As a mother of 5, I understand well the contemporary pressures of motherhood. I spent my early years of motherhood feeling very torn with the “work-life balance” — a feeling I shared with many other mums. I was criticised for being a “stay-at-home mum” and equally criticised when I was working. I had the pressure of the need to work because of the constant, never-ending flow of bills, along with various “what is best for the baby” type-pressures, with midwives telling me I should breastfeed for as long as possible, preferably a year, and attend to the crying child as soon as possible so the baby feels secure – an impossibility if you’re at work!
Any decision I made would “upset” somebody, and over ten years later that hasn’t changed. These days, most people seem to get angry when they find out how many children I have, or that I home educate, or refuse to send my child to nursery. “Work-balance” and “cost-of-living” are the most discussed subjects I hear between my fellow females — the other one being “I miss my kids.” According to a survey from the National Childbirth Trust, 77% of women said they feel they have to return to work after having a baby due to financial pressures, not because they want to. Why can’t they have more job roles suited for stay-at-home mums? Most of us, after-all, were stay-at-home mums and dads, during Covid!
The Changing Face of Motherhood (2011) report, from the Social Issues Research Centre, found that 9 in 10 mothers felt guilty about the short amount of time they spent with their children, and also concluded that the 1970s and 1980s ‘were the best time to raise children’. Why is that? Looking at the figures, “the proportion of mothers in full- or part-time employment in 1971 was around 23%”; this has now risen to 68%. Family dynamics have indeed changed considerably since the days of our mothers. The number of households in Britain has grown from 16 to 28.2 million over 50 years, and the proportion of households comprising families with children has fallen from 52% in 1961 to 29% (ONS – Families and Households Stats 2021.xlsx). Women in the 70s had 2.24 children (ons.gov.uk), compared with 1.665 in 2022, and larger families, with 3 or more children, are now increasingly rare, and make up 3% of all families. Consequently, we have an aging population. The Changing Face of Motherhood report suggests that a lot of this has to do with the average age of childbirth being delayed to 30 because of the increasing numbers of women going out to work. One major result of an ageing population is of course a shrinking workforce, as there are not enough young people entering the labour market to replace all those retiring. And not enough taxes being paid to support the ever-increasing elderly population with their pensions and increased healthcare needs.
The Government seems to think it has an answer, and, just to help us a little more with the guilt we already feel, by 2025 is going to offer 30-hours per week free childcare places, from the age of 9 months. By 2027, the Government expects to be spending in excess of £8 billion per year of taxpayers’ money on free childcare places; however, the already available 15-hours per week early-years education for children aged 3+ “costs the taxpayer £66,000 for every mother who returns to work”. The cost to the taxpayer of each mother returning to work will therefore rise exponentially, if such a massive expansion of the state-funded childcare system takes place. The Government is mitigating the potential cost of this somewhat by increasing the number of small children each carer can legally look after from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-old children and will remain at 1:3 for under 2s (Ofsted: early years), which will hardly reassure the parents who will be leaving their children in the nursery’s care.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that pre-school is not the best place for our children. Going back to the warnings from our midwives about the risks of not breastfeeding for the first year, is this going to be possible if our children attend nursery at 9 months? Will our children be picked up and nurtured as soon as they start to cry? Probably not, since there is already a shortage of 11,000 early years teachers. So, if nurseries are short staffed with only our 3 to 4-year-olds to manage, what happens when we add our under-3s to the mix?
Ofsted recently found that “1 in 5 nurseries inspected since September were inadequate or require improvement”. Also, the largest long-term study of the impact of day-care, which began in 1991, conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, found that the longer the hours a child stays in day-care, the more aggressive, disobedient and difficult to get along with it becomes, and children receiving day-care are three-times more likely to suffer SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). TCW – SIDS
All we need to do is look at Sweden as an example, which made childcare available and affordable to all in 1975. A report, issued forty years after universal affordable childcare began, found a range of serious issues with the children who had “benefitted” from it, including: rapidly declining psychological health in youth, increased sick leave among women, deteriorating quality of parenthood, highly gender-segregated labour market, plummeting school results and disorder in Swedish classrooms.
We have also heard of appalling and inappropriate material shown to pre-school children. One recent example, reported by Daily Mail Online, concerned parents of a 4-year-old who were horrified after their daughter, at nursery, was shown a book called Grandad’s Pride, which featured pictures such as two men in, which the Daily Mail quote, “leather bondage gear” and trans men with “top surgery scars.” One of the men “has a leather codpiece moulded tightly around his crotch along with garters running down his thighs”. Will and Maria Taylor, from Hull, were expecting staff of Genesis Pre-School to apologise for showing such inappropriate “sexualised” imagery to their daughter, after they raised their concerns with the books; however, they were further shocked when the teaching staff refused to apologise and denied that the “BDSM” gear was erotic or inappropriate. They told the Taylors that this was “just their opinion” and that they felt they were being “bigoted.” The Taylors have since pulled their daughter from the nursery.
The Taylors stressed that they were generally pro-LGBT, and had even volunteered at Pride Events – showing how even liberal parents have a red line when it comes to what their children are being taught. Since being branded “bigots” by the groups whose cause they have actively supported, they must surely now be re-evaluating the Pride agenda. The coverage of their story by the Daily Mail Online carried examples of the inappropriate illustrations included in the book, and the Book Trust now carries a warning that “some images are culturally sensitive and parents and carers should read the book before sharing”. The illustrations in the US version of the book go even further, showing two men in “leather bondage gear” kissing.
We never really know what is going on in these nurseries. Our children are not old enough to tell us and don’t understand if what they are being shown is wrong. Another truly horrifying source, that I will leave you with – and which was enough for me to say “never again” to pre-school – is of the poor children who were psychologically abused at a day-care centre in the US, where staff thought it would be funny to frighten very young children into “behaving” by wearing a horror mask. I was very relieved when I found out that the staff were penalised for their actions.