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Jewish World Review April 26, 2001/ 4 Iyar, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

When Dr. Mom is Dr. Seuss -- WHO could blame the small group of full-time moms, chatting in a little park near my home the other morning, for giving each other high fives. They were talking about a page-one story in the morning paper about the major new study documenting their difficult way of life as a positive force in the lives of their children.

"We sometimes get subtle put-downs from the career-mad, with the inevitable 'what-do-you-do?' question,'' one of them told me, "but I guess we wouldn't with the child research crowd.''

In the largest long-term study of child care in the United States, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, researchers followed more than 1,300 children in 10 cities in a variety of day-care centers. Children with the fewest behavioral problems were those with full-time moms. The children of full-time moms were a third less likely to pick fights, bully or act mean toward other children by the time they reached kindergarten.

The more time children spend in day care, the greater the risk of behavioral problems. Children from day care centers become more defiant and disobedient, more demanding and aggressive. The findings remained constant regardless of the quality of day care, the sex of the child, the financial status of the family.

The study suggests that maternal instincts and the mother-child bond is not simply something cooked up by male chauvinists of the patriarchy to keep women barefoot and in the kitchen. Some children who act up miss their moms and have trouble expressing that anger. That's not Psychology 101 so much as Motherhood 101.

In the days before the mealy-mouth word "parenting'' replaced "mothering,'' it was a given that a mother's continued absence in a young child's life, especially before the age of 3, was not ideal. "Separation anxiety,'' after all, created the first market for security blankets and teddy bears to comfort a child when Mom was away.

Does this new research mean working mothers are raising little monsters and should quit their jobs at once? Of course not. The researchers found that children in high-quality day care centers score higher on language and memory tests, but no full-time mom thinks going to work will create a smarter child. But the research is humbling, and cuts through some of the arrogant rhetoric of know-it-all experts, whether feminist or psychologist, who pretend to have special insights into what's best for someone else's children.

Statistics tell only part of a complex story. Not so long ago statistics were marshaled to identify Mom as "bad,'' oppressing little Oedipus, and responsible for a variety of descriptions and diagnoses, including autism, homosexuality and an inability to enjoy adult love relationships.

In less than 50 years, the pendulum of public opinion swung dramatically, from supporting full-time moms culturally, emotionally and financially to one where feminists, Welfare reformers as well as many psychological theorists decided that Mom ought to work.

The loudest complaints over this latest study -- legitimate complaints, it seems to me -- come from women who point out that they work now because they have to, that the money they earn provides food, shelter and even education for their families. Work isn't a choice, but a condition.

Nevertheless, not so long ago mothers working outside the home were held up as models, pursuing personal fulfillment not available this side of an office or shop. Stay-at-home moms, Betty Friedan confidently assured us, suffered the malady "that had no name.'' The malady was "boredom'' or "housewife fatigue.''

Forty years later, instead of one malady without a name, we have maladies with lots of names, and one of them is called overwork, familiar to a lot of working moms.

Most of us do the best we can with what we've got, recognizing the tradeoffs. A woman might sacrifice a career in medicine to play Dr. Seuss, or give up becoming an architect to build with blocks on a playroom floor. If she works outside the home, she knows the frustration of not always being available when a baby has colic, or a fever, or needs the cuddling that can only come from Mom.

It's easy to point out the flaws in the current research, which have been exaggerated in the news, blaming Mom, ignoring Dad and discounting the contributions of the extended family.

What should we do with the new research? We could consider it provocative food for thought. It's not dogma, not yet. But there's a renewed emphasis on the importance of the special needs of the child, and a renewed appreciation of the special sacrifice of the women who give their children their physical all. The pendulum regulating parenthood never stops swinging.


04/23/01: Where have all the daddies gone?
04/20/01: Fashionable discrimination
04/16/01: Reaching for the moon
04/13/01: Who's sorry now?
04/10/01: The details
04/05/01: News that wasn't fit to print
04/02/01: The devil in the legal details
03/29/01: Making marriage glamorous
03/27/01: Crime and punishment on the small screen
03/23/01: When speech isn't free
03/19/01: Russell Crowe doesn't wear a Black Beret
03/15/01: 'The little intimidator' of the breakfast table
03/13/01: "We are asking the Creator for clemency"
03/08/01: Saving El Salvador with dollars and sense
02/27/01: The last cowboys of their craft
02/23/01: When Bubba graduates to Bobo
02/16/01: Clarence Thomas addresses an imperfect world
02/12/01: Ariel Sharon, not by Steven Spielberg
02/07/01: Profaning the sacred with the political
02/05/01: What's the Creator got to do with it?
02/01/01: Live like the snopses, leave like the snopses
01/29/01: It's education, stupid
01/25/01: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"
01/22/01: Poetry and religion in the Bush administration
01/18/01: Ashcroft can't dance (don't ask him)
01/15/01: Clothes make the First Lady
01/11/01: Pity Jerusalem in the 'peace' process
01/08/01: Laying the political race card
01/04/01: 'What women want' in the new millennium
01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate