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Does Mom matter?

Mom doesn’t matter. That is the conclusion drawn by University of
Massachusetts psychologist Elizabeth Harvey that was published in the
March issue of the journal Developmental Psychology. Stay at home with
your children or go to work and leave your children at the local daycare
facility, it makes no difference, or at least not very much. It flies in
the face of much of the available research on this subject and common
sense.

Harvey studied a group of 6,000 youngsters who were part of in-depth
interviews from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which started
in 1979 with 12,000 young people who are now between the ages of 14 and
22. Harvey concentrated on children born to the women in the study after
1980. The children in Harvey’s study range from 3 to 12 and her research
would seem to suggest that problems detected in these same children at
ages 3 and 4 may have gone away by the time the children were 12. Ah,
but there are some important caveats.

Harvey’s study suggests that the number of hours spent away from home
is not as important as the quality of the parent-child relationship and
the quality of the child’s day-care arrangement. Many factors go into
the quality of the parent-child relationship such as what kind of a
support structure a mother has. If she is affluent and can afford help
with the household chores, then she is less stressed when she comes home
at the end of the day and can spend more quality time with her children.
If she and her husband work long hours and are just getting by, you can
expect the “quality” of the parent-child relationship to be very low.

The same holds true with the quality of her daycare arrangement. The
best arrangement is a relative who has an emotional bond with the child,
like a grandmother or aunt. Daycare workers, by necessity, are paid
less than their moms make in the work force. Otherwise, there would be
no financial incentive to work.

Harvey also found that the quality of childcare may affect a child’s
language and cognitive development and that most childcare in the United
States is of poor quality. So guess what? Children of working mothers
really don’t fare as well as children with stay-at-home moms, now do
they?

Harvey also discovered that the more hours the mother worked per week
during the first three years, the lower the children’s language
development and academic achievement. By the age of 10, the difference
in academic achievement went away. However, the language development
difference “never went away with the data, but got continuously smaller
by the age of 12.” Could this be more a result of our failing
educational system than the presence of mom?

A few years ago, psychologist Harold Stevenson at the University of
Michigan conducted a study of children of U.S. and Japanese moms,
yielding some surprising results. Stevenson found that our moms, on
average, sent their children to school better prepared that their
Japanese counterparts. However, every year these children were in
school, U.S. children fell further and further behind the Japanese
youngsters.

If you are like most parents, however, the one thing that you really
care about passing on to your children is your values. If a daycare
worker raises your children, whose values are they going to absorb –
yours or hers? Moms matter. They always have. They always will.

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