7 Apr 2006, Comments Off on But she would say that, wouldn’t she.

But she would say that, wouldn’t she.

Author: Helen

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.

Comments (0)

  • tigtog says:

    There was an excellent Life Matters programme on Radio National on Wednesday about Biddulph and his claims about the research. There’s quite a few questions about how he has presented the findings of the studies he cites.

    The ABC website has streaming audio downloads of the programme,Steve Biddulph and Childcare – The Response and the Research.

  • Phil says:

    Blogging as therapy I can relate to. My instincts tewll me that you r analysis is correct: the propoennts of home (ie ‘traditional’) child care do not take into account the sacrifices or behavioural changes that would be required from both men and women (mothers and fathers) to actually make it work. It seems to me without, I just admit, an in depth reading of any literature, that it’s a tacit assumption of a return to mum in the kitchen with the baby at her feet. This is “quality care”. I admit I’m informed by stereotypes and happy to proven wrong but it seems to me that in any argument like this that it’s what is omitted that turns out to be the key factor. dad will still play golf on a Saturday, for example, when Mum might want to go and buy herself a new twinset.

  • Helen says:

    I have to admit I’m lucky I didn’t have to make the 0-1 decision. I was unemployed when I had my first (Although the default position in Melbourne seems to be “let’s have established careers and pay off the house and the $20,000 wedding and an education investment fund before we think of breeding” my attitude was “I’m 34, I’ve got no job to lose.” So I am that which the RWDBs fear. Then with my second, I was in good workplace with 12 months maternity leave. i had the full 12 months too, because the little bastard – and I use that word afectionately, OK- decided to come three weeks “early” when I was still working.

    Maternity leave is an essential part of a package of which childcare is just one important element. But that still doesn’t mean you should ignore the need for 0-1 childcare. People die, people divorce. Saying it’s mum or nothing just dooms some children to second class status.

  • BlueBolt says:

    I think kids survive just fine if they know they are loved and not just a byproduct of life being dumped in care.

    When they know there is a reason – they are fine (IMO). Ok – babies its a little difficult to communicate to – but both of mine went into care because of financial necessity and I think they are nice people 🙂

    It also ignores the fact that with an aging population who can’t all afford to retire – sometimes there isn’t any other option – both my parents work (not that I would leave my kids with them) but like it was pointed out above – Steve needs to start pushing the equality of gender in parenting & promotion of quality community childcare centres rather than the SAHM bandwagon – which maybe of less benefit for the child/ren.

  • susoz says:

    I’ve never much liked Biddulph’s views on raising boys etc but I have to admit I think he’s onto something here. But he’s not the only one who’s on to this – a lot of the more progressive writers on children are alarmed at the prospect of babies in fulltime childcare. Because, while of course women have always worked, often the baby is with its mother while she works or cared for by other female relatives.
    There’s a lot to consider in this debate – the role of men is certainly a big factor. Maternity and paternity leave and the availability of well-paid part time work are major factors. Govt support for family day care with its more intimate setting is also really important.
    I saw a reference to Pru Goward the other day saying that daycare needs to be improved because workers are now needed 24/7. That’s the underlying thing that disturbs me – the idea that adults just have to be at the beck and call of employers around the clock, that we’re all automatons and by extension, babies and children are automatons too.

  • tigtog says:

    Pru Goward was also saying that Family Tax Benefit B needs to be reformed so that it is payable not just when one parent works full time (which gender might that parent mostly be?) while the other stays home with bub (and which gender this parent?), but also to a family when both parents work a full-time equivalent.

    This would mean that not only would women take less of a career/super hit for mothering, but also men could work less than 50-60 hours to make up for the Mum’s missing income, which strikes me a an idea starting off in the right direction (I expect same-sex couples still miss out here though).

  • Helen says:

    That’s the underlying thing that disturbs me – the idea that adults just have to be at the beck and call of employers around the clock, that we’re all automatons and by extension, babies and children are automatons too.

    That’s what worries me too, but it also worries me that this same point is being co-opted by the “back to the home” commentators. “Women are sensible! They have realised long hours are too much punishment! So they’re opting out of the rat race!”

    …And the rewards which go with it, including a secure old age. We need to criticise the automaton-worker system for both genders (notice you won’t see the word critique used as a verb on this blog, thank you very muchly) rather than applauding the exclusion of women from work. First, we need to consider the fact that the assumption behind the excessive hours worked is the idea that “workers” have a wife at home. Now, what could the assumption of that worker’s gender be, I wonder?…

  • Desert Pea says:

    First of all Helen – love the site – issues close to my own heart.

    I’m so desperately tired of the need to defend the right of women to work so that they can provide their children with a full spectrum of choice as they grow older. Our society seems to take the view that if a man wants a career, he’s entitled to it. If a women wants one, she is a selfish, career driven ball-breaker, who probably lacks the maternal instinct, or can’t hold a man. And I use these terms advisedly, from the rather bitter experience of having them applied to myself.

    The decision to place a child into any form of daycare is difficult enough at the best of times – but for many it really isn’t a choice. Increasingly, many of us simply don’t have a support network that we can shunt our children onto on a daily basis – or if there is one, we may not want to use it.

    A key difference between a formal relationship and a family member caring for your child? Its a lot easier to negotiate the care of your child with someone who’s being payed for it, required to meet minimum standards, provide a safe, happy environment, educate through play…..I wouldn’t want to ask this level of commitment from a family member, yet I couldn’t place my child with anyone who would provide anything less. With or without financial necessity, I choose to work – it makes me a better mother – and that can only be to the benefit of my children

  • kate says:

    Everytime I hear about 1-1 care and ‘traditional’ stay at home mothers, I think of my grandmothers. Their mothers were both inconsiderate enough to become ill and die young. My Grandma raised herself, and her five siblings, looked after the house for her father, and worked outside the home (there was a war on – it was compulsory). She was exhausted by the time she got married and had her own children – but none of her siblings were neglected, or disadvantaged. Nanna’s story was similar. Neither situation was ideal, but everyone battled along as best they could, and celebrated when life got easier.

    Nanna had ten kids, btw, so there wasn’t much in the way of that one-one care Biddulf seems to think important.

  • rollo says:

    “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.”
    Yes yes.
    But also spare a thought to the idea of the larger context in which the entrepeneurs who will sell McChildcare go about freely wreaking their Free Market havoc willy and nill.
    That we should not let them raise our children, but then allow them to feed those same children, and don’t get me started on “entertainment”.
    The idea that stories and songs are entertainment comes from the same savvy hucksters as have delivered pod-care by faceless untrained temp-workers for minimum wages to the harried moms of the modern world.

  • Just a note to say that I very much advocate parental leave as the first
    line of approach, and have been campaigning, with some success, for this
    in the UK which is the only country I am writing about at present.

    Also that I am also strongly advocating fathers share the care. Please read
    my book to get what I am actually saying, media is very distorted. You can
    get the book cheaply via amazon.co.uk

    Visit my website to read many comments from nursery/daycare staff about the
    true picture in daycare. And the commentators on Life Matters greatly misrepresented the research. All research citations are also on my website
    – reproduced from the book.

    Steve Biddulph

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.