Sunday, May 13, 2012

The problem of day care for children

Hewitt doesn't get it.
This weekend there is a very thought-provoking letter in the Catholic Herald about what happens to children who are put in day-care to enable their mothers to return to the workplace. The point needs to be made, because it needs to be emphasised that mothers who stay at home to look after their children, instead of going back to work, are doing a valuable job. This job is not valued by many in our society, and this wrong. Housewives need to be supported and appreciated, nor excoriated for not making the most, economically, of their degrees, as by the absurd Patricia Hewitt. They make many sacrifices for their vocation, and we should thank them for it.

The author of the letter is, coincidentally, the Latin Mass Society Representative for part of Clifton Diocese.

Sir, 

I was interested to read the article ‘Invisible Workforce’, 27 April. As Jo Roughton says, the role of the stay-at-home mother is not properly acknowledged either by society or by the State.

Working mothers contribute to GDP and pay tax, factors which are easy to measure. The contribution made by stay-at-home mothers is not measurable in the same way, and perhaps for this reason, politicians and commentators tend to regard them as unproductive or even, in the words of Patricia Hewitt, ‘a real problem’. The good news for anyone concerned with family life, is that recent discoveries in the science of children’s brain development are making such bleakly utilitarian attitudes increasingly hard to maintain.

The wide body of research cited by Margot Sunderland inThe Science of Parenting, for instance, demonstrates that the majority of neurological pathways determining emotional and cognitive intelligence are laid down in the first three years of a child’s life. Science confirms the common-sense view that the optimum environment for this process is a stable home, with parents who love and respond to the baby as a unique individual. Where this is lacking, children can experience high levels of the stress hormone Cortisol, which inhibits the development of these crucial pathways. Tests have repeatedly shown that babies placed in daycare for long periods of time suffer a heightened state of stress, even when they look outwardly calm. They have learned that crying does not achieve the desired result – the return of their mother – so they withdraw, earning a reputation as a ‘good’ child. In over 75% of cases, Cortisol levels drop to normal as soon as the mother re-appears. 

Often, a combination of economic policies and cultural attitudes inhibit a woman’s choice to be a stay-at-home mother. Since early exposure to high levels of stress is directly correlated to depression and aggressive behaviour in later life, this is an issue which, in one way or another, affects us all.

Yours faithfully,

Caroline Shaw (Mrs)

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