Who is Raising The Kids? (And Why We Should Care)

daycare

Source: Getty Images

The issue of daycare is a tricky one.  Many parents feel judged when people start talking about the amount of time our children are spending being cared for by others and even more so when the discussion turns to the quality of daycare experienced by far too many children.  Furthermore, many parents are adamant that their children’s daycare providers are not considered shared primary caregivers, that that is a role held uniquely by them.

So I have to ask: If these providers aren’t raising our kids, who is?

According to Statistics Canada’s 2010 General Social Survey on Time Use, the amount of time parents are caring for their young children (under four) isn’t as great as one might think.  According to StatsCan, parents spend an average of 2 hours 49 minutes of their day taking care of their young children as the main activity, which includes physical care of children, reading to them, talking to them, and anything along those lines.  (To put this in perspective, the average amount of time people spend watching TV is 2 hours 52 minutes, but I’m pretty sure the average parent is spending less than that.)  However, when you add in doing other things (like household chores, errands, etc.) while also taking care of kids, the time goes up, but to only 4 hours 52 minutes.  If we figure kids are sleeping an average of 14 hours in this age group (as it would be variable), that still leaves 4 hours 8 minutes.

This number is also going to be skewed high because the younger children (especially aged 0-1 as parents here have the option of a year’s parental leave) will be spending much more time caring for their child (and as such, countries like the USA, with no real parental leave policy in place, would likely have even lower numbers for this age group as many children start in daycare as young as six weeks).  Likely it means that after age 1, many children are spending the majority of their waking hours in the care of someone else.  This fact shouldn’t be surprising if we consider parents back at work whose day with their children probably looks like: Wake up, spend an hour with their kids getting them ready and out the door then to daycare then they pick them up after work having only 2-3 or so hours before it’s bedtime.

I say all this with no judgment of parents who utilize daycare because we all (a) do what we have to do, and (b) do so after weighing the risks and benefits for us and our families.  In fact, alloparenting is as old as human beings, it just happens that often it’s with family or tribe members who treat our children with the same (or close to the same) love and care as we do.  The typical modern version of alloparenting is daycare, but as mentioned before, many parents don’t acknowledge it as such, likely because it makes it seem as if they are “less” important than they (rightly) feel they are.  But these personal feelings (insecurities?) about their situation are leading them to ignore a problem facing many families and allowing society to ignore it as well.

What is this problem?  So long as we continue to view daycare as secondary care and not a real, viable element of alloparenting, we can continue to ignore the problem of subpar daycare options for children.  We continue to allow children to spend a large portion – if not a majority – of their day in overcrowded, inappropriately stimulated situations which provide them with neither the individual care nor the freedom to explore young children need.

Although some parents spend a great deal of time looking for the “right” fit of daycare, many simply have to take what is available and affordable.  This means the quality of care is often less than a child would get if cared for by a family member or close friend, a one-on-one nanny, or an au-pair.  When we look for individual or shared care for our children (especially if we bring these people into our house), we tend to be a bit more picky about who we choose.  The mentality of inviting someone into your home can (even subconsciously) include the idea that you are welcoming them to your family.  The expectation is the type of care you would expect from someone that close to you.

In daycare, however, that often isn’t a consideration.  Especially not at the societal level.  We are so concerned about making parents feel “good” about daycare we have focused on making sure they don’t see daycare for what it is: alloparenting.  If someone is just “helping” you, it’s easier to forgive the quality of care as being lesser than because you don’t see their contribution to your child as being nearly as great as it actually is.  (In a similar vein, it allows daycares to see child “problems” as stemming only from the home and not the environment they have created, another fallacy.)

It’s time we accept daycare for what it is and the role it plays in our society so that we can find ways to make sure every daycare is at a standard that we would want for our own kids (which includes small staff:child ratios, one-to-one attention, close contact for young children, consistency of care so no high turnovers, no crying-it-out, no corporal punishment, and more that I’m not even thinking of at this moment).  Alloparenting, when done right, can be beneficial for children in allowing them to feel safe and secure and loved by people other than their parents (who will always remain the most significant caregivers in their lives, even when they share the role of caregiver with others).  But when it’s not done right?  It can be associated with a host of childhood problems (see here for more information) that will end up having longer-term consequences for our children, our families, and our society.

