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I’ve said it before

“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”.

10 Responses to “I’ve said it before”

  1. MsPrufrock Says:

    Thank you for this great post. I’m not a stay-at-home type person, and I knew this all along. My daughter is in nursery from 8am-4pm every day, and I don’t feel guilty, not one iota. Our time spent with her is high quality, and she feels loved and cared for.

    I can’t stand that I am expected to defend my decision, as if it matters to anyone outside my little family of three. You wouldn’t believe the number of people that ask me why I’ve chosen to put her in nursery and work full-time. Who cares? I want to, I am, and that’s that. Interestingly, no one cares whether my husband works full-time…

    Sorry to get all rant-y. Sensitive topic for me, obviously.

  2. geepeemum Says:

    Amen Amen. I’ve posted about this before but, prior to having children and when I was pregnant, I bemoaned the fact that “I didn’t have a choice” about going back to work (well not if I also wanted a house as well as a family). Had I had a choice – ie if my husband had earned enough – I would have given up work I think. It would, without doubt, have been a terrible decision for me. And by extension my children. They love the 2 days they have with me; I’m quite sure they would not have loved it if those days were 5 days out of 7 with me bored out of my skull…. I do feel fortunate not to have had to make the childcare decision. My mother is fantastic doing the day that hubby and I both work – and she does appear to genuinely enjoy it; she refuses to contemplate stopping at any rate…. But the main reason I feel fortunate not to have to have made the decision is 1) I don’t have to get anyone else ready on the mornings I go to work and 2) I don’t have to read reports like this one and be made to feel guilty. There are enough other things making me feel guilty out there….

  3. islaygirl Says:

    I can’t wait for the studies about SAHMs who micromanaged their children’s lives within an inch of insanity. We have a lot of those where i live, these women who SAY they want to stay at home and be full-time moms, but in reality are bored stiff and compensate by micromanaging and coming up with new and improved fundraising schemes for the school.

    did i say that out loud?

    I agree heartily with what you said. did i have some difficult choices? yes. will my child be forever scarred because of the extra hour she stayed in preschool the year she was four? no.

  4. Peggy Says:

    My mother stopped working when she had me, then she had my brothers and never returned to work. I remember how jealous I was at my friends who could go to day camps or to grand-parents… during the vacation when we were always stuck with my mother. She was always there: before school, after school.
    My children went to daycare when they were 4 months old, I thought that was a bit young but that’s how it was.
    Now they go to school from 8.00 to 17.00. They like the extra time before and after class when they can play with their friends.
    They also really appreciate the few times when I can pick them up at 15.30 or when I’m off and they can bike to school.
    Maybe they’ll never put their children in daycare because they hated it but never told me. We’ll see…

  5. Daddy's Little Demon Says:

    well said (posted)

  6. Yvonne Says:

    You’ve struck a chord. In brief, I concur with everything you say.

  7. belgianwaffle Says:

    It is nice to see all you sane people agreeing with me, if only some of these journalists were mothers with children in childcare. Hang on a minute…

  8. Lauren Says:

    Long time lurker here (have a couple of expat friends in Brussels, and I like reading your blog in tandem with their stories), but wanted to comment on this.

    I don’t have children, but I was a child with lots of childcare and two working parents who really had no choice. And who even had to stay at home alone on occasion in the holidays as a young teenager because exciting plans cost too much and parents still had to work. No nanny or ever-present granny (we visited a lot, though). Well, I seem to be a sane enough adult (touch wood), with an equally sane younger sibling. And I will say to anyone who asks that I had a wonderful childhood and still have absolutely magnificent parents. Did I mind Mum wasn’t there 24-7? Not at all. She was there when it mattered, and so was Dad (who packed an equally mean lunch and always made sure we had shiny shoes and clean clothes).

    Moreover, my mother picked up two degrees while we were growing up, and still has a thriving career in her sixties (she’s at an international conference at the moment!) She and Dad have independent identities as well as a joint one, and we all have a great relationship, even though I live on the other side of the planet.
    And if I have children (medically unlikely, but…), I could only do my best to emulate them. Including childcare. I value my own career, sanity and financial independence, and value having a mother who had all that while I was growing up.

    Umm, have I just destroyed entire strands of journalism here?

  9. BroLo Says:

    One must remember that these “childcare experts” must also eat. How much could they earn if their message was: “Use common sense.” Scaremongering is sure to get you a speaking engagement; carefully balanced scholarship might not. It is, after all, boring.

  10. belgianwaffle Says:

    Lauren – “Umm, have I just destroyed entire strands of journalism here?” God, I would love to think so. Most pleasing comment. Though, as BroLo points out, most unlikely to be noted in any way by the scaremongerers. Sigh.

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