However you cut the cake, the evidence is overwhelming that, overall, infants are best cared for in their home by their parents. In the vast majority of cases, all over the world, this is done by the mother. That is not to say that no mothers should work and that there are some fathers who are just as good, or even better, than the mothers in meeting the needs of infants. It is simply to say that in most cases, mum does it and is most likely to do it best because she is the one who wants to.
Large survey after large survey also proves that mothers are the ones who want to do it. Despite decades of attempts by Scandinavian governments to persuade their highly feminized male populations to be as keen to do it as the females, it remains the case that the vast majority of Scandinavian babies are cared for by the mother, not the father. The reasons for this are unclear: reluctance by the men, insistence on doing it by the women?
In the UK, we have a system which, like that in America and the rest of the English-Speaking, neoliberal world, is organized to maximize the profits of employers, not to meet the needs of small children. That is one of the reasons that WHO evidence shows that people in the English-Speaking world are twice as likely to suffer from a mental illness than those in mainland Western Europe.
The pathetic and unthinking support for universal daycare for small children on the part of the three main political parties in the UK reflects the putting of profits ahead of the meeting of the needs of small children. There is no political party which reflects the true wishes of parents, namely, to have the chance to be with their infants and toddlers at least until age 3. Rather, ensuring that there is a huge labour force prepared to work part-time and for low wages is put first.
Whilst many mothers would like to work part-time once the child reaches one year or older, if they are to do so they would prefer a system in which they can share the care with the father or a relative, rather than warehouse their child in group daycare hutches. In surveys, daycare is at the bottom of the list of choices for substitute care for most mothers.
The Austrians have the system which provides the greatest opportunity for parents to be the ones caring for the child. Large subsidies enable one or other parent to be that person. When people protest that it is unaffordable, how come Austria can manage it?
It’s a matter of priorities. One per cent of the British landmass is owned by the Ministry of Defence but I do not notice the privatization-happy Tory and Labour governments calling for privatization of the large swathes of prime land in Wiltshire owned by the MOD. We are spending many billions of pounds to renew our Trident nuclear missiles. Central London is largely owned now by foreigners who have paid little or no tax on the properties they bought, using offshore companies, often paid for by money looted from developing nations by oligarchs who managed to cream off their’s nation’s natural resources. The list is a long one of places from which we could find the money to put the meeting of the needs of under-threes ahead of the profits of a tiny few.
We have become a nation of relatively impoverished, affluenza-stricken, ‘shop till you drop’ (Black Friday, my big foot! Ugly scenes of people trampling over each other to buy junk made cheaply in China to make a few people very rich, to give to each other at Christmas when most of the gifts are un-needed and unwanted), It Could Be You, still credit-fuelled, consumer junkies. In place of this we could have a society where we possess what we need, not what advertisers want us to want. The parents in that society could be liberated to care for their children.
You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. The Today Programme may not have a clue what parents want but MAHM does.
Oliver James trained and worked in the NHS as a clinical psychologist. He is a Chartered Psychologist with the BPS and Therapist at the Bowlby Centre. He is a Patron of MAHM.