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May 14, 2007

Traditionalist Bias

"An important parenting study came out in March. It tracked the effects of good fathering on 19,000 children born in 2000 and 2001 and found that by age three a child would have more emotional and behavioral problems if the father had not taken time off after the birth," writes J. Goodrich. It was roundly ignored by the press. Goodrich continues:

Another study, published the same month, did get that kind of attention...It was about daycare and its possible deleterious behavioral effects on children, especially when compared to children reared by stay-at-home mothers. It found that children who had attended high-quality daycare had better vocabularies as late as age ten, but also exhibited more "problem behavior," with their teachers more likely to report aggression and disobedience. The researchers stressed that the children's behavior was "within the normal range and was not considered clinically disordered".

But the popularized message was a little different, at least as seen in the headlines selected for reports on the study. The Times chose "Poor Behavior Is Linked to Time in Day Care." The International Herald Tribune picked "Study Links Extensive Child Care with More Aggressive Behavior in School." And the Telegraph of the U.K. went with the even more guilt-inducing "How Nurseries 'Still Breed Aggression'."

As Goodrich shows, the media is all too eager to trumpet studies* -- methodological rigor be damned -- that encourage adherence to traditional gender roles for parents interested in raising healthy children. The reports exploit deep anxieties about the tradeoffs necessitated by the need for two incomes, even as data shows plenty of problems for a child growing up without sufficient assets and monetary support. This is not to encourage the suppression of worrying science, of course. Results are results, and goo data should be publicized. But the striking gulf -- and Goodrich offers many example -- between the attention lavished on traditionalist findings and the relative obscurity of findings that militate towards an evolution in family roles is telling.

*I should of course note here that, unlike bloggers, the media's only concern in the whole wide world is capital-T Truth, and that any agenda apparent in their reporting surely results from a grievous error in my analysis.

May 14, 2007 | Permalink


a view from the inside...

children can endure almost anything if they know they are deeply loved.
i can vouch for days being very long for extremely young children who are left in daycare...particularly when they are not feeling well.
they miss their parents so much.
....little children really do need a great deal of love and attention and nurturing.
if they are in daycare, and not receiving that tenderness from the caretakers there, they are going to be severely shortchanged all aspects of their development, without a doubt.
there is absolutely no getting around it...little children need lots of love. they desperately need to bond. they need to feel that they can deeply trust the person who is caring for them.
...more than adults, they know the difference right away.
children can tell the truth about a situation in a fraction of a second. there is no fooling a child, ever.
there is little harder in my day than watching two year olds saying good-bye to their mothers and fathers..
some will bang on the door, others will pinch themselves, many will cry or look disoriented until they are rescued with love and holding and extreme gentleness.
the ones who know they are staying all day, really suffer when their mother or father walks out of the door.
it takes enormous love to help them separate each day at the door.
...when they see the other mothers and fathers coming to pick up children, and their parent isnt there, their hearts break.
one little girl carries the children's backpacks to the mothers at the end of the day, just to get attention from a parent until hers shows up.
....children really want to be with their mothers and fathers. the truth is, there is no substitute.
no matter how they are treated, they still love their mother and father the best.
they see them as perfect and unreplaceable completion in their world.
in the real world, of course, we must all do the best we can to manage our lives, but without love, attention and tenderness, it is not possible for a little child to thrive.

Posted by: jacqueline | May 14, 2007 11:04:08 AM

We really need a social system where parental leave, for both men and women, is a given. Why Americans don't insist on this (as well as mandatory amounts of paid vacation per year for all employees) is a mystery to me. As a new father, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a couple of weeks off when my son was born. But had I taken more than that, I think it would have been viewed as professionally suspect. Most men I know took very little time off when their kids were born, either because they couldn't or they feared for their professional reputations.

As for the day care discussion in the comment above, I think its totally over the top. My son was in day care from four months old on (he's now 14) and only seemed upset by it when he changed locations a couple of times when he was in the 2 to 3 year age range. Those moments passed rather quickly, lasting a couple of days at most. Kids enjoy being with other kids for the most part and as long as they are in a nurturing setting will thrive. (The absence of demand for government help with child care costs/regulation is also puzzling.) Having one parent stay at home full time with a child is simply not always the best arrangement for a lot of families.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | May 14, 2007 12:35:00 PM

We really need a social system where parental leave, for both men and women, is a given.

Yep, and I've often said that six weeks is a perfectly adequate leave when a baby is born... for the dad. It boggles my mind that people don't seem to want to be equal parents (except when the custody battles begin); the usual gender stereotypes & territorial pissing matches over working & household stuff is annoying in its predictability, but as much as it sucks, there's really a lot of value in both partners being full-time participants in baby boot camp. After all, plenty of men complain that women act like the kids are mostly theirs, but the truth is that the greater investment in them starts literally within hours or days of birth, when the dad heads back to work and she's alone to figure all the details out on her own. It's really not so much a matter of natural feminine talent as living in a closed, intensely interactive environment with the kid 24/7, for weeks or months on end. I'm sure escaping that pressure cooker for the more manageable responsibilities of breadwinning seems pretty appealing in the short term, but that same pressure cooker fosters the stronger attachment to the primary caregiver. Anyway, it should be a no-brainer, IMO.

Oh, and I also agree with KTLN about the daycare thing... flexibility is good for both parents & kids i order to maximize trust & bonding, but not even hunter-gatherers were the sole caretakers of their own children for months or years: that's what old people & older kids were for.

Posted by: latts | May 14, 2007 12:59:08 PM

"As Goodrich shows, the media is all too eager to trumpet studies* -- methodological rigor be damned -- that encourage adherence to traditional gender roles for parents interested in raising healthy children."

This is certainly true, and perhaps even more true in the conservative media. Back in I think 2001 or 2002 a report came out taking about worse outcomes for children raised in daycare over children raised by stay-at-home moms, which as far as I was able to determine simply didn't bother looking at stay-at-home dads. Boston talk radio host Jay Severin spent the day drawing from this the conclusion that moms need to stay home because they're better than dads are at raising children, even thought the study didn't address that issue at all. I did some followup research and found that there are actually a variety of studies specifically comparing outcomes based on which parent was the stay-at-home parent, and the kids with stay-at-home dads actually did better in many cases. The theory for explaining this result was that those kids got more exposure to both parents because in Stay-at-home Mom situations the mother would be the caretaker during the day and the evening, but in stay-at-home dad situations the dad would be the caretaker during the day and the mom would take over when she got home from work.

But the media is so interested in finding "science" that backs up anti-feminist positions that they're often blind to the actual conclusions of the research.

Posted by: Galen | May 14, 2007 1:20:32 PM

The truth is that staying home with infants can get incredibly stressful. I can remember after my wife returned to work and we would have had a terrible long weekend of parenting that the phrase "Thank God it's Monday" became rather commonplace for us.

When they get older though, the time together can be great. Then the schools step in with onerous home work amounts, so that the natural balance of misery is restored.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | May 14, 2007 1:40:50 PM

It's hard to know how much to make of this. Goodrich is drawing from a book that appears to want to make a certain point, and it appears that both the book and Goodrich are more interested in making the point than in how well established it is. I don't doubt that the media tend to play up stories that appeal to anxieties of parents, especially mothers. I have more doubt that this results in an unfair bias to support traditional roles and undermine nontraditional ones outside the sources we would expect to be biased that way. Citing Rush Limbaugh and other conservative sources that are intentionally biased doesn't show anything about that. Without a more careful study that gets beyond the obvious selection bias problem that can easily arise in this kind of argument, it's hard to draw any conclusions. (That is, it's hard to tell whether this is more than cherry-picking on the part of Goodrich and her source of cases that fit their theory.)

I noticed that methodological issues were raised in connection with the studies purporting to give reasons to fear nontraditional roles, but studies tending the other way were given a pass on that. To take the first study focused on, about the effects of paternal leave on health outcomes for young children, the "study" cited is actually a digest of a study. The full study gives no data on this point (that I can find--only a report of correlation) and doesn't even attempt to control for very plain confounding variables or show causation. As the study points out, fathers taking leave from work to be with their families at birth is highly correlated with income, ethnicity and other factors themselves highly correlated with health outcomes for the child. It's really a stretch to even suggest, given the study cited, that paternal leave has any causal effect on the health outcomes of the child. (This isn't to say paternal leave isn't a great thing, only that this isn't great evidence for that.)

Posted by: Sanpete | May 14, 2007 2:28:13 PM

The truth is that staying home with infants can get incredibly stressful.

Absolutely... but the sort of perverse benefit is that it is a good bonding experience, at least with a newborn, because there's really no better way to forge a connection with a creature who has almost nothing in the way of communication skills except by close observation and trial & error. I've long been both fascinated & repelled by common gender assumptions about intimacy, because emotional intimacy seems to be pretty well tied to routine (and let's face it, onerous) caretaking. Naturally, I'm in favor of this being a shared endeavor, because it's not fair to either place those emotional burdens on women or deny men those opportunities for greater connection to their kids-- and I'd gladly give up the silly idea that true emotional connection is an XX-chromosome talent, when it's mostly based on day-to-day investment in someone else's welfare (which, btw, is not by definition 24/7 grind, except when a newborn or invalid is involved) .

Posted by: latts | May 14, 2007 2:32:13 PM

I agree that the routine care taking is really important and should be shared. I changed enough diapers to know -- indeed, it ceases to be much of big deal soon enough.

But there is a very nice moment in parenting where you get to pitch all of the damned equipment. The stroller, diaper bag, portacrib, snuggly, bottles, sippy cups, etc., and you feel like a new man or woman. And then you can enjoy the bonds without feeling in bondage.

I remember riding on the subway with my son one day for four hours continuously, just going from terminal to terminal, while reading a Harry Potter book to him. We only stopped because my voice gave out. He would have ridden the train to nowhere and listened to me read all day. And that was a sweet day.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | May 14, 2007 3:28:59 PM

Read the Moynihan report

Posted by: Fred Jones | May 14, 2007 3:59:51 PM

I don't think the kid would have appreciated the Moynihan Report. Even riding on the subway, it would have been a tough sell.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | May 14, 2007 4:27:19 PM

I don't think the kid would have appreciated the Moynihan Report.

It's a jagged little pill to swallow for those who wish to help the poor minorities gain ground. For telling the truth, Moynihan was admonished by his own party. Now, he has been vindicated. It's the little liberal secret that no one wishes to talk about.

Posted by: Fred Jones | May 14, 2007 4:54:36 PM

dear ktln....

as a mother of three, someone who has been with children everyday for the past thirty-six years,works as a nanny and someone who teaches each day in a preschool program with two year olds, i can assure you that absolutely nothing i said is over the top.
....unless there are financial or emotional circumstances that require children to be in daycare at the age of four months, it is surely not an optimal place for them to be.
.....children need parents, especially at four months old. we can pretend they dont, to assuage our consciences, but there is lots of bonding and building trust, exposure to illnesses and being ill when they really need to be at home, not to mention imposed routines and overstimulation...constant noise levels and socialization.
....one hopes that infants and small toddlers will be entrusted to extremely loving caregivers, and children can withstand a lot...especially when at four months of age, they dont have the voice to tell you what they really are thinking.
....sometimes, our two year olds come in, pale and tired, their nose is running. they are coughing.sometimes tugging at an ear.
this is the norm for most of them all winter. by eleven in the morning, they are zoned out and sucking on the edge of a blanket. they dont have the words to tell you how tired they are...but we look at them with loving hearts, and know ezactly where they want to be.
.....and it isnt in the playground or in circle time.
truly, it would be in a nice, warm and quiet house with a parent who loves them.
......i know it isnt a perfect world, but the truth is the truth.
parents may not know this because after ten minutes, they are out of the door and starting their day, but we, as caretakers, know how the day progresses....and thankfully, we are there to fill in with abundant love and caring.
...unless there are extenuating circumstances, give children the gift of time at home until they are two.
they can have all of the socialization they need in a mommy and me program.
....we dont need to be turning four month olds to fend for themselves without a very good reason.

