Childcare is a hot-button, politically charged topic. Unfortunately, it is often debated and discussed without any real mention of those it most affects – our children.
Take for instance, Jana Javornik’s piece in The Conversation in which she urges the UK to follow the Nordic model of having the State pay for children to be raised away from their parents in daycare. She argues care for our children should be, at best, free and apparently not provided by actual parents. Why? To entice as many women into the workforce as possible. She writes, “childcare availability and affordability significantly affect female labour supply.”
Yes, but how does it affect our children?
Proponents of universal childcare always call for higher quality. I have worked in “high quality” centers in the United States. We are a country that euphemises daycare by calling it “school” while ignoring what growing up in daycare actually entails. I wrote, Doing Time: What It Really Means To Grow Up In Daycare, after observing what the very best daycare centers had to offer. I worked in various well-respected facilities in states with the best child to caregiver ratios in the country. In fact, they touted lengthy waiting lists. Yet I still learned daycare is inherently flawed.
I have two education degrees. I love children. I worked incredibly hard but I did not do an adequate job of substituting for any child’s parent. In one nursery, I cared for six babies with one other worker. This ratio is considered ideal in the industry. However, if a neighborhood couple birthed 6 babies at once, the entire town would rally around them and support their next-to-impossible challenge. In daycare, workers are left to do the impossible every day. Yes, we were able to keep up on the basics such as keeping the children fed, clean and relatively safe, but children need and deserve more.
Ultimately, I realized parents were not being given a realistic picture of daycare and a tour is really only a sales pitch. Daycare is a business and convincing parents their children are happy away from them is the center’s job. It was my job. I am asking parents to imagine what it might mean to feed 6, 8, 10, 12 babies or toddlers lunch with only one other person to help you. In writing, I wanted to give parents a real tour and discuss the abusive prevalence of biting, respiratory illness and the higher than average incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in daycare. I tried to recreate a typical day living as one of many in a group setting and explain why there is more bottle propping than snuggling, crying than socialising and why parents will always hear an embroidered account of what their child’s day actually entailed.
The feminists inflicted the greatest cultural wound ever when women were sold an awful lie. We were told our employer needed us more than our own infants and that raising a family was beneath us. Indeed, Javornik’s ultimate goal is to have more mothers out of their homes and in the labour force in order to “secure high levels of gender equality.” For thinkers such as Javornik, having an equal number of men and women working in an office building is more important than having children nurtured by their parents during the crucial early years.
When we write about daycare, politics must step aside. Children should permeate every corner of every discussion on childcare. And women should know a paid employee will never trump a parent. They are absolutely irreplaceable as mothers.