Who is mothering the child?


It was the second time I watched the Nanny Diaries and just like the first time, it got me thinking. Not so much about the wealthy mother who does no work-either outside or inside the home-but one question: who is actually mothering this child?

The first 3yrs of an infants life are critical in the formation of the maternal relationship. During this time it is of paramount importance that mother and baby connect emotionally. However, in the U.S., the average child spends 32 hours per week in some sort of non-parental care, starting from 3 months of age, with up to 80% of infants before their first birthday taking part in non-parental care arrangements [1][2]. Child care arrangements are of interest to developmental psychologists and economists because earlier childhood health [3] and educational experiences [4] have lasting effects on schooling and market success respectively. I would add to that a lasting societal effect too. Earlier research investigated the effects of non-parental care (mainly intrusion/ disruption), on the relationship between mother and infant, demonstrating that routine non-parental care is associated with high rates of insecure attachment, especially during the first 12 months of life [5][6]and a reduction in maternal sensitivity [7].

For employed mothers, maternity leave allows them the opportunity to do just that-recover from childbirth and bond with baby. I shan’t list each country’s parental leave allowances but will note only two that stand out: the USA and Russia.

Maternity leave under Russian labour law is 140 days at 100% of the salary. In the event of twins or pregnancy complications, this can increase to 194 days. The minimum maternity benefit should be 100% of the legal minimum wage up to a legal maximum of 40 hours if in full-time employment. For a period of 18 months after the birth, the total payable can be 40% of the salary. Mothers are also permitted to extend their leave up to 3 yrs without fear of losing their jobs. [8]

The USA do not guarantee paid maternity leave to mothers-or anyone else for that matter, because in the USA parental leave is determined by the employer, i.e. corporations. But thanks to then President B. Clinton, mothers can get up to 12 weeks unpaid leave if they work in a firm of 50 or more employees, hold the same job for 1yr and have accumulated at least 1,250 working hours in that same year [9]. In 2013, only 12% received this entitlement.

So what are we to deduce? For those women brave enough to begin a family in a community/society that is hostile towards them, the jury is out on whether there are any real benefits to sending your kids to centre-based care instead of looking after them at home. What we’ve learnt from research is that consistent, developmentally sound, and emotionally supportive care has a positive effect on both children and families [10]. If you can afford to stay home and nurture your child for the first 3yrs of life or more-good on you. But let’s look at who is taking care of the children when mum is off to work. The data is derived from the USA 2011 Census Bureau [11] [12]-I figured since they’re unfriendly towards families, I will start with them. The data refer to 0-4yr olds of employed mothers.

Trends in care arrangements and differences by age

In 2011, 24.4% of infants/toddlers were in parental care compared to a whopping 67.2% that were in non-parental care: care in the home by a relative (27.3%), care in a centre-based program (25.9%) and care in the home by a non-relative (i.e. nanny) (14%). The differences by age range of these infants/toddlers who are looked after at home by a parent is 27.5% for under 1yr, 23% for 1-2yrs and 24.4% for 3-4yrs, compared with their non-parental cared counterparts, under 1yr, 65.1%; 1-2yrs, 72%; and 3-4yrs, 62.9%.

Financial status

Poor (33%) and low (30%) income earning mothers are less likely to send their children to centre-based care rather choose care by a relative than those infants with higher income parents (25%). Low-income children (31%) are more likely than either poor children (26%) or children in families with higher incomes (21%) to be cared for by a parent during working hours.

Ethnic background of mothers & marital status

Married mothers make 27.2% and 17.6% are single mothers whose children are in parental care, compared to married mothers whose children are looked after (63.8%). The percentage of mothers that are single with children in non-parental care is a staggering 75.7%. In terms of ethnic origin, Hispanic mothers are more likely to have their child in parental care (29.4) as well as care by a relative in the home (36.2%), followed by African Americans (35%). However, the latter are the least likely to have a child in parental care (17.4%) compared to their white and Asian counterparts (24.7 and 26.9% respectively). White and Asian mothers are more likely to use a nanny service or other non-relative in home care for their children (16.2 and 15.4% respectively). Hispanic mothers are least likely to have their infants in centre-based programs (14.4%) compared to African Americans (30.7%), Whites (26.4%) and Asians (26.1%).