Posted by: jacqueline | May 14, 2007 5:11:32 PM

Generally, a good rule of thumb is that if Fred recommends a policy proposal, it has as a bonus, if not a central argument, some mechanism that relegates women or minorities (ethnic or religious) to a lower status in some way. He's reliable, if nothing else.

Posted by: latts | May 14, 2007 5:15:41 PM

It was a joke Fred. I know what the Moynihan Report is -- and he was so dishonored by his party that he became a four term Democratic senator.

The report was over 40 years ago. It could have been Ezra's father.

But you guys on the right never get tired of banging that drum. Makes you feel justified in backing all of the racist pols in the GOP.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | May 14, 2007 5:19:46 PM


Jesus, I wasn't feeling guilty at all, but that is one creepy little diatribue, more in sorrow than anger and all that. Guess what -- when my kid was sick he didn't go to daycare. One of us stayed home with him, frequently me, as I had more seniority in my job, more leave, etc. And yes, they do get sick more frequently in a group setting at that age for a while. But then, later on they are the kids not getting sick and the ones who stayed at home for the first couple of years go through the same process of ear infections and strep throats and colds and then they all get over it.

The "mommy and me" program reference says it all. Women are supposed to stay at home and subordinate their lives and careers. I didn't want that for my wife for a number of reasons and neither did she. And there is something more that a little tiresome with having to hear from all the scolds who think they have the universal answer to how we should all lead our lives. It's presumptious in the extreme.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | May 14, 2007 5:34:06 PM

Only vaguely on-topic, but you end with a tossed-off sarcastic jibe about the media's explicit desire for Truth. Truth is, the media's explicit goal isn't truth anymore, not by a long shot. Well, truth be told, it's profit, but the criteria by which the media considers itself functional is its dedication to accuracy rather than the t-word I'm not going to throw out again. This is how they keep a grasp on "neutrality", and create numerous false equivalences - a commitment to factual accuracy allows much more room for he-said, she-said stories of conflict than oftentimes inconvenient (political) truths.

Posted by: Jon O. | May 14, 2007 8:09:55 PM

It was a joke Fred.

It was a good one, too. Fred is a Capital-C-Conservative; he doesn't have a sense of humour as we understand the term.

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | May 14, 2007 8:53:58 PM


i dont apologize for my strong feelings about what is best for children.
this is not a "scold" about how anyone should lead their life...this is just a very credible observation from someone who spends almost all of their waking life with very young children, has a degree in early childhood education, has raised three of her own children and has been involved in childcare for over a quarter of a century, and continues with educational classes.
sorry if it does not resonate well, but this is what i see, and what many other teachers of very young children see as well.
...preschool works very well for children at the age of two and a half and up....it is an unequivocally wonderful social and creative learning experience in every way when it is a well=managed and loving environment.
....and regarding your statement that children in early day care get less colds:
sorry, but the children that we teach at two years of age are still getting the same number of colds, ear and throat infections at four years of age in the school. they have no greater immunity to the new strains of things that come around.
quite simply, in pre-school, what goes around, comes around.
and just because an infant/toddler is kept home for two days, doesnt mean they are in good shape for two days preceding their fever, or for three days after, when they are often sent back too early, because the parents cant miss anymore work.
we really see it all.
and for you to say "mommy and me" programs reference it all...i hardly think that references anything.
...the chance for a toddler who is twenty months or less on the planet, coming into a highly stimulated, highly structured environment (as it has to be with young children) with tremendous over-stimulation with numbers of children who have not developed sufficient impulse control and use hands and often teeth, as a way of establishing territorial rights without language skills, creates a very, very scary atmosphere for a toddler to negotiate on his own.
a toddler does not learn trust over night.
it is a gradual process.
at least, give them that.
....having a mother or father or even a nanny present, gives a sense of security. children need to feel protected when they enter a brand new situation.
there is nothing, but nothing better, than having the comfort of a parent nearby as they gradually move into the situation and establish a sense of familiarity and control.
......adults can barely navigate through these situations, how can we put that on a twenty month or younger child?
....and sorry if mommy and me classes subordinate a woman or man's right to "live their lives" as they choose.
kids have some rights too...and being given a little extra love and time to bond, explore the world on their own terms, with loving and UNDIVIDED instead of an eight hour regimen of daycare during the first twenty-four months of their lives doesnt seem like asking too much.
if you cant have that sense of advocacy and security as a toddler, what a statement about of mendacity.
.....i understand that circumstances can require children to be in daycare earlier. we dont live in a perfect world...but when there is a choice, and a loving parent, the decision of what is best is crystal-clear. i will always advocate for what is best for a child.
and life in a forty hour week in daycare is not the optimal choice.
...of course, children enjoy being with other children, but before two, they engage in parallel play and the main source of deep and necessary interaction at that time is with their parent. that is what they focus on...their linguistic skills are not even in place to communicate before two.
.....and as for an earlier commenter who said that early hunter and gatherer societies left children with others at an early age...sure they did, but those "others" were grandparents, aunts, cousins, older siblings who were deeply connected through loving familial bonds. that is hardly a similar situation when a parent walks into a daycare facility and "trusts" that the accreditation on the wall tells everything about the love and care their child will receive.

