A very recent conversation with a facebook friend prompted me to do some research on the psychological damage I might be doing to my son by putting him into childcare. I have to say that now he has been in childcare for over a year I am pretty much immune to criticisms about it; I know the childcare we have is good and that we are luckier than many others who do not have the choices we do and I have had pretty much every argument possible about being a working parent. I respect other people's choice to stay at home with their children, however when people state that my choice to work full time is going to fuck up my child's head it cuts deeply so the only sensible thing to do is try to have a look at if and how I can minimise this damage, or even find out if what they are saying is correct. I want what is best for my family and clearly I don't want to be storing up problems for my child.
So I googled 'Childcare' and 'Psychological damaging' and a Daily Mail article came up titled Long days at nursery or childminders raising generation of school-tearaways. 'Hmmm' I thought. 'Daily Mail - 'Nuff Said'. I am pretty sure my friend, who incidentally IS a childminder, won't have taken notice of a Daily Mail twist. So I continued my search and came across Doubts over childcare 'expert' feted by Tories in the Observer. 'Hmmm' I thought 'The Observer, my choice of Newspaper but I am bright enough to understand there's always bias whatever paper you read'.
However... Reading on it does become clear that the so called expert is no expert at all and the studies he cites have not found a link between working parents and childhood mental health, in fact they specifically looked at these issues and found no link.
Still... I hear over and over that it has been proven that childcare out of the home is damaging for mental health. So I worry - even if I am the most excellent parent I can be (and I do try) in the time I spend with my son, what if his being in a nursery for 4 days a week is leaving him damaged and broken? Should I give up my job and stay at home with him until he goes to school? Are there ever any cases where children actually gain more from their childcare provider than they would at home?
I am a mother of one with a fairly supportive husband (I say fairly - I think generally we do well though I do a lot of the 'wife work') and an average job that pays less than an average wage. Our childcare bill is about 25% of our combined wage though I do have the benefit of a salary sacrifice scheme which saves us a bit. Our son is in a nursery less than a five minute work from my workplace. Both our salaries are less than the national average but to lose one salary (By me giving up work) would mean that we would not be able to afford to pay all our bills and feed ourselves. By both working we have enough to cover all that and a bit extra. We don't do fancy holidays (MIL lives in Spain so we go there sometimes) and we both drive cars that have had several owners. I don't buy fancy clothes. The basic fact is I don't want to stop working, I like working and I like being financially independent.
So I have found this piece which is American but in some ways hopeful, at least for those of us with quality childcare. And that is the crux of the matter, isn't it? It's the quality that matters and this applies to parenting as well as to paid childcare. Just as I wouldn't want my childcare provider to dismiss my son's feelings I wouldn't want to parent in a way that rode rough-shod over his emotional wellbeing. There are many parents who just don't care either way.
Yesterday I took my son to a park near my house. We live in a fairly deprived area and this park is set in a square surrounded by housing association houses. In the short time I was there I witnessed a teenage boy being flung out of a frontdoor into the rain with no shoes while an adult told him to 'fuck off'. I was poised to step in if it became violent, other people stood and gawped. After a while he was given his shoes and then shortly after that he was let back into the house. That is the kind of parenting that causes children to have mental health issues, that causes real damage. Imagine growing up being treated like that year after year. Yet it would be wrong of me to assume that this kind of thing was going on in every one of those houses or that this was happening all day and every day to that child, it was just a snap-shot. Being poor and deprived doesn't necessarily make you a bad parent, putting your child into some kind of day-care setting doesn't mean you are damaging your child. Everything is relative and so many factors come into play when raising children. I hope I never throw my son out into the rain with no shoes; I hope I make better parenting decisions than that. I hope that other people can see through the headlines and realise that childcare decisions aren't always made on a whim.
I am doing the best I can for my son in the circumstances. He is very lucky to go to a nursery near my work that is full of lovely middle class children and has a low staff turn-over. He spends one day a week with my mum and has a very close relationship with her. He has a happy mum and dad that he sleeps with every night, he is still breastfed and he is listened to. We don't shout at him or hit him or isolate him. I hope that any mental health damage that is done by the lovely people who care for him while I work is un-done by the love and respect we give him every day. It's all I can do.