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'Satellite babies' are a sad fallout of the high cost of child care

Claire Zulkey wonders when she'll ever get used to the idea that she has two boys. She is the author of two books for young people, An Off Year and Best Frenemies. She and her filmmaker husband live in Evanston, IL. You can find out more...

Immigrant mothers are often forced to send their babies abroad

Yesterday, NPR highlighted the phenomenon researchers refer to as “satellite babies” in expensive-to-live cities like New York and Boston. A satellite baby is one born to immigrant American new parents who are forced to send their children to their home country to live with their grandparents. The children return in time to start school in the States, and the parents save money on expensive child care as they build their savings.

Researchers have found some benefit in young children living in another country with their grandparents, including language immersion, but the story also highlighted the heartbreak of the parents who send their young children away (one thing that stuck with me was the mother who said that she cried for a month after she sent her daughter to China.)

More: Eva Longoria: Immigration is an economic issue

More upsetting are the struggles satellite babies experience upon their return, which seem understandable — anger problems, trust issues and difficulty in school.

The topic has been covered in the 2015 documentary Satellite Baby and has been studied by psychologists. Nonprofits like the Chinese-American Planning Council and the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center provide child care services, organize parenting classes and offer counseling for mothers and fathers of satellite babies. A new research project was also recently launched out of Harvard in order to more formally study on the effects that this type of long-distance, long-term child care has on parents and children.

Is the practice of raising satellite babies simply a common-sense parenting strategy or does it set children up for extreme emotional trauma as they switch from one set of parents to another? One thing researchers do feel confident speculating upon — the practice of sending away children will not stop as long as affordable child care is sparse.

More: Childcare fees now rival private school tuition

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