Berry Brazelton: The Changing Family (Part Two)

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This is the second of a two-part episode with Dr. T. Berry Brazelton. When it comes to baby talk, Dr. Brazelton has no equal. He spent a lifetime studying little children, and he learned that in all the “oohing” and “ahhing,” some serious messages are being sent back and forth. Brazelton’s books on child-raising can be found in American homes all across the country. Today’s parents call him the Dr. Spock of their generation. And so it is of particular significance when Dr. Brazelton turns his attention to the problems and challenges of working parents. Brazelton is worried about the way the marketplace is treating families; something precious, he says, is being compromised. This second part of their conversation focuses on daycare and childcare options.


BILL MOYERS: [on camera] Good evening. I’m Bill Moyers. Last night you met Dr. Berry Brazelton, a doctor for children and their families. After decades of practice, Dr. Brazelton had some pretty firm ideas about a mother’s duty to stay home with her children until, he says, his own daughters became mothers themselves. Like many modern women they had to work outside the home while trying to raise the children. So from their own experience they told their father that he needed to revise the textbook. Well, now he’s turned his attention to the ecology of the whole family; parent, child, work, and all. In this second half of our conversation, we’ll explore some ideas about turning American society all of American society, into an extended family.

[voice-over] It has been called the greatest shift in American life in this century. Today, two out of three mothers in this country are working women; that’s up from one in five twenty years ago. What used to be the typical American family, mother at home, father on the job, is now true for only a minority of families, economic necessity, ambition, or both, drives women into the marketplace. More than a third of the mothers who work are married to men who make less than $20,000 a year. And what about their children? Six out of ten school-age children, and half of children under six, have working mothers. Mothers who often start their days by dropping those kids off in places like this for daycare. And how has America adjusted to these changes? According to this man, pediatrician Berry Brazelton, not very well. Dr. Brazelton, chief of child development at Boston Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Harvard, believes we can be doing more. I talked with him in his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

[interviewing] You started out looking at babies as individuals, and I’ve noticed in the last couple of years you’ve been looking not at babies as individuals as much as you’ve been looking at the families in which babies live. Why is that? Why that slight change of emphasis?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: We’re in deep, deep trouble in this country. Families are really suffering and with all of the signs that we’ve got, you know, the increasing divorce rate, the break-down of the extended family. Very few young people can turn back to their own families for support and that is very tragic because we don’t hand anything on from one generation to another. Then all the things we’re going through with teenagers, you know, increasing pregnancy, drugs, suicide. And I think the family, you know, my bias, I think that the family is where we’ve got to turn to, to try to balance this out, to try to give kids a different future than the one we’ve provided in the past generation.

BILL MOYERS: What happens to a society that doesn’t put children in the honored place? That doesn’t care?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON Well, I think you’re seeing a society like that right now. I don’t think we value children, and we certainly don’t value their parents, in our society, so I think we’re paying a big price right now.

BILL MOYERS: But you describe these pregnant women coming up to you, describe these eager and grieving fathers who want to know how to nurture. I mean, there’s something there within us that wants the child. That wants —


BILL MOYERS: But in society at large there’s such a gap.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: And I think that gap is really frightening to young people who do care. You know, they say, Gosh, I don’t know what I’m raising these kids for. Here I spent all of my time trying to nurture this kid and I shove him out into a society that, you know, doesn’t value him.

BILL MOYERS: What would happen to society if Harvard produced parents with the same skill and zeal and financial support that it produces MBAs?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Well, I’ve been over teaching at business school for the past two or three years, teaching the second year class. And it’s 50 percent women now. And so I show them a baby and I show them this period when the baby and the mother get locked in with each other and the father gets locked in. At the end of that class all of these kids are sitting forward and they’re saying, “Oh, my God! We’re on the wrong track. We’re on the fast track, how are we going to do this with our kids?” You see, I think we’re in a real choice-making period. I see it as a period of real disorganization before we take a spurt in our society. And we’re asking enormous questions of reorganization. How do we do it? And I think we all ought to band together and look for solutions.

