What would a better start look like and how would this affect ECE’s and Teachers?

April 8, 2008

Mandy is one of many who have asked us – “what do you really stand for?”.

Are we all for schools taking the jobs of ECE’s? Do we not know how much ECE’s care? We reply by saying we are in favour of giving our kids the best start. But what do we mean by that? Too unclear for many whose jobs are on the line. So today I will try and describe how I think the system could and should be designed and then we can all see how this might affect us all.

In my earlier posts, I have done my best to explain what I see as the problem, so let’s start there before we launch into the solution.

As I see the problem, mothers have been stripped of the emotional and physical support that all mothers need and have received until modern time. This support was delivered, as for all primates, by the extended family. There were many others to take on the work, to offer encouragement, to coach and to protect. Modern life has stripped away nearly all of this support leaving many mothers isolated – even in a marriage where both have to work.

A baby’s whole development in life – how they see their place in the world, how they learn, how they behave, how they eat – is set in the first 3-4 years of life and is set by how it interacts emotionally with its mother. This process of wiring begins in the uterus. The baby is moulded by her mother’s emotional state. If the mother’s emotional state is in good shape, then the baby gets the best wiring for life.

So what we know now, is that they key to the baby’s future is how the mother feels. Is she at her wit’s end? Is she stressed all the time? It does not matter how strong you are. If your reality is a one bedroom apartment and two kids and no job and no future, you are not going to have much energy left. The same is true for many middle class mums with a job, a working husband a 1,000 miles away form your mum. Is she assured that she is in a safe place herself?

More and more mothers, no matter their income are isolated and hence stretched to the limit emotionally.

We can’t turn back the clock and have the life of the 1900’s. What we can do is see this issue of isolation and emotional attachment. This, not daycare or kindergarten, is the foundation of a healthy child’s development. You all know this. You all start your own discussions about the future with this knowledge. But then most, go on to advocate things that little to do with this reality.

Our job now is to see this gap and thoughtfully find ways of filling it in the context of the world we live in today.

Our job now is to design a system that offers the newly pregnant with advice and emotional support. To build on the support, so that the mother feels safe after the baby is born. To offer the mother a real community that can replace the old extended family.

To offer the toddler the same kind of loving and fun community that all kids have in the traditional setting. Where they explore safely the world.

So the key issues are to find ways to re-offer ALL mothers on PEI the kind of emotional and physical support that puts them in the strongest emotional state from fertilization to when the baby is at least 3.

For babies, the key is to ensure that they have at least someone who is actively engaged and attached to them until they are 4.

For 4 year olds, it is key to ensure that they can have truly exploratory learning – play based learning until they are 6. Push a top down curriculum too early and you close the child down – especially boys. Once you close them down, they don’t wake up.

A system based on this science needs to be designed and built. This is the debate that we need to have now. It is not about who cares the most. It is not about your pay, though that is important to you. It is not about who owns a daycare now, though that is important to an owner. It is not about schools, though that is important too.

The first order of business is to design a continuum of service to mothers and to babies that has the best chance of giving most of them the best start in life.

Remember, what we do now does not. Our vaunted system is not doing the job. Be honest. Look at the results. Is this success?

But I think that we can build a system that does work for our kids and that works for all of us. There will be plenty of work in a universal system of support for mums and kids. But if all we do is fight over the ruins of a system that does not work, we are condemned.


What is “Support” and Why is the mother the centre of the system?

March 30, 2008

I hope that I have been able to show you that the future of our children is rooted in the relationship that a child has with its mother. Here is where the physiology and the world view of the infant is set. So she is the most leveraged place for support. If we are to find a better way of helping all children have the best chance of meeting their potential it will have to be when we put the mother and child in the centre of our world.

We have to start with the mother – she is the fulcrum – the child is a dependency. Our new strategy has to be mum centric to help the child.

The mother is central because the relationship begins with conception. Her emotional state during pregnancy affects her immune system and hence the baby’s. If mum is feeling stressed, this will affect her baby. It is the same after the birth. We know that babies before the age of 2, cannot separate themselves entirely from their mothers. If mum is stressed, withdrawn, angry, fearful, isolated then her emotional state affects the baby. We know that the mother’s emotional state is the most powerful vector in shaping baby’s development trajectory.

So to help the child – mum has to come first.

So if you can go along with me, you must be asking so what? What can we do to support mothers? How can we do a better job and helping them have the emotional fortitude to do this taxing job of bringing new life into the world?

We can’t turn back the clock and bring back traditional extended family life and the older form of economy. So what can we do? How can we look at the issue and have a real chance of being successful?

I think that if we can see the “essence” of the support mums used to get, then we might be able to deliver it in a new form.

I see the DNA or the Essence of what mothers got from the natural support system as this:

  • Lots of strokes and grooming from the other more experienced women in the group – no isolation – no expert books to worry about – pragmatic and warm loving help with both carrying the child and having the child – the mum got the right kind of attention
  • Lots of help with the enormous amount of emotional and physical work that is involved with having an infant in utero and in arms. This begins in pregnancy where the changes to a woman’s body, hormones, mind and emotion have to be acknowledged  and follows on after birth with a lot of familiar, trusted help with the work of looking after the baby and with the mother’s own work. Ideally there should be  little separation here between work and home and between those who help and the mother. Ideally we should remove isolation and there is should be no social barrier between those that help and those that are mums.

