The currently accepted wisdom is that it is fine for parents to pay other people to look after their children for them, and hardly anyone is prepared to consider the illogicality of such an idea, or what children would say about it if their views could be taken into account.
The Parents Perspective
The message provided by the media, by schools, and by society in general over the past several decades has been that for a mother being made to look after her own children is almost an infringement of her human rights. Young women are brought up to believe that if they look after their own children, they will have to endure a series of consequences which will effectively ruin their lives:
- The first consequence is that their career will be ruined, and they will never be able to get back into the job market – except perhaps as a part-time supermarket cashier or office receptionist.
- This will mean that they will lose their financial independence, and will become totally dependent on their husband.
- The total household income will be reduced, leading to a decline in living standards and a stressful family life. And the end of buying bits and pieces for themselves from the shops.
- The lack of mental stimulation will cause them to turn into cabbages, making them dull and unattractive.
According to popular mythology, the consequences for a father who wants to spend time with his children are even more dire. In fact, it is almost unthinkable to most people that a man should want to be actively involved in the lives of his young children; people now assume that such an idea is almost unnatural.
For many years, at the same time as being told that the last thing that they want to do is look after their own children, parents have been told that the worst thing for their children is for them to be at home with their parents. Official bodies have consistently promoted the idea that nursery schools and child-care situations help children to socialise, and also lay the groundwork for successful integration into the school system and eventual academic success.
This presents a beguiling prospect to young parents: they can keep their jobs, keep their independant incomes, put their children in childcare, and still be told that they are doing the best thing for their children.
The Child’s Perspective
Of course, all of this looks very different from the child’s perspective, because young children are unaware of the consensus of opinion that exists in society as a whole, and know only what they feel. Society may universally agree that it is fine for children to be taken into childcare when they are a month old (as is the case in many European countries) so that their parents can go back to work, but the baby may just want to be with its mother.
Whatever people say, children still need what they have always needed: to be in a protected environment in which they are being looked after by adults who care for them. When they are very young, they need to be with their mothers; as they get older, they benefit from being around other older people who take a life-long interest in their well being – people like grandparents, older brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours, etc. When children do not have this sort of environment, they show signs of distress – irritability, lack of concentration, sleeping problems, behaviour problems, etc. – and even educational researchers and psychologists are now starting to acknowledge that some of severe problems of socialisation being displayed by many children in developed countries can be attributed to the chaotic childcare arrangements that they endured when they were young.
The big catch with this system is that, given the modern cost of living, and the cost of childcare, unless they are super rich, young couples finding themselves having to work full time, but all their wages being consumed by housing and child care costs, so that they still do not have any left over for those little luxuries that they were promised.
To make matters worse, even though they are not spending much time with their children, their lives are still dominated by child-related issues: dropping children off at childcare, picking them up, taking time off when the children are ill, and arranging alternative childcare when necessary.
In theory, the job of society is to make life easy for young families, but what it is actually doing today is to make life almost impossible for them. Property prices in most developed countries are now so high that anyone who wants to provide a decent home for their children has to take out a mortgage that stretches family finances to the breaking point. When childcare costs are added on top of this, life becomes impossible. Almost all the people involved in providing childcare are faced with the same problems as the parents of the children that they are caring for, and often have children of their own, so they have no choice but to charge more and more for the service that they offer, as they too struggle to make ends meet, and life becomes more stressful for everyone.
Welcome to the Madhouse
The one thing that everyone forgets in all this, is that they did not really ever want to give their children up for other people to look after in the first place. For most people, having children is the most amazing thing that ever happens to them in their lives, and what they really want to do is be with their children for as much of the time as they possibly can.
The current childcare system does not work to anyone’s advantage - parents find themselves doing something that does not feel right, and which does not work for them; children miss out on being with their parents just when they need them most; and carers find themselves having to charge for something that, in a normal world, they would be doing for free. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that almost everyone takes part; just about every school child knows that there is something seriously wrong with the adult world, but when they leave school, and have children of their own, they follow the advice of the same adults that they so despised a few years before, and launch themselves on a path that will make them just as alienated from their children as they were themselves alienated from their own parents. Such is the madness of modern ideas about childcare.