Let me start off by saying I have absolutely no issue with anyone who decides to put their children in childcare for whatever reason. Many parents have no choice because they work. Others want to because they want a break from their children, which I totally understand, and others do it because they feel it is beneficial for their child. Like with almost every aspect of parenting (apart from vaccinating and ear piercing – I probably judge a bit there!), I make no judgment on anyone else’s choices. This is more about why we seem obsessed with it like it is a necessity, and why people appear to be genuinely confused and shocked when I explain we don’t – and won’t – use early childcare. We’ve already had people question which childcare setting Elizabeth (she’s not even here yet, for fuck’s sake!) will be going to, and the answer is: she won’t.
Harrison is and will have been the only one of our children to have used early childcare. By early childcare, I mean anything before the age of three. Harrison went to a childminder for a couple of months around his first birthday, because I had to go back to work full time for a short time. I hated leaving him there – our childminder wasn’t the greatest in hindsight, and he didn’t particularly benefit from the experience. It was more of a necessity than anything else. When Alex came along, just a few months later, we made the decision for me to become a stay at home mum, so we pulled Harrison out.
We’ve always taken them to stay and play sessions – you know, the sort where you go for a couple of hours once a week, let them play and do craft stuff while you get to have a drink and a chat to some other parents. I’ve made some really good friends over the years at these sessions, and the kids always loved them. However, they have never been to any sort of childcare where they have been left. We did briefly look into it for Benjamin last year but decided that there wasn’t really any need. They all started at their school nursery in the September after their third birthday, and we will be doing the same with Elizabeth.
We don’t need to enrol them at a playgroup or nursery before this. I work from home, and while it is a pain in the arse, the whole reason that I do what I do is so that I can be at home for the children. I can attend their sports days, I can take them and pick them up from school every day, I can go to see them collect certificates and prizes and their special assemblies. I am priviledged enough to be able to do this and work around my children. It’s obviously easier now because Benjamin is at school nursery in the afternoons, and when he’s at home he can keep himself amused so I can work, although I do drop work if he wants a story or for me to play.
I’m under no illusion that it will be a lot harder with Elizabeth. I’m only giving myself a two-week ‘maternity leave’, and then I will be back at work, working around her naps. If you are reading this and wondering how I will give her the attention she needs – don’t worry. I practice ‘attachment parenting’ (a label I hate with an absolute passion, but it’s the best way to describe it). If she wants picking up, she gets picked up. If she wants to sleep all day on me, she sleeps all day on me. I will follow her lead and if it means I get nothing done in the day, so be it. I’ll just have to work around that, but it is perfectly doable. Because of this, there is no ‘need’ for her to go to any childcare before she starts school nursery when she is three.
Someone asked me if I thought they would miss out by not going to an early childcare setting – aren’t I risking making them clingy and over-dependent on me, and not giving them the chance to socialise? When I get these questions, I look at Harrison, Alex and Benjamin. They are three of the most sociable little boys you could imagine. It took Ben slightly longer to come out of his shell, but I think that’s more of his personality than anything else. The three boys all skipped off to school without a second look – I have never struggled to get them into school. They go to their youth club at the church quite happily every week and will go to friends houses and on residential school trips without tears. In short; no, not attending childcare has never held them back socially or made them clingy. Quite the opposite, in fact. As well as each other, they’ve had their little friends at playgroups, friends children and we live in an area where there are lots of other children to play with. I’m also aware that we are quite privileged in that we are able to have lots of educational toys at home for the kids, more books than a library (or so it feels) and a car to be able to take them out to do lovely things whenever we can so that, as Alex’s nursery teacher said in his school report, ‘they are obviously exposed to plenty of quality experiences at home’.
I’m also asked about whether I want a break from them. Of course I do! Like any parent, I dream of having the occasional child-free evening at a pub or something, but not to the extent I would want to send them to childcare every day. I do (mostly) like being with my children – reading with them, playing with them, taking them to playgroups and for walks. I don’t want to miss out on that with them – they’re only young for such a short time!
For many families, early childcare is either a necessity or something they they believe their child benefits from, but like all things to do with raising kids, it isn’t for everyone, and it is important that no one makes assumptions or judges someone else on their way of doing it.