Miserable babies in industrial childcare

THE Times reports that a chain of nurseries has invested in ‘frustration toys’ for children prone to biting. The Tops Day Nurseries operations director said: ‘The children learn that if they get the sudden desire to bite they can select a teething toy or similar to bite on to release the urge.’

With more than three-quarters of UK mothers of dependent children in work, non-maternal childcare is overwhelmingly the norm for young children in this country, and it makes its impact, at a mass scale, on their development.

Decades of research show that maternal attachment – meaning the strength and security of the bond between mother and young child – is of crucial importance in laying the foundations for psychological wellbeing in later life. We have known since 1997 that children spending more than ten hours a week in poor quality childcare are at increased risk of for unhappiness and insecurity.

That children left in ‘industrial’ childcare settings (however committed individual staff may be) are likely to be less secure than those cared for by a loving mother at home will not come as a shock to readers of The Conservative Woman. What is disturbing is the rising prevalence of nursery behaviour indicating infants’ frustration and unhappiness. It suggests an epidemic of infant misery across the country as barely-verbal preschoolers shuttle between screen time at home as their overworked parents scrabble to complete domestic chores around full-time jobs, and sometimes chaotic nursery settings which function less as caring environments for development than holding facilities for children whose parents cannot afford to look after them themselves.

Stones would weep for these poor babies. For their mothers as well: I know too many women who spent weeks in a state of bereavement, sobbing in the office loos on returning to work after maternity leave. Eventually, those mothers became accustomed to suppressing the visceral desire to be physically close to their baby (for a 12-month-old is still a baby). Presumably their babies adjust – at whatever cost – as well. But for the most part, these sobbing mothers are returning not to fulfilling careers but to mundane jobs. They have little choice: the alternative is not staying at home with their baby but having their home repossessed.

The conservative stance on these matters has for some time been to see the problem in terms of women’s needs (not babies’ needs) and their assumed desire and priority for fulfilment via the workplace.

Now too much screen time and the pressures on working parents, which means they are not spending time talking to their children, are blamed for the rise in children’s problems communicating. 

Seeing the situation through this lens alone ignores the way public policy, from left and right, has been falling over itself for years to put the entire population – male, female, young and old – under this pressure by driving them out of the home and its purported ‘economic inactivity’ and into GDP-boosting employment instead.

To glance past this and place the blame solely on mothers, as individuals, for the misery of their babies in industrial childcare is at best wilful blindness and at worst a kind of sadism. Where are the voices in our political discourse who are unafraid to stand up for mothers and mothering and say that some things matter more than GDP? That top of the list is family life and especially the needs of young children?

This article was first published in The Conservative Woman

One thought on “Miserable babies in industrial childcare

  1. In 1997 my second son was just fresh and new and I was one of the only mums of two I knew who weren’t planning to go ‘back to work’. I had never been ‘at work’ like they had as I was in my early 20s not early or late 30s. When my third child was born in 2003 I was again alone in choosing to raise my children myself despite then having a job that might have been worth going back to, ironically, my job at the time had morphed into upskilling disadvantaged young mothers to get them into the workplace with the offer of free childcare to get the there. Thank you Tony Blair.

    With the son and his older brother in the generation ‘snowflake’ they stand out as well balanced, loving young men in a sea of insecure, sad, food-troubled young people. I am not a heroic mother, I am just a mother who spent time with her children and now they say they realised I was just ‘always there’. Wherever they were, they knew where I was and they knew they could rely on me.

    It’s no co-incidence that children of this generation raised in long days of 8am to 6pm daycare and then stuck in the wraparound school day with breakfast and after school clubs aren’t ok on many measures. If you aren’t connected to your family, how do you know who you can lean on, who loves you and who cares? How can yo mange on your own when your needs haven’t been met and you haven’t been ‘filled up’ enough to manage outside the family nest.

    I stopped upskilling women to separate the from their families and never went back to it on principle. I made sure that children who came to our house could make a mess with paint and dig in the garden and eat cake and tell me stories. I did what I could to be kind to children but society as a whole has let them down.

    We should be able to see this now but we aren’t and we are still separating families on a daily basis, knowing what the result will be.


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