Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Daycare Dilemma (by Jan Hunt)

(by Jan Hunt, M.Sc)

It's always a dilemma for me to know just how to address the subject of substitute care, because there is such a gap in our culture between the ideal and the possible. Ideally there would be little need to use substitute care, nor would any mother feel a strong personal need or desire to do so. The reality, of course, is that parenting - the most important job a woman can have - is not valued sufficiently. No one should ever feel that she is "only a mother" - motherhood should be more highly valued than any other profession. No other job is as critically important; no other job has the potential for improving our world by nurturing the capacity to love and trust others. As Canadian psychiatrist Elliott Barker wrote:
"We have to change a lot of established patterns or ways we do things - our priorities - so that nothing gets in the way of attachment in the earliest years. The capacities for trust, empathy, and affection are in fact the central core of what it means to be human, and are indispensable for adults to be able to form lasting, mutually satisfying co-operative relationships with others."
Our culture not only minimizes the importance of motherhood, it maximizes the desire to consume commercial products, defining success always in economic, rarely in humane or social terms. There is no question that a mother with a professional career who uses daycare for her children receives far more recognition and respect than the mother who has left a professional job to stay at home with her children - despite the fact that the at-home mom is in a position to contribute far more to society in the long term. If motherhood were valued as highly as it should be, more mothers would choose to stay at home, and more pressure would be put on governments to help provide the means by which this could be done.

Creative solutions can only come about through a deeply-felt need. If everyone understood the critical importance of mothering, there would be fewer daycares and more and better alternative solutions that keep mother and child together. There would be more family centers where mothers with infants and young children could get together with other parents, watching the children as they play together. Families would be given sufficient financial support by the government, and this support would be seen not as a "handout" with all the stigma that welfare has now, but as a wise and critical investment in our future. Everyone would know that motherhood is the single most important profession there is, one that deserves the highest esteem and the highest pay. What kind of society do we have where athletes, movie stars, and CEOs get the highest pay? What kind of society do we have when the professional woman with her children away from her all day enjoys higher esteem than the stay-at-home mother who has the opportunity to nurture a human being, whose personal qualities, positive or negative, will affect all future relationships? Which is the more critical job?

Our vision is too narrow, too immediate, too limited. We see only the present contribution of the professional woman and are blind to the even greater potential contribution of the mother at home. We need to value these mothers now - or our future will look no different than it does at present, with our myriad social problems. If we really understood the importance of the mother-child bond, we would find those solutions that now seem so elusive and difficult. We would recognize that a young child who has bonded with a particular caregiver who then disappears from the child's world, can internalize feelings of rejection and disappointment. We would be committed to finding ways to keep mothers, babies, and young children together. We would provide whatever financial support is needed, and give extensive parenting education to all. We would give greater prestige and sufficient financial support to dedicated stay-at-home mothers. Most of all, we would recognize that repeated separations from the mother can damage the mother-child relationship and create a tragic reluctance in the child to love and trust others in the future. Close bonds of love and trust take time to develop; they take time to maintain.

We would recognize the critical importance of providing paid maternity leave. We would understand that parental care has the most stability. We would build a healthier population and fewer hospitals and prisons. We would strive to learn more about the father-child bond, and give fathers an opportunity to bond early with their child, and to support the mother in the earliest years. We would enjoy a very different and vastly improved society, where compassion and connection were valued and desired more than any other goal or commodity, where a small house filled with love, trust and joy would be valued far higher than the biggest mansion.

Reprinted with permission from the Natural Child Project. Jan Hunt is the author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart (2001) and A Gift for Baby (2006); and the co-editor of the new book TheUnschooling Unmanual. Jan offers telephone counseling on attachment parenting and unschooling. To request counseling, order her books, or for other information, leave a message toll-free at 877-593-1547 or visit her website at

If you believe in what the Natural Child Project stands for, and appreciate all their amazing resources, consider visiting their site and making a donation!
The Natural Child Project


rachel... said...

Love it!

As a stay-at-home mom, I KNOW that I am doing what's right for my kids and that my "job" is far more challenging - and rewarding - than any I could find outside my home. I made the decision to be home with my children at the same time I decided to HAVE children. There just *isn't* another option for me. I work hard and sacrifice more than most people realize for the privelage to be able to do this 'job' and I wouldn't change a thing.

Stephanie said...

I enjoy going to work every day and I think I would go insane if I didn't have that, lol. I could not be a stay-at-home mom because I am just not cut out for it. It is much harder for me to stay at home with my son all day than it is for me to bring him to a great daycare and go to work. And I get paid with the latter, haha.

If I was going to stay at home I had better get paid a lot more than I make now, lol. It is worth a good salary. :P

Aubrey said...

I love being a stay-at-home mom, and I do agree that it is the MOST important role a woman can have. However, I completely disagree that the government has any responsibility to financially support me or any other mom. If mothers should be home with their children, then fathers need to step up and provide for their families. I can never support any government hand outs or freebies, only hard work. If a couple cannot provide for their family, then they probably shouldn't be having children in the first place. I just don't understand the sense of entitlement that people seem to have.

