We hear a lot about ‘political’ correctness. But, what about ‘emotional correctness?’
I qualified as a Doctor and then took ‘7 years out’ of daytime/regular full time work situation to care for our children when they were young.
I was fortunate that my mother (who kindly offered) and my husband looked after our first baby for her second 6 months of life while I had to continue to work – until I became fully registered as a Doctor. I then, willingly, despite having very little money to spare, stayed at home. During the next seven years I ran, and opened new ‘family planning clinics’ as they were then known, doing just two or three evening clinics per week, while my husband was home and cared for the children. This, incidentally, was a time (early ’60s) when that particular work could not be advertised and the advertisement of one newly formed clinic had to be removed from the local library! Times have changed – but the result of that change is another story and the dark side of sexual ‘freedom’ that has been subsequently surfaced could not have been predicted, particularly for our teenagers.
I did not know at the time whether I would ever be able to follow my medical career despite my intent. But I knew, instinctively, that, as we chose to have our children, their wellbeing came first. We entertained a group of Russian visitors to the town one evening, connected with my husband’s teaching/youth work at the time ( about 1964) and I was told in no uncertain terms by them that I should be working as a Doctor not staying at home!
When my children started school, I found out that Medical input was needed in our local large Psychiatric hospital. My input was welcomed and I was able to negotiate part- time work in that field – so that I worked during school hours. I became full time only after the children had left home.
For me, and I don’t speak or pretend to speak for others, nor do I judge others, I regard the years at home with our children as the happiest, most challenging and the most important of my life. Instead of having a job and an income, I became a competent seamstress, sewing our clothes from either remnants or old clothes, e.g. on one occasion a favourite skirt was made from my mother’s abandoned coat, a reasonably good cook and in spare moments I read Arnold Bennett and Anthony Trollope. With my first wage packet I bought a suit for work and we managed to save for a holiday to Greece.
I subsequently enjoyed my nearly 35 years of work as a psychiatrist with its difficulties and anxieties, often due to lack of resources. I became a Consultant Psychiatrist. In other words, I managed, to study for my Membership and reach the highest clinical rank in my profession despite taking those years out of the profession. I only retired due to illness when I was 68 years. I often wonder if I would have been so enthusiastic or worked for so long had I not had those 7yrs looking after the children full time during each day. Of course, I can never know that answer, but all I can say is that a burst lung and near death ‘made’ me retire, it wasn’t from ‘patient fatigue’ or from choice.
I worked in the psychiatric field and specialised in the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. During my 35 years of work and study in this field, I developed strong views on the slowly increasing practice of tiny children being left in large nurseries for many hours per day, sometimes many days per week, and these are the ones I write about. A day is a very long time to be ‘alone’.
My instinct to ‘stay at home’ for their pre-school years has, with the knowledge I have gained and which I did not have at the time, been proven to be correct. Quite honestly, I am glad that it was made easy for me by the ‘society’ views at the time. It was the norm for women to stay at home with their children. In 1956, the ratio of women to men training to become doctors in our year at Edinburgh Medical School was about 1:10 – so fairly unchartered territory for any medical work to fit in with being a mother, even of older children.
I feel saddened, fifty plus years on, that the importance of a child’s youngest years has shifted for so many. Emphasis is now seen more in economic terms – for many rational and very understandable reasons (house prices, high rents, career prospects – etc etc etc.), but is also encouraged by the government of the day. The priority should be, not only on the physical care but also the emotional and language development of each child.
The first nurseries were opened and developed in and around the 1960s – children started to attend at 3-4 yrs for a few hours once or twice per week to learn to socialise, and become prepared for school. From that time and its appropriate concept, it has developed into ‘any length/all day if necessary child care’ for working mothers, often from a child being just a few weeks or months old.
Of course, from about two and a half years of age, a few regular hours spent at a small nursery, with continuity of a few kind staff is the ideal – to combat future separation anxiety and for learning more socialization skills.The government could make much longer maternity or paternity leave possible e.g. to cover the first two years of a child’s life. Work place changes, flexible career structure and practice could favour of the parent/child relationship, rather than encouraging people to use nursery school placements in those first years.When ‘profit’ mode is replaced by understanding, then solutions will be found.
Every parent makes their own decisions, based on their circumstances and/or desires and they are responsible for their decisions. Future results only give hindsight, not foresight. But knowledge and awareness is a useful tool in making any decision.
