|More subsidized, universally available, affordable, high quality,
professional childcare is often advocated as a way of advancing the interests of
Yet early long day care is not in the best interests of very young children and
their families. Evidence increasingly suggests that this childcare agenda is
misconceived, because it:
- Is unrealistic, as it is often unaffordable and unachievable.
- Overlooks accumulating evidence of risks of undesirable outcomes.
- Is contrary to much expert opinion about what is likely to be best for very
young children and is contrary to the desire of many working mothers to care for
their own young children if they could afford to.
- Relies partly on the now-discredited ideology of cultural determinism, which
denied the relevance of biology to human behavior, arguing that mothers can be
largely replaced by trained carers.
- Makes adequate breastfeeding difficult or impossible.
A rethink is needed.
We each have a pedigree of maternal ancestors who, overall, were selected, over
thousands of generations, for their success in all aspects of healthy mothering:
pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, attachment, and the protecting and rearing of
baby girls who grew up to do likewise, not in splendid isolation, but in social groups
with others having an enduring interest in the child.
The question should not be "how can everybody have affordable, quality
childcare?" It should be: "Taking into account the biologically-determined
nature and needs of young human beings and their mothers, how, in our de-tribalized
societies, can we best help and support parents who wish to do a mutually satisfying
job of mothering and fathering their infants and young children without jeopardizing
their own futures?"
If some of the effort devoted to seeking high-quality childcare were used
creatively to support high quality parenting, we would be nearer to our real goal of
enhancing the well-being of mothers, young children and society.
We could recognize that mothers with infants and young children are an essential,
vulnerable group, unique in society, having special needs for a few short years.
Infancy cannot be re-run later.
Governments can encourage community appreciation of home-caring parents for their
parenting and other contributions to society. In the gross domesticproduct, we could
show the multi-billion-dollar value of mothers' work and mothering at home.
Parents should be free to make informed decisions, but economic justice for the
family is a pre-condition for real choice. The next advance in women's rights could be
affirmative action in favor of mothers of young children, to give freedom of choice.
If we are to pay for the care of children, why not pay mothers to do it?
We need family incomes policies offering equal opportunity for home-caring parents,
especially mothers of children under three. Economic policies have been unfavorable to
these families, compared with two-income families using subsidized childcare.
Governments could be neutral, offering the available money fairly to all parents,
to care for their very young children as they choose, especially while children are
under five. Mothers also need provision for superannuation, if the economic sacrifices
of early childrearing are not to become a lifelong handicap.
Mothers' needs for relief, help and company must be addressed. Programs of
voluntary visiting of new mothers can offer many benefits.
Some childcare centers could become like Swedish "open pre-schools", open
to parents, and providing companionship, educational opportunities and facilities for
children and their parents. High quality parenting of very young children, does not
preclude return to part-time work later, even in pre-school years, but parents may
need help to re-enter the work-force.
We need parenting-friendly policy options put before Governments and
decision-makers, by the bureaucracy, the Opposition, academe, and the Institute of
Until recently, one ideologically-based view held a monopoly of counsel. It is an
unsustainable way of helping women, because it deprives the next generation of women
of mothering while they are infants, and also deprives the little boys who will be
their partners, and the fathers of their children. Preparation for marriage begins at
This is not "returning to the 1950s". Many problems were inherent in the
social isolation and child-rearing ideas of those days. Today we can help young people
understand how to achieve more satisfying parent-child relationships than were common
in the past.
Preferably, the approach to these issues should be bipartisan, rather than having
parties compete in spending on childcare, while neglecting the importance of healthy
mothering, and the developmental needs of infants and their families.