BILL MOYERS: Do you see a lot of anguish among young couples today, young parents?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Oh tremendous, and a lot of this wish to be perfection, you know, perfect mother, perfect father, perfect child, and so they’re pushing themselves so hard that they don’t really learn the subtlety of parenting or the excitement of watching a child make a mistake, bringing it back, try again. And you know, giving the child and themselves some leeway. So the anguish, I think, is the pressure everybody feels under.

BILL MOYERS: And the messages from society are very conflicting. I mean there are really two women’s movements. One women’s movement says, stay in the home, your place is in the home. Nurture, raise that child. Be a mother. The other women’s movement says, You’ve got to get out for, for survival reasons into the world and, and compete and make it. So these young women in particular are getting conflicting advice from their own peers.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: They are. What I’d like to create right now are some choices for people so they can understand what this choice means, what this choice means, what this choice means, and then make their own.

BILL MOYERS: As it is a lot of young people are simply saying we’re not going to have children. Or they’re deciding, as recent polls have suggested, that the ideal family size is one or two children. What do you think that means for the future?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Well, I don’t think it’s bad to have one or two children, if you make that choice. I think you can do a good job by them. It’s hard to have one. It’s easier to have two, and even easier to have three. I guess what it means to me, though, is that they’re making the choice for, maybe the wrong reasons, financial or, you know, upward mobility. Things like that that really don’t stand them in good stead later on. They don’t feel good about the choices.

I go out and talk to parents all over the country these days, and they sit there for two and a half hours asking questions, getting involved. At the end of that two and a half hours, if I don’t get out of that hall, quick, they come and grab me by the tie, by the belt, by the trousers, and they say, “I’m not letting you go ’til you answer my question.” And you think, Wow, this is really kooky, isn’t it? And then you realize this is power, these kids feel some power when they’re pregnant and when they have a new baby. They’re not going to give that up easily, and I see that as a very positive sign. That young people right now are sensing the power of attachment, of family. And if we can now back them up — you and me, my generation — back up these kids, we can have a country that’ll pull itself together and get off the ground again.

BILL MOYERS: Let’s talk about what you mean by backing them up. What are some specific things you think we, society-


BILL MOYERS: The community, the country have to do?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: I think we’ve got to give parental leave around a new baby.

BILL MOYERS: To both father and mother.


BILL MOYERS: Which means?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON Four months of protected leave for both parents, and the father can take what he wants of it, the mother can take what she wants. I don’t have any illusions that fathers’ll take a lot, but I think they’ll take two or three weeks, or four weeks.

BILL MOYERS: There are countries that give 60 percent, 75 percent, 80 percent of the income to the mother or father on parental leave who stays home with that baby.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Those countries are very committed to families and children. We are not.

BILL MOYERS: We’re not?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: As a country, no.

BILL MOYERS: If we were caring we would see that some kind of parental leave is available to a new mother and a new father.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Right. Then we’d also be sure that when they have to leave those kids they’re leaving them in decent care. That means we got to spend some money. We’ve got to train people to take care of small children, and we haven’t done that yet. Otherwise a mother or a father go off and they grieve and they burn out at work, and they’re absent and they do all the things we know they do. If we provided them with really nurturing day care, or nurturing substitute care, they’d feel good about what they were doing.

BILL MOYERS: But we haven’t come close to that yet.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Well, we have certain businesses that have on-site day care. I think this is the purpose for on-site day care and that’s working very well.

BILL MOYERS: But out of 44,000 corporations in this country with over 100 employees, only 3,500 of them, have anything resembling an adequate child care facility or service.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: It’s true, but many businesses are rethinking that and I get calls every day from businesses who want to do this before the government tells them to. So that’s a good sign.

BILL MOYERS: Have you actually seen some successful models for this approach?



