“Long hours spent in full day-care can contribute to anti-social behaviour in children” so says the Irish Times reporting on a sociology conference in Galway. Some further quotes:
“No child should spend more than four hours a day in such care…”
“Some 25 of 27 chilcare managers interviewed said that they would not leave their child in full day-care”
“We won’t know the full effects of this [children remaining in day care] for some time…”
Does this make the working mothers of Ireland feel good? I don’t think so. In my experience, working fathers, however virtuous, appear to be largely immune from guilt so we’ll give them a skip for the meanwhile.
I’ve given this a lot of thought. I believe that what is best for very young children is to be at home with a parent who is happy to be at home. Unfortunately, people are different and not everybody finds being at home with small children fun and fantastic. Some people find it really difficult. And here’s the funny part, you don’t know which category you will fall into until you have children yourself.
I believe that if a mother or father wants to stay at home with young children, the state should do all it can to facilitate that as it is best for both parents and children. I have gone to work leaving the children at home in the care of their father. The comfort in sailing out the door without having to get anyone ready for the day, leaving them with someone who loves them and having no wailing as I depart is great. It’s great for me and it’s great for them. It’s possibly not so great for him because by the time I came home in the late afternoon he was climbing the walls and the childrnen were a hair’s breadth from being marched upstairs and given away to any neighbours who would take them (no charge!).
So let us assume that you are a parent who wants to go to work, that you find staying at home with children lonely and difficult. Let’s even imagine that you might be unhappy and cranky because you are at home with your children. Let’s even imagine that you might have to be restrained in a strait jacket, if you stayed at home, because it is hard work and it’s not for everyone whatever people might say. There are lots of us and we love our children, no really. There are also lots of people who need two salaries to support their families.
So, what are your options? Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that your spouse does not want to stay at home with the children either.
A) You can work part-time. This is, of course, career death. Yeah, I know it shouldn’t be and all that but it is. And, of course, you’re out the door at 6 o’clock like a hare out of a trap. But it’s a compromise most women and some men with young children make.
B) Even, if you work part-time, you need someone to look after your children while you are at work. Some people can resort to grand-parents, good for them (although, possibly less good for the grand-parents, I suppose it depends on how often they are called into service..), most people cannot. So let us move on to
C) You can hire a nanny. Do you know how unnerving it is to leave your child with one person? Well, I’m sure the press can fill you in.
D) You can put your child in childcare. I genuinely believe that going to a social environment like a creche, part-time from about 2 is really beneficial. No, I haven’t done any research but I see myself how my children enjoy interacting with the other kids. Under 2, I think it is a safe, happy environment but I don’t think that it is as good for the child as staying at home with a happy parent where the carer to child ratio is 1:1 or 1:2 and, you know, the carer is one of the people who loves the child most in the world. I’m pragmatic, but I’m not stupid.
There are disadvantages attached to all of these options. I think you must weigh the parents’ health, happiness and well-being in the mix as well as the children’s. Children do not live in a vacuum, they are affected by what happens around them. The best we can aim for, in an imperfect world, is reasonable happiness for most of the family, most of the time. I hope that we achieve this in my family. Yes, there are mornings when I drive the boys to the creche and they say “pas creche, pas creche” but then there are evenings when they are playing with such enthusiasm and delight that they don’t want to come home. Yes, the Princess loves the days that I collect her from school rather than the childminder but there are days when she loves going to play with the childminder’s children in their garden (relations are cold at the moment though).
I hate the scaremongering about people’s choices in the press. We all try to make the best choices for our families in the situations in which we find ourselves. If your child is in childcare from 6.45 until 6.00 in the evening, that may not be ideal for your family but it is the best you can manage taking everything into consideration. And you know what? Your child will be absolutely fine because he is in a loving family where everyone is doing his best.
In Belgium, mercifully, no one agonises about childcare. A generation of Belgians have already been through the creche. Childhood is a much less romanticised business. One morning I saw one of the other mothers saying severely to her child “stop crying, you are spending the day playing, I am going to work”. A little harsh, you might say but no nonsense. And another thing – those grown-up Belgians who went through the creche system, they seem to be just fine. They are not, in fact, psychopaths mowing down their colleagues with machine guns (they tend to kiss each other when they come in to work in the morning). And also, a number of the women who work in my boys’ creche have their children in full time care in the creche. So there. Furthermore, my mother worked full-time when I was very small and part-time when I was older and I had a very happy childhood and, as you know, have grown-up to be perfect.
To summarise, people try to do their best for their children and their families. They do not need to be harassed about the choices they have made. I believe that, if you love your children and try to do what is best for your family in your circumstances, it will all turn out fine, pretty much regardless of what choices you make. You will recall that “Happy families are all alike”.