Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What's wrong with day care?

I was once told that you should keep your child at home rather than send her to day care.

I do not fully understand the day care system, but I wonder why some people see day care as such a bad thing for their kids.

I'm pretty sure the idea that a woman has to be a mother first and foremost, and therefore tend to her kids is still strong. Although many women feel this to be something biological, it is not. It has to do with social factors, with being taught from an early age that a girl cares about the babies, that a woman has to be a mother, and so on.

But beyond the gender discourse, I think this fear of day care also has a lot to do with the day care/ kindergarten system in North America. As said, a system I still don't fully understand: what's the difference between them? Are these institutions public or private? Are people working there educated and licensed? Why some institutions are affiliated with churches? How come day cares are in private homes? Who decides on the curricula?

I mean, I do understand the historical circumstances and the institutional dimension, but I think it's simply wrong. And if you really espouse gender equality, you need to ensure that there is a reliable, secular education system where kids can develop intellectually and emotionally.

I grew up in a different part of the world and went to kindergarten. Our kindergarten was a huge brick building, with a big backyard and a wonderfully huge swing. Oh yes, small kids were allowed to use the swing... That was back in the time when kids were supposed to fall and hurt themselves. I did fall, and I did hurt myself but I survived and not really cared about it.

Our kindergarten had nice and not-so-nice teachers. Mostly women, it is true. But they were all educated and they all made sure our day was neatly divided into play time, learn time, eating time and nap time. I really really hated the afternoon naps.

Each morning, we would have breakfast there. That's when I met my friend M, who always skimmed the milk for me. Yes, that was during the time when milk came with all the natural fat and formed a disgusting creamy skin on top when warmed up.

We then went to our different classrooms and played. I had to learn that one doesn't always get what one wants. And that playing involves taking other kids into consideration. I also learned that I'm not very good at fighting for my toys, but that if you annoy me, I'll make sure I get what I want from you.

We also drew a lot of pictures and sang songs and learned funny things that make kids happy. A very important gift that I got in kindergarten was an extensive range of those annoying diseases kids get. They are to be experienced when you're young enough not to remember them.

My mom picked me up at 4.30 pm. Some days she was late, and I was crying my heart out fearing she has abandoned me. I survived, and I wasn't permanently damaged by my tears.

he point is: the kindergarten was a place that parents trusted. The stay-at-home mom was rare and usually frowned-upon: why was she at home instead of working? They never gave us junk to eat. They insisted on our morning milk and our afternoon veggies. We did NOT watch TV. We played with toys and with each other. We played outside almost every day, summer and winter. Yes, kids cried in the morning because they wanted to stay at home. But hey, it was a great lesson in growing up. And I made a friend for life there. So I guess in the end, it was actually good for me.

Photo credits: Seattle Municipal Archives


Lindsay said...

Hah, it's cool that you wrote this post today, so soon after Ginmar (a terrific radical-feminist blogger on Livejournal) wrote her encyclopedic post on the "satanic panic" of the 1980s and its relationship to the anti-feminist backlash of that era.

Gender norms, along with the cult of motherhood and the cult of the nuclear family, go a long way toward explaining the distrust of day care as something only a Bad Mother would ever need, as does the cyclical pattern of progress toward women's liberation and backlash against it.

I think another major cultural factor contributing to people's distrust of day care in the US is a loathing of anything communal or collectivized, held over from the Cold War.

There's also the idea that infants' brains are infinitely malleable, so whatever you do/whatever environment you give them when they are tiny babies, toddlers and preschoolers will determine how smart, happy, outgoing, etc. they will be as older children, teenagers and adults. (So, of course, you wouldn't want to trust a --- gasp! --- STRANGER with your child at such an all-important time in his/her life!) Social mobility and class status also come into it: Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a really interesting book in the 1980s called Fear of Falling, which was all about the nagging insecurities that plague apparently well-off middle-class white people, especially on the subject of their children. We have so much invested, as a culture, in the idea of a meritocracy: that where a person sits in the socioeconomic hierarchy reflects directly on their intelligence, work ethic, creativity etc. When you couple this with the idea of child development I mentioned earlier --- i.e., that early infancy is the key to everything --- you can see how this period in life might be particularly fraught in U.S. culture, even above and beyond the natural instinct to keep one's young children close by.

thinkingdifference said...

Thanks, I'll check her blog! And thanks for adding this to the post, it's really informative!

I grew up thinking a good parent wants the child to socialize and learn how to deal with other kids from a very early age. Precisely because early infancy was so important, I thought you want your kid to learn the 'rules of social interaction' (including failure) as soon as possible.

Jillian said...

For me (I don't have kids, so this is theoretical), it's a matter of trust. The US daycare system is just so scary...every day, some new story of food poisoning or injury, or far worse. That, coupled with the fact that it's often more cost effective to just stay home seems to form many decisions on this matter.

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