Working Mothers and the Childcare Argument; What Psychological Literature Informs This Issue?

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Some believe that mothers of young children should stay at home with their children. Does the psychological literature support their views? The question of who should care for infants is a highly contentious issue in modern society. The debate over whether optimal child development is at odds with the personal aspirations of women and the economic improvement of families is hotly disputed and ranks alongside religion and politics as a subject one does not bring up at polite dinner parties. However, discussion of the topic rarely highlights that the stay-at-home mother of the nuclear family is a relatively modern construct of society and specific to post-industrial western culture. In addition, the focus on the responsibility of parents to mould their child’s future ability to be a productive and happy member of society has developed exponentially since the advent of the differing schools of Freudianism and Behaviorism. Watson (1913) and Freud (1901) may have differed in approach but both placed great store in parental conditioning, whether consciously or unconsciously! This has developed into a cultural obsession where every tiny decision may be a wrong move that will ruin our children’s lives forever. In particular there has been great emphasis in the role of maternal attachment (Bowlby, 1953) in forming an essential foundation on which our children’s lives will rest. This trend has grown at the highest rate amongst post-career mothers of certain social standing. These mothers may be in a position to afford to stay at home and pursue the highest standards of motherhood with the same determinism and ambition they applied to their careers and to this end many women ascribe to the “Attachment Parenting“ school of thought (Sears, W. 2000) as a means of achieving their goals. This style of parenting places a strong emphasis on the importance of close contact with your child from birth, breastfeeding for as long as possible, sharing your bed with your child, carrying your child close to you rather than using strollers or buggies but above all, minimizing maternal deprivation. However, for women who must work to meet their subsistence needs in combination with child rearing, there is a huge burden of guilt. On the other hand, government policies have lately focused on a drive to provide opportunities for mothers to return to work. In a bid to incentivize this, the Sure Start scheme was launched together with the introduction of 15 hours per week of free nursery entitlement for children over three years. The improved literacy and numeracy scores for children who attend Early Years Care have been greatly emphasized but there is debate over how these benefits may be differential for children with differing socio-economic backgrounds, upon which I will expand. Bowlby’s concept of monotropy (1953) had crucial implications for policies such as allowing mothers to bond with their children after birth and the treatment of children in orphanages but Rutter (1972) argued that Bowlby failed to make a distinction between the effects of maternal deprivation and privation of any kind of attachment bond whatsoever. Rutter’s work with juvenile delinquents in the 1970’s indicated that the type of relationship a child developed with their main carer prior to separation was of more relevance to their social development than the separation itself and this theory can be extended in relation to the quality of care that children receive in all their relationships with parents, childminders, family members or in day-care facilities. It begs the question, how important is a secure attachment and must attachment be montropic in nature? Ahnert (2004) examined the effects of secure attachment and examined Bowlby’s hypothesis that attachments need to be montropic. The reaction of infants deemed to be securely attached when commencing day care were measured for the stress related chemical, cortisone. Securely attached infants had significantly lower...
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