Brand building through storytelling

My day care kid

I have a wonderful son. At 24, Ben has friendships that have lasted for close to a decade, passions that range from Greek philosophy to graffiti art and a deep appreciation for women (one woman in particular).

While his values are clearly mine and his father’s, we can’t claim sole credit for the person he’s become. He was born with a sweet temperament. Extended family gave him a sense of belonging. Special teachers challenged him. And between ages 2 and 4, he had Joan, Charlene and Philip, the team behind St. Matthias Day Care Centre. I could count on them to applaud Ben’s creations in the block corner and fill me in on his day at 6 p.m.

Today, it’s estimated that close to one million preschoolers spend the workday with a nanny, sitter or day care team. If you believe the bad news in the press, these kids are truly a lost generation. Mark Genuis, a much-quoted psychologist and founder of the Calgary-based National Foundation for Family Research and Education, argues that full-time non-parental care deals a grievous blow to the parent-child bond, long viewed as the wellspring of trust and the model for all healthy relationships. In November 1994, Genuis told a federal committee that further investment in day-care centres would negatively “affect the citizens of this country through higher taxes, emotional distress,…increased crime, lower work productivity and higher business costs due to mental illness.”

Genuis insists that the type and quality of care make no difference. It doesn’t matter whether you leave your preschooler with a stressed-out sitter whose idea of stimulation is The Young and the Restless (a situation that worries everyone), or with a responsible caregiver with the best credentials. If the child is under 5, and the weekly hours of care total more than 20, you’re asking for trouble.

This argument draws heavily on a master’s thesis that combined and reanalyzed the data from 40 years’ worth of studies on substitute care. But critics have pointed out major gaps in the data, such as missing information about the quality of the care. In fact, the authors of the thesis have themselves called the results “suggestive rather than conclusive.”

Non-parental care has taken plenty of knocks before, which worried me when Ben was growing up. Every time the principal called about a schoolyard scrap, I’d wonder whether I should have spent his first years at home, as a number of studies had suggested. Could my bright cheerful son be a victim of “maternal deprivation”?

But more recent studies have shown that preschoolers can and do develop secure bonds to both parents and other caregivers. Exactly how non-parental care affects a child depends on the particulars: the youngster’s temperament, what’s going on at home and, of course, the quality of care. If you trust your caregiver, there’s no reason to fear that your child won’t learn to trust.

That’s a big “if.” I remember thinking I could trust a friendly neighbour—until I picked Ben up early one day and found her kitchen dense with marijuana smoke. (So that was why he’d always come home smiling!) Only when we found St. Matthias, after several more child-care fiascoes, did I stop fretting about what really went on while I worked. I’d observed the centre’s daily routines. I knew that if Joan were ill, Ben still had Charlene and Philip.

These are big pluses for licensed day care, yet the available spaces can accommodate just 10 percent of preschoolers with employed parents. While some of these parents prefer to leave their kids with a nanny, sitter or relative they trust, too many others have to settle for substandard care.

I respect mothers who have chosen to stay home, putting their careers on hold. But I know there are mothers who have bills to pay without a husband’s help, and no track record to help them return to the workforce. And I remember the mother I was in my 20s, prizing special moments when Ben and I fed ducks together or read Where the Wild Things Are for the umpteenth time. Looking at him now, I see the best of his parents plus a gift for connecting with others that seems to come from somewhere else. I’m grateful to everyone who helped make it happen.

From Chatelaine, August, 1996. Copyright Rogers Media Publishing. Used by permission.

Posted by Rona

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