Although it’s hard to know how to ensure all kids get appropriate care, you can start by looking to politicians who have child care as a topic on their agenda.  If your representative doesn’t, send them something (in fact, I believe a new set letter is on my agenda now) to tell them how important it is that all children have access to high-quality daycare.  As for your own kids, if you don’t have family to alloparent, look into nanny-sharing as an option (some post-partum doulas also work as nannies and that’s usually someone you can trust to be loving and caring) as the sharing bit often reduces the cost to something more akin to less expensive daycare.  If you have space in your house, look into an au-pair because you really are making someone a part of the family and that’s a wonderful element for your children (and can be cheaper when you’re paying room and board).

Whatever it looks like, we need to make sure all children are getting the care they deserve, and that means things have to start changing.

Comments

  1. Jespren says

    Here’s the thing, and I think society bears this out, there is no such thing as ‘high quality daycare’. It doesn’t exist, it can’t exist. Because you can’t take 20+ unrelated kids and put them in a building with a bunch of unrelated adults and get an actual alloparent relationship. The only way ‘daycare’ becomes ‘high quality daycare’ (of they type you are referring to) is to take each families independently contracted nanny or au par and make a large play-area meeting center for them to all spend their days in away from the family home. That’s it. You can send a nanny who always cares for the same one, two, or three siblings into an out-of-home environment and expect proper care, but you can not sent one, two, or three siblings into an out-of-home environment and expect a random worker to provide proper care. There are some ideas that do not work, and we shouldn’t be chasing some theoretical impossibility, we should be warning people away and advising them to follow better paths. There is a reason why people think nannies are too expensive, because you are paying someone to do *your* job while you get paid to do some random job. We should be telling parents, without guilt or shying, that their kid needs *THEM* (be that mom or dad) or, if the situation absolutely, positively, can not be worked to provide a child with their mother or father, they should be receiving one-on-one (or one-on-all siblings) care by a long term family or family-style provider such as a grandparent, aunt/uncle, cousin, in-home nanny/nursemaid, or long term au par. You can not say ‘well, we known daycare is a really bad situation for kids to be in, we know it retards their development, makes them more aggressive and less capable of normal attachment, leads to more sicknesses, discourages breastfeeding, and increases a child’s risk of abuse’ and then turn around and say ‘but we can’t hurt anyone’s feeling by saying that *daycare* does that, so let’s just say ‘low quality’ daycare does that and keep them chasing ‘high quality’ daycare. No, daycare is bad for kids. Daycare is bad for kids. There is no such thing as good daycare. We should say it over, and over, and over again until people start to listen. In the average 2 income home, most of one income goes to childcare, the *average* home would see only a very small net decrease in usable income if one parent stayed home and cared for the kids, a decrease which could typically be completely offset by one parent being at home to cook food from scratch, which is much cheaper than the processed food a 2 income home usually purchases. At one point in time society was honest enough to say single parent homes were bad for kids, in large part due to the inability of a parent to say home and care for the kids. Single parents were expected to remarry (and stay married) or they joined together in groups where parenting and earning duties could be shared. It’s been that way since before the Greco-Roman empires. There is a reason you don’t see traditional societies with ‘daycares’ and single parents running around hiring other people to do their parenting: it doesn’t work for the kid. And we *used* to be more concerned with that the kid needed than what the adult wanted. Your kid need you, not a stranger. Daycare is bad. If that makes parents feel bad, then they should address *why* it makes them feel bad, not shoot the messenger. No one can make you feel guilty over something you don’t *already* know to be wrong.

    • says

      I really like that idea of a big play area for nannies and au-pairs and the kids they watch! Of course, in my definition of “high quality” daycare IS low staff:child ratio (meaning you get no more than 1:3, or 1:1 if the child is young enough) which I realize would be impossible without charging much more than they already do ;)

      • Jespren says

        might make nannies a bit cheaper since in home nannies inevitable get stuck with housework chores. if they actually were just hired to watch the kids in a secure, kid friendly environment it might reduce costs some. especially if we consider the possibility of a government (either state or federal) providing the space as part of the city’s infrastructure as rec centers are today. but the point here is there needs to be an individual caregiver responsible for each child/sibling group, and responsible to only the parents. If the ‘in loco’ parent is contracted, employed, and maintained by the parent instead of by a business organization, then we are talking an actual, responsible ‘alloparent’ situation instead of a daycare. The parents should have full responsibility to choose the person caring for their child(ren) and the caregiver should be answerable to the parent, not to a ‘boss’ who is vaguely answerable to many parents.

    • Anna says

      Wow, very controversial but so true, thank you for saying what I think. My views have changed so much since I’ve had kids and my thoughts are in line with yours. I’m fortunate to have a mum and mother in law that can help look after my children but I’ve also changed careers recently to ensure it is more flexible and allows me to be there with my children. We are such a long way from moving towards where we need to go.