T. BERRY BRAZELTON: The first one, really, was here at Stride Rite, Stride Rite Shoe Corporation, and there they had on-site day care, oh, ten or fifteen years ago. And they tell me over there now, that the workplace has changed and they have 40 percent women, really, with all of their allegiance to this company. Because the company is committed to them.

BILL MOYERS: Isn’t that the first line of where this should begin, that there’s a limit to what you can expect a national government to be able to accomplish over a sprawling continental area like the United States and that if the institution, the corporation, the company where these women work, took the initiative that would be meeting the need at the first common denominator.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: I think businesses, big business, now is conscious enough, too, to be ready for that if we gave them just a little bit more of a shove. Small businesses are going to need more help than that; but, you know, that ought to be our job. Find out how to help them do it. And I think where it’s got to come from, though, Bill, is that we’ve got to empower young parents, and young people to say, “We have got to have this.”

BILL MOYERS: Yes, but the childcare of that kind is expensive. It’s hard to acquire and it’s the most difficult to evaluate.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Sure, that’s a learning process too. But we can do all that. We know — we have plenty of information about how to do it. We just don’t have the commitment yet.

BILL MOYERS: But hasn’t there also been research suggesting that putting babies under one year of age into full-time child-care can be harmful to that child many years later?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Sure. Yes. And I would expect that, wouldn’t you? That if we didn’t provide them with top notch daycare, and were sure that they had somebody who paid attention to them, that the kids would suffer for it. The thing that hasn’t been shown by the kind of studies we’ve done so far is what it means to the parent to have to leave that child. And I think what we’re seeing is that kids will suffer both if they’re in less than optimal care, but also their parents grieve and detach if they aren’t left in decent care. The mother’s own adjustment to her work and to leaving the child become just as critical to that child’s outcome as any of the other factors, as whether she works or not.

BILL MOYERS: I see that. But given the inadequacy of so many of our schools today, what gives you hope that we can learn how and actually put into practice, proper daycare facilities?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: I wouldn’t have any hope if I were depending on the way we’ve approached education. I wouldn’t have any at all. I just have hope that, you know, because these are young kids, and young families that there’s enough energy there, in them, to demand what they need, and enough energy in a whole culture like ours to respond to that demand. That we wouldn’t let it get into the kind of, you know, not caring what kind of education we’re giving.

BILL MOYERS: We care about what kind of education my child is getting, but not a great deal about what kind of education other people’s children are getting.


BILL MOYERS: And that same fallacy, it seems to me, would be operable in the daycare system if we’re not careful.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Sure. You know, we’re really making a two class system very rapidly with the kind of daycare we have. The ones who have good daycare and the ones who don’t. And those who don’t are going to be the poor of the future, and the unsuccessful of the future. So, unconsciously we, in this country, we like to keep people on the bottom. We like to be on top. And unless we recognize that it costs us a hell of a lot more than we can afford to have those kids on the bottom, we aren’t going to be responsive.

BILL MOYERS: Isn’t it a better policy, and I don’t know, I’m just asking this honestly, wouldn’t it be a better policy to find some way to reward parents for staying home with their children? Wouldn’t that be a better alternative than some vast system of government.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Supplementary care?


T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Yes, it might. I don’t think it would work, but I think it would be a very important thing to do because it would give women choices. I don’t think it would settle the issues that women are going through right now, and that men are going to go through. Young people can’t afford the kind of daycare I’m talking about, by themselves.

BILL MOYERS: It is expensive? What does it cost up here in this part of the country, for example?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Well, for a baby, it’s between $1,500 and $9,000 a year. For a toddler, it’s something like, $5,000 to $6,000 a year. And this is in private daycare. So that means the mother who has two children has to make $13,000 to $15,000 a year to pay for her two children’s care.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think we can depend on market forces alone to provide enough affordable daycare?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Not without a lot of pressure, no. But I think we can push people right now. And I think that business is getting very sensitive to this as women are more and more necessary in the work force. So I think it’s a matter of these young people saying, look unless you care about me as a person, and my family as a family, you’re not going to get me.

