A mother close at hand

Children who spend a lot of time in day care centers tend to be more aggressive and defiant — exhibiting these traits almost three times as much as their peers who are kept at home with their mothers.

That was the conclusion of a recent 10-year, 10-city study — the most thorough one ever conducted — by the National Institutes of Health. While social scientists, child-care experts and worried parents expressed concern and surprise over these findings, they should come as no surprise to faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Prophets through the ages have counseled women to stay home and nurture their children if at all possible — even if it means having to accept a lower standard of living. Worldly possessions come as flimsy compensation for children who need the care of a mother close at hand.

Certainly, some mothers have legitimate reasons for taking employment outside the home. Some are widowed or divorced. Others face dire economic hardships that can be alleviated in no other way. But these are exceptions that ought to make up a small percentage of the whole. In the United States, however, the lack of full-time maternal nurturing has reached epidemic proportions.

The New York Times reported recently that only about 25 percent of the nation's children are cared for by their parents each day. Fully 13 million infants, toddlers and preschoolers — roughly 30 percent of all children in that age group — are placed in day care centers each day. The rest are farmed out either to the homes of relatives or friends, or are cared for by someone other than the mother who comes into the home.

The prophets have consistently taught the importance of motherhood as a full-time occupation, and of a family structure in which the father is the provider and the mother is the nurturer. They have stressed that the Lord's way is not the world's way. That distinction is becoming clearer as time goes on.

Nearly a half century ago, President David O. McKay said, "She who rears successfully a family of healthy, beautiful sons and daughters, whose influence will be felt through generations to come . . . deserves the highest honor that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God." (Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 453-54.)

Yet that high honor seems to get lost today amid the fool's gold of worldly priorities.

When presented with the findings of the study, the world's reaction has been to cry for better, more effective day care. But while it may be important to make some improvements, this makes as much sense as to fix a mechanical defect in an automobile by improving the design of the road. The only effective answer is a return to the traditional family structure, which makes day care less necessary.

Of course, some people have no opportunity to enjoy such a structure. To those faithful women who find themselves having to care for children as a single parent, the Lord has reserved special blessings. President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking to these women, said, "I pray that the Lord will bless you with a special wisdom and the remarkable talent needed to provide your children with time and companionship and love and with that special direction which only a mother can give. I pray also that He will bless you with help, unstintingly given, from family, friends, and the Church, which will lift some of the burden from your shoulders." (October general conference; Ensign, Nov. 1983, p. 83.) Home teachers and other priesthood leaders, as well as the Relief Society, can be valuable aids.

Those who are married but find it necessary after prayerful consideration to work outside the home can receive similar blessings. Still, the prophets have admonished them to not neglect their duties to their children.

As modern researchers are finding, nothing can replace a mother's influence. To those whose ears are tuned to the prophet, that is hardly news.

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