Posted by: jacqueline | May 14, 2007 8:57:47 PM

i dont apologize for my strong feelings about what is best for children.

Well, those are your feelings, but of course ktln's annoyed by overly sentimentalized assertions that also happen to suggest that he-- or rather his wife, because it always comes down to that in the end-- is a lousy parent. And obviously anyone with even a passing acquaintance with reality has to admit that years of financial dependency is a very bad thing for women in general; if you want better policies that allow more flexibility for working parents, they'll have to work for both sexes and include particular incentives for fathers to actually, you know, fully participate in rearing their own children. Until dads really own this issue as much as moms (as ktln obviously tried to do within the context of his own situation), then all of the gender-neutral language is meaningless wrt actually supporting parents, and becomes just a guilt trip on moms who might actually want to keep some status as economic & professional adults. Personally, I think day care would have been good for me; starting first grade cold was quite a shock, after all.

That's why I want parental leave, but with the maximum amount only available if both parents participate at some point. Then dads can also be accountable for their kids' well-being... right?

Posted by: latts | May 15, 2007 12:03:42 AM

you are absolutely right...i think starting first grade cold would surely be an enormous setback. children starting pre-school at two and half years old are light years ahead in their development of children that have not had that advantage. i am a real advocate of pre=school education. that is why i work in one.
i see, love and delight in the benefits it offers to children everyday.
...the things that one can gain in a pre=school setting at two and half, are not the things that are required for a six month old infant.
building a sense of trust through deep bonding during the first twenty-four months of life is not an over-sentimentalization.
..i also know that there is nothing in the world that matters more to an infant or a toddler than being with a loving parent.

whenever it is possible, and there is a way for this to occur with a loving, present and capable parent, it is the best thing for the child.
....that is not over=sentimentalized,it is undeniable.
for a child under two years, do you really think there is any substitute for the love, bonding and comfort of being with a parent?
...everyone makes their own choices.
just that in our culture, the children end up making a whole lot of the sacrifices.

Posted by: jacqueline | May 15, 2007 12:27:01 AM

the children end up making a whole lot of the sacrifices.

So do the women, and since I'm pretty thoroughly convinced that children's lives aren't going to improve that much until their moms' do-- a big part of that involves, in a capitalist society, being able to earn a living. And no, I don't really see any magic age up until which kids must be completely home-based, in all honesty, and I say that as a supporter of many attachment-parenting practices like extended breastfeeding & co-sleeping. Part-time preschool, with mommy (and let's be honest; that's who it usually is) serenely running houshold errands while the kiddies get just the right amount of stimulation before being whisked back to their safe haven is not only an almost completely upper-middle class (and above) concept; it's also a very modern one. Traditionally, the upper classes were actually more likely to pay others to take care of their kids-- and we're not talking just daycare, but all but an hour or two a day with hired help, and even being farmed out to live with wet nurses for a year or more-- while the poorer types did what they always have and still do: set up makeshift arrangements combining paid care, extended family, and neighbors' help to try to keep their kids at least safe, if not ideally educated. I don't think it's a coincidence that the modern maternal ideal of constant attendance on children arose in our culture at about the same time the Industrial Revolution made working outside the home for pay more of an option for both men and women, and just as women began agitating for the vote.

