Is Childcare Going To Screw Up Your Kids?
Beyond the immediate sleep and breastfeeding challenges of the early weeks and months of mothering, one the most common two challenges mothers tell me they face in the long run are lack of support with childcare.
Even saying childcare out loud feels a bit like saying a dirty word! In fact our attitudes towards working mothers and gender roles are becoming MORE conservative!
“74 per cent of women in 2005 thought at-home mothers were better for children compared with 57 per cent in 2001.”
The overwhelming message I get from mothers who are considering childcare is that they are worried about screwing up their kids. They feel guilty and conflicted and trapped. They are told that there is NOTHING that can replace a mothers undivided and absolute 24/7 care. Add the lack of funding and availability and quality of childcare and no wonder so many women just find it easier to keep their kids home, even if they are broke, exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed.
If you love being a stay at home mum and having your children with you every day, that's great! But if you choose to or have to work, that's totally fine too. I’m going to show you that your kids are going to be alright in childcare!
A mother with a breastpump and a briefcase may seem like a thoroughly modern image, but what if we replace the breastpump with some breastfeeding aunties and a briefcase with a woven basket for gathering food?
Maybe a working mother not such a radically new idea after all, maybe it’s actually how mothering has always been handled!
Many traditional cultures don't have such a strong distinction as we do between mothers and others. In many parts of the world, - too many to list - anyone older than you is addressed as aunty or uncle or grandfather or grandmother and anyone the same age as you is brother or sister or cousin.
For example, at the recent Australian Doula Conference in Melbourne, speaker and Aboriginal midwife Sheree Stewart said she still works with some Aboriginal children who grow up without knowing exactly who their biological mother is. Which body the child was physically born from is less relevant when a child grows up loved and cared for by many adults. These children have many mothers and would have to check their birth certificate to find out which one they biologically belong too!
We can’t always resurrect these beautiful kinship systems since our villages have been destroyed with the industrial revolution and colonisation. But I think we can still learn a lot by understanding how human babies have been raised for hundreds and thousands of years, until now.
Knowing that mothering was a job shared by the whole community explains why so many mothers now feel isolated, lonely and overwhelmed, and why we so often need help with childcare. When mothering was shared by the village then it would have been much easier for mothers to wash, work, eat and sleep and generally be a well-rounded, multi-dimensional human being.
The industrial revolution changed the face of families forever. For the first time women moved away from extended family and nuclear families were formed. Mothers had to parent alone, with out the wisdom or practical help of their elders.
Naturally, these mothers turned to experts to fill that gap, who created low-touch-parenting systems that allowed mothers to raise children without villages - including strict sleep and feeding schedules, formula feeding, extreme control crying and restricted cuddles and comforting.
Later on attachment theory realised that these low-touch-parenting systems weren’t really getting the job done very well. Babies were failing to thrive, so more intensive parenting practices were re-introduced, but mothers still didn’t have their villages to help out with meeting the high needs of their babies.
So how do we recreate the villages we’ve lost? How do we meet our babies needs without burning out mothers?
Childcare is one piece of the puzzle.
Paid childcare is now a fact of life for many Australian families, so it’s important we understand the impact of childcare on our children, and fortunately, the impact is probably much better then you’d been led to believe!
In the 1990’s feminist mothers began to return to work in droves and naturally, there was some panic - what’s going to happen to the kids!!?!?!?! So the US Department of Health and Human Studies launched a study into the long-term effects of childcare.
The study started in 1991 and followed over 1300 children from diverse backgrounds from birth to the age of fifteen.
Here’s what we can learn from the study:
Children who were cared for exclusively by their mothers did not develop differently than those who were also cared for by others.
Parent and family characteristics were more strongly linked to child development than were child care features.
Children showed more cognitive, language, and social competence and more harmonious relationships with parents when mothers experienced little psychological distress.
It is essential that policy makers make high quality and accessible childcare available to all families, and if mothering alone is causing you psychological distress, it’s time for you to look into childcare options.
If you want to read the full study including how they determined good quality childcare please click here. https://www1.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/documents/seccyd_06.pdf
Do you still have doubts about childcare for your children? Share them with me in the comments!