Let's Bring Back Home Mothering!
By Jackie Orsi
This article originally ran in the December 2005 issue of CHN News a monthly publication by California Homeschool Network.
Current estimates indicate that 70% of preschool age children in California are now in daycare or preschool. This is largely due to the fact that in 60% of American families, both parents (or the only parent) are in the workforce. It has been made possible by the widespread belief that nonparental care for children ages 0 to 5 is an acceptable choice. Some women have to work and some women want to work. They cling to the permission society has given to them to leave their children in the care of others for long hours each day. Truthfully though, most working mothers are deeply conflicted about leaving their children in daycare; they know, despite assurances to the contrary, that strangers cannot give the love and care that they would give. The undercurrent of guilt is immense.
Daycare mostly supplies custodial care. Preschools, on the other hand, purport to educate 2-, 3-, and 4-year olds. They have managed to overcome the tugs of maternal guilt to the extent that many parents actually choose them. Stay-at-home mothers who seek out preschools have bought into the idea that kindergarten readiness is of paramount importance to their child's future academic success; a few mothers even feel guilty if they have not placed their toddlers in the most prestigious preschools. Astonishingly, many parents have come to believe that they are not capable of providing their children with adequate early learning experiences.
Setting aside evidence that a small minority of children who are subject to social, emotional, and economic deprivation at home do benefit from high quality programs, most daycares and preschools are unkind to most children. The great majority of American children are not deprived, and most child care programs are anything but high quality. The National Institute of Child Health and Development found that 56% of childcare settings are of "poor" quality.
Tests show that children in extended nonparental care have high levels of the hormone cortisol, which is indicative of chronic stress. These children are far more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. The NICHD found that children who spend a portion of time in center-based, non-maternal care during the first 4.5 years of life are prone to problem behaviors, disobedience, aggression, and child-adult conflict. Some researchers connect this early damage to the prevalence of attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity and the associated overuse of Ritalin, antidepressants, and other medications to manage these disruptive behaviors. Potentially, a host of societal ills derive from parents ceding the care of the very young to institutions.
Despite these findings, the California First 5 agencies steam forward, funded by the 50-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes mandated by Proposition 10 and operating preschool programs in all 58 California counties. As fewer people smoke, fewer dollars are flowing into First 5's coffers; predictably another source of funds must be found. First 5 founder Rob Reiner is preparing another initiative for the June 2006 ballot to raise $2.3 billion a year by taxing the wealthy and to establish a free, voluntary half-day preschool system for all 4-year-olds in California. At best, First 5 promoters predict that their proposed massive replacement of private sector programs by public programs will raise the number of 4-year-olds in preschools by only 10%, from 70% to 80%.
Their justification is that early intervention in the lives of children is shown to save society the costs of later remediation, detoxification, incarceration, and the like. Again, for small numbers of the neediest children, this may be true—but for well-nourished children from loving homes, preschools create other problems that society also pays for—sickly, anxious youngsters who grow to be defiant young people. First 5 manipulates parents by playing on their worst fears for their children. One advertisement running on California television stations features a policeman saying, "Want to keep your kids out of jail? Put them in preschool." To paraphrase the old saying, "Hard cases make bad programs."
I hope I am inspiring you to do what you can to oppose the "preschool for all" movement led by Reiner. Diane Flynn Keith has taken the lead in articulating the case; at her website, www.universalpreschool.com, she provides data, opinion, and dialogue to underpin the coming political battle. If you are a newcomer to political activism, I recommend the following site: http://www.cthealthpolicy.org/toolbox/. It is designed to teach advocacy skills in support of Connecticut healthcare issues, but the instruction and tools it supplies are universal in their utility.
Perhaps you are not the sort to write a letter to the editor or call into to a talk radio show. That's okay. There are still many quiet ways to be effective in opposing the growth of preschool and daycare. History has shown us several demonstrations of what people, especially women, can do when society bends too far away from natural mothering and natural childrearing practices. In the past half century, we have witnessed three quiet, yet successful, revolutions.
- Women have retaken control of the birthing process. Fifty years ago women were drugged insensible during labor and delivery. Now birth occurs in far more natural circumstances that permit the mother and father to participate fully in the experience.
- In 1956, seven women formed La Leche League, and because of their leadership, a worldwide movement was spawned. In America the rate of breastfeeding has climbed from 20% to 70%.
- In a more diffuse but equally successful effort, homeschooling, which had virtually vanished in America by the mid 20th century, has now come back strong. The US Census Bureau reported in 200l that more than 2 million children were being taught at home, increasing at a rate of 15% - 20% annually. The US Department of Education noted in 1999 that "the number of children with some homeschooling experience by age 18, would be around 6 to 12 percent of the population." That percentage is probably even higher today.
These three movements might be described as a gentle kind of feminism at work. Mothers talking to other mothers about what matters to them (their children) can become an inexorable force to reclaim traditional mores. These movements teach us how to create conditions that will slowly reverse the tide of placing babies and toddlers in institutional care. As a successful homeschooling advocacy organization, CHN knows that the best approach is to remain nonsectarian, nonpartisan, and nonjudgmental. We hold open the door, and families walk though it. Essentially there are two simple messages that we must convey to parents:
- You can do this.
- It is beneficial for your child, your family, and for you.
CHN's Board of Trustees is looking closely at what the organization can do to help get the ball rolling. I believe they will be taking a leadership role in the near future. But you needn't wait—because you already have the power to change society. As a part of the homeschooling movement, you know how it works—you chat to interested neighbors, you pick up a conversation with a mom you meet at the library story hour, you answer your phone and hear a voice say, "A woman who works with a friend of my aunt gave me your number and said you might be able to talk to me about homeschooling."
You can fight against the institutionalization of babies and tots by quietly supporting young mothers in your community who make the choice to stay home. If seven women can bring back breastfeeding, imagine what thousands of women can do to bring back home mothering!
Jackie Orsi is a veteran homeschool parent, long-time homeschool activist, and one of the original founders of the California Homeschool Network. For over a decade, Jackie has been a prominent voice in the California homeschool movement.
She is a contributor to the book, The California Homeschool Guide, and has written for numerous homeschool publications including The Link National Homeschool Newspaper, Homefires~The Journal of Homeschooling, and The Independent Family. Jackie continues to speak out on topics of importance to families and alternatives in education.
© 2005, Jackie Orsi, All Rights Reserved.