Mothers education and employment status

Seventy percent of children whose mothers have a college degree or university degree, compared to 58% of those whose mothers lack a high school diploma, use non-parental care as their primary form of childcare. In regards to employment status, a staggering 83.3% of mothers who are not in the labour force do not have any regular care arrangements for their infants/ toddlers in comparison to 10.9% of full-time employed mothers. The more the mother is in some sort of employment (full, partly or self employed) or in school and not in the labour force, the more likely she is to use multiple care arrangements for her child. From the mothers who reported they were seeking work, 50.9% did not have any regular care arrangements for their child.

We have all heard how sending children to daycare or nursery is good for their socialisation and general behavioural development. At this point I would prefer readers go to this link and check out the youth violence in the USA: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/yv-datasheet-a.pdf

I am not saying that children who are parented by their own parents do not have behavioural problems, but surely with all these children in non-parental centre-based programs learning about compliance, peer interactions and, dare I say, self-control, [13] surely American society should be far better than what it is. Right? The quality of child care, or parenting is critical to a child’s emotional and behavioural psychology. In the US, approximately 50% of child care centres meet minimum American Public Health Association/ American Academy of Pediatrics (APHA/AAP) standards, the majority being rated poor to mediocre in quality [14].

Societies are outcomes of the psychological and socio-economical state of its people. This is why supporting mothers during pregnancy and after childbirth is so important. You may feel that, you didn’t choose to mate with this woman who is seeking maternity leave so why should you as a taxpayer pay her to stay at home and look after her children. Well, because you will be sharing our community with her offspring. And it may come as a surprise, but most people still want to live happy, healthy and be alive. That is why we need happy healthy psychologically sound children that are loved, cared and attended to by their parents. By supporting mothers we are caring for children & families, and by extension building happier communities.


w: sophrosyna.org/ e: info@sophrosyna.org


[1] Laughlin, L. (2010). Who’s minding the kids? Child care Arrangements: Spring 2005/Summer 2006. Current Population Reports P70-121. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.

[2] NICHD ECCRN. (1997b). The effects of infant child care on infant-mother attachment security. Child Development, 68, 860-879.

[3] Almond, D. & Currie, J. (2010). Human capital development before age five. NBER Working Paper No. 15827. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

[4] Karoly, L., Kilburn, R., & Cannon, J. (2005). Early childhood interventions: Proven results, future promise. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

[5]NICHD ECCRN. (1997b). The effects of infant child care on infant-mother attachment security. Child Development, 68, 860-879.

[6] NICHD ECCRN (2001a). Child care and family predictors of preschool attachment and stability from infancy. Developmental Psychology, 37,847-862

[7] NICHD ECCRN. (1999). Child care and mother-child interaction in the first 3 years of life. Developmental Psychology, 35, 1399-1413.

[8] https://www.angloinfo.com/russia/how-to/page/russia-healthcare-pregnancy-birth-maternity-leave-benefits

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maternity_leave_in_the_United_States

[10] Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care. (2005). Quality early education and child care from birth to kindergarten. Pediatrics, 115(1), 187-191.

[11] http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=child-care

[12] US Census Bureau. Child Care Arrangements of Preschoolers Under 5 Years Old Living with Mother, by Employment Status of Mother and Selected Characteristics: 2011. Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011 – Detailed Tables.

[13] For a summary of the research on these issues, see National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Child Development. Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development. J. P. Shonkoff & D. A. Phillips, Eds. Board on Children, Youth, and Families, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.http://www.nap.edu/books/0309069882/html/

[14] Patten, P. and Ricks, O.B. (2003). Child care quality: An overview for parents. Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting. Available:http://ceep.crc.uiuc.edu/eecearchive/digests/2000/patten00.html