With several posts over the last few days, Crystal has created a lot of interesting discussion on her blog regarding day care as a parenting option. Countless variables influence the wellbeing and happiness of any individual child. Therefore, I do not believe in black-and-white, one-size-fits-all conclusions about proper childcare.
Any parent would agree (I am sure) that the wellbeing and happiness of one's children are of the utmost importance. There is, however, nothing wrong with trying to achieve what is best for both the children and their mother. For some mothers, staying at home is not what is best. The small possibility that my (hypothetical) children might develop greater aggression or a weakened maternal bond as a result of day care does not necessarily outweigh the importance of my vocation as an attorney -- particularly since involved parenting can significantly decrease those risks.
Maybe, this is a selfish view. But I don't have a problem with some degree of parental selfishness when appropriate. All too often mothers are expected to sacrifice every fiber of their being for their children when the situation does not call for it. For example, a mother may be willing to die to protect her child's life. The same mother may be unwilling to give up a career she loves just because some studies show that day care may not be perfectly ideal (especially since other variables like parental warmth and involvement can overcome these risks). I would not call that mother unreasonably selfish; I would say that mother struck a sensible balance between her needs and her child's. Whether such a balance is fair to the child will vary depending on the individual situation, but there are also times when too much maternal sacrifice can be a terrible burden on a child. I guess what I am trying to say that it is wrong to fault mothers who consider their own needs as well as their chidlren's.
The most balanced article I found is called The Mommy Wars: Why Feminists and Conservative Just Don't Get Modern Motherhood by Cathy Young at Reason On-line. She trashes BOTH feminists and conservatives for distorting the research and points out the plethora of choices out there (including a nice shout-out to stay-at-home dads). She also discusses the history of child care, which did not necessarily include constant attention to children. I don't buy Young's typically libertarian view that market forces will adjust to provide even more child care options, but the article seems to be a tremendous source of information.
Personal note: I benefited enormously from the attention I got from my stay-at-home mom. She re-entered the work force when I was ten. I missed her but I was also thrilled for her-- and thrilled for myself, since it provided me an example of another option for women.