There aren't enough hours in Heather Thomas' day. She has a 2-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 50-hour-a-week administrative job at a mental health center. That’s a full plate, meaning Mackenzie and Taylor are among the 10 million children who spend their weekdays in day care.
“Unfortunately,” says Thomas, “not everyone has the luxury of staying at home.”
The guilt makes it harder. Thomas was frightened by a famous government study first released four years ago, which concluded that kids in day care are more aggressive than kids whose mothers stay at home.
The study, called the “Early Child Care Report,” ignited a furious national debate over mothers who work inside and outside the home. That argument hasn't been settled, but the study has been updated and the findings have changed.
“We're about to release findings that show some of the effects we found earlier in terms of children's behavior problems seem to have gone away by the time the children are in third grade,” says University of Washington researcher Kathryn Booth-LaForce.
The study, which has been tracking 1,300 children in nine states since 1991, also concluded children in high-quality day care had better math and reading scores in third grade.
But while the aggressive behavior has evened out, researchers say kids who started in day care have other problems now.
“We see children being less socially cooperative, less empathic, and having poorer academic work habits,” says Birbek University of London researcher Jay Belsky.
Michelle Bordovsky left teaching for tea parties with her daughter, Cara. But she doesn't think she has any more peace of mind than her working friends do.
“There's some days I want to work,” she admits. “Because I'm like, ‘can I do this another day?’”
That’s a struggle almost all parents face, whatever choice they make.