Dear Dr. Yael,
I’m on a bus traveling out of town, no computer, no cooking, and finally some free time. Straight to the point, my very passive son and his equally passive wife, leave their nine-month-old daughter with a babysitter who is very inexpensive. She is somewhat debilitated and there are three other babies that she watches. We actually resorted to putting a tiny hidden recorder in her diaper bag and in her car seat. Were she not frum, we would report her to the authorities. My granddaughter is in the basement for six hours, never outside and never held. I have offered to pay more money for a more capable sitter, but they feel she isn’t being deprived. She is in that car seat most of the day as we are not allowed to bring the carriage inside. My heart breaks for my grandchild. My children are expecting another baby in a few months and I am so frantic with worry.
If you respond to this, I would like to show it to my children and their babysitter. Maybe coming from you, a person with authority, they will wake up.
An Anguished Grandmother
Dear Anguished Grandmother,
Thank you for your important letter. You are correct that holding and touching a baby is integral to a baby’s development. Harlow, a psychologist in the 1950s, has done a lot of research in this area and all of his studies have shown that when babies receive warmth and positive physical touch, their development is healthier emotionally. In his research with monkeys, he found that by providing reassurance and security to infants, cuddling kept normal development on track.
Harlow experimented with baby monkeys and two “monkey mothers.” One “mother” was wrapped in terry cloth and provided warmth and cuddling, while the other “mother” was made from mesh wire and only provided basic needs to the baby monkeys. When the monkeys were frightened by loud noise or strange objects, the babies who were raised by the terry cloth surrogates ran to their “mother” and rubbed against her for comfort. Then they were able to calm down and go back to playing, etc. On the other hand, the babies that received no comfort from the wire mesh surrogates, did not retreat to their “mothers” when scared. Instead, they threw themselves on the floor, clutched themselves, rocked back and forth, and screamed in terror.
Harlow realized that these behaviors very closely resembled the behaviors of autistic and deprived children often observed in institutions as well as the pathological behavior of adults confined to mental institutions. The incredible power of attachment and loss over mental health and illness could not have been seen more dramatically. Furthermore, Harlow and his colleagues found that the impact of early maternal deprivation could be reversed in monkeys only if it had lasted less than 90 days. They estimated that the equivalent for humans was six months. After these critical periods, no amount of exposure to mothers or peers could change the monkeys’ abnormal behaviors and make up for the emotional damage that had already occurred.
As a therapist I have treated adults who were born premature and were put in the ICU. Over 40 years ago the NICU [neonatal intensive care units] were dramatically different. Parents were not allowed to touch their babies.
Today and for many years things are different. Parents are encouraged to come to visit their babies in the NICU, and after cleaning their hands thoroughly to touch and hold their babies. In fact there is a method called the KANGAROO where the mother holds the baby skin to skin behind a curtain. This is to establish closeness to the baby.
Of course it is the hope that your son and daughter-in-law are warm and loving, making up for the time that your granddaughter is in the neglectful daycare; however, this babysitter sounds less than ideal! Perhaps you can show your son some of this research and offer again to help with payment for a better babysitter.
I see so many emotional problems in adults who were not cared for properly as babies and young children. The need for warmth and love is crucial. In fact, in some orphanages where babies were given no warmth and only physical care many of these children failed to thrive and even died as young children. As a mother and mother-in-law, you want to be careful in how you “interfere,” though this does sound like a situation where you would want to try to suggest alternative daycare.
It is so hard for you to be in this situation. However, are you offering the money with any strings attached? Please tell your son and daughter-in-law that you will help them with this issue financially in a happy loving manner.
Please invest in better childcare. You will change your grandchild’s life. They are also expecting another baby and you do not want this situation for your next grandchild.
In the meantime, try to give your granddaughter as much love and cuddling as you can when you are with her and try to visit often. Hopefully Hashem will put the right words into your mouth and you will be successful in helping your granddaughter have better care during the day! Hatzlocha!