      Tracy, would love a letter template to send to my local government representative to raise the importance of this issue. Love your work!

      • says

        I will get working on it Anna! And I do also feel very much in line with Jespren, though I believe that some parents’ minds won’t change and I still want those kids to have good experiences in a daycare environment which is why I feel strongly we need to fight for them. If I could convince parents to use a nanny or au-pair if their work is that important to them, I would (and I try to with all new friends), but I know some just are convinced daycare is “fine”. (The backlash I got on the daycare piece I linked to in here was quite telling of parents’ views!)

  2. Julia says

    One of the things that I liked a lot when I was researching RIE was a description of a daycare that was for ages 6 weeks to 3 years. It was set up so that the group of carers were contracted for a group of children. In this way it was less of a daycare and more a program in that, you couldn’t just drop in at any time you started at the beginning and the children could be pulled out due to circumstances, but the carers signed a 3 year contract. There was other things that I didn’t like, but that part stuck with me. It was expensive though.

  3. Diane says

    How are we defining daycare. I have an in home nanny that I use (actually I use 2, they job share) and I work from home… So my kids walk in and out of my office for snuggles, floor playtime and chats. My nanny helps with meals, supervising and playing outside and any pool time. And some how that makes me a person putting my own life above my kids according to Jespren. We literally can’t afford to eat if I don’t work, if I do work we can afford the things I prioritize as a
    Parent, letting my children experience plays and symphonies, and taking them
    Traveling, and building our savings up so I have the option if homeschooling when they are school age. I wish people could see as the post mentioned there are ways of creating care and keeping your job.

  4. Rebecca says

    Tracy, I read Jespren’s comment and became increasingly agitated at the expression of opinions as facts, demonstrated lack of empathy, and lack of constructive suggestions. I expected to read a measured response from you rather than what appears to be your virtual endorsement of the sentiments expressed.

    Jespren makes these statements:

    “There is no such thing as high quality daycare”.

    “At one point in time society was honest enough to say single parent homes were bad for kids, in large part due to the inability of a parent to say home and care for the kids.”

    “You can not say ‘well, we known daycare is a really bad situation for kids to be in, we know it retards their development, makes them more aggressive and less capable of normal attachment, leads to more sicknesses, discourages breastfeeding, and increases a child’s risk of abuse’”.

    Tracy, when you say that you “feel very much in line with Jespren’, are you saying you endorse the above comments? Because frankly, I would have expected much, much more from you, if only on the grounds of academic rigour.

    You yourself also write: “I believe that some parents’ minds won’t change and I still want those kids to have good experiences in a daycare environment which is why I feel strongly we need to fight for them. If I could convince parents to use a nanny or au-pair if their work is that important to them, I would (and I try to with all new friends), but I know some just are convinced daycare is “fine”.’”

    I have to say that I find this an extraordinarily patronising and naive statement. While I agree that there are many parents who do not want to critically engage with/reflect on the subject, I do not doubt that there are also very, very many parents who are all too aware of the poor quality of their child’s daycare and desperately wish they could make other choices. You refer to the use of nannies/au pairs as if this were a readily available option and solution for everyone – it simply isn’t. To imply that parents prioritise paid work over the needs of their child as though on a whim, and that anyone who doesn’t find an alternative to daycare simply doesn’t care enough or isn’t trying hard enough, is offensive.

    (For the record, I am far, far from being a ‘daycare sympathiser’ who automatically arks up defensively whenever someone expresses a critique of daycare. I am well read on the research, and am also an ardent critic on many fronts).

    I have found EP to be a wonderful resource during my 2.5 years of parenting so far. Yet as a sole parent who is also employed in the paid work force, a parent who uses long day care, a feminist, a critical thinker and a practitioner of gentle/peaceful parenting, I have been completely alienated in one fell stroke by this discussion. I feel very, very sad about that.

    • says

      Well, I do feel very much in line that children should be raised by family and those who care for them. The norm is alloparenting in which invested individuals care for children. This is where I agree full on with Jespren. Where we disagree is the steps that need to happen. I believe that we must accept much of our current society and thus work towards making daycare an appropriate alloparenting environment for ALL children, even if I wish these kids could be raised by family/extended family/close friends/etc. as an “ideal”.

