In the cold light of morning, last night's post on the issue of day care seems wimpy, wimpy, wimpy. I wrote: "But I don't have a problem with some degree of parental selfishness when appropriate." I then went on to frame the entire issue in terms of whether the mother's choice to put her child in day care is selfish. I have to clarify that consideration of the parents' needs is absolutely appropriate and that both parents should bear the burden of figuring out the correct balance between child care, providing for the family, and the parents' non-child related ambitions and needs.
Having a child is profoundly life-changing. Both parents have to subordinate many of their desires and needs to the needs of their child. But every parent, no matter how devoted, draws a line somewhere. For example, this new organization that is getting a lot of press, Diaper Free Baby, argues that diapers are not the ideal for children. (Diaper rash is obviously no fun and I don't think anyone wants to sit in their own waste for even a few minutes.) So the proponents of this new toilet training method argue that someone (that's right, the mother) should constantly watch the infant for signals of having to poop or piddle. At the appropriate times, the mother then holds the baby over its own little toilet. This form of elimination is supposed to be gentler and healthier for the child. And it probably is. But I think it would be reasonable for a mother to say, "I am going to risk putting my child through the discomfort of sitting in his own urine for a couple minutes, rather than having to be totally focused on my infant every moment of the day." Diapers (and certainly prompt diaper changes) are a reasonable method to balance the needs of the child and the needs of the parent.
My thinking about day care is the same way. I don't shy away from the study that shows (for example) that a significantly higher percentage of children in longer hour day care show aggression than children in shorter hour day care (although I note that aggressive children are the minority in day care settngs as well). But I may weigh that risk against the personal needs my husband and I have for our careers, the good our careers do for the family, the good our careers do for the community, and my belief that parents are still the major influence over their children, even when their children spend the day in day care.
Would putting my child in day care be the ideal for him or her? Maybe not. But it may be the ideal for the health and happiness of my whole family. (I should stress that this is a HYPOTHETICAL child and a HYPOTHETICAL decision. In the event we were to have a child, my husband and I would have to hash all this stuff out more thoroughly.)
(Thank you to Amanda for her post about the diaper free baby phenomenon.)