It’s all over the news in Ireland this week: a scandal erupted when undercover journalists recorded instances of unacceptable treatment of children in day care.
I really hope this will lead to radical change, or at least the beginnings of radical change, because the current state of affairs is a recipe for disaster. It is increasingly difficult for families to afford a fulltime parent, there is zero priority placed on making it possible for parents to work flexibly so as to share parenting duties, early childcare has been allowed to become a private, profit-making industry, untrained people are allowed to work in these centres for minimum wage: HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY GO WRONG?!
But can I sum up the problem for you in one, single word:
Right there is a summary of everything that’s gone wrong here. You can mind a pot on the stove to see it doesn’t boil over. You can mind a car to see it doesn’t get stolen. The very concept of “minding” a child shows the scale of the ignorance we are all guilty of regarding the vital, crucial importance of early childhood.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking my view that all young children should have a fulltime parent (or a parent, fulltime) means I think we should go back to the days when women were “encouraged” by discriminatory laws to stay home and “mind the kids”. What I am advocating is a radical change, where parenthood is respected and recognised as the crucial difference between a successful and a failed society. Laws must be made to help all parents continue a career part time if they wish, enabling them to make minimal or no use of of outside help – nobody, not even a loving family member, is ever, ever going to ineract with your child like you do, and that unique interaction is vital to the optimal development of a human being*. If a parent wants to make parenting their only career for a decade or more, this must be a valid, respected choice, and arrangements have to be made to reintroduce these parents into another career or a previous career when the parenting needs of their families change. While we’re at it, parent training should be a given, not some weird new thing. Not all parenting skills come naturally, and the way your mam did it is not necessarily the best way.
We need to start talking differently, too: a parent who chooses to be a career parent does not leave the labour force, they redirect their energies. Start in CSPE classes in school, teaching children the most basic education and psychology that will help them see viewing the care of a young child’s needs as just “minding” is a damaging, dangerous mindset.
I suspect that what will happen in reality is that calls for increased funding will be made: society will work to make it more possible for parents to leave their children with others and go do some other job, rather than radically restructuring everything so parents can parent without having to feel they leave adult life behind, without totally sacrificing enjoyable careers, without accepting financial hardship as the price to pay for being career parents.
Childcare should be a respite, not a necessity. The primary carer for any young child should be their parent, or parents. Until we understand and make that possible, we are going to keep throwing our hands in the air over a startling number of problems in wider society which can be traced back to our contempt for parenthood and early child education.
*Please don’t get cross with me or feel this statement attacks you if you didn’t parent fulltime. Optimal means the best possible, and none of us ever attain that, but it is vital that we aim for optimal, because we will always strike lower than we aim. If we aim for adequate, we’re in trouble.