Home By Choice

By Tim Norman

In Titus 2:4-5, Paul admonishes young women to “love their children” and to be “homemakers.” In 1 Timothy 5:14, Paul expresses his desire for younger widows to “marry, bear children, manage the house.” A true widow deserves honor if, among other things, “she has brought up children” (1 Tim. 5:3, 10). Indeed, women are “saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control” (1 Tim. 2:15).

I affirm without fear of successful contradiction that God’s plan for the home includes full-time mothering. Sadly, the value of motherhood has been grossly devalued in this country. Sadder still, the church has been affected by this ungodly, worldly attitude. Many Christian women are needlessly working outside the home and hiring others to raise their children. In the case of latchkey kids, many Christian parents are leaving their children to raise themselves.

Dr. Brenda Hunter vividly illustrates the consequences of other-than-mother care in her recently published book, Home By Choice: Facing the Effects of Mother’s Absence, Creating Emotional Security in Children (Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1991). In this article, I review and recommend this excellent book.

Parental Absence

According to William R. Mattox, Jr., “The amount of contact parents have with their children has dropped 40 percent during the last quarter century” (Home By Choice, p. 119). “One psychologist has said that never before in American history have so many children been raised by strangers” (HBC, p. 65). Dr. Hunter’s theme is simple. There is no substitute for full-time mothering. She writes, “Increasingly, child development experts are saying what many mothers and fathers have known all along – that to be fully human a child needs to be intensely loved and cared for by someone who won’t ‘pack up and leave at five o’clock.’ That someone is the child’s mother” (HBC, p. 16-17). She continues, “Babies need their mothers. They need them during their earliest years more than they need babysitters, toys, or the material comforts a second income will buy” (HBC, p. 52). She concludes, “Children thrive in their mother’s presence and suffer from her prolonged, daily absences” (HBC, p. 16).

Parental Absence and Emotional Problems

According to Harvard psychiatrist Armand Nicholi, “Individuals ‘who stiffer from severe non-organic emotional illness have one thing in common: all have experienced the ,absence of a parent through death, divorce, a time demanding job (emphasis mine, tdn) or other reasons.’ A parent’s inaccessibility, either physically, emotionally, or both ‘can profoundly influence a child’s emotional health'” (HBC, p. 28). British psychiatrist John Bowlby explains, “‘The young child’s hunger for his mother’s love and presence is as great as his hunger for food’ and that her loss or absence ‘inevitably generates a powerful sense of loss and anger'” (HBC, p. 26). According to Dr. Hunter, “Absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Instead, absence generates profound feelings of rejection and a yearning for love that can dominate the whole of life” (HBC, p. 28). Dr. Hunter concludes, “The evidence is mounting that these separations do their damage – that the cost of separation in early childhood is high” (HBC, p. 62).

What is the evidence? Dr. Hunter summarizes it as follows, “Studies such as the one conducted by J. C. Schwarz and his colleagues have shown that older children who entered day care before they were twelve months old are more physically and verbally abusive toward adults, less cooperative with grownups, and less tolerant of frustration than their counterparts who were cared for by their mothers. Another long term study of kindergartners and first graders found that those who had been in a high quality day care facility since they were three months old were more aggressive than those who had begun day care later on. These early care children were ‘more likely to . . . hit, kick, and push than children in the control group, Second, they were more likely to threaten, swear, and argue.’ Teachers said that these early day care children did not have strategies for dealing with their angry feelings; instead of talking about how they felt or walking away, they lashed out” (HBC, p. 64).

After reviewing the evidence, Dr. Jay Belsky, professor of human development at Penn State University, said “that placing a baby in a day care during his first year may erode his sense of trust and order in the world. This may also lead to later personality maladjustment. Belsky wrote in Zero to Three, ‘Children who initiated care in the first year, the evidence suggested to me, seemed at risk not only for insecurity but for heightened aggression, noncompliance, and possibly social withdrawal in the preschool and early school years… (HBC, p. 54). When is parental absence excessive’? Dr. Hunter answers, “The evidence since 1980 indicates that when a baby is placed in substitute care, even good quality care such as nanny care, for twenty or more hours per week during his first year of life, he is at risk psychologically” (HBC, p. 62). John Bowlby, the only psychiatrist to have twice received the American Psychiatric Association’s highest award, the Adolph Meyer Award, offers this advice: “I don’t recommend at all that a mother return to work during the baby’s first year. What’s important . . . is what’s optimal for the child, not what the mother can get away with” (HBC, p. 54). Interestingly, “Two studies have found that boys are particularly vulnerable when mother goes to work during that important first year” (HBC, p. 63).

When is some parental absence tolerable? According to Dr. Hunter, the consensus of experts at an infancy conference concluded “that a mother should stay home, if at all possible, until attachment was consolidated at two to three years of age” (HBC, p. 67). Selma Frailberg, famous for her intervention with wounded mothers, believes “that while a baby needs his mother most of the time before age three, ‘around age three, but sometimes later, most children can tolerate a half day’s absence.’ Once a child has learned to trust his mother, he can transfer some of that trust to others . . . a child of three also has the cognitive capacity to know his absent mother will return. Moreover, at this stage of development, a child is interested in playing with other children” (HBC, p. 68).