Confessions of a Girl said...

Thanks You Rachel!

This post is exactly what i was trying to portray in my recent blog, but i probably didn't get the point across quite like this.

Love It!

PegHead said...

Excellent post! I agree with everything except

"Families would be given sufficient financial support by the government, and this support would be seen not as a "handout" with all the stigma that welfare has now, but as a wise and critical investment in our future."

I am frustrated by people choosing to be dual income families just to pay for their 6000 square foot home, 2 SUV's and a BMW, at the expense of having their children raised in a day orphanage. It doesn't matter how wonderful a parent you are, if you aren't around to do any parenting.

Daycare should be for people without other options, like single parents.

Government should NOT be giving childcare tax credits to dual income couples. Those people are making a choice to put their babies in daycare for an extra buck. Abandoning their children should not be rewarded by the government.

L. Janel Baby Keeper said...

Sadly, because it won't happen, we need to "unwire" the brains of most women over thirty who believe the feminist premise that our equality comes from work. Equality feminism, the predominant view that took us from the home to the workplace left out the baby, the nurturing and the importance of mothering. I'm from the era of "if the mother is happy the child is happy" and fulfillment comes from career and having it all. Fortunately, I never believed it; unfortunately, I was stuck in that wheel for awhile: attachment parenting (before it had name) and getting degrees so I was hanging off the spinning wheel most of the time. Mothering and nurturing were dismantled. Today even the American Psychological Association implores us to not use the word mothering, but to use "caretaker". We are living the consequences of the early feminists (bless them for their shoulders upon whom I stand) -- that caring for children is only valuable if it is paid work and you are caring for someone else's child. It has done so much harm to our society. I am countin' on this generation of women to turn this ship around and get us on course.

Anna said...

While I agree with most of your points here, I would like to add a couple things. First, I think our society undervalues parenthood - not just motherhood. There are many men who choose to stay home with their children now, while the mother works away from home. I would love to see some sort of stipend offered to any parent who chooses to stay home with their children for the first 3 years! Also, I don't agree that *most* mothers would choose to stay home if it were an option. Many women really love their children and their careers - and I don't believe that these must be mutually exclusive. We should empower women to know what is best for themselves and their family. As we work to be more open-minded and offer people real choices, I think it is important to include all people and their choices (that are not harming themselves or their children). One last point - there is certainly room for improvement in the daycare system ... if we know that the early years are so vital for development, why aren't we requiring a higher education level of our daycare "teachers," paying them more, and providing continuing education? Of course the answer is money ... as always seems to be the case. Daycare owners can't pay for highly educated teachers with what they are able to charge parents for the service they offer. We definitely need some long-term changes!

Anonymous said...

One particular group that is creating a solution in terms of finding some consensus between a child's need to: have adults care for them who have a long term investment in their life and to spend their time in a home, rather than an public institution is an organization called Lifeways.

Here is there website:

On a more personal note, I have considerable conflict in this area because while it is my ideal to stay at home with my children at least until they are in school (I've been at home now for 9 years), it has been getting harder and harder as the years go by. While I do value it more than any career, the truth is, I find it very alienating and lonesome.

Out of the tasks of a homemaker, mostly I enjoy cooking.... but cleaning, chauffeuring, doing 6 full loads of dishes by hand everyday, laundry, playing with my kids and meeting their every need as it arises...not so much!

The only way I can manage those tasks with joy is to make them moving meditations, but how many of us can maintain consciousness all day, every day, year after year to get through the mundane...alone (emphasis)!

We need more community and new ways of living together or sharing our days....not just social gatherings, but we need to work together...besides joining a co-op or ecovillage, there is no blueprint for this in the modern world.

The other day a friend was telling me how another friend spends all day crafting with and reading to her children.

Wow, I thought....wouldn't it be amazing if her and I "stayed at home together".....this friend does not like cooking and preparing foods (which I do love to do!).....I imagined her adding my kids to her crafting and storytime, while I put wholesome, nourishing and delicious meals on the table for everyone.....all we would need next is someone who loves cleaning and we'd have it made!

I feel it is the entire context of modern life that makes going to work much more appealing than it is to stay at home. Why are we expected to do it all? What happened to the days of the wet nurse, the maid, the butler? Or better yet, what about our tribe?

Finding ways to live together, whether that be in the same home or on the same block or taking turns doing homemaking at one another's home, is the best way that I can see to create a new context for the stay at home mother that serves everyone's needs.

Hmm...go to work and be a slave to "the man" or stay at home creating an enriching life together with other women supporting one another in the work of life's daily tasks, while thriving in eachother's company....many hands makes lighter work....with a group of multi age children, our children would play and explore instead of "being underfoot" (love that, heard it on Little House on the Praire!).

Just think of the time that would be left over to pursue other passions and be able to step away once in a while knowing that our children are being tended to by surrogate aunties...wise woman invested in your child's well-being because your child is a celebrated member of the community!

ericka @ alabaster cow said...

i concur. really any way you look at it mothers are undervalued and are often criticized regardless of whether they work outside the home or stay with their child/children all day. if you stay at home then you're not productive member of society. if you work outside of the home you're abandoning your children. a true to life "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

we all need to be kinder to each other and put as much focus on our children as possible.

glad i found your blog. :)

Kayla J said...

