WHEN tobacco companies claim that studies about a connection between smoking and lung cancer are inconclusive, the public is mostly skeptical, even disbelieving.
Similar skepticism should be directed at the recent study showing that children whose mothers work outside the home suffer no permanent harm because of their mother's absence. The study was conducted by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a hotbed of liberalism, feminism and co-ed bathrooms.
Like those who church shop until they find a theology that fits their lifestyle choices, this study sounds as if it were commissioned for women who think they can microwave their children's lives and dinners at the end of long workdays. I'm not buying it, no matter how "scholarly" the study appears.
Several previous studies reached different conclusions, suggesting a connection between absentee mothers and troubled children.
Robert Rector, a senior policy analyst for family issues at the Heritage Foundation, says many mothers want more time with their children, but feel pressured to work to pay bills, a huge percentage of which are taxes.
"Forty percent of the working woman's income [in a dual-earner household]," says Mr. Rector, "goes for taxes, not to sustain her family." He adds that young children in day care often exhibit poor language patterns, which even the University of Massachusetts survey concluded, though it notes such problems eventually go away.
Left out of the study are the parents. Among the joys of parenting are quality and quantity time spent with children. Is parenting simply biological, or is it something infinitely more valuable, requiring time to nurture and to be nurtured? Parents give and should receive the blessings that come from the company of innocence in an age when that precious state is increasingly short. And the person who spends the most time with a child inevitably becomes the greatest influence on the child.
In their book "A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval," sociologists Paul Amato and Alan Booth write that daughters of employed mothers are "at an increased risk of divorce. . . . When mothers were employed full-time [compared with those who were employed part-time or not in the labor force], the risk that daughters would see their own marriages end in divorce is 166 percent higher."
The University of Massachusetts study focused on mothers employed outside the home, so we cannot fully comprehend the impact of full-time work on children because the little ones were not interviewed. But increasing numbers of women are tiring of the work grind and returning home. They say their children are more important, at least in the early years.
Lynda Resnick, a co-owner and vice chairman of Roll International Corp., told Forbes magazine that she bought the feminist line that women can have it all -- career, a great marriage and healthy, well-adjusted children. "It's a lie," she says. "You can't have it all. Something has to give. . . . I'll tell you this -- my daughter-in-law is home with my grandchildren, and it makes me very happy."
Women are right to be concerned that they have been lied to when it comes to their children and "quality" day care from unrelated workers. Various polls that ask the proper questions have found a large majority of women with children under 18 say their relationship with those children, not job satisfaction, is more important to their personal happiness.
We don't need more federal money for day care, as President Clinton has proposed. States are flush with unspent Aid to Families with Dependent Children funds, should they choose to use them. We need a tax cut so women who want to stay home with their children have that choice. Children are often portrayed as burdens to parents, impediments to personal and career goals. This attitude contributes to abortion for millions and day care for many of the rest.
Part of being human is loving and rearing your own child. If it is to be done well, this requires time. The new study may comfort those who want to believe its conclusions. But a real study would quiz the children. And it would poll the mothers who have quit work to learn what led them to a higher calling and deeper satisfaction than the office.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.
Pub Date: 3/05/99