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Having grown up with a stay-at-home mom, I wonder what negative impact not having a SAH parent has on young children and elementary school children (who are in alternative care after school). Let's assume you are trying to be good parents and assume you find the best possible alternative care -- a nanny, relative or day care you trust.

I've read that it is the quality not quantity of time that matters, but I still worry. This is a rather broad question, but curious others experience especially with children who are now older (or if you yourself had working parents).

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You're right, this is a rather broad question and I vote to close it. This is too subjective and depends too much on the people in question. For example: "make a difference positively or negatively".. make a difference on what; behavior, closeness with parents, education? Is the caretaker a grandparent or relative? Is the caretaker good with kids? Are the parents good with kids? –  Javid Jamae Apr 29 '11 at 21:43
    
I tightened up the question a bit. While this problem is broad- and long-reaching, I'm not sure the dependencies on the people involved is greater than other questions on the site (e.g. on day cares in general). If this question does get closed, do the good answers below disappear? That would be too bad as I find them quite helpful. –  gaosan80 Apr 29 '11 at 22:22
    
If the answer gets closed, no new answers can be added but the existing ones remain. Answers are only deleted if the question itself is deleted, or if an answer's author chooses to delete his answer. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 29 '11 at 23:32

7 Answers 7

We're still relatively new to the situation (7 months in; 3 if you discount the leave my wife and I took from work after our son was born), but we've definitely noticed some pros and cons, particularly in the daycare vs. nanny/SAH parent.

Pro

  • Socialization. We've definitely seen some real boost in developmental growth in certain areas due to the time our son has been spending with other children in daycare. A lot of that also is due to the variation in age ranges within the daycare group.
  • Building a regular schedule. We've all read that infants thrive on a regular schedule. Daycare makes it much easier to accomplish.
  • Appreciation. We all love our kids. However, there's something about coming home from a long day of work and realizing you're finally going to get to see your kid again after waiting all day that is positively uplifting.

Cons

  • Control. You have less options with someone else looking after your children. You aren't there to see how they handle conflicts between the kids. You can't always screen what shows your child will be exposed to if there's a TV present (or, in my case, you can't always say "I don't want my child watching any TV at all" if you are limited for options on babysitters). You absolutely have to have a daycare provider you trust, but even then you probably aren't going to agree 100% with the way they do things. As BBM points out, children who are pre-verbal won't be able to effectively communicate any issues that might occur during the day.
  • Socialization. The other side of the socialization coin is that you may not be able to avoid exposing your child to other children who you may feel are a bad influence. There is some benefit to this, though, as it also teaches your child to deal with negative behavior.
  • Illness. Children in daycare tend to get sick a lot more frequently, simply because germs spread so easily and quickly between the kids.

From my personal experience as the only child of two working (divorced and separated) parents, I don't recall it making much of a difference. My mother never was one of the parents chaperoning school field trips, but if I ever regretted that, it was while I was still pretty young, and that regret turned to relief after seeing some of my friends embarrassed by their parents during those trips.

The only other impact I feel it had on me was developing a stronger sense of independence (and possibly less reliance upon social ties, which isn't necessarily a positive thing) from coming home from school to an empty house once I got older.

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yeah, we love our family daycare, and I feel our son is learning a ton there from the other kids of various ages (mostly older, as far as learning goes, but I suppose he is teaching the younger kids too) but ... welcome to the world of being constantly sick. It's inevitable. Imagine how people who work at hospitals or schools feel! :P –  Jeff Atwood Apr 30 '11 at 4:15
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Health care workers scrub. Kids? Not so much. –  Kzqai May 1 '11 at 23:58
    
Wow, that's a young age to be getting into childcare. –  Hairy May 18 '11 at 14:33
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@Hairy yes, it was far from ideal. Unfortunately, in the US parents are only guaranteed 12 weeks of maternity leave (unpaid). My wife had enough accumulated overtime to take a bit more, and I saved up all of my paid time off to extend it further, but by 7 months the choice was drop an income, or find a private daycare. –  Beofett May 18 '11 at 14:40
    
I didn't realise that Beofett, really didn't. I knew you guys got less holidays, but didn't realsie that. There's incredible pressure on parents over here to both work, and that does see kids into 'care' young. We put our first in at 8 months, and second at 12 months. I know what pressures there are –  Hairy May 18 '11 at 16:47

You are asking very difficult question. I grew up with a working mom in a former Soviet Union, and most of my classmates had working moms. I don't think it had any negative impact. On the positive side, I was pretty independent from around 9 years old - I took public transportation and went to activities myself. Luckily she was pretty flexible when it concerned concerts and stuff like that. In fact, her career as an engineer probably impacted my professional choices. I am pretty sure the first time I saw computer (mainframe with punched tape) was at her work.

I am a working mom so I am biased, and every child and mother are different, but I don't think there is much negative impact. This is my take on it:

Pros

  • Your child and you get to learn from somebody with a lot more experience in raising babies, be it nanny or daycare provider.
  • Your child gets to socialize with people other than the family.
  • In many cases family financial situation is more stable and family is able to go on more interesting trips and attend more interesting events.
  • Family can afford more activities.
  • Mother does not loose her professional qualifications and still has her job when kids leave for college.
  • Mother gets to take her child to work and show the cool stuff she is working on.
  • Kids tend to be more independent and adapt easier in different situations.