Articles like this (and the comments that follow) always assume that women always work out of "necessity", to pay for some extravagant lifestyle. I find this to be a gross exaggeration, and extremely dismissive of the roles of a father. Both of my parents worked 35ish hours a week, solely so that they could BOTH spend time with us and both parent equally. I'm glad, because the alternative frequently means dad working 50+ hours a week to be the sole provider, never seeing his kids.

Not to mention, it completely excludes women, such as myself, who WANT to work! I plan to become a pediatric oncologist. I'm spending 10+ years and over $100 K to get there. I have no desire to stay at home past 6 months or so, and I don't think having children should be so all or nothing. I adored my "day orphanage" and as an adult woman, respect my own mother immensely for having a career and not being dependent on another person for her survival. There is no shame in either option. People SAH because they want to. People WOH because they want to. Everyone needs to stop taking digs.

Angela said...

Why can't you write an article about how both working mothers and stay at home moms can work together to make this world a better place for our children?

PegHead, your comments are both ignorant and offensive.

Woman Uncensored said...


Would you like fries with that?

Dan said...

While I can appreciate the sentiments of women who "want to work", I wonder why they have children then?

If you "want to work" at a career, great for you. Go for it. But don't put your kids in daycare so you can feel fulfilled.

How about this... Life is long. When your kids are old enough to go to school all day you'll still have 30 or 40 years to do this career or that job. Stay home now and be a pediatric oncologist or whatever later.

No one ever dies saying "I wish I spent more time at work."

Kayla J said...

Since you used my future profession, I'll assume you're talking to me...

Simply put, I won't be able to afford to stay home immediately. It will take at least a few years to pay off my loans, to get established. That puts me at my mid to late thirties before having my first child, and well into my forties if I decide to have a second. Not to mention, if I immediately took 5-10 years off, I'd fall way behind in the field, and there would be plenty of new doctors to replace me.

Not to mention, I don't live in the fifties. I can do more with my life than just have children because of the women who came before me. I don't for one second believe that humans "instinctively" feel the need to be around their child 24/7, hence the saying "it takes a village to raise a child." Sure, show me the studies that say children in daycare turn out to be rapist terrorists, you can find a study to prove just about anything (example being the africa AIDS studies), even if much of the data is twisted to suit a purpose.

Why does anybody want children? It's entirely selfish. We want our DNA to continue on, we want to start a new life to nurture, we want to contribute to the next generation. If my partner wants to stay at home, great. If not, fantastic. I'm the type of person who admires motivation. I am also the type of person who would be absolutely miserable wasting my education to stay home. If mom isn't happy, surely baby isn't happy.

Like I previously said, I am the product of two working parents and I admire my mother for managing to help people, have her own career and own life outside of us, all while being the best mom I could possibly imagine. She didn't need my dad to support her financially, and she didn't need to be around her children 24/7 to feel she was a good mom. And you know what? My sister and I are well-adjusted, smart, independent, happy examples of AP parenting. I will go on to be a fantastic AP parent, and I hope my children grow up to respect me as much as I respect my mother. If not, I'll just have to look back and say I did what I thought was best for us.

chitogr54 said...

PegHead said - "Daycare should be for people without other options, like single parents." I agree with her. I am one of those who are left with no options. I am a widower. My wife died last 2006 leaving me to care for our lovechild. At first, it was hard taking care of my toddler all by myself and having to work at the same time. Until I found the right daycare center for my precious child! I read in this link - Daycare -that the 'right daycare centers provide the creative arts, including music, movement, dramatic play, puppetry, painting, sculpture, and drawing, which are a crucial part of early childhood. Not only do the arts allow children to express themselves, but creative activity can enhance development of children's skills in literacy, science, math, social studies, and more'. Thus enhancing my child"s IQ, EQ, and personality even at so young an age. Now, I can't wait for my son to grow up, and for me to see the fruits of my labor and my making the right choices when I've got no other options left.

Jennie said...

Re some of the comments on government help for families, I think there is a misunderstanding of Jan's intentions. As a long-time fan of her website ( I'm sure that she meant government help that would enable children to stay at home, not government help that would simply enrich two-income families who have their children in daycare.

Nikki said...

So I realize this is WOMAN Uncensored, but this post is so mom-centered that I have to wonder, what role is there left for a father in this "ideal" world where women don't "a strong personal need or desire" to use substitute care?

I'm sorry, if you have one full-time stay at home parent there is very little chance the other will be able to play a fully meaningful role in your child's life (due to all the financial responsibility falling on him).

"The reality, of course, is that parenting - the most important job a woman can have - is not valued sufficiently." Parenting is also the most important job a man can have.

I'm not trying to be overly harsh -- each of our thoughts about mothering are so trenched in our own experiences -- but the author here makes some huge assumptions about what women should do and want to do. I find that offensive. We're lucky enough to live in a society where many of us have real choices and we should respect those choices. Women should stop expecting so much of each other and start expecting more of men.

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