Thursday, August 6, 2009

a question about childcare

One of the readers of in all honesty sent in a thought-provoking question about childcare recently. With her permission, I'm posting her question here. We would love to hear your thoughts!

Please don't feel judged by her question: neither of us think childcare is wrong, and I know women who use childcare wisely and lovingly for reasons like those she mentions. It's more the trend and potential misuse of childcare that this writer is questioning. Anyhow, have a read, and tell me what you think.
I'm an evangelical Christian woman who has chosen to be a stay at home mother. I have many friends around me who are doing the same, though I'm noticing a new trend - Christian mothers saying that they are committed to staying out of the workforce to raise their children, but then putting their children into childcare for their 'day off'. This day (usually only one) is used to do what they 'want' to do without having to be disturbed by the children.

Now some of these women are also extremely involved in ministries that mean that they are at breaking point and feel that they are always giving to their church or their children. I don't know how to question them without sounding judgemental, hence my email to you!

Back to the topic: what I'm thinking through is whether we as Christian women are losing our way a little on this. There seems to be a general lack of willingness to sacrifice our personal satisfaction in life for the sake of our children. We will give up our career but not all those other things we like doing.

This includes accepting that there are some ministries that we are capable of doing but are limited because of the stage of life that we find ourselves in. Often there are other worthwhile things we can do to serve God during these stages but we don't enjoy them as much so we fight to keep doing what we like, at the expense of providing a calm home environment and a calm mother.

Reading some of Ali's links (Equip book club) recently about feminism has got me wondering if this trend I've noticed is a way in which feminism is infiltrating into the attitudes Christian women have about raising their children.

What do you think?
You can respond here.

56 comments:

Louisa said...

Hi there,

I feel a little nervous doing this because I know what a hot issue it is but I am going to try and respond from my perspective to this question.

I have a young daughter and am employed in ministry part time. I work from home 2days a week while my daughter sleeps, occasionally I have a meeting on one of these days and she comes with me or goes to her grandmother's house. On these days we play, doing Mainly Music, see friends etc... while she is awake. 1 day a week she is cared for by a very close Christian girlfriend who has kids, in her home. This is what I have learnt thus far:

- I almost ended up with PND trying to be the perfect SAHM that I heard Christians talk about and had always wanted to be. I kept telling myself that I needed to sacrifice and not be selfish and I honestly believed that any woman who didn't do this was being selfish, myself included. I have finally realised that God has gifted and called me in a specific and unique way and rather than try to fight it I need to honour Him with it and trust Him with my daughter. He has certainly provided abundantly with my girlfriend and the ability to work from home.

- I am a far, far, far calmer and more engaged, fun mother having 1 day a week doing something not with my daughter.

- I have learnt, and consider it to be God's grace to have been through this experience, that returning to work is a much more complicated issue than is often talked about. ie. it's about SO MUCH MORE than a woman's choice.

- A lot of women in Christian ministry approach it in a similar way to another woman might approach her career in the secular field. I am currently in a process of discernment and seeking a mentor to help me be different in this respect. I work because I am blessed to do something I love, in a flexible capacity that is also a (largely unforseen) financial necessity for us as a family. I do not work to pursue a career and have reasonably strict boundaries around family time - this is different to many in ministry and is a challenge to navigate.

These are just some of my thoughts, I look forward to seeing where this discussion goes.

Jean said...

Thanks, Louisa, for some honest and helpful thoughts.

Carmelina Read said...

Good topic and worth discussing I think. Here are some questions which we may need to address:

1. is day care the issue? ie that we are putting our children in the hands of people we don't know? Is it better if they are with a good friend or a grandparent/family member? Could the same arguments be raised when we send our children to preschool? Do we really do it for the benefit of the child when we send them to preschool? (I send my kids to preschool so I am asking this of myself too!)

2. does the reason we are organising outside care for the children change whether it's OK to do it? ie ministry or secular work? We can do both for the wrong reasons sometimes. Should I ask myself 'why do I want to work in a secular job? Why do I want to do ministry which involves me leaving my child with someone?'

3. Is the regularity an issue? Is having children looked after on a regular basis different to getting a baby sitter to go out for dinner?

I have given no answers, I realise. Just raising the questions at this stage ... :)

Meredith said...

Hello!

Yes, this is indeed a scary one on which to comment! But it is an issue I have thought long and hard over so I share a glimpse of my story in the hope that it helps this conversation along.

We have two small boys, one at school and one who will enter teh school system next year, starting Kindy for two days a week.

When we decided to have children we also decided that we would not put them into daycare - that one of us would stay at home to look after them - and that has been my privilege.

This last two years I have thought very hard about being a SAHM as I have watched my capacity to return to work slowly leave my grasp. I am a teacher and I lost my permanency and then my licence to teach and I am about to lose my registration with the official college of teachers, without which I cannot enter a school. Now I could get all of these things back if I ever decided to return to work, but it will take considerable effort and I will need to jump through many (I think condescending) hoops to do so. All of which is to say that staying at home with our children has been a very deliberate decision - and one I have made several times over this last seven years.

Having said that, I am an introvert and as much as I ADORE our boys, there have been several times, especially during the last couple of years, when I nearly hit the daycare button - just one day a week - for fear that if I didn't get some time to myself I would go mad. As it turns out, I didn't go down that track - either daycare or madness - and things are OK. But I do admit that hardly a day goes by these days when I don't think about next year when Kindy starts and I will have a few hours to myself two days a week. So I think preventing madness and/or PND is a valid reason to take a day out, especially if you are an introvert or there are other high stress, extenuating circumstances in your life.

It is also worth mentioning that "in the olden days" we would most likely have been living with extended family and the care of children would have been borne by more than one or two people - and I know that when we go on holidays with friends or when we have friends with kids over at dinner time and everyone is kicking in with baths and cooking with two mums and two dads present, life seems much easier.

My other personal observation is that I have noticed that I too was picking up increasing quantities of ministry opportunities as the boys started sleeping through the night and I felt more capable. But it got to the point where I was doing so much that really it was tantamount to holding down a part time job - just one that isn't salaried.

So when I had that realisation I thought, "We decided that I wouldn't work at the very least while the children were still at home - and here I am essentially doing a part time job." So I trimmed my commitments down, with the intention that when both boys are at school and I have more time on my hands, then I will do more.

Please don't hear me say that we shouldn't be involved in ministry when our children are young - as being a mother offers us all sorts of unique opportunities that we should take up while we have the opportunity. Most especially the ministry that comes with hospitality. But it is finding that balance and a balance that suits our own personalities, introversion/extraversion, energy and general circumstances of life...and methinks you have blogged on this topic before...

Ultimately I imagine I will "return to work" when both boys are fully established in school but it will probably be back to unsalaried ministry of the sort that fits in around the family. And that, like being a stay at home mum, will be a joy.

Phew. Better go and fold some washing!

Simone R. said...

I have some real concerns about the question posed in this email.

Parenting is such an absorbing and important thing and we want to think that the choices we've made are right. Trouble is, to affirm ourselves in our decisions, we often drift into a kind of busy-body legalism, wanting to make issues of freedom into issues of law.

Whether we look after our kids all the time or whether we let someone else watch them for a few hours a week seems to me a matter of considerable irrelevance. There are no extra points for being a martyr mother. If you want a morning a week to do the shopping, go to the gym and have a coffee without the kids, and such a thing can be managed, why not do it?

I'm also not sure of the value in thinking of parenting as sacrifice. Doesn't thinking like that just lead to self righteousness? 'Look how much I've given up for my kids...' I can't think of anything I've really given up for mine. If there's something I've passionately wanted to do, we've always been able to fit it in somewhere.

Jean, I do understand your reader's question, and when my kids were younger I remember (silently) asking it myself. But in retrospect, I think I was wrong to do so. What drove such a question was me wanting to feel like I was making better choices than my friends. Their choices on matters as small as this were really none of my business.

Jean said...

Wow! Fantastic and helpful observations, thanks to all of you!! Keep them coming ...

Jean said...

Hi Simone, for some reason your comment slipped through the system! Sorry. I've published it now. I wasn't avoiding it! :)

Yes, I think you have a point, this is a wisdom issue so we have to be careful not to be judgemental about the decisions Christian women make. We will all make decisions depending on our own situation in life, our family's needs, our children's personalities, and so on (a bit like that discussion about how many kids to have last year). We need to allow one another freedom to make these decisions under God.

On the other hand, I do think it's good to talk about issues of wisdom and nut out some of the influences on us as women, and what living for God might look like in our culture. Yes, it will look different for each of us. But we can help one another be aware of the issues involved. Not to lay down the law - "it has to be this way" - but to talk about how to love our families under God in each of our lives in the world we live in.

Jean said...

One more thing, Simone - partly in reponse to what you wrote in your blog, and partly your comment. I do think love takes sacrifice. Not in a "woe is me" way, but in a self-giving, costly way.

I think that most women's experience, especially when they have babies or as they have more children, is that they will give things up for them. Sleep, rest, relaxation, some hobbies and interests, work, some ministry ... I can think of lots of examples in my own life! Again this shouldn't be with an attitude of self-pity but hopefully of joy - but costly joy! And it will sometimes feel really tough.

Not every woman has the advantage of a husband or even family or friends who will free her up to do these things. Some will, and that's wonderful. But there will still be sacrifices and adjustments to be made. There have been times - long times! - when I haven't been able to do the things I'm passionate about. In one sense there was no sacrifice, as I love my kids, but it didn't always feel this way!

Laetitia :-) said...

Hi,

I'm browsing this topic due to Simone's link.

Some things I have noticed about women of 'our' generation (I'm working on the basis that I'm a year or so older than Simone):

We are quick to judge another women on her house-keeping as if she is solely responsible for the upkeep (ok, for living-on-one's own singles this is true). My husband and I ended up saying, "Blow that for a lark," and got a cleaner. My friend at work gets men to clean her house because she believes that they won't judge her, whereas women would.

Younger women (say in their 20's) tend to judge less because most of their mothers worked outside the home - they tend to no more or less expect a woman to clean than they expect a man to clean.

Then our generation is quick to judge a woman on whether she has children (as if she's the sole instigator in this endeavour), how many she has (and in some cultures, what gender they are!), whether she's a SAHM and whether she's home-schooling. Please tell me, as someone who already gets judged as selfish(!) for not having children, why would I want to add the rest of that load?

Meredith is correct - in the 'olden' days, children were raised by the extended family / village. Before the industrial revolution, men generally worked at home in a small business near or part of the house or on the family farm. Even in my grandparents' day, more men worked at or near their home and would have greater input into their children's upbringing.

But here's the big thing for me - I cannot think of anywhere in the Bible that says that raising children is the sole responsibility of the mother with no help from outsiders, nor that she has to be a SAHM. All the examples I can think of show parenting as a two-person job - Dad isn't "babysitting" (don't get me started) when Mum goes out.

Proverbs is full of "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching". In fact, the great "woman of noble character" in Proverbs 31 is a merchant, dealing with the world outside the home. She may "watch over the affairs of her household" but that doesn't mean that she does every task in the house any more than my boss at work does all the tasks necessary to run the business.

Cheers.

Vanessa said...

I was reluctant to join this conversation because I’m probably coming to it from a slightly different perspective – I am a mother who uses child care to work part time (2 days/week) in a secular job. Carmelina’s questions really hit on things for me – what is the exact issue at hand? I have often asked myself similar things – is it the secular nature of my job which is “the problem”, or would it be just as much of a “problem” for a mum with young kids to be working in Christian ministry? I heard a very helpful talk from Lesley Ramsey at Equip a few years back which really challenged me to keep my primary focus (my number 1 priority) on being “busy at home” – helping my husband and caring for my children and home. Anything else I am involved in outside of home (which could be my secular work, or could be involvement in church committees or preparing a seminar for a Christian women’s conference) needs to fall behind these other priorities and not disturb the “balance” of our home life to the detriment of the others in our family. Lesley, by the way, was quite clear that it is her opinion that mothers of pre-schoolers should not work outside the home (but this was her opinion and not a mandate from scripture).
The original question you posted covered the issue of whether we are willing to give up things that we “want” to do. I know women who gladly gave up secular jobs/careers to be stay at home mothers because they simply didn’t derive any satisfaction from the job and didn’t require the income (in other words it was an “easy” decision for them). Does that make their choice necessarily “better” than a woman who has more financial need for example and makes her choices to continue working for different reasons?
One of my struggles has been the fact that I do enjoy the secular work that I do and the income I derive from it is useful for our family situation in freeing my husband up to take on lower paying (lower stress) jobs close to home which are for Christian organisations (although I will point out that my husband is ultimately responsible for our family income and I hope I would never take on work purely for financial reasons). My job is fairly “unique” in that I have a PhD and work in a specific field of medical research. Over the last 3.5 years I’ve had 2 periods of maternity leave, one for 14 months when my daughter was born, the next for almost 5 months after my newborn son died, and I’m about to start another 12 months off for baby number 3. My job has several advantages which allow me to have periods where I am essentially a stay at home mum (baby's first year of life) and periods when I can work at home and it is very flexible. I have had to think hard however about resisting the temptation to want to continue to build a career for myself, rather than just doing good research “as to the Lord” and keeping my family and Christian life the priority.
The original question also asked about women using child care to have a “day off”. I always assumed that when I had other children, I would take my daughter out of childcare while I was on maternity leave. After my son died last year, we made the decision to keep our daughter in childcare 2 days/week despite the fact that I was not working, and I was also not caring for a newborn. She was 2and a half at the time, and it seemed like the right decision for her own “emotional stability”. In the first few weeks of grieving, we noticed that her best days (calmess and behaviour wise) were those when she went to day care. When this next baby comes, we plan to keep her in only 1 day for similar reasons – to maintain this stable environment for her while our family life undergoes a big change. She is now 3 and a half, and I hope to send her to a pre-school next year for 2 days – as a way of increasing her time at home with her sibling (shorter hours and school holidays, unlike day care). All this is to say that often decisions about child care are complicated!
Thanks for the opportunity to prayfully re-evaluate my own decisions in this area, which I think is important.

Jean said...

Wow! Thanks again for more helpful reflections!

Next week I'll try to find time to read all your comments carefully and pull something together. :)

In the mean time, I think it's clear that childcare is an issue of freedom, and individual decisions will depend on the woman involved, her situation, the personality of her children, etc etc ...

There can obviously be selfish decisions about childcare (as anything else!) which assume that I have a "right" to space and rest. But it can also be appropriate and loving to use childcare as a way to have space and rest if that's helpful for my self-care, sanity and mothering.

Thank you all for taking the time to respond and as I say, I'll try to read and respond in more detail some time.

