I really don’t like conflict and I really don’t know very much about politics – and even less about economics. So when I started blogging I didn’t want to write anything political and certainly not on anything controversial. Even as I write this I’m not sure if I’m going to post it, and I know that the knot in my stomach is not just Baby Lee #3 wriggling round! But I do think that we need to acknowledge that there is a very large and very vulnerable group, for whom the impact of the extended free childcare policies as laid out in the manifestos will be greatest. They have no vote, no campaign opportunity, no voice. And yet these decisions affect them the most.
The childcare manifesto policies see parties promising more and more: the number of free hours for pre-schoolers and wrap-around care for primary children just keep growing. And I have to question why. At the outset it might seem like a nice gesture to mums who want to go back to work – a move towards an equal society where women have as many career opportunities as men and are not hindered by their children. But I can’t help but wonder whether it isn’t a bit naive to believe that the government really actually cares about women and their opportunities. Of course, some MPs do – and it isn’t to tar all MPs with one brush. But, on the whole, and at policy level, isn’t it perhaps more likely that we’re all viewed as economic commodities who could be paying tax, and the most effective way to get the best return on these economic commodities is to remove any restriction on productivity (namely our children) and leave us free to earn a wage and pay tax?
This seems even more obvious when I hear of ideas to outsource these national childcare systems to voluntary bodies: I already voluntarily provide childcare for my children. Why does having another volunteer do it make any sense? Unfortunately, the answer can surely only be because it will reduce the ratio of volunteers (non-earning non-tax paying superfluous commodities) to children. I currently function at a ratio of 1:2 – in voluntary provided state childcare the government can have that function at a ratio of, say, 1:8 – suddenly that’s three more tax-paying commodities.
But what’s the cost? Well, economically, I’ve no idea. And, quite frankly, I’ve no intention of caring – all the debates and discussion around the economics and logistics conveniently manage to divert attention from the real cost of such policies. I don’t claim to be an expert on child psychology and I don’t intend to rehash the arguments from educational and psychological studies – there are those who can do it far better than I can. I’m just a stay-at-home mum. And what I know about is my children and their upbringing, so let me make my point from that angle.
Firstly, if my child, from preschool age, is in childcare for 30 hours a week, that’s 30 hours of somebody else’s morals and philosophy (actually, some-system else’s morals and philosophy) at an age when they’re deeply influenced by everything they experience and lack the ability to discern what they should be absorbing and what they shouldn’t. I have some very clear thoughts on how I want my children to grow up, about the morals they hold, about the world view they adopt, about the way they treat others. And those are things that my children need teaching – both directly and through observing me and my actions. And my children won’t learn only what I teach them, but what they learn in any child care setting – regardless of how it fits with my philosophies.
As a Christian, I believe it is my calling and vocation to ‘train [my children] up in the way [they] should go; even when [they] are old [they] will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6), but this becomes ever harder with each hour my very impressionable pre-schooler is in a system built on philosophies and beliefs which, at their very core, are often at odds to mine. 30 hours a week amounts to 6 hours 5 days a week – that’s a very significant chunk of my 3 year old’s week. Moreover, when I am charged to ‘teach [the words of the Lord] diligently to your children, and…talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise’, I struggle to see how I could do this if I bought into the wraparound care from 8am-6pm available to primary school children. When, in that morning rush, or the bedtime routine would I find time to truly fulfill my ministry? God has entrusted me with their care, and has called me to the ministry of motherhood, not the state.
Secondly, when, before 8am and after 6pm, am I to teach my child basic life skills? How to use a washing machine; to boil an egg; to do grocery shopping? When will they have the opportunity to develop essential working skills such as initiative, self-motivation, and hobbies outside of what is available under child care? I know that wrap around care does try and teach some skills such as cooking and washing up, and that I’d have the weekends available, but this still seems very little. I want my children to be able to pursue their own interests and learn things you can’t learn in a classroom (or child care room) and being in a bubble of national state child care from 8am till 6pm would seem to hinder real-life growth and development. You know – the type of growth where you might need to go off site, or do something that’s not been planned as an activity for that day.
Thirdly, what does it teach about consequences and responsibility? Already my children are learning that their actions have consequences and that they have to accept those. But, because I’m a woman, I don’t? I can have sex, have a baby and then reduce the impact of the consequence with ever-expanding free childcare. It would make me a hypocrite every time I tried to have them see that we have to take responsibility for our actions and their consequences, and not expect to be able to walk away from them.
And, finally, what will the long term impact be on my child’s sense of worth and their self-esteem? What would I be telling them about what I value and what my priorities are? The reality is that we do have to make really tough decisions when we have children, and the choices I make do show something of my priorities to those around me, including my children. Even the best of motivations for accepting extended childcare to the extent promised in the manifestos will surely cause my children to question where they fall in the pecking order of my priorities, or what their value is in comparison to other things in my life. And, the thing is, I may have genuine motivations for accepting the child care promised, but I’m really not sure that there is much good in the motivation of the parties in offering it. Unfortunately, I think they value our tax-paying ability far above the wellbeing of our children.
I can’t help but wonder, have we become so desensitised to being treated as commodities that we’ve actually bought into the lie that ever expanding free or subsidised child care is a great step forward for women? Hurrah, we too can now be a productive cog in the tax-paying wheel! Have we become so attuned to that way of thinking that when government policies don’t see our children as blessings, a calling or a ministry, but simply a risk factor to our value as commodities that need to be managed and minimised, we somehow find ourselves going along with it?
What’s the cost of the child care policies? I fear far greater than we might be being led to believe. And who is going to pay? Those with the smallest shoulders and the least voice will be required to bear it all.