First of all, I want to say that I enjoyed the presentations of all the panelists, Professor Uchida, Dr. Matsumoto, and Professor Imai. I need more time than I was allowed here to reflect on everything they said. Nevertheless, there was one pattern that I detected in what I heard. The presentations reflected the worry in the Japanese society, even among scientist and professionals, about early child care. In the first presentation, we heard about maternal deprivation and about institutionalized children. This suggests to me that some still intuitively categorize child care with these two conditions. I hope that, with time, people will change their conceptions of child care. As I said in my invited talk today, children who are in child care have families. They see their parents on a daily basis. They share with them critical times during the day: waking up, going to sleep, taking a bath, sharing food together. On the weekend, parents and children have even more time together than they do during the workweek. Having said that, I also want to say that it is true that deprivation may occur if a family relinquishes its child rearing responsibilities toward children who are in child care. If the mother thinks that because the child is in child care for many hours each workday, someone else is responsible for the job of child rearing. If the mother thinks that she does not need to do much for her child when the child is home-she may be depriving the child of her expressions of love and attention during the times that she and her child are together. At the end of the workday, the mother may feel tired. Even though she is exhausted, she has to prepare the food, do the dishes, clean the house and talk to her mother. So, she may convince herself that the child does not need her attention since the child has already been taken care of at child care. She may consequently decide to place her young child in front of the TV or ask the child not to disturb her or she may send the child to bed. Such thoughts and behavior on the part of the mother can indeed result in deprivation. However, if at the end of the workday the mother involves the child in what she is doing. If, for example, the mother keeps the young child next to her when she cooks or when she does the wash. If she talks to the child about what happened during her workday or what she plans for dinner or for the next day. If, regardless of her child's ability to respond verbally, she asks the young child about what happened in her child's day. If mother and child laugh together and so on, this creates the opposite of deprivation--enrichment. What I am saying is that children in child care are not necessarily deprived of maternal attention, sensitivity and love. It is up to the mother to create an enriched environment when mother and child are together.
The next speaker, Dr. Matsumoto, expressed great worry about the fact that mothers of very young children are employed. I agree with him about the importance of the mother-child bond during the first years of life (as well as during later years). Mother-child interactions during the first years (and during later years) are important. As Dr. Uchida told us in her presentation, one to one interactions between a young child and adults are important for children's development. If the mother can stay home and wants to stay at home for a year, or two or three or even more, why not? I think that mothers who can and want to stay home, should. At the same time, there are mothers who need to go to work or wish to go to work. I think that it is possible for these mothers to establish a close relationship with their children. Employed mothers have to work at establishing a close relationship with their children. One key for successful parenting is the parents' awareness of the importance of parents for facilitating the healthy development of their children. The other key, to successful parenting is acting on the awareness I just mentioned. It may be that we need to have national-level type of education for parents. Maybe we need to start educating children in high school or even before about the importance of families for the development of children. So when these children grow up and have children of their own, they will implement sensitive responsible parenting and have children that are well adjusted and healthy, regardless of whether or not their mother is employed.
I very much enjoyed the presentation of Professor Imai. Her words come from the heart of a mother and a professional child care provider. I think there is a lot of wisdom in what she offers us in terms of how child care providers can do an optimal job, how they can support both the children in their care and the children's families. At the same time, we have to remember there are many child care providers that don't do that. There are many reasons for this reality. In the United States, it has to do with the fact that child care providers are underpaid. Their work conditions are not supportive. This leads them to quit their jobs even though they love their jobs. They cannot afford to be child care providers. This, in turn, leads to personnel turnover in child care. Children consequently experience instability in care. Instability is not good for children and it is not good for grownups. The ideal that Professor Imai is presenting is really wonderful, but society needs to do something to make it possible for all the people who want to be child care providers to do their job well. At lunch, when I discussed some topics with people, I said that in the United States, there is schizophrenia between what people say about the importance of children for the society and what they do for children. People say that children are the next generation, they are the workforce of the future, they say that we need to cultivate children, and that we love our children. But, when it comes to investment in child care, society does not invest enough money or other resources. I hope that this will change with time and that it will be possible for people who want to be child care providers to do the excellent job that was described here.