Four-Thirds Solution: Solving the Childcare Crisis in America Todayby Stanley I Greenspan, Jacqueline Salmon
Internationally recognized for his brilliant insights into the emotional and intellectual development of infants and young children, Dr. Stanley Greenspan now shows how this can best be encouraged within the real lives of parents today. Recognizing that day care, for the most part, does not provide the intense one-to-one nurturing that children need in the first
Internationally recognized for his brilliant insights into the emotional and intellectual development of infants and young children, Dr. Stanley Greenspan now shows how this can best be encouraged within the real lives of parents today. Recognizing that day care, for the most part, does not provide the intense one-to-one nurturing that children need in the first few years, he offers a radical redefinition of family life. Without suggesting that either parent give up a career, he presents a wide variety of practical solutions, including the "four-thirds solution" (in which both parents work 2/3 time), that make children the top priority and the equal responsibility of both parents.
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Our Social Experiment
When asked what they most want for their children, many parents might say happiness in their children's personal lives and success in their careers. Asked about the qualities their children would need to achieve such happiness and success, parents might mention an optimistic outlook on life and the fortitude to bounce back from the inevitable challenges that they will face. Elaborating their wishes further, parents might hope that their children would develop reflective thinking and the ability to develop warm, intimate relationships with other people.
These capacities lie at the core of our humanness. They are the roots from which our communities and our society grow and blossom. Though we often take them for granted, they allow us to create nurturing families and to work cohesively in groups and communities. Without these capacities, we would find ourselves functioning on a much less healthy basisacting impulsively, jumping to quick, often extreme, conclusions, and becoming increasingly self-centered or passive and helpless.
Many readers know that the ability to love, nurture others, think, and be aware of their own and others' feelings depends on growing up in warm, caring, sensitive relationships with reliable parents. Intimacy, empathy, and dependency rest partly on having our needs met in a warm and nurturing manner. It's hard to give of ourselves in a deep and meaningful way if others have not done the same for us. In addition, as I have shown in an earlier book, Building Healthy Minds, the roots of thinking are also in earlyexperience, in intimate exchanges in which emotional signals are sent back and forth over long stretches of time. These provide practice in recognizing the intention of another person and the ability to be part of a creative, logical dialogue.
Try to imagine a society in which one half of the babies and young children spent most of their waking hours away from their parents and in the care of others, many of whom were poorly trained, overworked, and underpaid and were caring for more children than anyone could realistically nurture. Because of these circumstances, few of these children received much one-on-one attention, warmth, cuddling, and interactions. If one visited the child-care centers in this hypothetical society, one would see that the children generally were clean and fed. But only rarely did they experience those games so common in families, where babies and parents exchange flirtatious looks, make silly faces at each other, or exchange expressive gestures about food, toys, or mutual feelings. Would you expect children who grew up in these circumstances to be able to nurture and rear children warmly themselves? Would they be able to handle frustration with thoughtful and reflective thinking and to work together with empathy and compassion?
Obviously, we're not dealing with a hypothetical society. At present, out-of-home child care in our society has grown dramatically since 1970. At present, almost 13 million infants, toddlers, and preschoolersmore than half of our nation's 21 million preschool populationare receiving care from someone other than their parents or another family member. More than half of these child-care children spend 35 hours a week or more in day care, and more than one third are in two or more child-care arrangements each week. Our society has launched into a monumental experiment that has the potential to change who we are and how we function as individuals and therefore how our communities and, indeed, how our society will work in the future.
It's difficult to discuss this worrisome dilemma because, as we all know, child-care is tied to many other sensitive issues, such as gender equality, family income levels, and even welfare reform. And yet, as recent research has shown, our societal experiment isn't going well. As we will discuss in Chapter 2, a growing number of studies indicate that most of our children are being cared for in child-care centers and other out-of-home arrangements that have significant limitations. In fact, most studies that have examined the availability of quality child care in this country have come to the same grim conclusion: Most of the child care available for infants and toddlers in this country simply isn't of high quality.
We often try to reassure ourselves that there are day-care providers and centers that do provide good nurturing, but the vast majority of institutional or family day care is not of high quality and, furthermore, is poorly regulated. It's important to point out early in this discussion, however, that the dilemma in child care is not parents' fault, and in many respects it's not the fault of child-care providers either. As I will show in Chapter 2, we may simply be asking the day-care system to do too much: We are expecting it to operate the way very well-functioning families do. But most out-of-home care can't give a child what a well-functioning family is designed to provide. Even at the best centers, caregivers in the infant rooms usually care for four or more babies, and child-to-staff ratios for toddlers can rise as high as 10 to 1. What's more, caregivers may change rapidly because of high turnover in the child-care field and because of child-care center practices that dictate that children be moved from one room to another as they grow. As a result, children aren't getting the consistent, one-on-one nurturing with the same caregiver over a long period of time that almost all of us who study and work with children agree they need. Furthermore, many highly motivated caregivers don't-receive the training, support, and pay they need to work with children on a sustained basis.