A word to fathers. In a July 24, 1991 radio interview with Dallas talk show host David Gold, Dr. Hunter underscored the following warning: “If dads are not close to their children when those children are young, they probably will not be close to them emotionally when they are teenagers.

Parental Absence and the Parent/Child Relationship

Other-than-mother care not only imperils children emotionally, but also risks the parent/child relationship. Dr. Hunter writes, “It matters that a mother is present, both physically and emotionally, during her child’s early life. If she is . . . absent for long hours each day, her relationship with her child will be affected (HBC, p. 28). Dr. Hunter warns, “Too early other-than-mother care has its dark, problematic side. Since the early eighties researchers have found that about half of the babies who enter outside care in the first twelve months of life are insecurely attached to mother and/or father” (HBC, p. 49). Dr. Hunter explains, “No matter how much feminists have tried in the past two decades to erase sexual differences, biology dictates that a woman carry her baby inside her body until birth. Her breasts provide milk. (Her husband’s never do.) Moreover, a woman’s baby is programmed to fall in love with her. During that first year, a mother isn’t just feeding, diapering, and playing with her baby. She is teaching him lessons about love and intimacy he needs to know his whole life long. If a mother is absent, he will fall in love, or try to, with whomever she has left in charge. A mother who elects to re-enter the work place needs to grapple with this and decide if she can live with the consequences” (HBC, p. 48).

For Christian parents, the consequences are unacceptable. Carolee Howes, psychologist at UCLA, has found “that as toddlers, early care children were more influenced by their caregiver-teachers than were those cared for as infants by their mothers. This was not the case for those who entered day care after twelve months of age. Then the family was the most important socializing influence. For a parent, this is sobering news, particularly to those who want to be the leading influence in their child’s life” (HBC, p. 65). Dr. Hunter concludes, “As we give our very young children to others to rear, what’s at issue is not only their attachment to us, but also our power to influence them later on. That’s a lot to put at risk for any reason” (HBC, p. 65). Amen!

In Home By Choice, Dr. Hunter focuses first on the child’s emotional bond and the fact that too early day care puts the parental attachment at risk. She explains why, “I have done so deliberately because this is the area of greatest concern for child development experts. If a child falters his emotional development, he falters in life” (HBC, p. 66).

Parental Absence and Other Hazards

Disease. According to Dr. Hunter, “Day care is a breeding ground for disease – for children of any age. Children in day care are exposed to a host of diseases, ranging from bacterial meningitis to epiglottis, cytornegalovirus, and hepatitis A. In addition, children in day care are at much higher risk for having gastrointestinal disease, especially diarrhea, than are home-reared children. Add to that colds, ear infections, and other upper respiratory infections and the result is a child who’s often sick” (HBC, p. 66).

Children Dislike Day Care. Dr. Hunter confirms, “Many children find the long day in day care oppressive, regimented, and antithetical to their needs as children” (HBC, p. 66). In my own experience, I have yet to find a child who truly enjoys day care. Indeed, children typically view it with contempt. Many parents find comfort in thinking their children stop cryinq the minute they are left at day care. Wendy Dreskin, founder and former director of a high quality day care center in San Francisco, says, “This is often what directors tell the day care workers to say to make parents feel better” (HBC, p. 66). She further relates “that at the end of the day the children eagerly awaited the sound of mother’s car coming up the hill. ‘The children would listen and say, “Cathy, I hear your mother coming.” They were so anxious to be reunited with their mothers that they were tuned in to the motors in their parents’ cars'” (HBC, p. 66-67).

The Lost Joy of Youth. Dr. Hunter notes that “one of the silent costs of years spent in highly regimented day care will be a longing for the freedom of lost childhood. Play is the work of childhood. To play freely children need unstructured time. They need to be able to concentrate on building houses with blocks, coloring, dressing their dolls, waging warfare without the constant interference and regimentation that day care requires” (HBC, p. 67). My greatest memories of childhood are summers at home. Freed from the cruelty of children whose association school forced upon me, I would choose my friends and do as I pleased. What adventures Jimmy Perry and I enjoyed. One of the saddest things I can imagine are endless summers of day care.

Parental Absence and Older Children

Should a mother re-enter the workplace once her children have entered school? Dr. Hunter has concluded, “Youth in this country have not flourished during the more than two decades of feminism. Children, whether babies or teenagers, do not prosper when mother is absent” (HBC, p. 100). Dr. Hunter explains, “Our children need continuing parental care to have a sense of wholeness. They need someone at home who’s passionately concerned about them, not just during the early years but over the long haul. Even beyond infancy and toddlerhood, children need someone to be present during most of the hours they are at home. Someone needs to be available, on a daily basis to educate, love, nurture, discipline, and guide. It is my conviction that that someone is mom. If a mother wants to rear a child who will leave home with a sturdy sense of self, she needs to be there for her child during his growing up years. Mothering is simply not a job she can turn over to babysitters or teachers or to the child himself” (HBC, pp. 102-103).

In Home By Choice, Dr. Hunter gives several compelling reasons why mom should be home when her children are home. First, to listen. Dr. Hunter rightly affirms that any child, whether seven or seventeen, needs “to have a mother to listen to words spoken from the heart” (HBC, p. 106). As previously mentioned, school children can be terribly cruel. According to Dr. Hunter, “It’s the nature of the beast for some children to torment others. Once our children enter school, they often need us at home to shore up wounded self-esteem” (HBC, p. 107). Dr. Hunter warns, “If we aren’t there when our school-age children return home, we may never hear about pressures or triumphs of the day. Many mothers find that by the time they arrive at home at five or six o’clock from work, aerobics, or volunteer activities, their children’s hearts are closed to them” (HBC, p. 197).

Second, to teach. Dr. Hunter explains, “on-site, interested mothers oversee their children’s intellectual development, offer help with homework, and give the child the message that he has interested, involved parents. This is important if children are to achieve academically. Studies of maternal employment generally find that sons of employed mothers perform less well academically than sons of full-time mothers. Why is this so? Boys may need more guidance and supervision than their ‘time-poor’ working mothers provide. Psychologist Ann Crouter and her colleagues write that to achieve academically a child needs ‘an effective monitor’ who knows about his day and is aware of his experiences” (HBC, p. 111).

Third, to discipline and instill values. Dr. Hunter states what we all know. Namely, that “it takes time and energy to love and discipline our children. I had no idea when my babies were born just how many hours I would spend in the next eighteen years shaping their behavior. Yet what better person than their mother to teach them to speak to adults with respect, to care for their pets responsibly, to clean their rooms, to handle their angry feelings, to develop good study habits, to obey curfews, to show compassion?” (HBC, p. 113). I must add, to teach them the will of God in word and deed.

Fourth, to counteract negative peer pressure. Dr. Hunter warns, “Given that adolescence is generally a stressful, confusing time, this is no time for mom and dad to retreat and retrench. It is also not a time for mom to be so involved in her career she has too little time and energy to stay the course. If we either cave in to our adolescents’ demands or absent ourselves from their lives, we force our kids to seek guidance from their peer group. As one high school teacher says, , I don’t believe kids turn to their peers because they are close to them or even because they like them that much. Sometimes they go to their peers by default. Nobody’s home'” (HBC, p. 116).

Fifth, to prevent self-destructive behavior. “Armand Nicholi, who has conducted research on drug users, says that young people who use drugs have one thing in common: emotional distance from their parents” (HBC, p. 108). Nicholi argues that children use drugs to meet intense emotional needs created by parental absence, “due to divorce, death, or a time-demanding job. Parental absence contributes to ‘the anger, the rebelliousness, low self-esteem, depression and anti-social behavior’ of the drug user” (HBC, p. 108). Another study has noted “that eighth graders who were home alone for eleven or more hours per week were twice as likely to engage in heavy use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana than those who had a parent home after school” (HBC, p. 108-109). Why were these latchkey children more susceptible to substance abuse? Dr. Hunter explains, “With nobody home, teens turned to their peers who led them astray. So even adolescents need a sensitive parent to supervise and listen after school” (HBC, p. 109). Dr. Hunter concludes, “Kids do not profit from parental absenteeism and neglect, and the empty house can become a dangerous place. Parents are naive if they assume their teenagers will never use the empty house for drugs or afternoon sex” (HBC, p. 117).

Parental Absence and Other Issues

In Home By Choice, Dr. Hunter fully explores the issues discussed above as well as a host of other issues such as: The true extent of a child’s need for “socialization”; how most mothers still stay home (and the number is growing); the value of motherhood; why some women reject motherhood, including a background study of three famous feminists; working at home rather than the marketplace (yes, even for single mothers); making the most of the childhood years; women and depression (older women listen! young mothers desperately need you, see Titus 2:3-5); how to become a good mother; the man’s role, especially in meeting his wife’s needs (this section is particularly rich); how you can have it all (family and career) – but not all at once; and finally, the enduring legacy of a wonderful home life.


I wholeheartedly recommend Home By Choice: Facing the Effects of Mother’s Absence, Creating Emotional Security in Children and congratulate Dr. Brenda Hunter for a job well done. This book is a must for all, but especially for mothers who work outside the home or consider doing so, for mothers at home who question their worth (believe it, your career is one of the most necessary, challenging, and rewarding of all), for those who intend to have children, and for preachers of the gospel – especially those who fail to uphold, by neglect or opposition, the biblical demand for “keepers at home” (Tit. 2:5, KJV).

If you are unable to find Home By Choice, you may contact the author by writing: Home by Choice, Inc., P.O. Box 103, Vienna, VA 22183; or the publisher by writing: Multnomah Press, 10209 SE Division Street, Portland, Oregon 97266.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 22, pp. 688-690
November 21, 1991