservative ones, had been telling everyone who would listen that care by anyone but the children’s parents was bad for the kids—especially infant-mother attachment.

Conservatives had been telling everyone that care by anyone but the children’s parents was bad for the kids, and yet mother-only care was very stressful for mother and kids alike
Conservatives had been telling everyone that care by anyone but the children’s parents was bad for the kids, and yet mother-only care was very stressful for mother and kids alike

Kids of employed mothers seemed to be less concerned about the amount of time that their mothers spent with them, and more aware of the quality of that time, in studies, report the authors. The term “quality time” arrived on the scene as mothers dropped their guilt at using formal childcare and replaced it with concern over the quality of that time. This, too, was a very healthy development that was a long time coming, since conservative, regressive ideologies, once again, held it back. See ‘I Surveyed More Than 1,000 People to Find Out How Having a Working Mom Really Affects Kids’ .

Surveys are great marketing, sociological, and demographic research tools
Surveys are great marketing, sociological, and demographic research tools

The authors present in this book a look at the evolution of childcare in the U.S. over the past couple of decades. It has lots of statistics and research results. The subtitle Employed Mothers in the New Childcare Market shows the book’s focus. The book connects the personal level of mothers' daily experience to the larger political, economic, and ideological context of child care as both paid labor and as intimate care work. Lynet Uttal formally interviewed a great number of mothers in the 1990s about their childcare usage and how they felt about it. This book evolved from these conversations, among other things. A formal market-based childcare reality is a relatively recent development, although mothers have compensated caregivers with material things, money, room and/or board, and caregiving exchanges for countless years back into the past. This book provides a good overview of that reality.