By JUDY LYDEN
Scripps Howard News Service
For some people, any kind of child care is controversial. They seem to feel that leaving a child with strangers is a moral evil, tantamount to abandoning.
I get a lot of letters from women who shun the whole idea of day care, preschool and any other kind of care outside the home. These same people often have an attitude of superiority about parenthood inside the home.
The letters indicate a painful smugness about parental doing without so that Johnny can stay at home. I know what they're thinking because I used to be one of those people ? a very long time ago.
The one thing I've learned about child care outside the home is that the children in good situations, where there are lots of activities and a wide range of toys and things to do, love it.
They learn what it means to socialize, and to play games with others, as well as to listen and learn. They grow up understanding the world of sharing ? things, ideas and people.
Interestingly enough, the parental fiction "I can do this better than anyone" is often a shocking failure when kids go off to grammar school. The children from good child care are way ahead. They bound into the kindergarten with joy while their counterparts cling to mom and scream.
Day care kids have made friends before the Velcro child has been torn away from mother. Day care children have a wider capacity to overlook differences in people and situations.
They eat a broader diet, are more open to climate and routine changes, and are generally better behaved if the child care they came from was disciplined.
The one thing I've gleaned from the letters and remember myself is that one-parent incomes don't always work. Many very well intended parents who stay home to rear their own children must go constantly without basic, ordinary goods and services because one income just didn't stretch far enough to accommodate the home.
I remember just how tough it was to get to the end of a pay period. I often watered down milk to make it last just one more meal. And I wasn't alone: Lots of women did, and still do, this and other things to stay at home.
But the task of rearing children was never meant to be the me-by-myself life plan it's become today. For thousands of years, families were large and extended. The children had mom and dad, sisters and brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Everyone helped do everything.
When things were tough, families pitched in to help.
Today, a family might mean mom and child, or grandma and child, or dad and child. There's no one to help or even stay home if that were a choice.
That's where good child care adds to a parent's ability to rear a child in the late 20th century; it's duplicating the idea of the extended family idea. The crime of child care is not leaving the child, but leaving the child without.
In a good day care home situation, where children have lots of "brothers and sisters," or in a center or school where a program is opening intellectual doors for the curious child, children who are left a reasonable number of hours do well.
Child care is not a prison, but a place to explore and to grow. And growth and exploration don't constitute abandoning.