Yours in Christ,

Jean.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Christian SAHM who has also really struggled over the last 3 years (my oldest is 3) with these questions. For me my decision to stay at home was an 'easy' one (As an earlier commenter put it :). I had a job i didn't like and it was not a financial issue. However, i have struggled a great deal with being at home alone with young children. I would probably have had PND if i dind't have such great support. Even with the amount of support i do have (Family, friends, husband), i still at times feel very 'trapped' at being a SAHM and often wonder why that is, particularly when I know that it is a priviledge and I do love my children and being with them.

Also, like a previous commenter, i have many many many times come so close to sending them off to childcare for one day a week or something.

I don't have any answers but I do have a lot of questions. I think part of the reason I feel this way is because of lack of support. All the women in my mother's group (non-christians) have their children in childcare. Most of them are working. The ones who aren't working are getting their 'rest day'. A huge percentage of the women at my church (christians) with children my age also work.

I have gone through periods where i have felt resentful of being at home, and have discussed the childcare option with my husband at great length. I think in our day and age, without the support that women had 'back then' it's hard to really make a black and white judgement on whether or not women should stay at home.

It's hard to judge someone else's situation. When i start to do that, i often think, what would i do if we were financially tight? I would probably jump right into it at the prospect of a job, for the financial reason as well as sanity. At the moment i'm not 'sacrificing' that much to be at home with the children. Does that make it any less important?

thank you for your blog & raising this issue. C-from-Sydney

Jean said...

Thanks, C. I think that having a day or morning a week with kids in childcare is potentially a good and godly option for women in your situation. That being said, it's not one I've considered, because my children would be absolutely miserable given their personalities. So it's not an option for everyone.

You're right, things have become much harder with the loss of extended families and sharing the bringing up of kids. It can be really, really hard being home with kids 24/7. I pray God will give you the strength and love and patience and energy you need.

Carmelina Read said...

In response to Simone R's comments, I think it would be worth saying that (please excuse the numbers - I am a list maker - it helps me order my scrambled brain!):

1. asking a question about how we and others parent their children is not in and of itself motivated by the need "to affirm ourselves in our decisions" or "... busy body legalism." I am not saying this can't happen but I certainly don't think it's what has motivated the dicussion in this blog. And even if our motives are wrong in raising something, it doesn't mean that it isn't valuable to talk about it;
2. Simone said that "we often drift into a kind of busy-body legalism, wanting to make issues of freedom into issues of law." It's a good warning to heed but we need to be careful we don't overstate it. Just because something is an issue of freedom doesn't mean that raising it will turn it into an issue of law. Sure, we need to avoid legislating where the Bible does not legislate but there is room to talk about how we exercise our freedom, whether we are being wise with our freedom, whether our freedom is impacting others (like our children, our husbands, others we're seeking to reach with the gospel, our finances) and whether there are other Biblical principles which affect the exercise of our freedom;
3. it's true as Simone says that we can be busy bodies (something the apostle Paul wants women to avoid), but raising the issue of childcare and mothering does not in and of itself mean we are being busy bodies. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Christian women should be interested in how others are raising their children. I remember a mother of 4 grown up children calling me a couple of years ago and asking me whether I was spending too much time outside the home doing 'ministry' and missing out on the precious years of mothering little children - was she a busy body? No, she was motivated by love and a concern for me and my family. Indeed, I remember encouraging a non-Christian friend of mine to consider giving up her job as a partner in a law firm to look after her 2 little children. Later she said that the thought of taking such a step had never entered her mind and how freeing it had been to her to almost be given permission to not work. Helping others think about how they can mother better (and this includes many issues not just working outside the home) can be a good kind of 'busy body' if you know what I mean. 4. finally Simone said that "Whether we look after our kids all the time or whether we let someone else watch them for a few hours a week seems to me a matter of considerable irrelevance." I am not sure I see why it is irrelevant. It raises all sorts of issues that relate to the wise exercise of freedom and other Biblical principles - for example, is it the best thing for that particular child, can we afford it, does my husband support the decision, can we trust the person who is looking after the child, why am I doing it, could I be using the money spent on child care in a better way, am I so stressed getting ready to take the child to day care and working and picking up the child that our home life is a shambles, is it allowing you some time to recuperate from a chronic illness and so on.

I think that we need to check our motives when we talk with each other but we need to be robust and give each other the benefit of the doubt as we talk together about important issues and never shy away from asking the hard questions.

Jean said...

Hi everybody! Thanks for all your comments, keep them coming! I'm having a break from blogging, so I won't be putting any up over the next day or so, so if you post one, it will appear on the blog in a day or so. See you soon!

mattnbec said...

Hi all,

Great discussion to be having - thanks! I'm currently pregnant with baby #3 and considering some of these issues. I've been holding off commenting so that I had time to consider it all and read everyone elses comments.

We have wonderfully supportive parents and in-laws living nearby for the first 2.5 years of parenthood. However, in the following 2 years of parenthood we have lived across the other side of the world. I think there's a HUGE difference between these situations and the impact that has on whether we put our children into outside care situations. I think there's also a big difference between the varieties of outside care too (eg childminder or friend with home-based daycare vs larger daycare situations).

I've noticed with our two children, there's also a massive difference in personality and what they can cope with and enjoy. Our daughter didn't start pre-school until after most kids here in the UK (and wouldn't have coped well if she had). Our son, however is very much 'Mr Independence' and loves being a 'big boy' who does things by himself.

Once our third child arrives, we are considering sending our son to pre-school a bit earlier than we did for our daughter, for two mornings/week. This is partly an independence thing and partly related to how I will cope with a new baby and no family around. Also, there will be a number of other additional things my husband will be/might be taking on with his PhD and some lecturing, so he will have less time and energy to devote to supporting me (I don't mean this to sound resentful of that or disrespectful of him! These are great opportunities and very much worth our family taking on together. Just that they may well be additional pressures on top of a new baby).

Hence, I'm thinking through all these issues! The funny thing is that when we had more family around, I didn't really even think about them much at all when I decided to take on a unit of study while my MIL minded our daughter. I suspect that it's partly because family 'feels' different.

The freedom thing is a really worthwhile point. Not so that we avoid considering what we do with these issues in a community context/in view of the wisdom of others, but so that we have consciences free to choose what will be best for our families, in our situations. I do think it's easy to judge others without giving them freedom (and have been guilty of this myself). It's not a central issue, but it is worthwhile seeking to learn from others and hearing how they have tried to be godly in their own contexts.

Looking forward to reading your 'pulling it together' post, Jean.

Bec

Jean said...

Thanks, Bec, and I think you're right - it's very much dependent on situation, personality of kids etc. I've seen childcare both abused and used wisely - the issue is working out which is which! Not to judge other women's freedom, as you say, but to work out how to live wisely and lovingly as we live out our primary responsibility to care for husband, children and home, and stay sane and rested as we do it!!

Simone R. said...

Hi again. Carmelina's criticisms of my position are valid. I wrote quickly (as I always do) and not carefully. Let me answer them one by one.

1. Such a question is not necessarily asked with poor motives. And even if it was motivated by the wrong things, it may still be valuable to discuss it.

Yes I agree.

2. If this is an area of freedom, it's still worth talking through how we exercise our freedom. We should work out together what's wise.

I'm not saying there should be an embargo on this subject. It may be worth talking through. But the danger is that as soon as it's raised as a possibly objectionable thing a whole lot of mothers will feel (needlessly) guilty. Our situations are all so different. There are so many factors: the quality of childcare, the personalities of the children involved, the make up of the family, money... If it is spoken about, it would be most profitable to speak to individual people considering their particular situations, rather than speaking as if Xns should have a general policy on the subject.

