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The Big Answer


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Child Care Today: Getting it Right For Everyone

a book by Penelope Leach

(our site's book review)

Leach astutely points out the difference between families’ overall situation in the past and in the present, with most families needing two incomes (which usually requires women and men both working) to survive the economic times we live in.

The exclusive care of the young by mothers from 1946 to the 1970s was an historical anomaly which precipitated the women’s movement, which successfully made that point that women have as much right as men do to have careers—to have full lives.

Conservatives, Republicans, and the Right in general all have an obsessively large tendency to attempt to keep women homebound, caring for kids and home. They love to cite studies about how children suffer when women work, even if the studies are not actually showing it’s her absence causing the suffering but instead the quality of the alternative childcare. They even try to say that attachment literature supports the idea of exclusive parental or even exclusive maternal care of kids.

It actually doesn’t say that. It’s the quality of the bonding and the quality of the care by nonmaternal and nonparental sources that are critical, not who the caregivers are, according to attachment science, which also recognizes that mothers are humans and it’s vital they take care of their own needs as well as their child’s. Inadequate and even negative childcare predictably comes from exclusive maternal care from a woman who tries to constantly “fill her children’s cups” without first making sure she “fills her own cup.” Hence, some amount of nonmaternal caregiving is essential for the health and wellbeing of both the mother and the children.

"The attachment literature does not demand exclusive parental care. There will be a hierarchy of attachments, with number one sometimes changing faces (a childminder, father or grandparent may be preferred at some point). " says Sebastian Kraemer, child psychiatrist.

Leach says that, rather than saying that a baby's mental health depends on having his biological mother with him all the time, John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, said that infant mental health depends on babies having a continuous and mutually enjoyed relationship with a caregiver. This is the most misunderstood and misquoted aspect of Bowlby’s work.

She and Bowlby both assert that the substitute caregiver needs to be loving. The good news is that some siblings, grandparents, fathers, family day care people, nursery people, daycare center people, nannies, and babysitters are loving. The bad news is that some are not. Even some mothers are not loving, and if fathers and/or grandparents or others make up for it and do most of the caregiving and mother does very little, all will be well. If no one makes up for mother’s lack of warmth, all will not be well.

From the 1970s to the 1990s good/excellent quality care went from 26% to 13% in centers
From the 1970s to the 1990s good/excellent quality care went from 26% to 13% in centers; MCs' caregiving costs (free) and gas for transportation (minimal) represent minimized economic expenditures which will be particularly appreciated as childcare costs rise and yet childcare center quality decreases


Childcare centers should house friends, relatives, elders and kids—not strangers and high-turnover workers of questionable competence
Childcare centers should house friends, relatives, elders and kids—not strangers and high-turnover workers of questionable competence

The author cites the need for heavy government support of childcare—i.e., money. She describes the abysmal state of childcare in the United States, where the childcare experience of the average kid is relatively negative. She tells us that:

“About 70 percent of North American babies are in regular nonmaternal (though often paternal) care before the age of four months as compared with around 9 percent of British babies. Half are in regular nonparental care at the age of nine months, and by the end of their first year, 82 percent of infants in the United States are regularly cared for by someone other than their mothers (72 percent by a nonparent) as compared with 48 percent in Britain.”

These are the realities because of both economic necessity and women’s desire for a full life, including a career. It cannot and will not be changed by political rhetoric from the Right—not ever. This begs the question of why many of them keep singing this particular One Note Samba when no one appears to be listening, much less applauding, except for conservative religions. In other words, they're preaching to the choir. What purpose does it serve? Simple. It serves the purpose of political gridlock, which effectively relieves them of the need to do anything about the sad state of childcare in our country. The cacaphonous talk show rhetoric and political election rhetoric is served up to the public with the express purpose of distracting us all from our wallets being pickpocketed by the Corporatocracy during the screaming. The politicians pretend they're there to serve us but we all know in our hearts it is only the Corporatocracy they serve.