I'm not pointing out these facts because I'm nostalgic for the days when fewer women worked outside the home. I believe that both parents should have equal opportunities to pursue their careers. In fact, we're all very aware that economic realities mean that most families need two salaries. Hardworking parents need everyone's support, not more guilt. In Part Three of this book, I will discuss the ways in which child care can be improved for families that need it.
Nevertheless, we need to look realistically at the challenges of giving children what they need while allowing both parents to make ends meet and shape careers. If we can face the fact that most children in day-care settings are not getting the kinds of experiences and interactions they need for healthy growth, we are more likely to be able to work toward solutions. In this book, we will suggest solutions for the child-care dilemma that respect the equality of men and women as well as the economic necessities, while making the care of babies and toddlers a top priority.
In this and the next two chapters we will look more closely at the extent of our child-care dilemma. We'll compare what children need to develop optimally in our fast-moving, complex world with what child care currently provides them, and discuss the implications of this for the future evolution of society.
The Essentials of Childhood
Over the years, in my research and practice, I have learned much about how children grow emotionally and intellectually and the ways in which they develop the traits that are critically important in adulthood. We've discovered that children move through stages, or milestones, in their first three years. We can even pinpoint in some detail certain emotional interactions that must occur between children and those who care for them at each stage of their development if they are to master these milestones.
In other words, we are beginning to sketch out the road map to the development of an intelligent, creative, logical, can-do person who can think in abstractions and solve tough problems and yet also be nurturing and empathetic. We now know that such individuals have experienced specific types of emotional interactions. We've been able to divide these critical experiences into six stages. In addition, the elusive moral compass we all so desperately want for our children appears to develop from these same emotional interactions. Our children's sense of self, as well as their self-esteem, also blossom as a result of traveling this rich journey with their parents.
Some of these interactions take place in the seemingly silly make-believe games we play with babies in which we pretend to be their horse or favorite bunny. During an infinite number of subtle, day-to-day encounters, we tune into our infants', toddlers', and preschoolers' emotional reactions to the world with our own emotional chemistry. In Chapter 3, we'll show how the fun games that parents naturally play with their children support all six of the important stages that build healthy minds.
This journey is not all fun and games. Some of the important interactions take place during the difficult times of parenting: When we're in the trenches, struggling to deal with a small child's stubbornness, anger, or willfulness or cuddling and rocking them because they're irritable or upset, we are giving them priceless lessons.
The most important point to remember is this: The essential ingredient needed to grow intelligence, morality, intimacy, empathy, sense of self, and self-esteem in our children is not educational toys, nursery school classes, trips, tutoring, or the extracurricular activities that fill our schedules and those of our children to the brim. The key ingredient is regular, substantial doses of us. The hours we devote each day, each week, each month, each year to every imaginable type of intimate interaction with babies and small childrenthrough pretend play, empathetically reading their emotional signals and moods, debating with them, satisfying their curiosity about the world, guiding them within the structure of firm values and limitsall of these go toward this ultimate goal of raising a warm, intelligent, moral human being. Our children require our minds, our presence, and souls. In practical terms, this means they require more of us than our busy society encourages.
Knowing what we want for our children, and knowing that it can't be provided on the run or through special weekend outings or even on the most wonderful vacations, but only in extended intimacies every day, brings us face-to-face with the reality of our child-care system. Will children growing up in institutional day care as we know it today learn to be caring, loving, empathetic, creative, reflective adults?
Recently, I saw an automobile advertisement in a magazine that neatly summed up the lofty expectations we have in our society. "If life came with a report card, you'd be bringing home straight A's," the ad cooed. "Career: A+. Family: A+. All around your life is pretty good. After all, you pride yourself in making educated choices." By owning a particular brand of car, the ad assured readers, "you can add another class to your report card of life. Car: A+."
Unfortunately, this ad is a stunningly accurate portrayal of the state of our culture these days. Highly successful people are defined as those who achieve top grades in every aspect of their lives: in career, family, physical appearance, psycheas well as in car purchases. Along with a high-flying, top-paying career, to which we must be completely devoted, we are also expected to have high-achieving spouses, academically successful children, a rich social life, a physically fit body, and a healthy psyche that we've honed with personal-improvement programs. Millions of us are pushing ourselves (and our children) harder and harder to achieve those A+ grades in every aspect of our lives.