But there's really no point in getting bogged down with the sentimental stuff, as I said; we don't live in a hunter-gatherer, sustenance-based society (which, as I noted above, also had moms leaving their kids with others to go and, well, gather food), but in one that places capable adults of both sexes in the workforce and children in a variety of care and educational institutions, and our policy challenge is to make it easier for everyone to adjust their time in those outside-the-home spheres without undue risks to safety, security, or professional credibility.

Posted by: latts | May 15, 2007 1:21:41 AM

Right on latts and ktln! I critiqued the Child Development day care study back in March, around the time the MSM descended on it. Perhaps my own experience as the "ideal-type" of verbally advanced and seemingly problematic center-based-care-raised kid reinforces jacqueline's litanies about self-absorbed adults leaving their six-month olds to fend for themselves.


Jacqueline appears to make a big assumption about the quality of the child care children receive, given she notes that even a nanny is better than care delivered outside the home. Why this procured stranger is any better than a staff of such is beyond me, if the latter day care team is still providing a high quality, intensive, nurturing environment that ideally offers the benefit of trained or at least regulated professionals minding your children, versus a woman qualified by local word-of-mouth networks (credentialism in its own right). Assuring she's engaged in child development with your kids, even as early as three-to-six months, versus merely babysitting is not something a parent can supervise any easier than putting the child in daycare. Guess we're back around to 'rents staying home with their kids. Good thing the stay-at-home mom position earns commands six figures!

As for the gendered nature of all this, it's worth noting that the Child Development daycare study only counted mothers as parental caregivers. Fathers were considered relative child care. That study was weak, overall, and the authors acknowledged it. Too bad the media didn't.

Posted by: Leigh | May 15, 2007 2:10:58 AM


mothering my three children included all of the attachment parenting practices you mentioned...and based on my personal experiences, and as someone who has spent my adult life caring for and loving children, i believe there is no substitute for the formation of trust and bonding that occurs between a nurturing and capable parent and child during the first two years.
i fully understand when circumstances sometimes make this impossible.
....tomorrow, i will go back to my little class of children that i love, and i will feel the same way.

...in my mind, the greater sacrifice as a mother,(i speak for myself)
is to leave an infant in the arms of a stranger.
two years out of a lifetime, caring for one's child, if it is at all possible to do, doesnt seem like much of a sacrifice.
neither the parent or child will ever get those moments back again.
...maybe that sounds sentimental to you, but to me, it is just about the most important thing a person can do for a child in their lifetime.
....that is also one of the things that i believe most strongly.

Posted by: jacqueline | May 15, 2007 2:13:46 AM

please dont make any assumptions about what you think my opinions of childcare are in the home.
i have many thoughts about that and have not pursued them at all in this discussion.
i have worked as a nanny for six years for the same family now,when my day at the pre-school ends.
i am well-aware of the responsibilities and incredible trust placed in such a situation.
i regard it as an almost greater responsibility than caring for my own children...so there is no need to make any kind of an assumption about the regard and trust with which i view the work that a nanny does.

Posted by: jacqueline | May 15, 2007 2:28:31 AM

jacqueline, we're not going to do anything but talk past each other on this: I'm talking about gender inequality and family policies, and you're talking about feelings. I'm not even touchy-feely in real life, and certainly not online, because I a) don't consider it terribly productive in political/policy terms (except for the occasional outrage that I can tie to principles), and b) would prefer not to treat the blogosphere like an episode of Oprah.

Posted by: latts | May 15, 2007 2:55:35 AM

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