The Facile Fix: More and/or Better Nurseries

POSTED ON Oct 30th 2013 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Childcare, Feminism, Fertility

Elise Hilton over at the Acton Institute picked up my “Razing the Village” piece and wrote about one of my unstated premises of childcare, that government isn’t the solution. She reminded me of a daycare piece I’ve had sitting in my drafts from when Cameron and the Tories called for more women in government last year. And timely, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz sounded the same call a few days ago. And so to the daycare debate.

Any time the topic of the number of women in the workforce comes up, someone, or many someones, will claim the simple fix of more and better child care. Keeping up the trend, UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently stated that UK conservatives needed to have more women in office. Enter the obligatory column about nurseries, this one about the House of Commons nursery.

The expensive nursery operates below capacity. The article cites the nursery opening hours as one of the reasons it is not effective in getting more women into government. Government works late, but the nursery is only open from 8am to 6pm. If the nursery had longer hours consistent with government work, more women might be able to work in government, right? But as any parent can tell you, the nursery closes at that hour because children need to be home for bed. That is, the limiting factor isn’t the nursery schedule but the child’s schedule. Or put another way, unless women have the availability or income for at home care, they aren’t likely to stick with a job inconsistent with children’s schedules. Convenient child care discussions routinely ignore this truth.

Moms of means—and this example of women who might run for political office is typical—don’t make work decisions on the availability of institutional day care. If we are willing to leave our children with anyone, we typically prefer the father, our family, a friend, a nanny, or the cute little nursery school down the street.

Onsite nurseries sound great in theory. We can pop in and see our child during the day, which works pretty well while our child is a nursing infant. Soon, however, the goodbye clinging and crying starts whenever mom pops in. So moms avoid visiting as it is too disruptive for everyone. Onsite care also sounds convenient when the child gets sick, but moms really hate using it then. Even imagining that the daycare does not have rules against sick children attending, few things make a mom feel worse than handing over her fever-flushed, limp-noodle child for someone else to play nursemaid. Throw in the germ vector problem of any nursery with a sick room, and mothers will only use the nursery in desperation of the kind that often prompts a crisis and career change.

If we must use it, we move our kids out to a nursery school as soon as we can where the focus on early education programs soothes any lingering guilt about institutional care. Partially, we intuitively get that parent care at home serves children and families best. But we are also a generation of professional moms. We manage parenthood. Call us Helicopter or Tiger moms, but the root impulse is the same: we want control. We hardly let our husbands have a say in how to deal with the day to day of children. We’d rather divorce them than compromise with them. If we want to work, we usually hire a nanny that we can micromanage, who in turn will micromanage the children. Throw all the money available at institutional daycare, and it won’t make a dent in women’s employment rates.

So what will bring more women into the workforce? There are two major options, one for businesses and one for individual women. Businesses who want to keep women need to offer flexibility, both in career timeline and in working hours. Offer remote, part time, or freelance work, continuing education classes, and professional socializing for women with young children, and those women will be more likely to return to the profession, and company, sooner and better informed. That one should be easy but feminists fight it as unequal Mommy Track treatment of women. It’s a dirty little secret of corporate life. It is often the power women who rail against such policies in the board rooms and encourage women to lean into the traditional male centered work schedule as a duty to their sisters to show that anything men can do, women can do better. That the author of the get-to-work self help book Lean In thinks it is a big deal that she demanded better parking for pregnant women should be telling. (Then there is the “Are You My Mentor?” chapter.)

Women who want to combine profession and family, they should flip their career timeline to have children first while they complete their education. Truly ambitious women don’t have time for the wasted hookup sex years and delayed childbearing and/or fertility treatments that derails their career just as they gain momentum. The class schedules and study time needed for post graduate work, save perhaps med school and residency, mimic the part time and freelance schedule compatible with mothering young children. Would Margaret Thatcher have been as successful if she had children later? Would her life have been as full if she hadn’t had them at all?

Obviously the business option is easier and less politically volatile even with old-line feminist resistance. Front loading family is the solution that must not be named. Universal daycare sounds better, which seems to be more important that whether it actually works.