By aiming for complete satisfaction or success in career and work, we often end up stealing time away from the rich emotional life that can offer us true sustenance and satisfaction. The deep sense of belonging and contentment that comes from an intimate involvement with our spouses, our children, our communities doesn't come by sprinting through a crowded schedule of work and social activities. The fact is, we can't achieve A+ grades in every aspect of our lives, even though our culture keeps telling us we can. Indeed, earning an A+ at work may carry the price of a D- in family life and child rearing. Because the results of child rearing are often not apparent for many years after a child has left the nest, or may be hidden in the child's deepest feelings, many parents won't even know what the impact of their priorities turns out to be.
Today's economic forces are stretching our emotional bonds almost to the breaking point. Many parents see no choice but to have both parents in the workforce. Millions of familiesincluding single-parent families and those earning low hourly wagesmust work ever longer hours in order to put bread on the table.
In many ways, our move away from deeply cemented familial ties and our growing reliance on outside services in almost every aspect of our lives is a new experience for our culture. For much of our past, children grew up amid a network of close interactions with adults. They lived in tribes, villages, or small country towns, surrounded by people who knew them and whom they knew intimately. Many families lived with extended family membersgrandparents, maybe some aunts and unclesunder one roof or in close proximity. We had close ties to our neighbors and to our community. Families often stayed in one area for many generations. If they moved, as was the practice in our pioneer days, families pulled together into close communities as they traveled. In cities, they spent most of their lives within neighborhoods.
It would be easy to say that I'm idealizing our past. Indeed, many scholars believe that our modern culture has a distorted view of how families operated in the past, particularly when it comes to the issue of whether mothers were more able to care for children full-time than is currently the case. Volumes have been written about the subject and debates continue. Nonetheless, the current social experiment, where middle- and upper-middle-income families who can afford it use institutions outside the home to care for their infants and toddlers is a significant departure from very recent history. The nannies or nursemaids of the past, who were stable figures for many years in the families who could afford them, often did the consistent, one-on-one nurturing that we are talking about here.
As will be discussed in subsequent chapters, we are asking too much from our child-care system. Millions of parents are seeking services from an industry that isn't equipped to provide quality care to all those children. As stated, this isn't parents' fault, and we all need to be aware of the problem so we can be part of the solution. Children's needs must be the top priority in both parents' career and financial decisions.
With two-career families, high divorce rates, many single parents, and increasing numbers of parents with more than one job, as well as fewer extended-family households, children have fewer and fewer opportunities to develop warm, close ties to the adults in their lives. As a result, there is a danger that we will see more self-centered, impulsive, or passive, and hopeless children or young adults than in the past.
Unfortunately, there are already worrisome signs that children are struggling in this new world. The United States has the highest rate of childhood homicide, suicide, and firearms-related deaths of any of the world's 26 richest nations. The murder rate for children has tripled since 1950, and though the suicide rate among children has dropped from a record high in the early 1990s, it is still one of the leading causes of death for young people in the U.S. Obesity among children has doubled in the last 20 years.
Shifting our priorities does not mean restricting one parent to staying home during the years that children are growing up. It does not mean a return to a hierarchical household in which Father is the sole breadwinner and Mother supplies all the love and attention. Genuine "family values" that center on the importance of intimate interactions do not mean that every parent must conform to historically rigid roles. Rather, it means acknowledging and accepting a joint responsibility for the consistent nurturing of babies and small children.
Parents should not have to shoulder this responsibility alone. Our culture also needs to accept its share of responsibility for supporting parents. Right now, society simply assumes that raising children is parents' private concern. The tax structure, governmental policies, employment practices, even popular culture assumes that the rearing of the next generation is parents' private concern.
The Evolutionary Danger
In order to anticipate the impact of this social experiment, we need to take a good look at the potential effects of our current child-rearing patterns. We need to ask whether, by endangering children's access to crucially important early emotional experiences, we are in danger of changing the character structure of future adults. We need to inquire whether giving up the care of our children to others is a possible turning point in our evolution, especially if we view the ability to nurture and care for others as essential to the development of a complex society.
