Somehow, “daycare” has become a dirty word. Perhaps this is due, in part, to recent studies that are finding that many daycare centers in America are in fact, quite dirty.
One recent, lengthy piece in the New Republic was devoted to exposing what it called “The Hell of American Daycare.” The article recounts horror stories of centers with feces on the walls, caregivers with criminal records leaving children unattended, and minimal levels of oversight and accountability. A 2007 study done by the National Institute of Child Health Development gave low ratings of either “fair” or “poor” to the majority of daycare facilities in America. They found that only 10% of centers offered what they deemed high-quality care.
Or perhaps daycare is a dirty word, one tossed around with some combination of condescension and disapproval, because combatants in the ever-raging mommy wars view daycare as an inferior option, the choice for mothers who want or need to work outside the home but can’t afford full-time nannies or fancy Montessori preschools.
Whatever the reason, the reality is that most American kids now spend some time in daycare. Less than 30% of young children have a parent full-time at home with them, and more than 40% of children under age five spend some part of their week being cared for by someone other than a parent, most of them in some sort of childcare center. Meanwhile, the scientific, sociological, and psychological communities are all coming to agree that a child’s early years are essential, and that a nurturing and stable environment with loving parents and attentive childcare is an essential foundation for any child.
Yet as more and more women participate in the workforce, the demand for good childcare is driving up prices and reducing the availability of the best options. Some on the right argue that the solution is to convince more women to leave the workforce and stay home with their children. Others on the left clamor that men should have more work flexibility and find ways to spend more time at home with their children.
But infamous billionaire David Koch saw a different and more immediate solution.
‘We would miss out on some outstanding researchers if they didn’t have proper facilities for their children.’
While sitting in on a meeting between researchers and an outside advisory committee at his alma matter, the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, he heard researchers and professors answer the question of what would help them the most in their jobs with one overwhelming response: better child care.
Koch said he was moved to tears at the thought of these people struggling to take care of their children and do their jobs. His response? In addition to a $150 million grant for research, he funded a $20 million state-of-the-art daycare center.
In his words, “I’ve never seen a group of people speak with such passion and such disappointment that a problem existed and it wasn’t being fixed. We would miss out on some outstanding researchers if they didn’t have proper facilities for their children.” And in the words of the Boston Globe, “The best professors, scientists, and researchers are not just minds, universities have increasingly acknowledged; they have families, too.”
One would think such a move would be met with resounding praise from both the left and the right.
But he was attacked on the left, accused of faux gestures of goodwill and mocked for “weeping for lab researchers in need of good daycare,” and attacked on the right for supposedly trying to treat men and women as interchangeable as a way to close the the gender gap in the sciences.
But what if Koch was just using his good fortune to help a few families find a better way to succeed in the workplace while preserving familial harmony?
On-site daycares are a relatively novel, and elite, frontier in the world of daycare. They are mostly to be found on the grounds of white shoe law firms and the like. For most parents, they offer a dramatic improvement over other daycare options. They allow fathers the chance to spend their lunch breaks playing catch with their toddlers and mothers the chance to nurse instead of pumping in the bathroom. They give all parents the chance to tend to a boo-boo, to console, to discipline, to be there as much as they can. In fact, I know one woman who uses the center at her husband’s firm when she needs a day for errands or doctor appointments, which helps her to find more sanity in her life as a stay-at-home mother.
Our task is to convince the culture of nobility of caring for children.
We should continue to work towards a more pro-family society, one where mothers who choose to stay home feel empowered and respected, and mothers who choose to continue their professional pursuits outside the home feel confident that they have safe and nurturing environments for their children. Our task is to convince the culture of the nobility of caring for children. This task does not exclude daycare centers in its scope.
As advocates for families and children, we have to meet the culture where it is. And this is a culture where for many families, daycare is not ideal, but necessary. Many parents cite the lack of available and affordable high-quality childcare as a major roadblock to having more children. Millions of American families are discussing these issues with hunched shoulders at their dinner tables.
David Koch may be a political lightning rod, and a single lavish daycare won’t solve the woes of most parents. But his most recent investment is pro-family and pro-child and worthy of praise.