3. We should be interested in each other's parenting. Being interested is not being a busy-body.

No, but there's being interested, and there's being interfering. This is not something I'd bring up with a member of my bible study group. If a mother raised it as something she was considering doing and asked my opinion, I'd sit down with her and talk it all through - motivations, pros, cons etc. But if a mum who was committed to her children, looked after them the other 6 days a week, was patient, kind, diligent and prayerful for them (or aimed in this direction!) I'd leave it as a non-issue.

4. Whether we put our kids into day-care for a day a week is not a matter of 'considerable irrelevance' (as I described it.)

I think it is. If one day a week of childcare is not bad for the child (it may be, but that's another debate) and there is no scriptural mandate against it (though some might like to argue that there is), I can't see that it matters.


I am sorry to sound so hard line on this. I speak to many women who struggle with guilt in motherhood. They feel like they are doing a bad job because they can't get their baby to sleep right, or behave perfectly in the park or whatever. Mums also feel guilty because they don't scrapbook or make curtains or get a kick out of being at home all the time. There are so many books that want to tell us 'god's way' of doing everything... Yes, there's wisdom that can be shared, but exhausted, semi-depressed mums are so easily discouraged. We need to be careful in raising questions.

Lucy said...

I've really enjoyed reading everyone's comments here too :) I'm definitely in the "often semi-depressed always 2nd guessing myself guilt ridden mother" category and I'm making a conscious effort lately to try to chill out a bit and not over think stuff like this that's not clearly right or wrong.

A couple of thoughts from me...

* My idea of what being a SAHM would be like has been very different from the reality... partly because of lack of outside support and a very over-worked husband and partly because of my own personality. I used to have plenty to say about "those people" who put their kids in daycare to have a day off, but I don't say them anymore!

* My eldest started kindy this year, in a daycare centre. I've found that since she's been there a couple of days a week my relationship with her has improved out of sight (there may be other reasons for this too, but having a break from each other seems to help) and I absolutely love having a day when I know I will get a rest at lunchtime and when I can spend some time just with my son. We're in the situation that we've decided to send her to a daycare centre (rather than 'proper' kindergarten) for purely financial reasons - I would much prefer her to go to a dedicated kindy and I find it a struggle not to feel too sad that we've had to make that decision on her behalf. I don't let that stop me enjoying the positives though! :)

*I find it interesting that most Christians don't question the decision to send kids to school in the same way they question sending kids to daycare - is it an age thing, or just that we're so used to school being 'normal'? I'm not going to be homeschooling and I don't feel the need to justify that decision to my Christian friends, but I do notice that I tend to try to justify sending my daughter to daycare this year (she'll be at school next year).

* I also think it's strange that we don't seem to think twice about putting our kids in creche while we do a bible study / hear a sermon but we do worry about sending them to childcare. Some of the creche setups I've seen leave alot to be desired (adult to child ratios, supervision of kids, safety of toys etc) and certainly wouldn't meet the standards childcare centres do but ironically there seems to be an expectation that it's the 'right thing' to put your kids in creche.

Anna said...

Hi Jean,

I think that what Lucy raised about creche and school being "normal" and therefore not questioned very thought-provoking. In the past I was criticised for not forcing my very clingy son to go to Bible study creche "He's got you round his little finger- if he doesn't obey your decision to put him in creche, how else will he disobey?" and "it is just naughtiness- you be the boss". As it turned out, there were very good reasons why he was clingy which had nothing to do with disobedience in this instance. I think that it is so important to give people freedom to make a considered, prayerful decision. I find it rather sad that at a REALLY stressful time of life, I found so much more acceptance from my non-Christian friends at mother's group than anyone at church.

Also, if we see a mum who is struggling with these things, rather than giving criticism, why not send a meal or some muffins or anything really!! I remember somebody doing that once for me and I just cried!!

Reading the comments posted here has been very interesting, thanks
Anna

Carmelina Read said...

Thanks Simone for replying to my comments. It’s helpful I think to keep sifting through issues in love and truth. I totally agree with what you say about ‘god’s way’ of talking about choices that are really freedom issues. You are right about women and guilt. Many Christian women, especially in some sectors of the Christian world, are made to feel guilty by people who ‘legislate’ the way someone should mother. We need to encourage women in motherhood – to build them up and care for them. To get beside them and say words of affirmation – Titus 2:3-5 is a wonderful way this can happen. One thing I have found especially helpful is when older women have helped me by saying things like “Your children are a delight, you’re doing just fine, hang in there” or taking a load of ironing to do or “You handled that discipline situation well. I found this helpful when I had small children …”. The main problem is that there are so few women like this around. In our church, the older women whose children have grown up aren’t present either because our church was ravaged by liberalism many years ago and that generation of women aren’t Christian and therefore don’t go to church or they have gone back to work and don’t have the time to spend with other women. Hence my prayer for a new generation of women who will make the spiritual mothering of Titus 2 a joyful priority and consider placing it higher than going back to work.

I think we will need to agree to disagree on the issue of whether placing children in child care (even for one day a week) is “considerably irrelevant” as you say. I think we both agree that childcare, as with many other motherhood issues is a freedom/wisdom issue and therefore we need to be careful not to speak as if there is a general Biblical principle on the topic. But saying that if there is no scriptural mandate against something means it is “irrelevant” swings the pendulum too far the other way. The Bible says nothing about so many subjects and yet there are Biblical principles that impinge on them and guide us. For example, using cloth bags instead of plastic bags, ivf, contraception and working too much, just to name a few. In the same way, Biblical principles may help us determine whether using childcare is wise in one particular circumstance and unwise in others. It will also help us to examine our motives for doing so. In this light, talking about the issue of childcare is not irrelevant. I hold the view that all of life can be helped by God’s word (2 Timothy 3). In a blog situation like this, women can read about other’s views, take on board what is said, reflect on the Bible, talk with their husbands or a trusted friend and then apply it to their own lives with prayerfulness and wisdom, taking into account their own circumstances, even if they end up disagreeing.

Having contributed to the discussion hypothetically so far, I’ll send in another post and bare my soul on what Jeff and I have found helpful on the issue.

Carmelina Read said...

Jeff and I have 4 children and here are some factors which have influenced our decision not to place our children in childcare (as opposed to pre/school). Aside from being a Christian and a godly wife, my highest priority is being a mother. Having brought them into the world, we decided we would try to be the biggest influence on their lives in the first 3-5 years of their life. We want to be the ones who are regularly there for the every day moments of life and the special moments too. This means that we’ll usually only do something if the other parent, a grandparent or a trusted friend can look after the children. We haven’t made rules about it – it’s a general principle we live by. I should add that the pressure on this topic doesn’t just run one way, I have felt a fair bit of pressure to place my children in day care so that I can do “ministry” or go back to work. And people often ask what I do now that 3 children are at school.

When I was 18 months old, my Mum left me with an Italian lady around the corner and she still talks about how terrible it was for her and me. When she left work, I loved having her there in the morning to take me to school and I loved having her around when I got home. And there was never any sense of her being too tired for me. There was never any sense of she had too much work to do to play with me. I would like to create that for my children (although I have to say that having 4 children makes a difference to how harried I feel, whereas my Mum only had me! ☺)

I know that the days I am out fulfilling other obligations (like ministry) are the days that the home isn’t as relationally or functionally happy and I consider myself a pretty organized person. I want to give my best and my all to being a lover of my husband and my children, to being a worker at home and to making my home a priority (Titus 2:3-5) and I find that being at home with the children is the best way I can do this. I don’t always find this easy. I don’t always find it ‘fulfilling’ but I ask God to help me to do it. For all these reasons (as well as financial ones), we’ve made the decision for me not to take on any work or obligation which requires the children to be placed in childcare.