      Now, both Jespren (I know her personally and this also makes our back and forths on here a little different as we discuss outside of this forum and make broad statements the other understands completely) and I agree that daycare is an absolute necessity for single parents. I also know that there are parents who will choose it regardless. I also know there are parents who are aware of the low-quality daycare their kids attend (though I imagine not many really do understand the full implications simply because their focus is on providing are period while they try and pay the bills). Where I was trying to go with this is that all of this is irrelevant so long as we continue to think of daycare as something that isn’t as important as it is for a child’s development. And to talk about it like that means admitting some of the things Jespren said – especially that last statement you quoted (which has a fair bit of research to support it in non-at-risk homes). Talking about that gets people’s backs up (understandably) and it tends to shut down the discussion.

      As for the alternatives, they were offered for those who COULD, but I am aware they aren’t for everyone which is why I also argued we ALL have to care about the quality of daycare children are receiving.

      Does that help?

  5. Rebecca says

    And another thing. That image of the baby gaffer taped to the wall is appallin. Why would you want to partake in sharing an image of a child being abused and humiliated in this way? And to suggest it is representative of what happens in daycare (as a monolith) to children is grossly misleading and offensive.

    • says

      Who said it’s “representative”? It happens – sadly more often than I care to know about – which is why it’s included.

  6. Rebecca says

    Thanks for your response Tracy and for clarifying your own views – I appreciate it.

    Your statement: “I believe that we must accept much of our current society and thus work towards making daycare an appropriate alloparenting environment for ALL children, even if I wish these kids could be raised by family/extended family/close friends/etc. as an “ideal”.” wholeheartedly reflects my own views.

    In relation to Jespren’s statement that “we known daycare is a really bad situation for kids to be in, we know it retards their development, makes them more aggressive and less capable of normal attachment, leads to more sicknesses, discourages breastfeeding, and increases a child’s risk of abuse’”, which you say “has a fair bit of research to support it in non-at-risk homes”, can I ask a few more questions?

    Firstly, do you agree that it is neither objectively correct nor productive to make generalised statements such as those made by Jespren on this point?

    Secondly, I am certainly aware of the evidence around sickness and breastfeeding. I have seen some studies on agression (but as far as I’m aware, the findings are not black and white in this area). Can I ask for some pointers (from you or other readers) towards the research (particularly in relation to non-at-risk homes) that indicates daycare ‘retards children’s development’, ‘makes them less capable of normal attachment’, and ‘increases their risk of abuse’? I would be interested to read those studies and have regard to their parameters, methodological limitations and so forth.

    I certainly was feeling emotional yesterday when I composed my earlier comments and in hindight they are not as articulate as I would have liked. A couple of things I’d like to add/clarify on my own part.

    I believe that high quality childcare (which I understand Jespren does not believe exists) can provide alloparenting environment. Unlike the parents you referred to in your OP, I am only too ready to acknowledge, welcome and encourage the primary care provided by the carers at the high quality childcare centre my son attends. I observe evidence which indicates that the carers are also regard their role in this light. I see the bonds that have been developed; their continuity and strength. I appreciate that my child and I have been provided with the opportunity to widen and enrich his community of carers. I know that our centre (which is in Australia and operated non-for-profit by the local council) is not unique. I also know it isn’t the norm. I would dearly like it to be, and I will continue to advocate for that to be the case. I will never argue that daycare is the ideal or universally ‘good’ for children. However I will not stay silent when I am encountered by grossly generalised statements which communicate the message ‘Daycare is bad. Daycare is bad for kids’. Not when there IS evidence (which goes beyond anecodotes such as mine) to the contrary.

    In relation to the assumption (or what I perceive to be the assumption – happy to be corrected) that care provided by nannies/au pairs is superior to centre-based care, I am again interested in being further educated about the research on this point. Why would a nanny or au pair be ipso facto more atuned to the needs of a child, more invested in them, and more capable of providing high quality care? Unless we want to define high quality care as only care provided by one individual in a non-institutional setting. Are we prepared to aknowledge that just as there are risks to the safety and welfare of children from poor quality daycare, there are risks to the safety and welfare of children being cared for by poor quality nannies/au pairs? (To say nothing of the risks presented by abusive and neglectful parents, relatives and friends).

    And are we also willing to acknowledge that if we are going to promote nanny/au-pair care as superior to daycare, and actively recommend it to other parents, we also need to be prepared to have a discussion about the ways in which nannies/au pairs can and frequently are cheap, exploited labour (just as daycare workers often are) many of whom provide services to middle and upper class families while their own children’s care has to be outsourced elsewhere?

    As for single parent homes being bad for kids, I say this. A society which does so little to embrace and support families in all their diversity is bad for kids. A society which demonises, stigmatises and blames single parent homes is bad for kids. Putting it that way may seem a subtle difference, but it’s hugely important to do so. And frankly, when you put it that way, you also demonstrate that you care how single parent families feel when they are told that single parent homes are bad for kids. I know feelings aren’t supposed to be important, but hell, what do I know.

    Apologies for the essay. Funnily enough, the only reason I have had the time to contribute is because I’m temporary laid up in bed with an illness – while my child is being cared for by a combination of family and paid daycare workers. Thanks for the opportunity to participate in the discussion – which I agree is vital.

    (I’m going to have to agree to disagree with you about the image of the gaffer taped baby. I stand by my comments on that).

  7. Rebecca says

    Since posting I’ve decided that the question I posed in my last response (Firstly, do you agree that it is neither objectively correct nor productive to make generalised statements such as those made by Jespren on this point?) is probably unfair and somewhat irrelevant anyway. What I should have said was ‘I think generalised statements like this are extremely misleading and unproductive’). Righto, off to think happy thoughts now! ;)

  8. Alexa says

    I agree with Rebecca that the picture of a child taped to the wall and labelled as suggestive of a real daycare is quite off putting on a site that I rely on to provide evidence based information. A daycare that tapes children in any way is abusive and no one would suggest that abusive childcare is acceptable. Additionally, statistically, children are far more likely to be abused by the people living in their home than anyone else they come into contact with. Does one story of a child abused or killed by a mother support the use of that rhetoric to imply that care at home is dangerous? No, and that is not what I have come to expect from this site.

    We can do better by truly discussing the research that defines and supports better quality child care and communities of care that provide more support for parents that need and want to spend time apart from their children.

  9. Danielle says

    What a sensitive subject this has turned out to be. I thought I would mention an option that doesn’t seem to have been specifically addressed: Daycare provided by someone in their own home, on a small scale, as opposed to in a large facility. I realize this may have been what you were referring to when you talked about low care provider:child ratios, but I feel this type of care needs to be placed in it’s own separate catagory. Like any care giver for our children, they need to be well researched and reference checked, as well as a good match to a family’s chosen parenting style. (Even in “more ideal” situations like a nanny or a family member, these things should always be considered. Children are more likely to be abused by someone they know, and family and friends may feel like they don’t need to put in as much effort because you can’t or won’t “fire” them). Like anything, there are good and not so good versions, and also terrible ones. I do think that given precautions properly taken, this is a good option falling in between large daycares and individual nanny or au-pair care. The advantages can include continuity of care (they own the place, they aren’t likely to quit especially if they have been doing it for a long time already, I know a woman who has been running hers for 15 years), small numbers of children, a home environment, home cooked food, and in the best ones healthy development can be encouraged by someone who has tons of experience helping kids learn to go potty and sing the ABC’s among other things.

    To be clear, I am generally not a fan of daycare. I firmly believe that children should be with their parents continuously when they are small if at all possible. Personally, I was lucky enough to be able to stay at home with my oldest until he was 18 months, and then only place him in daycare for 2 or 3 days a week at most and many of those half days. Now, I stay at home with my 15 month old, and homeschool my older one and I only work when my husband is able to be with our boys. Any other care is provided by grandparents and very close friends and family, and only very rarely. However, this is not always reality for some parents, and I whole heartedly agree that we need to fight for quality, affordable (subsidised) daycare to be available for all families who need it.

  10. Katy says

    I would be so interested in reading an article by you about today’s grandparents. Back in the day, I seem to remember grandparents serving as the daycare providers, and doing a pretty good job of it, because they have a vested interest in their grandkids – that’s their genetic material. Nowadays, from what I see personally, grandparents seem like more of a figure head at most. Ours are too busy 1) quilting, 2) going to Florida, 3) going to the cottage, 4) watching t.v.. We actually moved closer to grandparents hoping for help with our developmentally delayed child and so far have received almost no help. They come over and actually ignore that child actually. Sorry for the stereotype but I constantly see grandparents from China taking care of their grandkids at the community centres here – the parents are not there, just the grandparents and grandchild. Not just the grandmother, either, both grandmother and grandfather! Doting on that (usually one) grandchild. Grandparents are the daycare. I am just so jealous.

    • says

      You’re right that in many Asian families, grandparents are THE daycare providers. They are also respected as having an input. I think a large problem in our society is people view parenting as a chore and difficult and want to get away from it. Their kids grow up and they think “I’m done, it’s up to them to sort it out” which is unfortunate in so many ways. But I also think another element is our treatment of adults – we shun our parents too (not all, but as a societal thing) often because the way we were raised was not “attached” with the idea that we pay it back later. So much wrong with it all… and yes, good topic to write on.

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