Related and Unrelated Nonparental Infant Caregivers

Infants commonly encounter a social world that extends beyond the immediate family. In some societies, multiple-infant caregiving is natural (e.g., Bornstein et al., 1996; Morelli and Tronick, 1991). Today, the majority of infants in the United States are cared for on a regular basis by someone in addition to a parent (Clarke-Stewart and Allhusen, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook).

A common form of nonparental familial care involves relatives such as grandparents (Smith and Drew, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook). Parents with infants are very likely to receive support from their own parents (Eggebeen, 1992; Eggebeen and Hogan, 1990; Spitze and Logan, 1992). Maternal grandmothers are acknowledged to play an especially critical role in the life of infants of teen and ethnic minority mothers (McAdoo, in Vol. 4 of this Handbook; Moore and Brooks-Gunn, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook). Nonfamilial daycare providers constitute the other common participants in infant caregiving. Most provide infants with care in daycare centers; the next most provide infants with care in their own homes; and the fewest care for infants in the baby's home (Clarke-Stewart and Allhusen, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook).

It was once believed that only full-time mothers could provide infants with the care they needed in order to thrive: These beliefs were fostered by literature on the adverse effects of maternal deprivation (Bowlby, 1951; Rutter, in Vol. 4 of this Handbook). Theory maintained that infants become attached to those persons who have been associated over time with consistent, predictable, and appropriate responses to their signals as well as to their needs, and that attachment was critical to the development of a healthy and normal personality (Cummings and Cummings, in Vol. 5 of this Handbook). Since the 1960s, however, some social critics have argued that high-quality nonparental infant daycare is possible and that the normalcy of infants' emotional attachments to parents appears to depend, not on the quantity of time that parents spend with their infants, but on the quality of parents' interactions with them (Lamb, 1998).

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