I should add though that I have parents who help out willingly. We’ve talked about what we will do when my parents die or are incapacitated and at this point, we’re committed to still not placing them in childcare. I also don’t suffer from a chronic illness that means I can’t look after the children. We’ve also talked about what I might do if Jeff dies and the children are still at home. Some might think this is morbid but Jeff’s wisdom on the subject has helped me deal with the anxieties I feel about this happening.

One last point – we decided that apart from homemaking and childrearing, reaching out to other women would be a priority. This means that without child care, the children come with me. They come to funerals, to visit others, to a ministry training group (which I just got back from – it is chaos with 11 children 4 and under running around for 1.5hours while we try to work through ministry papers ☺).

I guess the thing I haven’t said is why we have thought it ok to send them to preschool (many of the same arguments for not using child care apply to preschool too … but I leave it for another day). We also did some reading on the benefits and disadvantages of childcare in the first couple of years of life and decided the best thing we could do was to care for them ourselves rather than pay for others to look after them. I found Sharon James’ chapter ‘Only a Mum’? in her book God’s Design For Women very helpful. She is balanced in what she says and talks about the pressures on mothers (like singleness and financial necessity). But she also points out the joys and priority of mothering at home in the early years of life.

Ruth said...

Carmelina - I'd really appreciate reading your thoughts on why you decided preschool was ok. :-)

This has been an interesting and thought provoking discussion. Thanks.

Carmelina Read said...

Ah Ruth, a very good question (ie ‘what are your thoughts on why you decided preschool was ok?’) But why does answering it fill me with a general sense of fear and trepidation? I will bite the bullet and put my thoughts into the blogosphere! This will be a rather long post, sorry, but it’s hard to provide reasons without explanation. In fact it was too long to post in one hit so there is a part 1 and a part 2 ☺

Part 1
Let me start by saying that I know with absolute certainty that I do not have all the answers on this issue and that I, like everyone else, live with inconsistency and the insight that sometimes only comes with hindsight. I should point out too that these reasons apply to regular long day care at preschool by ‘strangers’ rather than episodes of care done by family members or friends which raise others sorts of issues.

Here are the reasons why we have chosen to send our children to preschool (as opposed to child care before the age of 4ish):

• we felt with all our boys that at the age of 4ish (and this can only be assessed on an individual basis) they could clearly express themselves and tell us if something was worrying them whilst they were at preschool. I know that abuse and other concerns can still happen even if the child can speak well, but we felt it was a greater safe guard if they could talk to us if we were going to leave them in the care of someone for a significant amount of time on a regular basis. At age 4, they also had the ability to understand things like not letting people touch them on certain parts and the instruction to ‘tell us if this happens’ etc. In fact, this proved to be true when our eldest started crying in the mornings not wanting to go to preschool. The teachers couldn’t tell us anything but when we asked Joel, he told us what had happened and the teacher was able to confirm this with the child involved and the behaviour in question was addressed and stopped. Because Joel was old enough at this age, we were also able to teach him some skills to cope with the serious teasing that was going on;
• we could afford preschool without me having to go to paid work and without the money being a drain on our giving to church, support of missionaries and hospitality. This would not have been the case if we’d also sent them to day care before preschool;
• our children all asked to go to preschool – indeed they were desperate to go. They wanted the activities and social interaction which preschool provides. I know that we make our children do things that they don’t want to do and I also understand that we don’t always let our children do things they want to do. But given that preschool is optional here in NSW, we wanted it to be an experience they were positive towards. If they had resisted, we would have seriously considered not sending them. In hindsight, I think we made the wrong decision with our second boy – after a few months of being at preschool, he started to cry and yell at the gate on both days he went. It was harrowing. I couldn’t take him and Jeff was drained when he got back. The preschool director was fantastic with him and took him under her wing and assured us that within half an hour he was fine. But because this period of crying went on for a couple of months, I think we should have considered pulling him out and re-assessing our decision. The problem is we felt a fair bit of pressure to keep him going, we felt we were wasting our money (which shouldn’t be our primary concern) and we were worried that if we pulled him out and he lost his place, then he would want to go back and wouldn’t be able to. Aaaargh! I think what we should have done is let him stay home some days and talk him through it – given him shorter days etc. After all, I didn’t have to be anywhere so I could easily have looked after him at home and spent time with him;

Continued in part 2 …

Carmelina Read said...

Part 2
• having read up on the benefits of preschool, we decided it would help our children transition into school (learning to sit down and obey instructions from someone other than their parents, socialisation, activities which taught them how to learn etc.) and have an extended time of playing with other children. In other words, we saw a positive benefit as opposed to a ‘it won’t hurt them’ argument. I know that the word ‘benefit’ is broad eg, it could ‘benefit’ a child to have time in a safe environment, playing and interacting with others when a Mum is suffering from severe depression with no family to help the Mum. Our children have all settled into school without any trauma but it is hard to know whether this was aided by preschool.
• the preschool we sent them to encourages parents to drop in at any time and stay to spend time with the child – we felt this was important so that the children felt that we were part of their life even when they were at preschool. They would be spending a significant chunk of the day there so hanging around with them if they wanted us to or making visits for lunches and special days made us feel it would ensure they didn’t feel it was a time when we didn’t want to be with them. I think that in our area, dropping in like this isn’t encouraged in occasional and day care centres. In fact, when a temporary directory discouraged it at the preschool Christmas party because I had our 2 youngest with us, we took it up with the permanent director who said that we are always welcome to drop in;
• we decided to only give our oldest child one year at preschool and we are deciding whether to give our youngest who is a girl (she is nearly 3) one year or no years at preschool. Our oldest wasn’t interested in preschool until he was about 3.5 and then he was super keen. With our youngest, I just feel so sad that the days of hanging out together doing special things and visiting people together will soon be over that I am in two minds. She also has lots of exposure to school with her brothers so I am not so sure she will need as much time to transition. We will see. With hindsight, I think we should have kept our second home for another year and only given him one year at preschool. He is very sensitive to the issue of whether he feels loved by us. But another factor came into the equation with him. By the time he was asking to go to preschool, my Mum had suffered severe psychotic episodes, been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, had a serious fall and our third child was 1. My parents don’t speak English and the family was in turmoil. To be honest, I thought the ‘fun’ time at preschool would be helpful to our second because it would take him away from the running around I was doing with my parents and the tension filled discussions with someone suffering from a mental illness. But looking back, I think the best thing for him would have been to be with me rather than with people who cared for him but not in the way someone who loves him can care for him. But then, we don’t always think straight and I praise God for his grace and sovereignity in caring for our children (and their resilience too).

I would love to hear how others have decided. If you want to do any reading on the subject of child care (none of which are written from a Christian perspective, you could look at More Secrets of Happy Children by Steve Biddulph and The Mighty Toddler by Robin Barker. Biddulph is no holds barred against childcare under the age of 3 – I don’t buy everything he says but what I really like are his “Seven Shameless Reasons For Staying At Home When Your Kids Are Small.” (which I would be happy to type up and have Jean post as a link if anyone is interested.) I have also enjoyed reading and being challenged by Sharon James’ chapter ‘Only A Mum’? in her book God’s Design For Women (she is balanced on the issue of child care and wonderfully positive and affirming on the honour and high calling of motherhood).

I await with bated breath …

Simone R. said...

