The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Generates the Statistics



again, a lot of very smart scientists with significant institutional backing

have spent a lot of time and a lot of money coming up with brainless conclusions

and age-old solutions.


this case, after spending millions of dollars over 10 years in 10 different

cities, a team of well-credentialed researchers backed by the National Institute

of Child Health and Human Development have “discovered” that children who spend

over 30 hours per week in day care are more likely than children who spend less

than 10 hours a week with someone “other than their mother” to be at the upper

range of normal when it comes to aggressive behavior.


fix-it for this fearful fact is, of course, Mom. If more Moms stayed home with

their kids, more kids would be better behaved, say the researchers. The fact

that we need researchers to do this bit of knee-jerk finger-pointing only tells

us how much we’re willing to pay these days for expert-generated,

science-cloaked myth – in this case, the misogynistic idea that whatever is

wrong with our kids is Mom’s fault. Of course, there is a “positive” side to day

care in that kids who spend more preschool hours away from their Moms seem to

have better language skills and are more kindergarten-ready when that time

comes. In that case, Moms are to blame for selfishly keeping their kids at home

when they could be off at preschool fine-tuning their kindergarten-readiness


Either way, it is mothers’ choices that cause their children to come out dumb or

mean – an idea that is, to put it simply, dumb and mean. Just look around at how

dumb and mean so many of our institutions are – our mass media, our welfare

policies, our school systems, our work life, the consumer pressures we face –

and then explain how the most underpaid, overworked, and least respected among

us (that is, mothers) merit the most responsibility for the fact that some kids

“talk too much” and occasionally “get in fights.”


look at what the research says.

Children who stay home with their Moms have a 6 percent chance of being somewhat

more aggressive while their counterparts in day care have a 17 percent chance of

same. Interestingly, the behavior of the day care kids exactly “mirrors what we

see in the population at large,” according to Deborah Vandell, one of the

researchers on the project (Boston Globe, April 26, 2001). So, kids in day care

are simply getting a head start acting the way they’ll act for the rest of their

lives. Maybe something about our day cares, schools, work places, etc. causes 17

percent of us to be a little on edge, aggressive, even cruel. If those numbers

are a problem, what should we do? Stay at home with Mom forever in order for 11

percent of the population to not develop these admittedly “normal” attributes?

Do adults who live with their mothers exhibit fewer bullying behaviors? If they

did, would that represent a solution to the problem? Of course not. But when we

see the “normal” population-wide statistics played out among preschoolers, we

use it as an opportunity to tell Mom to STAY HOME!


kind of guilt-tripping coercion is important because – Surprise! Surprise! —

most Moms don’t want to stay home with children. Three out of four said they

would rather work. Add most Moms’ desires to the low wages most families

generate, and you find that the stay-at-home-Mom solution is not possible. Even

if it meant that preschoolers would be somewhat less aggressive, any gains in

that direction would flitter away as soon as they joined the non-Mom-centered

population, also known as kindergarten, followed by the rest of their lives.


thus far the research tells us that Moms should ignore their inclinations and in

all likelihood their financial needs, and stay at home with their preschoolers

in order for approximately 11 percent of those offspring to temporarily be

marginally better behaved.

Speaking anecdotally and as a non-expert, mandates like these are enough to make

a Mom develop a twitch. My own personal study shows that 99 percent of the Moms

who read this study develop anxiety in at least the upper normal range.


trade-off that the research poses is questionable at best. Time Magazine (April

30, 2001) distills the latest day care controversy down to the following

question: What if day care makes our children smarter – and meaner? With a huge

complicated question shrunk down to a single trade-off, I imagine millions of

Time readers pondering the choice between having dumb kids that don’t talk back

and smart kids that do.


must we really view our children and our choices through such a narrow pinpoint

of a lens?


that we shouldn’t address aggression in children. By all means, we should. But

it says something about the state of public debate that the latest day care

study has focused our attention on the choices of individual Moms rather than

generated some discussion about the nature of our institutions. It’s a bit more

challenging to consider the possibility that our institutions foster tension,

anger, or some collection of emotions that elevate aggression. Is there anything

about the norms of our society that reward “talking too much” and “getting into

fights”? Do we ever consider publicly, debate amongst ourselves, or even

privately envision what behaviors we would like to nurture – not just in our

children but amongst ourselves as well? Must we accept day care as it is, with

no changes, and parenting as it is, with no changes, and choose between them?

And are our imaginations so limited that we can’t conceive of communities, work

cultures, and networks of care and support that foster a cooperative spirit

among children — and meet Mom’s needs as well?



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