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Who’s Watching The Kids?

A good friend of mine, “Sarah,” recently shared her concern over her two year old grandson’s health. As far as she could remember, he was always coming down with a cold, ear infection, or stomach virus. It seemed as if every other week, the little boy had to be taken to his pediatrician. Since her daughter-in-law worked and took college classes, Sarah often had to use her own personal and sick days at work to be available to watch him when he was sick and home from day care.

Sarah strongly felt that her grandson’s frequent illnesses were due to a combination of being exposed to other ill children at his day care center and the fact that it was unlikely he was napping properly while other babies and toddlers were crying and screaming nearby. He was run down and therefore his immune system was not up to par. And the fact that the boy was in day care, she angrily insisted, was her son’s fault.

Her son, a brilliant young man, had decided after he came back from his year in Israel that he was not going to attend the Ivy League college where he had applied and had been accepted. Instead, he would become a full time learner, and then go into chinuch. His rebbes and friends and applauded this decision. Many expressed how envious they were that they had a son who was such a talmid chacham.

While she and her husband took pride in their son’s Torah study, they were also somewhat concerned. Both were college graduates and they had expected him to be one as well. Though they both had well-paying jobs, they barely managed to pay their mortgage, tuition and camp for five children, insurance and maintenance of their minivan and car, plus all the extras that are part and parcel of raising a frum, middle-class family. How would their son manage to support his family?

Their concerns were realistic. While their son learned, their daughter-in-law, whom they loved and admired, held the fort. “Leah” went to college with the goal of graduating in the health sciences so that she would have a career that paid decently. She also went to work because the bills had to be paid. When she had the baby, she had no choice but to hand him over to a woman in the neighborhood who watched several babies at her home. Both her own mother and her husband’s mother worked and were not available for full time baby-sitting. And staying home with the baby was out of the question.

At one point, Sarah had considered quitting her job for the baby’s sake, but part of her paycheck went to subsidize her son’s expenses and truthfully, she loved her job. She had been a stay-at-home mother until her youngest was in pre-school. She believed in the theory, backed by research, that the first three or four years of a child’s life form the foundation for the future.

A child who felt loved and had his/her mother’s attention and encouragement would likely grow up to be a confident, competent adult. She believed those children who were lacking emotional nourishment grew up to be insecure and unsure of themselves, and easy prey for abusive or manipulative people – whom, she felt, had also been emotionally neglected children.

Those years at home had been draining but fulfilling. When her youngest went off to school, Sarah was ready to join the world of working (out of the house) adults and to make use of her hard-earned education and skills.

Now, Sarah couldn’t understand this new world of barely-home-mothers and barely-home-babies. She blamed it on the barely-home non-working fathers. Whatever happened, she wondered, to men who earned during the day and learned at night and in their spare time? Weren’t the gedolim from the Talmudic times wage earners? Some were royal court doctors, some were shoe-makers and milkmen, but all worked. The great and venerable Chofetz Chaim had a grocery store.

The only solution, as unfair as it sounded, was for only the children of the wealthy to be full time learners, supported by their parents so that their wives could stay at home with their babies. Or perhaps a Yissachar and Zevulun arrangement could be made where a wealthy friend would support the learning family and share the learner’s zechus of learning Torah.

Sounds good, but was it realistic? All I could do was listen. And to say a quiet mazel tov when she called last week to let me know her the young couple was expecting.

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