Our oldest went to preschool (though we don't call it that in Qld) when he was 4, for 2 5.5 hour days per week. It was a very good program and he loved it.

Our #2 went to the same place when he was 3.5 for 2 days per week. He cried desperately at almost every drop off but settled after I left. I didn't consider withdrawing him, because I thought he needed to learn to socialise without his extroverted big brother and because I knew he had an okay time over all. He's in year 3 now and would still rather be at home than at school.

Our third child, Micah, went to daycare one short day a week the year he turned 4 and 2 (6 hour) days a week the year he turned 5. We put him in daycare rather than a preschool because of our circumstances - in his first year because there were no places in a preschool program, and in his second year because I needed to be able to drop him off at 8.30 so I could work the school day. It was also significantly cheaper for us to have him in dc rather than ps. ps would have cost $30+ per day. dc cost us $11.

We were sad that he didn't have the preschool experience, but the ed. system up here is such that our first year of primary school 'prep' is entirely play based, so he hasn't really missed out.

I think we made decisions for the first 2 based on what we thought was best for them. We made decisions for #3 based on what wouldn't hurt him but would make family life run smoother.

We feel a little sorry that #3's preschool experience wasn't ideal, but he had other advantages that the others didn't have - much more time at home alone with me than the other boys had, a lot of 1-1 play time with close friends and we think he started school this year much more prepared than his brothers.

Now I have all 3 at school I find I'm thinking back very fondly to the days when I had little people around my feet!

Ruth said...

Thanks for the detailed answer Carmelina, that was really helpful to read through, and again very thought provoking.

It is great to be able to read such well reasoned and considered ideas.

I am not particularly for or against preschool, and now having three of my five children at school, don't really have to think it through as much, but I have often wondered about how and why people choose what to do about preschool. Two of my boys went to preschool (only the yr before school), and two didn't. So I've done a mixture, and found pros and cons with both. I'm not sure whether we'll send our daughter to preschool, but we've got a few years to decide (which is nice).

It's very helpful to read that you thought through the parental interaction with preschool - I hadn't really thought about that at all. Thank you for your thorough answer.

Rachach said...

Hi Jean and everyone!

I have really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. I particularly liked the questions Carmelina posed earlier. I would like to answer a couple of her questions.

The principles we have used when deciding on kindergarten, child care and other people looking after our children is how much time are they away from us and what kind of care are they receiving. We operate on the understanding that ‘mum (or dad) is best’ for the child and that it is our role to love and teach and train our children in the ways of the Lord. We believe the more time the children spend with us the more we can do this. So when we’ve thought about sending our children to 3 year old kinder (Victoria has non-compulsory pre-school the year the child turns 3, and compulsory? for the year before they go to school) we looked at how much time they were spending in other care and weighed up whether they were spending enough time with us so that we could train and teach them.

So, for example my #1 son and #2 daughter we have decided not to put into 3 year old kinder because they were already in crèche at Bible study for 2 hours per week and went to occasional care for a 3 hour session per week (as a break for me, because I have no family support). We decided that was enough time away from me regularly. Now that I have a third child I am finding it harder to cope (all 3 are under school age) I have a friend looking after my #2 daughter for 4 hours per fortnight. We feel this is necessary for me to have a break so that I can love and train my children better.

The kind of care they are receiving is important, but it’s not always been possible to get what we want. Ideally we would like the carer to be a Christian who has similar parenting philosophies and who will reinforce our teaching and training of our children. This hasn’t always been possible because when I needed a regular carer we only had occasional care as an option. But we are happy for our children to go to crèche at church and with friends who are Christians. But again we are not as consistent on this principle.

Rachel

Carmelina Read said...

Hi Rachel,

that's a wonderful way to express the Biblical principal of parents training their children - ie that Mum and Dad are best!

On the ideal of the carer being Christian, the wise principal of a school once told us that there is no such thing as a neutral environment. So when we enrolled our eldest in preschool, we specifically asked the preschool whether they would support and not undermine our child's understanding of God and His Son Jesus. They said yes (they support and respect all religious and cultural backgrounds!). But we have found that different teachers at the preschool react differently to the show and tell times and the celebration of Christian festivals when our children talk about Jesus (and no we don't coach them to do this!). This became particularly noticeable when the director of the preschool offered me all the Christian books (ie Christmas and Easter books) that had been donated to the preschool since it has been running! I raise this because we thought that at the age of 3-5 we didn't want proactive undermining of what we were teaching our children about Jesus. We wanted an environment which at the very least supported what we were training our children to believe. In these tender young years, we didn't think it wise for our children to be having to face pressure from others about believing in Jesus (we get enough of that from grandparents and aunties). I'm not suggesting that all children have to go to Christian preschools or Christian schools, not at all. But the first day of preschool orientation made me so aware that the preschool was not as neutral on the subject of religion despite what the advertising says and the secular bureaucrats tell us. Anyway, we've kept up open discussions with the preschool. One time, they refused to let me come to the preschool to cook with the kids and show them how we celebrate Easter despite allowing every other cultural group to celebrate their festivals (eg Chinese New Year, the Moon festival). Eventually, they relented when I said I would do it from as an Italian festival!

This is another reason why we decided on limiting the amount of time our kids spent in care away from us under the age of five.

Carmelina Read said...

Hi Simone R and other readers, I have been reflecting on our discussions on this topic and I think I should say that if I misinterpreted Simone's comments in any way, I am sorry. Simone, if what you meant is that using day care for a few hours a week to get a break is fairly insignificant and we shouldn't go around crusading about it, I agree. Thank you for reminding me about the need to care for mums who can be plagued by guilt from the unhelpful use of the Bible on issues of freedom. In no way do I think that I have it all together in parenting - I despair most days at my inadequacies and sin in mothering and fall at the foot of the cross of Jesus for his help to save and nurture my children. I also pray this for the mothers I know as we struggle along together.

Louisa said...

Hi again,

I must say that midway through this discussion I was feeling like I had joined a conversation that was going to be really unhelpful for me.

Simone R, thanks so much for your contribution.

Carmelina, thanks for raising some really helpful comments and issues and in particular for your final comment. I'd be really interested in reading the Biddulph stuff. I have heard a bit before but would be very interested in the section you mentioned.

Just this week my daughters day time sleeps have dropped dramatically. Whereas up until now I have had ample time during the day to work, leaving awake time to be playtime the shorter sleeps are challenging - mainly it's harder to get the work done. I am thinking through how to address this and have found this conversation helpful in reminding me of what I do value. So thank you!

Jean said...

Just dropping in again to say thank you to everyone for your thoughtful comments on this difficult issue. I've been thinking really hard about it - thanks for pushing me to think harder! - and I hope to post something on it in instalments during the next month or so.

The main thing I've been reminded of, as we've discussed this issue, is the importance of keeping our eyes on the main game: our responsibility to love, teach and train our children. This affects all our decisions as mothers, whether it's about childcare or something else. I've become aware of areas in my own life and priorities that need to change.

I know not everyone will agree with what I write about childcare, but I will try to be as biblical and wise as possible. Please pray for wisdom as I reflect further on these issues and pull something together during the next week or so. Let's all pray for one another that God will give us strength and joy as we encourage one another in the demanding task of loving and teaching our children.

Simone R. said...

look forward to it, Jean.

Carmelina - xo

Jean said...

Simone, a question has been running through my head about what you've written that I wondered if you could answer:

You say "Whether we look after our kids all the time or whether we let someone else watch them for a few hours a week seems to me a matter of considerable irrelevance." And I find myself agreeing, if it's a few hours a week and if I trust the people watching them and my kids are happy.

