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Parents speak: Home care is way better than day care

New study shows today's moms distrust day-care centers and prefer to be at home with their children.

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Just before the birth of her first child in April, Jennifer Arnold went to her boss with a bold wish list. She wanted to be able to pick and choose her own hours.

It was a radical idea, never tried in the conservative investment firm where Ms. Arnold, of Waukesha, Wisc., works as a marketing specialist. But she knew she wanted to minimize the hours the couple's infant son would spend in day care and maximize the time she and her husband could spend with him at home.

Arnold's request typifies the dreams of a growing number of parents of very young children. In a wide-ranging study of child care released yesterday, researchers uncovered at least two striking findings. The youngest generation of mothers strongly prefer staying at home with their kids. And parents of young children don't necessarily want more help with day care from government or employers. They see the responsibility as their own.

"Parents are saying in every way you can possibly hear that having a parent at home is better for kids," says Deborah Wadsworth, president of Public Agenda, the nonpartisan public policy organization that made the survey. "It's very important for us to listen to the desires of parents of young kids and to try to craft policies and solutions that mirror these values."

Seventy percent of parents and child advocates surveyed say that having one parent at home is the best child-care arrangement during the earliest years. Among mothers between the ages of 18 and 29, 80 percent prefer to be at home. They also express a deep distrust of day-care centers, viewing them as the option of last resort.

Some family advocates see the findings as evidence of a quiet shift in attitudes among young couples. "Young people have gotten the message about the importance of the first three years," says Ruth Wooden, president of the National Parenting Association in New York.

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