Childcare Challenges

The problem of childcare has been getting renewed attention lately.  Most parents have long been aware that finding good, affordable childcare presents a major challenge for those working, or wanting to work outside the home.  Both the cost and quality of available childcare are major obstacles difficult to overcome.

For many years discussion has centered on the desirability of government sponsored, universal childcare either in the form of actual childcare centers, or financial support to parents to cover the cost of privately arranged childcare.  The United States has the lowest level of spending on childcare among industrialized countries.  This is also true of policies that provide support to working parents in other ways, such as paid maternity/paternity leaves and similar measures.

Helping parents pay for that care would be expensive for society as it is for parents themselves.  To justify such government expenditure, arguments are presented in financial terms, with research showing the economic payoff not just for families but for society as a whole.  Studies are cited demonstrating that calculating the cost to society of unemployment, crime and poor health resulting from inadequate early care, justifies the government investment in good childcare.   

The objection to publicly supported childcare is based on factors other than the financial issue.  Economics are at times used to cloud underlying cultural/social attitudes and biases.  At root is the belief that mothers should stay at home to care for their children.  The controversy over federally funded day care is very much tied to resistance to the changed role of women and older family structure in which men were the breadwinners and women the homemakers.

Nothing has been more of a handicap to women in their struggle for both economic and social equality than the problem of finding good, or even adequate care for their children.  Many women have been forced out of the workplace because the cost of care equals or surpasses what they are earning.  Others, working out of financial need must resort to makeshift or less desirable kinds of care.

The two words that invariably go together in discussions about childcare are cost and quality – quality often a main determinant of cost.  Yet, the question of what constitutes high quality is subject to its own debate.  Recently, I interacted with a nurse in a high level, full-time hospital job and learned that she had two children ages 5 and 13 months.  Asked about her childcare arrangements she explained that both children had been in daycare since infancy.

She related that her baby girl is thriving at the center but that it had not been as positive for her 5-year-old son.  Speculating about the reasons for this she said she thought it was due to caregivers who were not as warm and accepting as those caring for her daughter.  Knowing about my blog, goodenoughmothering, she said sadly that she worries about being good enough herself.

This raises the question of the dilemma mothers face in determining whether other caregivers – or they themselves – are good enough.  Part of the problem is not being sure what is good enough, but the other part is wanting to be better than good enough – whatever that might be.  What standard should we set for caregivers – to do what we would do as parents or to be even better than we think we are?

Both personality and values play a major role in the way we raise our children – even when we may think we are following the latest research or child-rearing guidelines.  In trying to define quality care as given by others, basic attributes such as responsibility, dependability, and necessary physical care are easier to assess.  More difficult is the question of attitudes and feelings conveyed to our children in daily interactions.

To know which attributes we deem most significant in raising our children, we may first need to know and understand them about ourselves before we can look for them in others.