But at what point do you think childcare is not longer "a matter of considerable irrelevance" - a morning a week, a day a week, 2 days a week, 3 days a week, all week, every moment of every day of every week? I'm not asking this because I want to be legalistic, but because I think if you drive your logic to its conclusion (that childcare is an issue of freedom) you may end up with "considerably irrelevant" 5 days or even 7 days a week childcare.

Would you put the cut-off somewhere (and yes, I know it will differe depending on the woman and the circumstances and the childcare etc etc)? If there's a point where you'd see childcare as no longer helpful, why? What is it about childcare and mothering which would make you put the boundary somewhere?

Simone R. said...

Hi Jean.

I guess I'd want to put the principal strongly that we are to love our kids and care for them. They are a gift and a responsibility that God has given to us.

If a family uses day care one day a week, I wouldn't question it. If a family is using daycare 7 days per week, I'd think that there is something wrong.

Where would I draw the line? I'd probably try not to draw a general line but try to talk to the mother about how they are going as a family and talk about love for kids, what's best for them, the priviledge of motherhood etc etc.

There is a line (probably a fuzzy line) for each family about what is right. I'd try hard not to make a general line for all Christians. A single dad may put his 2 year old into care for 5 days per week. I think this would be terribly sad for the family, but not necessarily wrong.

Want to come back to me on that?

Jean said...

No, that sounds good and helpful to me. Thank you for the clarification! :)

Jean said...

... although (on further reflection!) I guess I wouldn't see a day a week or even a morning a week's childcare as something insignificant or not to be questioned - I'm not sure the question of who's looking after our children is ever insignificant or irrelevant, even if it's only for a short space of time. Whether or not I questioned it would depend on the situation: how long it's for, who's caring for the children, how the children are coping, why the day is needed and what it's being used for, what effect the day is having on the family, etc. etc. You are drawing a line if you say a day is ok and not to be questioned (but I'm sure there are situations where you would question someone doing this).

But I agree wholeheartedly with your statement "I guess I'd want to put the principal strongly that we are to love our kids and care for them. They are a gift and a responsibility that God has given to us." Amen. Now it's just a simple question of how that applies to childcare! :) - not simple at all, of course!!

Louisa said...

Hi Jean,

Isn't that what Simone was saying though? The only reason I ask is that my question is when is it our right to question the choices and decisions of another family? Some of the comments have made me feel uncomfortable because there is a sense of trying to determine something "set" while acknowledging the variety of circumstances and needs. When we come back to statements that imply we are entitled to question the choices of others, I feel we are moving into dangerous territory. I personally would consider there to be very few situations into which it would be appropriate and helpful to question the decisions of others (despite my personal opinion). Mmm...I have more that I could say and more ways to unpack this but perhaps I will wait first to hear your (or others) thought on this?

Carmelina said...

Hi Louisa,

can I ask a clarification question? When you say "I personally would consider there to be very few situations into which it would be appropriate and helpful to question the decisions of others ..." do you mean in relation to 'issues of freedom"? Ie that in issues of freedom you think there would be very few situations into which it would be appropriate/helpful to questions the decisions of others?

Simone R. said...

Hi again.

What I said originally was:

"Whether we look after our kids all the time or whether we let someone else watch them for a few hours a week seems to me a matter of considerable irrelevance."

I wrote it in the context of this statement:

"I'm an evangelical Christian woman who has chosen to be a stay at home mother. I have many friends around me who are doing the same, though I'm noticing a new trend - Christian mothers saying that they are committed to staying out of the workforce to raise their children, but then putting their children into childcare for their 'day off'. This day (usually only one) is used to do what they 'want' to do without having to be disturbed by the children."

... and the question that followed, was 'is this okay?'

The safety of our kids is not what's at issue here. The issue is whether it's okay for a mum to leave her kids in care for a few hours a week so she can pursue her own interests or have some time out. The original questioner was asking if this is something that a christian woman should do - and from the way that it was asked (see the 'back to the topic' paragraph) it seems that she strongly suspects it's not.

I don't think this is or should be an issue of irrelevance to ourselves or to our families. Nothing that happens to our kids should be irrelevant to us. But I firmly think that the choice that other parents make on how their kids spend a few hours a week (given that they are safe etc) should be something that's of no concern to others.

Even if I suspected my friend of being self-indulgent her one day a week use of child care, I'd try to stifle those thoughts and give her the benefit of the doubt. It's not a big deal.

But what I'm probably more concerned about in the question that was raised is the vague idea that a mum shouldn't have and pursue interests outside her kids and family. Of course, some things may be limited for a time, but there is nothing wrong with a woman with little kids being interested in other things. It is not more virtuous to find satisfaction in curtain fabrics, scrapbooking and cooking than in tennis, coffee and RE teaching.

Simone R. said...

Hi Louisa.

You asked :

'When is it our right to question the choices and decisions of another family?'

I think that love demands us to gently rebuke our brother or sister if we think they are sinning.

The trouble comes in working out what is sin and what is just a different choice to what we would have made. If it is sin, then we must say something.

If we think our friend is making an unwise decision, I think we need to weigh everything up, think and pray hard before we say anything. If it's not a big deal, I think we should keep our mouths closed.

[My husband is standing in the corner of the room making helpful suggestions... What about Samuel? Away from his mum from infancy! And what about his case - My husband was in 'care' 7 days and nights a week! - Boarding school in a different country to his (missionary) parents from age 9! Was this wrong? The underlying question is 'what does it mean to be a parent'. My husbands parents parented their 5 children very well - even though separated by thousands of kms for many years.]

Jean said...

Thanks, Simone, for some helpful clarifications. I suspect we're starting to go around in circles here! I suspected you probably didn't think any parenting decisions are "irrelevant", so I'm glad to see that is indeed what you think. Like you, I agree that the a few hours a week thingy is no big deal as long as all the other things (e.g. safety) are in place (which you make clear you're assuming here) - although my personal preference would be paying a Christian friend to look after my kids than using childcare - but if my kids were happy there and it was the only option ... etc etc ... . This would be an easier conversation to have face to face!! And I agree it's fine for a mum to have other interests than homey ones, as long as her family doesn't pay the price. That's the bottom line: that we're fulfilling our responsibilities to our families and loving them with the love of Christ.

Louisa, I understand your concerns about butting into one anothers' lives. But I hope that if my Christian sister sees me making unhelpful decisions in my mothering, that she feels able to approach me about it: not as a "right" to interfere, but as a "responsibility" to speak the truth in love to me. And I hope that, in a public forum like this, we're able to raise issues of freedom and love and discuss what they might look like, even if there is variety in how they are applied. It's tricky, I know! I pray that we will be able to negotiate this ground in a way which builds up and encourages one another, and challenges one another to live faithfully as mothers under God, rather than tears one another down. May we all be humble, teachable and godly in the way we speak and write to one another!

Carmelina said...

No need to reply to my clarification question Louisa, I assume you mean in issues of freedom.

Thanks for the helpful summary Jean - it's good to pull discussions like this together. The process of nuancing all that we say is helpful because it helps us to realise the power of words, ideas and opinions.

Bec said...

I have been following this discussion with interest and thought I might just add a side issue to ponder...

It seems to me that most Christian mothers of small children usually only use child care when they don't have any other support like family to help out. We all know how hard it is go shopping or have a haircut when you have 1, 2 or 3 littlies in tow so it is great when you can have a morning to yourself and leave the kids with grandma or an auntie, etc. to get such tasks done, and the kids usually love the time being 'spoilt' by such a caregiver. This is the kind of thing that families are for!