Maybe a parent should simply wonder how they themselves would cope, even as adults, if they were taken from home and left in a big strange land of unknown giants, without any means of communication and without any way to leave. Totally alone, totally vulnerable , no understanding, yet without any choice. Bit scary, maybe, more so if feeling ill or having a pain? Small children have a way of unconsciously ‘switching off’. I first learned this while working in paediatrics when children who should have been crying in the ward stopped crying. I wondered why/how. Now I know. Parents were eventually allowed to stay with children in hospital.
I wrote an article called ‘Alone in land of giants’ – read in TOPICS, which explains this stance more fully.
People are well aware of the physical milestones, but maybe don’t always realise that the first few years are also the years when the emotional foundations for the ‘house that will be them’ are prepared. The non- verbalised core beliefs (e.g. a feeling of being loved) are formed at this time. These are the deep seated beliefs about themselves which will ‘guide’ them through life. These very early years are also the time when learning language, speech development and understanding, and hence future communication are paramount. Building up these core beliefs takes time, effort, contact, patience and love with and from one or two ‘special’ people in a baby’s life.
Those first years are few and pass very quickly. A child is soon at all day compulsory school and a future lifetime awaits. I just want people to realise that those years cannot be recreated, regained or relived by the child nor by the parent.
Many will disagree, of course, and they are free to do so. Personally, I am and always have been willing to learn from those who know more about a subject than I do, rather than have a ‘blind’ belief based on need, prejudice or an operating ‘norm’ of society.
Poem from my book, ‘Daily Life’ – Conversations at the nursery
‘Why are you here every day?’ because Mummy is unkind
She shouts and has been known to hit my bare behind
I was crying, I had tummy ache, I couldn’t bear the griping pain
Finger marks stayed there. She hit me, then hit again
Someone saw her do it and reported her and soon
I had to be here all the time. I see her most days – at noon’
‘My Mummy is not like that at all, she is very sweet and gentle
She is so intelligent that looking fter me just drives her mental
I heard her say she needs something called ‘rational adult talk’
So she just leaves me every day then drives happily to her work
Maybe there she is clever but with me she’s not too bright
She doesn’t know how to stop me when I test her through the night’
‘I do not have a daddy, my Mother had me on her own
She is kind and loves me but needs money for a phone
To ring granny and her best friend and my aunties Sue and Lizzy
They all say they love me, I see so many, my head is dizzy
I nearly know their faces, but I’m not sure where I live
As Mother will just take me and to someone different give’
‘I come from a wealthy family. Mummy thinks I am a guest
She doesn’t know about child rearing. ‘It’s for those who must know best’
She reads books about psychology,and Fen Chui to name a few
I don’t think she knows me at all. But her mother she never knew
She doesn’t want a nanny as she would clutter up the house
But if I could just stay at home I would be quiet as any mouse’
‘I wish I was at home now where I could quietly sleep
There is just too much noise and wide awake I keep
I have such a lovely bedroom with a mobile made of wood
I have toys piled around my cot and my soft teddy feels so good
My head aches with my cold. My chest hurts when I cough
Why can’t I just stay at home? I am so little and life is tough’
‘I don’t know why I was born. A mother I will never be
Unless I can care for my baby, so she won’t have a life like me
I don’t recognise where I am. What if they forget to call
To pick me up to take me home? I can’t find the way – at all
If a career is so important, status, clothes and a new car
Why did my parent have me? I’d be better not born, by far’
‘I took my first step today and I said ‘Mama’- my first word
But the lady did not respond as if she had never heard’
‘It’s because she is not your Mama and has heard it all before
Others have taken ‘first steps’. There’s no excitement any more’
‘I’m sad my Mummy missed it. But why should I try to wait?
Until she comes and collects me? She went out – through that gate’
Many others shared their troubles. Talked of dark, missed days of love
Discussed the deep black hole within. Some learned to rise above
Learned to cope by switching off their emotions one by one
Until, finally, like little robots, pain and feeling had now gone
The emotions of a few remained. Some were angry, some were sad
They were confused as they knew most parents were not bad
But the children in the nursery shared their thoughts – in vain
No one knew what was going on in each little person’s brain
Longing, loneliness, lost and sad. Felt in their body and their mind
A loving mother to a tiny child is more important than all mankind
That role is usually taken on with great pride and glowing joy
But greater needs soon appear to usurp a baby – girl or boy
So – they presented smiling faces as they knew that was the way
Hoped people would remain kind as they learned they had to stay
‘Such a good child’,
‘Oh so sweet’
‘Yes, I am sure I’m doing right’
‘The only problem that we’ve got
She will not sleep at night’