BILL MOYERS: We touched on two things. Parental leave, child-care facilities. What would be the other features of a Brazelton national policy on child care.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Wow. Oh, gosh, let me dream.

BILL MOYERS: Flex time? Giving flexible time at work?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Flex time and even shared job opportunities. You know, two mothers working back-to-back, or two fathers working back-to-back, and sanctioning it and valuing it. And I guarantee that two people doing half-time work are going to give a lot more than half-time each if they know they’re doing it for a cause; the whole workplace becoming sensitive to families and to family issues. Having something provided around sick leave for the kids, and letting people stay home because the child is sick. Don’t you remember when you were sick and your mother would come in and rub your back and put on mustard plaster, feed you all sorts of wonderful things.

BILL MOYERS: I remember enjoying the mumps because I had ice cream every day. Every day.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: It wasn’t just the ice cream either.


T. BERRY BRAZELTON: It was that mother looking at you like that. So, you know, we can’t throw those things out the window without paying a terrible, terrible price.

BILL MOYERS: And yet we and South Africa are the only two industrialized nations without a real policy toward —


BILL MOYERS: Toward families.


BILL MOYERS: How do you explain that?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Ah, well, I suppose I think the same sort of thing goes on in South Africa, that they aren’t really committed to either their poor or their families. I think in South Africa it may be the same sort of unconscious thing that we have here, that if we empower poor people and poor families we’re going to have another we’re not going to have the same class system that we’ve got. We’re not going to have the rich and the poor, we’re going to have people who feel alike, and that’s scary. You know, that’s asking for a real revolution in this country. Everybody feels alike, we might not be able to Stay up on top of the heap.

BILL MOYERS: As long as you deny opportunity you deny status, you have a two class system, three class system. Now that’s not what you’ll hear when you talk to the Phyllis Schlaflys and others, but that’s way down there in the cultural bias of our society.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Very subtle though. People are not going to pick up on it easily. Just giving people a choice gives them a sense of power. When we gave women in labor a choice about whether they could stay awake or go to sleep, you could see them take on a whole different attitude toward their labor and delivery. And just giving people a choice in this country is a big step.

BILL MOYERS: I love the subtle change in the definition of the word “power” that you have made throughout this interview. By power you mean choice. You don’t mean the ability to lord it over anyone, you mean the power to choose directions for my life.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: And feel like, God, that was my choice. Now, how do I live up to it? You know, that’s a different thing from “They’re” making a choice. What do I have to do to make up for it? And, I think this is what people pass on to their kids, you know? The child is feisty in the second year and you have to stomp on them, get angry with them. It’s a very different kind of kid from when it’s cowering in the corner and you don’t dare, you know, sit on them. And I think we want feisty kids.

BILL MOYERS: The Census Bureau says that 60 percent of all children will live at some time in the future with a single parent, with only one parent in the home. What does it do to a baby not to have a father? Very tough. Tough on the single parent, the mother, too; not to have a father. What you see in older kids, three and four — I call them older, three or four-year-old kids, if they don’t have a father, they’ll come and just climb up in your lap — in my lap — and they’ll son of fawn and want to feel my face and touch me, as if they just couldn’t get enough of what a man is like. So, I think in a single-parent family this is one of the hardest things; that you never quite feel enough for that child. And then the child shows you, you’re not enough. And this must be very tough.

The burden is really on single parents, is it not? They have to not only provide that nurturing, and take that bonding to its natural depth in those first few months but they have to get out in that world and earn the only income that is going to help feed that child. Clothe that child. Shelter that child. Is this a problem made more difficult for poor people?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Oh, of course. Of course, and, you know, you have to do something that I think we all do unconsciously; “Oh, the poor don’t care this much, or the poor don’t make this kind of relationship, this is a middle-class concept.” Crap. Poor people are suffering just as much, and setting up just as strong defenses because they want so much to have this experience. And our society’s not giving them a chance at it. We’re demanding too much of people.