Boisterous talk show rhetoric and political election rhetoric distracts us from the Corporatocracy robbing us
Boisterous talk show rhetoric and political election rhetoric distracts us from the Corporatocracy robbing us

In fact, bringing up and fighting over social issues—the Culture War in general—has for nearly 30 years been an effective way for Congress to get little done (except earmarks) and yet not have to really take responsibility for its failure. This keeps the farce in motion: thousands of politicians and lobbyists make piles of money for pretending to be doing important things but in reality the only thing being accomplishes is the growth of their own bank accounts. Apparently, you CAN fool all the people all the time! The public’s approval rating of politicians and Congress sinking to all-time lows doesn’t seen to faze them at all. They know there's nothing the voters can do about it. The only satisfaction us voters have been able to enjoy for the last few decades is when we “throw the bums out” even though we’re all too aware of the fact that this serves no real purpose. They’ll only be getting replaced by equally disingenuous bums!

The pushmi-pullyu symbolizes fighting over social issues, the purpose of which is political gridlock
The pushmi-pullyu symbolizes fighting over social issues, the purpose of which is political gridlock

This sad reality is obviously going through Leach’s mind when she shows us a summary comparison among universal maternal entitlements in Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, depicting that Americans have no universal maternal entitlements, while other countries do. It’s as though we value neither motherhood nor childhood in this country. The money that Congress does manage to get appropriated for political purposes always seems to—surprise!—end up in the bulging bank accounts of big, powerful corporations, while the real social needs go unmet. Remember the bailouts. We cannot seem to remember Obama getting the public's permission to rob us of a trillion bucks—can you?

Congress appropriates money for political purposes but it ends up in the big corporations' pockets, while real social needs go unmet
Congress appropriates money for political purposes but it ends up in the big corporations' pockets, while real social needs go unmet

Is it realistic to think that Leach’s desperate cry for greater funding of childcare in the U.S. will get heeded? Not a chance. Where in the world would the money possibly come from!?

The book doesn’t say it, but the implications of all the depressing statistics aren’t just that we need to improve childcare and eliminate the need for both parents to work, allowing parents to care for their kids more often and in a less tired condition. The implications are that looking to the government to come to the rescue with massive amounts of funds to improve all this is silly. Even if the government wasn’t coping with the current economic downturn and record deficits as well as wars, there isn’t anywhere to get such cash infusions nor is there political will for this kind of social engineering even if we as a country had money to burn.

One implication leads to another: if no government help, then what is left? We’ve borrowed too much foreign money already, and there simply isn’t any other source of money.

One implication leads to another: if money will not be coming from any source, then what can we strategize to help us in its place?

Babysitting co-ops will help many parents to deal with childcare cost by eliminating it as they take turns doing caregiving. This is a great first step, and a step in the right direction as well. Died-in-the-wool conservative traditionalists as well as religious extremists of some types may prefer women to stay home and be moms while they get to have careers, but this is hardly fair to 21st century womankind! Shared caregiving responsibilities is the only fair way, unless one spouse truly wants to just caregive and the other truly wants to just work. Whatever blows their hair back!

Spouses can use any caregiving system they want—whatever blows their hair back
Spouses can use any caregiving system they want—whatever blows their hair back

But this is only a start. Can co-ops really offer the kind of interesting educational opportunities for kids that the better daycare centers and Montessori schools offer? Don’t our kids deserve a stimulating environment, and, better yet, the opportunity to make choices in such an environment? Will all the caregivers in these co-ops really be warm, loving people that will pay lots of sensitive attention to the kids and their feelings? This is very important, especially for babies and young children, as Leach, Bowlby, and most other experts assert.

Giving kids the opportunity to choose what to play with next, what to learn next, and who to play with next would be a great first step, but actually allowing kids to choose who will care for them is even better. Why is that important? Check out this page—you may be surprised: Why Register for an MC?. But what if the chosen caregiver wants to do something else that isn’t caregiving? A caregiver doing it for money like in a center, or because a co-op schedule says it’s their turn, in a babysitting co-op, or because a child wants him/her to—even though s/he isn’t into it currently—will sometimes give a very suboptimal caregiving experience to the child.

So even if co-ops are the right first start, that’s all they are. Just a step in the right direction. But is there a way to keep stepping in that direction and end up with free caregiving for not just kids but elders as well, and have it provide caregivers that really know and love the kids and that can offer interesting educational opportunities as well? Yes! The answer is here Why Register for an MC? and all over this website.

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match