Cons

  • The system (at least in US) is not build for working moms. Parent-teacher conferences, doctor appointments, etc, are usually during working hours.
  • Mother and child don't get to spend as much time together as they might want. (This is a big one for a lot of people).
  • Some things, like concerts and sport games, might have to be missed.
  • Things get very difficult, when children have to stay home because they are sick.
  • It is not easy to work full day and then come home and take care of the house and a child even if you get help from the husband.
  • You don't have full control of how things are done.

There is a trade off and for some families cons outweight the pros

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From all the classes I have taken (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies), we learned that the primary factors influencing child outcomes when both parents work is the happiness of the parents with their roles. Looking back through one of my textbooks (Child, Family, School, Community: Socialization and Support 7th ed. by Roberta Berns), it states that when a working mother is happy with working and her job, she has similar relationships with her children as a mother who does not work outside the home. However, if a working mother does not enjoy working, whether the job is stressful or she would rather be at home, it has shown to have a negative impact on the parent-child relationship. Better relationships between parent and child lead to better child outcomes.

The same can also be said for the other way around. If a stay-at-home parent does not enjoy staying at home and would rather be working, this will have a negative impact on the children. So in sum, each family has to figure out what works for them. All of this though is assuming that children have high-quality care outside of the home and quality time with their parents like you state.

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As a teacher and a recently back to work mom, I think there are more cons than pros. I know that many feel that there are many pros, but my experience is that by and large, your child will care more about time with you rather than money and things from you. I know when I think about my childhood I think about the time my mother took with each of us every day individually to talk to us about our day. I do not remember the trips and activities we did not do. I recall that my mother was room mom at school and girl scout leader and was there if I needed to call her in the middle of the school day. I have only returned to work on a temporary basis while we settle some finances so I can stay home. I firmly believe that giving up material possessions and vacations, etc. is absolutely worth the time I can give our daughter by staying at home.

As a teacher, I have noticed that it is an ever increasing trend that neither parent is home with their children after school. While it is true this leads to more independence, I have also noticed that it leads to more problems with completing homework, and making good choices with the time they are on their own, particularly as they get older. I am not saying that all children that have working parents make bad choices, but I think it is a major pitfall as children get older. My mom always told me that anyone can adequately care for a baby, it is when they get older that it is important to be present to guide them to the morals and standards you want them to have, helping them to become the individuals you want them to become. I for one want to make sure I am having a greatest impact in my child's development, rather than a hired caregiver.

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you say that the presence of parents is especially important for older children while "anyone can adequately care for a baby". But isn't it important for the baby also to learn to trust its parents? –  BBM Oct 20 '11 at 23:19
    
I was being a bit flip - but I have heard repeatedly that people feel that once their child has entered school they do not need to be there as much, however while a child is developing their prefrontal cortex, parental guidance is extremely important. Further, there is developmental information that tells us that infants view all of us as a version of Mommy until 8-10 months. Further, they can learn to trust parents as long as their needs are being met regardless of who is meeting them. –  Erin Oct 21 '11 at 2:10

"A happy mommy makes a happy family."
This is an old phrase, but it is still true. I have 4 children and both my husband I work full time. I can not imagine working, it helps me feel fulfilled, it lets me use my brain, and it gives me a social outlet.

In terms of what to do with your kids:

I am very lucky in that there is a nursery at my work for ages 2months to 2 years. After that I put them in nursery school full day (7:30-4:30). Then to school. I have found that putting them in school actually makes them function better as they get older, they know how to socialize at a much higher level then their peers. They know all about mommy always coming back to get them when she drops them off, so separation has never been an issue and they know that when they come home mommy is going to play with them and spend time with them. (I cook all the dinners on Sunday so all I have to do is toss it in the oven so that I do have time to play with them after I pick them up).

The weekend, as you can imagine is a very special time for my family. I am a religious Jew and therefore on Saturday we do not use electronics at all. This truly facilitates true emotionally rich family time, where my husband and I play with them in groups and individually.

Overall, as long as I stay very organized, I feel like I get lots of face time with my kids and they get the benefit of socialization and everything else that comes with school. And I am a happy mommy which makes a happy family.

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I think this question isn't really answerable - some parents are good at parenting, some are not so good. It is going to be harder work for a single parent, and having two full time parents means a certain element of planning, but it is all doable.

I had a stay at home mum and was one of 5 kids. I have 3 kids and we both work.

In terms of the important time with our kids - although I did have a job which took me away too much, I changed jobs specifically so I could spend more time with my family - now I would say we get high value time with them and we make the most of that time:

I am home early enough 4 nights a week to take them to Brownies, Swimming and Taekwon Do, and my wife manages the initial pickup from school, and the other afternoon sports and activities so we don't miss that much time with them outside school anyway.

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Impossible to answer this as there are simply too many variables.

Can the family live off one income rather than two? If not, NOT having two working parents will have major impact on the children as they get pushed into poverty.

Does the working parent have insurance? In the US, this is a sad reality. If not, having only one working parent means the family is at risk of major medical expenses.

Does the parent work a minute away or an hour away? Does the parent have 1 week of vacations or 6? Is the day care good or bad? Are they working 30 hour weeks or 60 hour weeks? etc, etc.

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