I believe that the consequences of depriving children of key early emotional experiences are grave. Many of those who don't get sufficiently sensitive early emotional caregiving may act impulsively and think in rigid, polarized terms. We have seen children, for example, who pull out knives and guns to settle a dispute over something as minor as a jacket. Such children may also have difficulty recognizing nuance and subtlety in the world. When someone disagrees with themwhether over a scored run or an opinionthey assume that the person "hates me" or vice versa. Additionally, they may ignore the rights, needs, and dignity of others. If the number of such individuals rises, then we can expect society to become more unpredictable and dangerous, with rising violence and antisocial behavior and less self-restraint and negotiation. Other children may grow up to be passive and depressed. There is also a danger of self-absorptionwithdrawing from our communities and becoming focused solely on one's own concrete needs, such as food, clothing, and base-level excitement.
The impersonality of our lives brought on by social and technological changes threatens the very abilities that have made progress possible. The qualities most closely identified with our humanityreason, compassion, love, intuition, intelligence, creativity, courage, morality, spiritualitydevelop from the interplay between the individual nervous system and the emotional experience of daily interactions. Without these experiences, future generations will be less able truly to empathize and care for each other and also less capable of raising children, maintaining families, solving complex problems, and working together in groups.
It would be easy to downplay this evolutionary danger and take for granted our reflective thinking and our ability to support our complex society. But the lack of these qualities would be sorely felt. For example, when neighbors argue over the height of a fence or the barking of a dog, they need to be able to continue to be civil and work together in ways to help their community while they work out their differences. A stable society depends upon the ability to reflect together in groups and find reasoned positions that can bring together different viewpoints, such as when communities work together to resolve such issues as building new schools, curbing pollution, and setting tax levels. Part of the capacity for reflective thinking is possessing a sufficient degree of self-awareness to take a step away from one's own biases or extreme viewpoints (which we all have but don't necessarily act upon). It is an ability both to be aware of our own emotions and to look at a problem from many angles.
If we look at conditions around the world and at the dysfunctional way that many adults are operating, it's easy to sense that we are balanced rather precariously. Many of us worry that this balance can tipnot only in individuals but also in groups. Sometimes whole societies can tip toward polarized rather than reflective solutions. Indeed, each and every day in our current society, we see polarized conflict between individuals who hold extreme and fixed outlooks. We see impulsive behavior and aggression. We also see passivity and helplessnessexpressed as, for example, more depression among children and adults and large numbers of children who are retreating from the world through drug and alcohol use.
It's taken us a long time to build family and community structures that can support high-level mental abilities. Indeed, given what we now know about the experiences necessary for reflective and abstract thought, intimacy, and social cohesion, it is hard to imagine a design better than the family structure to teach these skills. When functioning well, it seems ideally suited to providing children with the needed emotional and social experiences. In fact, as will be seen in Chapter 3, the six types of experiences that appear to be essential for a healthy mind happen rather routinely and effortlessly in well-functioning families.
Because the family has always filled this important role, we need to inquire about the effect on child rearing of changing social patterns as well as new technologies. Will we continue to rear children to participate in the reflective thinking necessary for the continuation of stable communities and democratic institutions? We cannot assume that these abilities are so well established now that we can afford to give a few inches and still be secure!
No doubt some will argue that every new social change is initially met with fear and trepidation but that, over time, most people adapt to newly challenging situations. Those who do not adapt fall by the wayside, and a strong society emerges. Taken to the extreme, this position would be that whatever survives is, by definition, the fittest and therefore deserves to prevail on our evolutionary scale.
This point of view leaves out two important factors: the role of complex abilities in survival and our ability as human beings to shape our environment and institutions. The cockroach may be the only moving organism that would survive a nuclear holocaust. In the context of nuclear fallout, then, the cockroach is the fittest, and more complex living creatures would not survive. In the context of impersonal child rearing in large groups, an aggressive, self-centered child may adapt most easily to the setting at hand.
Living organisms do indeed tend to adapt to their settings. In many cases, the setting favors complex abilities. For example, climates that have seasonal changes favor creatures that can create dwellings to keep themselves warm. Those who can work with their hands to build such dwellings will have an added advantage. This assumption, howeverthat the setting will create challenges that support greater complexity of functioning, for example, learning to use toolsmay not always be the case. As with the case of our cockroach, highly toxic settings may favor a simpler set of functions. Thus, compromised child rearing on a large scale may increase polarized, concrete thinking, passive hopelessness, or impulsivity rather than the empathetic, reflective thinking needed to sustain families and a complex society.
Excerpted from THE FOUR-THIRDS SOLUTION by Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D. with Jacqueline Salmon. Copyright © 2001 by Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D., author of the widely used and praised books The Challenging Child and (with Serena Wieder, Ph.D.) Engaging Autism, is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School and lives in Bethesda, Maryland. Jacqueline Salmon, a staff writer on the Washington Post, is the mother of two young children and has lived the very issues outlined in this book.
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