QUESTION: My son is just over a year old. I quit my job when he was born, believing it was the right thing to do, but lately our finances have been so tight that I'm seriously considering going back to work. What are your feelings about putting a child of this age in day care?

DR. DOBSON: Let me begin by saying that I understand the struggle you're facing. When our firstborn was 2-years-old, I was finishing my doctoral work at the University of Southern California. Every available dollar was needed to support my tuition and related expenses.

Although we didn't want Shirley to work when Danae was young, we felt we had no alternative. Shirley taught school, and our little girl was taken to a day-care center each morning. One day when we arrived at the facility, Danae began to cry uncontrollably. "No! No! No, Daddy!" she said to me. She had a look of terror in her eyes, and I suspected that she had been very upset the last time she was there. I could only imagine what had happened. I turned and walked back to the car carrying my precious daughter. When we were alone, I said, "Danae, I promise that you will never have to stay there again." And she never did.

I share this to underscore the point that though I'm sympathetic with your financial anxieties, I'd still advise you to avoid the day-care option if at all possible. My opinion on this subject is based on hard data.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has conducted the most comprehensive study of this issue to date. More than 1,100 mothers and children and 10 premier child-care sites across the United States were evaluated when the children were 6, 15, 24 and 36 months of age. Preliminary findings confirm that leaving a very young child in a day-care facility is associated with less sensitive mothering and child engagement. The child also tends to react less positively to the mother. In other words, the bond between mother and child is affected somewhat negatively by early day-care experience, especially if the mother tends by nature to be insensitive.

QUESTION: Do you have any practical suggestions for couples who are serious about making the effort to live on one income? How can they avoid bankruptcy?

DR. DOBSON: There may be a way to get it done. Donna Partow, author of "Homemade Business," has offered specific advice about starting your own business, which could involve desktop publishing, pet grooming, sewing, consulting, transcribing legal documents or even getting into mail-order sales. Choosing the right business is the first of three preparatory steps.

Consider taking a personal-skills-and-interest inventory to identify your abilities and to discover what you might enjoy doing. The second step is to do your homework. Begin by asking your librarian to help you research your chosen field. Look up books, magazines and newspaper articles. Talk to other people who have done what you are considering. Join an industry organization and a network. Subscribe to industry publications. According to Mrs. Partow, the third step is to garner as much support as you can. Get your children, your spouse and your friends on your side. Then marshal your resources and go for it.

Before telling me why this alternative is impossible in light of your circumstances, let me tell you about the Van Wingerden family in Colorado Springs, Colo. They have 22 children, 12 of them adopted and 10 born to Lynn, the mother. They own a strawberry farm, and all the children old enough to work are involved in it. Believe it or not, Mrs. Van Wingerden homeschools all the kids personally. The family is highly organized and structured, with the teenagers having specific and rotating responsibilities for routine tasks and for the care of the youngsters. Visiting their home is a delight. The Van Wingerdens prove that many things are possible for those who set their minds to it.

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