It seems every month there is a new piece of research that once again gives the definitive answer on the 'stay-at-home parent' question. The continual rolling feed of soundbites and science ensures that every new wave of parents is greeted with a report telling them what to do, what not to do and what to feel guilty about. You can pick up any book on parenting and each one will have its own theory on how to get your child to sleep, eat, go to the toilet and if you're not doing it the right way you're doing it the wrong way.
This week UNICEF have warned that UK children are being fobbed off with expensive, consumer items by parents who have no time to spend with them. And German researchers reported findings that childcare was stressful for toddlers and continued to be so even after the morning crying had stopped.
I heard someone being interviewed on the radio about this who kindly pointed out that it was important for parents to have all the facts. Well yes, thanks for that, it was just as I was getting my son ready for nursery. As I was stressing myself about getting the dog fed, my boy dressed, emptying the dishwasher and trying to get to work on time I also had to ponder on my son's cortisol levels and whether or not they were raised enough to cause him anxiety for the rest of his life. Not sure about his but mine were through the roof, I was also angry at the continual 'parent-bashing' that seems to go on. I was relieved to see on the same day (yet another) report that suggests this intense focus on the younger years was detrimental to everyone.
My son started at nursery when he was 14months old, I had been off work for all of that time and had enjoyed spending it with him. But as he grew it became apparent that we were getting a bit bored of each other. He is an only child and we have few friends or family around us with similar aged children. We went to all of the groups, classes and events on offer but no amount of Mini Macramé or Toddler Tai-chi was really cutting it for us. I wanted us both to expand into the outside world and break free from our cocoon, for him to make friends and develop social skills, and I wanted to get back to work. (I'm also keen for him to know that mums work too!) Besides we needed the money. You see this is what the researchers don't know about - what is happening in your home right now, what is needed for your family, so surely it's hard to apply one template that will suit everyone?
It took a bit of time, we eased him in gently and I was lucky enough to be able to build up my return to work gradually, and he has responded well to an ordered routine and a slowly expanding group of familiar faces. I can't believe how positive the nursery experience has been for us, he learns way more there than he would staying at home with me. He is thrilled to come home with a new joke to tell or game to play. More importantly he knows how to tell jokes and play games amongst his peers. I hear these worrying reports that he'll be anxious and miserable but then look at my charming, funny, laid-back, sociable son and know we made the right decision. When he does start school in a years time he might be more confident (and less stressed) than the child who has never known in such an environment.
If the professors and politicians and scientists and sociologists really want to continue to classify and compartmentalise parenthood maybe they could create a handy check list that encompasses the only real concerns a parent should have: is your child Happy? Healthy? Safe? Secure? Socialised? Loved? Tick all of those boxes and I'd say the rest is up to you.