The growth of corporate, franchise-style “chain” child care companies is in
the news again, particularly ABC childcare, and the profits and takeovers . Meanwhile, Steve Biddulph reckons all childcare– well, all childcare in amounts large enough for their mums to hold down a job– is bad.
The trouble with the Cast Iron Balcony offering up her opinions on this is that it’ll look like a Mandy Rice-Davies. Because I do think high quality childcare is necessary for half the population to have any kind of life outside the home, and my own two children have been through family day care, short day care and long day care without taking to smoking crack or holding up 7-11s, any criticism of Steve’s newfound scientific proof of teh badness of childcare might just appear selfserving. Anyhow, I’ll press on, after all, blogging as therapy etc…
You have to forgive us mums for our cynicism. We have been lectured since Victorian times, often by men, on what are the optimum methods we should use to do the job of being a parent correctly. You might call it another kind of PC- Parental Correctness, or patriarchal crap. And as the wheel of history turns, one after another of these “infallible” experts turns out to be wrong. So forgive us if we give a jaundiced eye to Steve’s incontrovertible science. Like the adaptors of John Bowlby, whose maternal attachment studies were based on neglected children in orphanages but were then twisted to suggest that children in child care, who go home to their family every afternoon, were in a comparable situation. Or James Dobson, who is making corporal punishment OK again– so, it’s not OK to put your kid into childcare, but whack away all you want. Hmm. In the 2010s the next childhood guru will be telling us something completely different– all for our own good, of course.
If researchers are reduced to swabbing children for saliva samples to “prove” that childcare is bad, could that be because they can’t find enough social or behavioural indicators to “prove” their point? In other words, are they kinda scraping the bottom of the evidential barrel? And could being swabbed by medicos cause stress in itself? Paging Doctor Heisenberg!
Then there are the limitations of the “cortisol studies” which give his ideas such a scientific sheen. Where were these done? What were the childcare centres like?
To state that no child care is good child care and that quality doesn’t make a difference sets the system up for failure, and it also lets off the hook the current crop of entrepreneurs trying to make childcare into a profit making venture. We need someone to fight for the community childcare centres which have set the standard which the for-profit centres can’t, or won’t live up to.
Getting rid of child care is a middle to upper class fantasy. Here’s Steve’s idea of the ideal child care arrangements, if you must use it.
Care options in order of preference
1 Engage a close relative or friend who you trust and who loves your child.
Now, I wonder what the gender of his imaginary close relative or friend might be?
2 Employ a trustworthy family day carer you know personally.
3 Find a quality day-care centre with stable staff you can get to know and
about whom you feel comfortable.
What’s best by age
No child care at all. Keep baby with parent, relative (or trusted babysitter
for short breaks).
One short day with a trusted carer. Ideally a one-on-one carer-to-child
ratio; one-to-three at most.
(Assuming you haven’t slashed your wrists by now after attempting to jump through Steve’s impossible hoops)
Two short days a week with a trusted carer. Building up to short days in a
quality centre but only if the child settles well.
Up to three short days or half days in quality care.
Up to four short days or half days in quality care.
I think having maternity leave for the 0 to Ones is a good idea. But does Biddulph agitate for maternity leave? Not so I’ve noticed. (Feel free to correct here.) And Biddulph’s requirements for the One to Fives doesn’t leave mothers much option for any activity other than the occasional manicure or tupperware party for mothers. Unless– as he seems to be suggesting in his 1998 book Manhood — men step up to the plate and take on more childcare hours themselves. But strangely enough, this idea, which could dovetail with his anti-formal-childcare opinions, isn’t brought up in this new article. I would have thought this was the time for Biddulph to
call, not for a return to the old breadwinner/homemaker model, but for men (who still largely control how work is structured) to change the model, reduce their working days, and take on more of the burden and rewards of caring for children.
I guess that despite his rhetoric, he just sees the pointy end of childcare as someone else’s problem, when it comes down to it.
The fact which childcare opponents fail to acknowledge is that the breadwinner/homemaker model is specific to a very short time in history and a narrow class band; specifically, the mid-to late twentieth century, and families who could afford it. In “traditional” societies, women have always had to work – in fields, making bread, cheese, tofu and other necessities, and looking after much greater numbers of children. It’s not accidental that in such “traditional” societies (a garden of eden, you’ll remember, to social conservatives), children do spend a lot of time in the company of carers other than their mothers. The SAHM of the 1900s is a historical blip.
In industrialised societies, we have always needed women to work in the factories and as servants in the houses of the better off; childcare opponents have ignored this. Ignoring the quality and availability of childcare (as well as parental leave) is contributing to the “baby strike” in developed countries, too.
We need childcare to be as good as it can be. And in a climate where corporate chains are taking over and bringing a cost-cutting,
shareholder-profit-making ethos to the care of children, it would be more helpful if Steve Biddulph could champion community nonprofit child care centres and help to curb the growth of the corporates. Because women don’t want to just “dump” children in any old childcare, despite what the anti-child-care lobby might say. They want excellent child care with management and staff they can trust. But perhaps the most relevant and useful thing Steve Biddulph could do is put his mouth where his money is and
lobby for employers and governments to enable dads to do more.
Childcare won’t go away. It has always existed in some form or another. If we do away with childcare, we will soon see unacceptable care arrangements becoming widespread. Hopefully, that isn’t going to happen here. So, in the real world, we can leave it to the ABC Learnings of this world, or we can (collectively) construct a better system. If we go the way of profit and cost cutting, and kids are the losers, you won’t find anyone less surprised than me.