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Jewish World Review July 18, 2001 / 27 Tamuz 5761

Don Feder

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Consumer Reports

Palm Pilot helps busy woman park child -- THIS summer's Spielberg movie, "AI" (for artificial intelligence), is about a robot child's millennial search for a mother's love. Millions of flesh and blood children are on a similar quest, while the culture tells their moms that career comes first.

Busy women need palm pilots to remind them when to park their kids in day care and when to retrieve them. That's the gist of an ad by electronics manufacturer Fellowes.

It features a beautiful, 20-something woman, chicly attired, blonde hair and designer scarf blowing in the breeze. In one hand, she carries a briefcase and business journal, with the other, a toddler with a pacifier in its mouth.

"See how Fellowes electronic accessories can keep your day running faster, simpler, more effectively," the ad urges.

Mom's hectic day is detailed: "7:15 Day Care, 8:45 Staff Briefing ... 12:30 Lunch with Client," etc. The schedule ends as it began -- "5:15 Day Care."

Here is a glamorous, successful businesswoman -- who warehouses her toddler for 10 hours a day. For those precious hours, days and years of her child's life (when so much cognitive and emotional development takes place), she entrusts her most important action item to strangers. And what happens to the day-cared while mom is taking care of business?

If she's lucky, the facility won't be one of those nightmare places one hears about. In her upscale garage/warehouse, there will probably be some interaction with the staff, as well as organized play, stories, perhaps even a little learning.

But for 50 hours a week, the toddler won't be forming the most important attachment of its life -- bonding with its mother. It won't experience the universe as a safe, secure place. It will spend the majority of its waking hours in a world without love.

Blondie can't pay someone enough to love her child. If she's very lucky, a day-care employee may develop some affection for the toddler. But there's a high turnover in day-care employment. Chances are the affectionate worker won't be there in six months.

A growing body of research documents the toxic effects of child care. The latest, a long-term study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health released in May, showed that children who spend more than 30 hours a week in day care -- who are competing with a large number of children for toys, space and adult attention -- are three times as likely to be aggressive and disruptive as are kids raised by their mothers.

An international survey, conducted in 1994, showed that 50 percent of children in institutional care had weak maternal attachment.

The It-Takes-A-Village People responded to the NIH study by turning vice into virtue. The aggressiveness found by researchers was really "assertiveness," they argued. And if the child grows up to be overly assertive to a spouse or partner, the victim can always take out a restraining order.

In the real world, women who haven't been sufficiently socialized in the new domestic order are uneasy. Even after decades of feminist zeitgeist, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2000 only 35.8 percent of mothers with infants were in the workforce fulltime. Of married mothers, 39 percent are employed fulltime outside the home.

About insecure attachments, aggressiveness and communicable diseases, the Fellowes-traveler, is insouciant. When I showed the ad to a friend, herself a mother, she pointed out a detail I had missed.

There's no eye contact between mother and child, as was invariably the case in product advertising of the past. Mom gazes determinedly off in the distance. The toddler's eyes are unfocused.

Does she refuse to look at the child out of guilt, or is she nonchalant? Is the toddler merely an accouterment to her successful life, like her designer suit and leather briefcase.

But none of these possessions need her attention or affection. They feel no anxiety, longing, anger or resentment when abandoned for long periods of time.

When the day comes that the lady in the ad is no longer busy and beautiful, when her blonde hair is a memory, perhaps the now-grown child (who was given a model for mother child-relationships early on) will find a place to put her.

Possibly a palm pilot will remind the day-care graduate when Mother's Day approaches.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate