Canadian news media have been picking up on a recently published paper which, ostensibly, addresses changing and ever-pressing childcare needs. The Early Years Study 3 of 2011 promises to address “the social, economic and scientific rationale for increased investments in early childhood education.”
But make no mistake: this paper is not entirely focussed on early childhood development. This paper has an agenda, one cleverly couched in language of parental and feminist guilt.
The gist of the proposal found here is this: formalized education can and should start as early as age two. Toddlers should be in a classroom setting. One of the co-authors of the paper, Dr. Fraser Mustard told the Toronto Star, ““I would come down to three-year-olds, then two-year-olds and one-year-olds.”
Yes. 12 month old babies in a classroom.
Studies of this sort make my brain hurt. They make my very heart and soul hurt. Because while some have responded to this, saying, “Good: something for those of us unfortunate enough not to be able to stay home with our kids,” that is not what this paper is about. To those who say, “This will support a woman’s choice to return to the workforce after maternity leave!” I say, “Bullshit.” This paper is not about supporting choice: this paper is about making choices for parents. This paper doesn’t have a feminist objective: this paper is the very antithesis of feminism.
This paper is anti-family.
The authors go so far as to say that families with only one working parent are bad for the economy. This is hard enough to hear at the best of times but in the midst of a global recession it is positively dripping with guilt. The authors even condescend, stating, “Most women want to work.” They repeatedly talk about growing children to be “contributing members of society” while positing that opposite the elderly (who are a terrible financial drain, they note) and at-home parents, particularly mothers, who do not earn, therefore do not work, therefore do not contribute.
The authors of this paper note the prevalence of maternal depression but then argue that a key to reducing the rate of maternal depression is social time with others and a comfy chair. Seriously. So thank you, dear researchers, thank you. The cure to my PPD is not vitamins and minerals or prescription medication: the cure is a comfy chair a good chat with some ‘gals’ at my local school. And I should get right on that since, as they make a point of noting several times, stress “drips down” onto my children, and a stressed or depressed mother isn’t good for her children. If my PPD hadn’t already made me worry about the quality of my parenting this paper certainly cleared things up for me: now I feel like a downright failure.
But what about the children, you ask? Yes: what about the children. The authors use anecdotes to describe two year old children who haven’t yet learned to regulate their emotional responses to stimuli as an example of…well,they never come right and state the purpose of that particular little story, exactly, but when viewed within the context of the paper as a whole the implication is clear: our children might just grow up ‘wrong’ if a trained professional isn’t there to manage their development.
The phrase “levelling the playing field” has been tossed about in describing the objective of this paper, but such a claim holds no water. The authors make it very clear in the first chapter of the paper that the children about whom they are most concerned are not the very poor or otherwise typically disadvantaged: the
children families they are primarily targeting are middle and upper-class households.
So what is the purpose, then, if it isn’t to assist already-struggling families? It’s to get parents – fathers, but if we face facts, mostly mothers – like myself out of the home and into the workforce. The only reason I’m home with them is because I don’t have access to a viable and reliable option for childcare, yes? The only reason I’m not contributing is because I’m stuck at home with the kids.
My children are home with me because they belong here. I am home with them because I choose to be, because my partner and I know that it is the right choice for our family. It may not be the right choice for every family, but it is for ours. I do not begrudge the women who dedicate years of their life and enormous effort to achieving the career for which they feel destined who then feel compelled to return to work after a few months or at the end of their year of paid maternity leave (as we have federally legislated in Canada). Not at all. Had I had a career to which I was dedicated, to which I felt drawn, which was vocational, my choice may have been an entirely different one.
This is what so thoroughly enrages me about this paper. Though they couch it in feminist language (“if [women] did not work, the economy wouldn’t function’), the assertions are most definitely anti-feminist. My feminist foresisters worked long and hard to have the value of women recognized. Before women were routinely employed outside the home, that was the goal: for women to be valued as contributing members of society, not because they generated income but because we are people and people are always valuable.
While it may seem commendable that the authors of this study show such concern about the development and care of the children in this nation, they do so at the expense of mothers, of women, and indeed of the children themselves. In discouraging at-home full-time parenting they are demonstrating the lack of value they place on such a role. And who typically fills that role? Women. There are lots of stay-at-home-dads out there (I know a few myself) and I applaud them uproariously for turning those hetero-normative gender roles on their ear and caring for their children. But the fact is that there are more SAHMoms than SAHDads. As far as we have come in attempting to equalize the genders, the fact is that biology has a leg up in this situation. I lactate: my husband does not. While that doesn’t entirely preclude him from being the full-time parent, it certainly simplifies the question for our family. In their dismissal of the importance and value of at-home parenting, in their argument children as young as two years old should be in school lest they be “disadvantaged” for life, in their implication that children who are at home with a parent before attending kindergarten are less likely to graduate high school, they are demonstrating the sheer lack of regard they have for a role typically filled by women.
How dare they? How dare they shame women and families? How dare they fear-monger, all while backhandedly saying that at-home parents “perform quiet acts of heroism, day in and day out”?
A woman’s place is wherever she damn-well feels like being, including in the home caring for her children if that’s her choice.
And it sure as hell is mine.
“The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career. ”