Is Childcare as Good as Mama-care?

Every once in awhile I have one of those “Emperor’s New Clothes” moments – you know what I mean. In this story, the emperor is gullible and gets taken in by two con-men who claim to make him the most beautiful clothes in the world when indeed they are just pretending and taking his money. But he doesn’t want anyone to think he’s stupid so he plays along – and then when he leads a parade naked to the world, all his people also play along, also not wanting to seem stupid to their neighbors: for surely they can see the clothes if the emperor says there are indeed clothes. So there’s this big conspiracy of silence with everyone playing along. Everyone except a little boy, too young to be taken in, who asks ” Why is the emperor wearing no clothes?”
Well for me, the “no clothes” issue has to do with the enormous myth in our society that childcare – good childcare of course – and definitions of what constitute good childcare differ wildly – is just as good as care a child can receive from his mother. From 6 weeks on it is perfectly acceptable to hand a child over to strangers because “good childcare is as good as care from a mother”.
No, it’s not that I ever agreed with this patently absurd assertion, but that I never, until recently, had a colorful way to explain its obvious flaws. This is my “emperor” moment – or maybe, more accurately, my “little boy” moment. One can become numb to the arguments back and forth about an issue such as this. But sometimes, if one just steps back from a situation and looks at it with a different slant, then one might just awaken to insight into a dilemma.
So let’s look at this assertion. People taking this position are basically saying that a mother is replaceable by a stranger and that childcare (good childcare) is just as good as the care a mother can give her child. Let’s think about that. So….the woman who conceived the child,  who has a karmic and spiritual connection to him; who carried him in her body for 9 months and shared dreams and life with him during that time; who gave birth to him; who fed him from her body – even if not successfully; who lives with him; who shares a name with him and a family history;  and who  is creating a family and a future together with his father (or another committed loving adult) is totally replaceable by a stranger who has none of these characteristics.
So what I’d like to know is this: do people who believe this also believe that, say, a woman can be told: “Sorry, your husband is not available to you right now. Here’s Fred. He attractive, articulate, shares the same hobbies as you and is willing to spend a few hours with you (paid of course – but not very well) instead of your husband. Off you go.”
Would you be willing to go off with Fred if you want to be with your husband, the person you have committed to, had a child with, are creating a home with and a future? Is a husband substitute (a good husband substitute) good enough?
Don’t you want your sister, best girl friend, aunt, grandfather, brother or mother when you want that person? Are they completely replaceable by a person who meets certain criteria outlined by people outside of that relationship?
I don’t think so.
What is missing? A mother’s love is what is missing. That is the “glue” that made it possible for the woman to conceive, carry, bear and mother her child. That is the bond that works from the past into the future between her and her child. The spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual connections between a mother and her child just are not imitable or replaceable by anyone else. Not even a father – who has, of course, his own very special role. But he is not a mother.
An adopted mother also has this mother love – she “falls in love” with her adopted child and she has many of the above outlined connections with her child. She also is not replaceable by good childcare – because she, like her sisters who are the birth mothers of their children, are mothers. They are all mothers – not carers. And if people cannot see the difference between a mother and a carer, then I give up.
Of course there are many childcare people who definitely love the children they look after and care for. No doubt about it. But is that love the same as a mother’s love? Not for one minute. I know what it is like to love many children – I have worked with children in a variety of settings (including as a day care provider) for over 25 years and have loved many of them. Do I think that I ever loved any of them in the same way I love my own sons? Never. Of course not! Does that mean I was not dedicated to those children – of course not. But it is just not the same thing as a mother’s love. I would never have the arrogance to think for one moment that my love for a child I looked after could in any way be like the love from his mother or father.
There will always be a need for good childcare (now I’m going to use that phrase!). There will always be reasons for children to be looked after by people who are not family members. And there are many ways we can improve childcare in our society – valuing the work of women who look after children would be a good place to start. But we must work unceasingly to shout out that the Emperor has no clothes on – that childcare is not the same as a mother’s care. Or a father’s or grandmother’s or other long term committed person’s care, someone who has an ongoing relationship with the family, is part of the family really.
Let’s remember Fred the next time someone tells us that good childcare is as good as – or worse still – better than – the care a child can get from his mother. Let’s work to help women who must use childcare to find good childcare which does not seek to replace her, but seeks to empower her as a mother, despite the fact that she must work or needs childcare for another reason, such as ill health. Let us work to create mother/child programs which support mothers in their lonely journeys and do not undermine them, telling them that “here is best – you should leave your child here.” And when families break down or there are problems which impede a mother’s ability to love her children in the way she should, then let’s work to support her and her mothering and not remove her children or treat her as a criminal.
Some months ago I wrote  about the Madonna Cloak Project. Its launch takes place in a couple of weeks and my hope is for it to grow as a beacon to those who know in their mother’s (and father’s) hearts what is best for their children.

Posted on June 16, 2009 in Children and Society, Kindergarten (and pre-K)

  • Ellen says:

    Oh, that’s funny. What a good way to turn that argument around. The sad thing is some people seem to believe that daycare is not only as good but better than having your child at home. That was an argument leveled at me a few years ago, but I didn’t feel prepared to battle it because the person saying that was a single mom with her own child in daycare … and I really didn’t want to undermine her in defending myself.

  • ProntoLessons says:

    Great article.
    It seems these days when we all have 10 million things on our plates, that we let these things cloud our priorities on what is really important…and daycare is a great example of that.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Juli Ford says:

    Love “Fred”, Donna. Perfectly put.

  • Jane says:

    The “fred” example is one of the smartest and funniest comebacks I’ve seen so far about mommy care versus childcare!

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