But what about those with no, or limited, family support? Isn't this where the church family should step in? In my opinion, YES! But now comes the problem...


Most of the women who would in times past be available to help a young mum (those whose kids are in school or grown so have a bit more 'free' time) are now back in the paid workforce. While most would have been SAHMs with young children, there seems to be a lot of pressure, even in churches, that once you have all your children in school you can no longer justify 'staying at home' and need to contribute to society by returning to work. I know of some in my own church who have been criticised for NOT going back to work, as if they are lazy or something, even though they do lots of unpaid, ministry type work and lots of behind-the-scenes things.

If we had more SAHMs without small children at home all day who saw part of their ministry as being Titus 2 women to the young mothers in their congregation, who could be the family support that they may not have, maybe fewer women would need to make the difficult decision of putting their child into day care.

I hope my rambling makes sense, it is just something that has been on my mind for quite some time -
happy for others' thoughts on the issue...

Bec :-)

Jean said...

Oh, Bec, you've summed up everything so beautifully - I like your preferences: 1. family then 2. church family (then 3. maybe I'd add paying a Christian friend to help out) then 4. childcare if necessary. I've been blessed not to have needed the last, because I've had access to all 3 of the first at various times options - and I agree, wouldn't it be wonderful if church women (myself included) could step in before no. 3 becomes necessary!

You've also brought up an issue close to my heart, which I've written something on for Sola Panel and which should go up soonish: why we feel we need to return to work when our kids go to school (unless it's a financial necessity or necessary for other reasons) rather than using our time to be Titus 2 women to others. Thank you!

Jean said...

I meant before no. 4 became necessary! And you could add another one in before that, too: sharing child-minding week about with another mum. Not an option which would suit me, but it suits many.

Carmelina said...

The advice that I got from an older minister's wife and which I now encourage women in my church to do is to make financial decisions now which will mean we don't need me to go back to work so that I can be available to the younger women when my children are all at school and by the way, free to teach Scripture, run Bible study, help out with a good creche for Bible study women, visit people etc. Good question to explore Bec.

Laetitia :-) said...

I'm puzzled by many of the comments on this thread - the way various options are discussed for taking care of one's child whether it be the child's mother, extended family, other Christian women (paid or not) vs childcare - I am left wondering, "where's Dad?" Surely he has a responsibility as a parent to take care of the kids too? [This obviously only applies to dual parent households.]

Is it because he's "working". Is what a SAHM does not working? Maybe we should be challenging the industrial-revolution-induced idea that Dad goes off to work and Mum stays home with the kids rather than pondering how much time in the care of someone other than Mum is too much?

As for people in your church, have you considered asking the men? Some of them make great babysitters; and just because she has more DNA than a man does not mean that an un/underemployed (paid) woman in your church would make a good one.

I myself work three days a week in a paid capacity. I am neither available nor suited to watch someone else's child on my 'days off'. In fact I'd baulk at the idea as I'm simply not a "young-and-small-people person". However we have several teenagers and men in our church who are available, are great with small children and actually enjoy taking care of them - try them.

I also have a friend who worked for many years in childcare; she's not a Christian but if I had a child and had need of someone other than myself, husband or family taking care of him/her, I'd have no hesitation in trusting her with my child. And I'd pay her somehow (movies / coffee / CD ...) even though she's a friend who'd probably not want to be paid. Taking care of any child, even your own, is a job even if you love it.

And one "final" thing - just because someone does something voluntarily ("ministry" or another activity) i.e. for no financial reward, does not mean that their time in invaluable. If your children will be a distraction and make meetings go for much longer than scheduled, be kind to your fellow volunteers by leaving your children with a carer. I say this having been on the receiving end of other people's children distracting and protracting proceedings so it's a bug-bear of mine.

Jean said...

OOPS! Thanks for reminding me Laetitia - a husband looking after his kids and giving his wife a break should have been no. 1 on my list, and certainly would have been if I'd stopped to think (don't worry, I have been thinking along these lines, it just hasn't made it into the comments) - that's what happens when you write quickly without thinking!! Thanks for the reminder!! Of course this is the very best option for giving a married mother a break.

Jean said...

... and a great suggestion re men too, I know a number in my church who are wonderful carers to our boys informally and who I'd trust to take care of them anytime.

Jean said...

... of course I would only ask men (and women!) who I could trust with our children's safety

Andrew said...

Sorry to weigh in on the discussion so late in the piece. I've been busy!

There has been a lot of discussion about childcare in general and not so much about the original question of whether it is ok to use it purely to allow the mother some recreation time. So this is what I wanted to respond more directly to.

As a mum of 2 under 3, I do have days of wishing that someone would take them off my hands for a while. I get sick of constantly giving with no recognition and what feels like little in return. Sound familiar? But I think that this is really reflective of what it is like to live in a fallen world where there is frustrating repetitiveness and I am a sinful person caring for 2 sinful people.

I don't have a large swathe of hobbies nor any great desire to take any more up. However, I do think that our recreation needs to be lower on our list of priorities than it often is. I know that a linear priority list is a bit false and that all life should be lived under Christ. But it does have value in looking at what we're doing with our time and in making decisions.

That said, I think that recreation needs to come lower in the list than relationship with God, husband, children and ministry. If you're a happier mother and wife for doing some exercise (eg with depression) then great. If your hobby allows you to evangelise others then great. But I think it's a step too far to put your children's needs second to your recreation. My concern is that this is what happens with using childcare because you want a day off for some 'me time'. I think hobbies need to be fitted in around what is best for your family.

Sound harsh? I think we believe what the world says about our rights to do what we want when we want. The world tells us that we need to come first sometimes, we deserve it and we have a right to it.

It seems to me that all relationships in the Bible involve sacrifice. Not as an end in itself or as a way to impress God. But rather as a way of life and the way to love. I reach my sacrifice limit and want someone to acknowledge it and give me something in return. But that's not what Jesus does. He just keeps serving. And we live in the days of salvation history where we need to be putting ourselves last, knowing that in the next age, we have the hope of being further up in the queue.

I'm not saying that women should have no hobbies and never do anything for themselves. But perhaps having a regular day every week to do whatever you want is something we should be sacrificing for our kids, rather than using childcare. Fit your hobbies in around your other more important priorities.

I know the tendency in myself to idealise the good old days before children when I could do what I wanted with my time. I can fight against my current situation with small children and their constant demands. Or I can accept the hard bits and relish the joys.

In adjusting our expectations to parenthood comes the change in our sphere of ministry that often occurs. Ministry first to our children. And also to the whole new world that opens up by being more free during the day as well as being able to relate in a different way to other mothers.

So in exercising our freedom on this issue, I don't see a problem with encouraging mothers to think through their priorities before using childcare so they can have a day of recreation every week. Not to add to guilt but to have genuine discussion.

Jean said...

Thanks, "Andrew" (I gather you're not Andrew!). I think you make some very helpful and valid points in response to the question which started this whole discussion, and I find myself agreeing with you about the relative place of recreation and caring for children, and the idea of fitting hobbies around child-rearing - and also with the exception you give, when a day off is necessary to mental health, e.g. in the case of depression.

Sarah said...

Sorry about that. I was logged in under a joint email account and forgot to change the displayed name from my husband's.

Jean said...

... sorry, I think I might have misunderstood what you said about depression, but I do think the general thrust of what you were saying, that recreation comes second to caring for our children's needs, was helpful.

Jean said...

We are all at cross-purposes tonight! :D