BILL MOYERS: Can a teenager who has a child be helped to become a good mother?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: There are many studies showing that teenagers do very well through the first year, particularly with a little bit of nurturing. But the studies that I think are the most critical for all of us who are interested in, you know, offering what they need, in order to be a good mother, show that if their own mother accepts them back into the family, those kids’ll do very well. If she rejects her teenage daughter for her pregnancy, the baby is likely to fail.

BILL MOYERS: So the extended family becomes critical? The grandmother plays a very important role.

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Or even if the teenage woman has a spouse or somebody who cares about her she’ll do well. But she’s got to have some supplement herself. And we could do that as a society, we could back up young women.

BILL MOYERS: What about bonding for I think it’s probably about 10 percent as I read for those children that are born in the womb those children who are borne in the womb of an addict and are, by the time of birth, themselves addicted? Is there any hope for them?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Maybe. We don’t know that yet, but I think so. But it’s higher than 10 percent.


T. BERRY BRAZELTON: It’s 10 percent in the boondocks, but it’s 25 percent in every city that we know of now. Twenty-five percent of women who come into a city hospital, or even a private hospital have positive urine for drugs. So it’s pshewww! just going like that.

BILL MOYERS: What does this mean to the child? To the baby?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Well, cocaine is a bad actor. It causes big holes in the baby’s brain, it causes their kidneys — at least one kidney is always damaged by birth. Some of them are born with amputations of their fingers, toes, things like that. So we know cocaine is really terrible for fetuses, because, every time the mother has enough for a rush, her baby gets that rush through the placenta and he can’t excrete the same cocaine back to her, it gets caught in his system, and he may get 20 rushes out of every hit she gets. What goes with a rush is that your blood pressure goes up, your circulation goes way up and there’s a spasm that goes with it, and the spasm can cut off circulation to the brain, to the kidneys, to the limbs and these babies are born with defective systems.

BILL MOYERS: Can even a caring surrogate parent bond with a child like that?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: It’s very tough. I have a newborn baby assessment that people are using all over the country, and for these babies they show that the first month, if you even look at them or talk to them, or touch them, they get overwhelmed and stop breathing. And they’re very prone to SIDS, Sudden Infant Death. So they’re very high risk babies. If you wait a month, they get to the point where you can look at them, touch them, talk to them and begin to reorganize them. Then if you start with those babies when they’re finally getting rehabilitated and look or talk or touch — but only one, cause you can’t do two. They arch, tum away, get negative responses. If you just look, then they’ll arch and look at you like this, and finally soften. Then you can say, “Hi,” and they’ll arch, turn away and soften, and you finally get those babies going. And we think that we can reorganize a lot of them.

BILL MOYERS: Are there that many sensitive surrogate parents around?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: Not yet. But when we start paying them and training them and giving them enough back up to feel that’s important there will be. There are plenty of people out there ready to do this. We looked in Massachusetts at what we were doing here, and we found that we were paying daycare people $8,000 at an average. Well, you can get $9,000 on welfare. Why would anybody do it unless they just were so in love with babies? But being in love with them isn’t enough, you gotta know what’s making them tick too. And so, if we wanted them to get trained, we had to raise their base rates, so we did. We raised it to $12,000 in Massachusetts by supplementing it with state funds. And within a year daycare improved all over Massachusetts. So it can be done.

BILL MOYERS: I find this exciting, don’t you? To think about the possibility of this country becoming a really caring society, and of making this kind of success and competition the one that is most rewarded by our value system?

T. BERRY BRAZELTON: And we can do it. We can really do it if we put our minds to it. This is what’s so exciting. These young people all over the country who grab my tie and my belt are saying, “Look, I’ve got enough energy to go around,” So you know, why don’t we pick up on it?

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] From his home in Cambridge, this has been a conversation with Dr. Berry Brazelton. I’m Bill Moyers.

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