On The Myths of French Daycare

On The Effects of Universal Daycare and Maternity Leave for Women’s Employment

On The Real Lesson of the ‘Opt-Out’ Generation


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  1. ari said:

    okay, short and sweet, here:

    We don’t long for the days of orphanages. But a daycare is a half-day orphanage. 12 hours a day- 6 am to 6pm- then home for dinner, bath and sleep- it’s more than half of all waking time. Anyone who supports this as a form of human flourishing is quite………I’d say mad……I’d say brainwashed……I’d say clueless………..

    I will say, orphanages were for desperate families in need of succour and support- including families that were exceedingly poor, or lacking a parent, or overwhelmed with too many children. In no memoir that I’ve ever read has the writer longed to return to the orphanage.

    Labor is leftist, which is consistently tone-deaf on the matter of family life. I don’t have to respect Tony Blair, and I don’t. He hid very central items about himself, and his life, until leaving office. This, to me, looks as if he thinks power in government is more important than personal integrity. While he is allowed to live this way, he ought not be weighted any moral measure to persuade anyone else to live as he has.

    Gender- specific roles tend to be more differentiated in wealthy Western countries- it’s a form of David Ricardo’s economics- specialization. If I could remember the term, I’d use it- Britain with whatever, and Portugal with port and cork, is his example. When the Industrial Revolution kicked up its heels, families decided more women could stay home to devote themselves to childcare. Children flourished- infant mortality dropped like a stone- infant mortality goes to age 5- so, not just death by postpartum misery- but all the ailments of childhood, including communicable diseases that weren’t getting communicated to other children. They were being confined to a single household, with someone cleaning the towels, the sheets, the doorhandles, and so on. It was individual families making that choice, not government policy.

    In consequence, Britain had a baby boom, and then had enough healthy young people, and enough manufactories and enough clever tinkerers and machinists- that whole Industrial Revolution thing- to go conquer One Fourth of the Globe. We are concerned about climate change? They changed the environment more in ten years- 1870- 1880- than has been changed before, or after, by cutting forests on islands, or planting trees in plantations, moving cattle and pigs and chickens, setting up farms where there’d been veldts, running trains…………

    A woman who has one child, sticks that child in daycare for hours on end, for years on end, for the sake of her career, isn’t going to change the world at all. Italy had, what, Vivaldi?, to show for its orphanages? France had what? Nothing transformational. Even England shut down it’s orphanages for the most part. Her career is betting on today.

    Keeping a brood of kids at home, healthy and safe, and frankly, individualistically strange- those kids change the future. The IR was done by people who the government had barred from service, even. They were not established religion types. The types that do well in government are still there, still running around buildings set up in the 1600s, being kind of sniffy and weak and judgmental. Weak isn’t virtuous. The tinkerers’ children are all over the globe, having built the machinery of modernity- cars, running water, electricity, steam-powered boats, indoor plumbing- all of it. Would you rather be on an island, peering out behind the half-open door at the “new world and what wondrous creatures in’t” or would you rather be out on any other continent, in an air-conditioned office, driving a powerful car, taking hot showers in your over-size house on the plains?

    The upper-bureaucrat type who shifts her child off to care, again- she’s a peasant. A well-dressed, well-heeled peasant. And her kid is going to grow up a peasant- not doing as well as possible in school, likely to dissolve his daily worries in drugs or alcohol or mental hazes such as psychotherapy for years on end. I don’t have to respect it. I don’t.

    Read any history of Europe- the aristos- the ones running things- looked down on peasants who would give themselves up for glittery finery and drinks on feast-days, and they were terrified and envious of the bourgeois middle class who stayed sober, raised their own children, and ran their own businesses, and became very good at what they did. I’d rather terrify a ruler than be an object of pity or contempt.

    Having said all that, in-home care seems to have been with us since at least the neolithic. Some women do have callings to deal with children. Some women don’t. For whatever reason, some of these women still want children. So, they meet, they find ways of making it all work. I will point out that Prince whosis that just had the new baby- he was more solicitous to his old nanny than to his relatives, as to whom would spend time with the new one.

  2. Lisa said:

    Sensible, lucid and a pleasure to read, as your posts generally are. Thank you for helping to give conservatism a humane and thoughtful voice.

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