At-home Parenting Must be The Parent's Choice
by Judy Arnall
Full time parenting in the 90's differs from full time parenting in the 50's. The difference is in choice. 90's parents are at home because they want to be there. Not because society, men, women, government, relatives, friends or religious leaders tell women that home is their place. And that choice is the major variable which determines whether children are nurtured at home or neglected. A happy parent tends to produce a happy home environment.
Telling a woman she should be at home because of her gender, or her number of children, is sexist. Telling a woman she should be out doing paid work is also sexist. True feminist equality allows the choice to lie with the individuals involved. Child development experts conclude that children under three years old receive optimum care under the attention of one consistent, caring person for the majority of their waking hours, and ideally from someone who loves them. This could be the father, mother, relative, grandparent, or even a caregiver who commits to three years of nurturing someone else's child. The key is the long-time attachment to one or two special people. Let's not heap all the guilt on Mother. Fathers make great full time parents too!
If parents are reluctant full-time caregivers, then their parenting skills, discipline techniques and nurturing ability will tend to be less than optimum. Children will certainly pick up on their attitude. Children notice parents' body language, tone of voice and facial expressions more than the words used to convey their feelings.
There are two categories of stay-at-home parents. Into one category falls the parent who is at home, but is not really there for the children. This is the 50's model. The parent is at home mainly due to expectations of other people rather than by choice. This parent may resent the demands of the children, and as a result the children may receive minimal quality time, since everything else takes priority. For example, some parents spend the entire day cleaning house, and restrict the child's activities to avoid disturbing their carefully-selected decor. Such parents might write magazine articles or surf the internet all day, or are out volunteering or doing committee work, or talking on the phone or doing housework all day. All such activities are good in moderation, yet in excess they can divert too much energy and attention away from their children. As a result, the children can become whiny and unhappy, and crave interaction. Forced to deal with the child, the parent can become unhappy, angry, and frustrated about "getting nothing done".
The second category of at-home parent is really attentive to the child. The 90's at-home parent chooses to be at home, and considers that this is appropriate for both the child and for the parent. Household and outside-interest activities take second place to child-focussed activities such as reading, playing, teaching, cuddling, consoling, wiping noses, and participating in activities together. Interruptions by the child tend to cause little resentment and frustration, because the child is the up-front priority of the parent.
There is more to staying at home than mere physical presence. A new way of life is needed, requiring total unselfishness (at least until the kids are in bed), patience, attention, and energy. This lifestyle includes interruptions and disorganization, and requires projects to be put on hold and sometimes even abandoned. It means being prepared to accomplish nothing tangible except time with a critically-important investment: our future. Not everyone is cut out for the extraordinary demands of this job.
Good full-time parenting is a difficult job. Building a lasting relationship between parent and child takes a lot of time. This decision must be freely made by each parent, and cannot effectively be made by imposing guilt upon those who choose alternate daytime care. Imposing guilt alienates those parents who need support, and may lead parents to be over-lenient in guidance and discipline, causing spoiled children. Those parents who choose full-time homecare, and those who choose a career with external daycare should understand and respect other parents' choices. The parent who makes an informed choice that is in the best interests of the family is truly doing the right thing.
Copyright Judy Arnall, but you can easily get permission to reprint:-)
Mother of three preschoolers and Co-Founder of The Whole Family Attachment Parenting Association
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Go back to The Whole Family Attachment Parenting Group