How does that feel? If you got this would your work as mum have been easier and would such help have helped you be your best? Now let’s   look at what many women face today and see the gap between a natural approach and the institutional approach we endure today.

  • The emotional state of the mother is rarely seen as a key element of the risks/opportunities in pregnancy. We worry about smoking and alcohol and weight but miss the important linkage of all these things to the mother’s emotional state. Our addictions are a product of our emotional state and not isolated actions. Most cannot see this linkage.
  • In our pragmatic world, working mothers who are carrying a child are cut little or no slack by anyone – but everything is in transition for them. They are expected to be the same at work and at home as they were before they were pregnant – this causes huge stress as many just cannot meet these expectations – of which many are set by the mother herself
  • Advice on pregnancy, on child birth and on infant care is often considered like carpentry – skill based that can and should be taught be an official “Expert”  – high skill and often low touch. Just as sex is not really a mechanical act, so carrying and raising a child is not either. It is transforming to see beyond the mechanics but only someone who is herself open to a non mechanical world view can offer this perspective. So our accreditation model focuses on technical skills and not on character and emotional stability. We deliberately separate the mother from the “expert”.
  • After care of new babies is often seen in the context of the medical model – weight hearing etc – this is important but what is really going on with mum and at home is more important and contributes to all the medical issues – again we tend to see the world in terms of mechanics and things rather than in terms of relationships that drive emotions that drives health and developement – we look downstream and not upstream to the root causes
  • A lot of daycare is also set up along a mechanical/institutional model. The pragmatic care is there but the parents are often seen as clients on the outside. This kind of help with enabling the mother to work or study or even have a break from the relentless work of caring for an infant is also not available to all. Finally Daycare is set up as most institutions today to meet the needs of the provider. You think I exaggerate? Think about our current debate! The needs of the mum and her child for access, for personalization, for being emotionally close to the staff and to her baby are not given the same priorities as the needs of the  owners and the staff
  • Our research model and our measurement model does not look at the individual family or child – Nor does it look at what is most important – the emotional state of the mother – instead it looks at broad environmental issues and at groups – so we don’t even track what is the upstream pivot of the system – the mother and the individual child

So, as I see it, the gap is this.

For millions of years humans have raised their young in a setting that gives mothers the best shot at being fully present for their children both in utero and in arms. Over the last 100 years, this essential setting for all primate development, the tribe/troop/extended family has been overthrown. The result is that mothers have been cut off from the support that is central to their being consistently successful in raising the next generation.

What has overthrown our natural systems is a mechanical view of reality that sees us all like machines. The “Support” system that we have created instead for families is built on this machine model as well and cannot really help. It can do mechanical things well – but it puts the system in the centre  and forces the mother and the child to fit into it.

What we need to do is to find ways of putting the mother and the child back into the centre of the human universe.

In my next post, I will offer a few examples and thoughts of how this might be done. The great hope that I have is that progress is being made and that there are now concrete examples of being able to do this. Even more hopefully, I also see in many other fields of human activity,  the media, health, education etc, signs of progress where there too the needs of the person can and will become the priority and not the needs of ther institution.

Too Many Spaces – Let’s look deeper

February 13, 2008

There are 72 spaces for 3,000 infants!

We are being told that there are too many spaces chasing too many children.

80% of mothers on PEI are in the labour force – the highest in all Canada. Wages are so low on PEI that most mothers have to work to keep the family going. So access to child care is crucial to enable families and women to stay viable. Here is a comment by such a mother in the Guardian in response to the article on this issue:

“I am very offended by whosechildisitanyway and JT’s remarks. (They commented that mums should stay at home)

Of course I would love to stay at home with my daughter. Unfortunately I am a single mother going to school so I do not end up working in the fast food industry for the rest of my life. It is all good to say that there is nature around that we can play in for free, but the beauty of the outdoors is not going to pay my rent or put food on the table.

I am extremely lucky to have found a daycare that my daughter loves to go to. Her teachers love to see her and she is making friends. I spent a long time on the waiting list but I feel that this daycare is worth it. I have seen some dumps that should be shut down. I do not think it is fair that they should be opened, let alone without competition.

Now before I anyone suggests I stop going to school so I can spend time with my daughter and go on EI (I’ve heard it all before), I have a lot more pride and hope to instill in my daughter the same work ethic. I work on the weekends and go to school during the week with the help of my family and a wonderful daycare.

And don’t worry, my daughter isn’t deprived of love. She wakes up everyday and goes to bed every night knowing that she is loved by many people.”

There are 3,000 children on PEI under the age of 22 months. There are 72 places for these children. Looking after infants is very challenging and the ratio of staff to child is 1-3 making it hard to have a viable business at a cost that parents can afford.

If the law was changed to limit places – in effect – children under 22 months would be shut out.

Now there is an issue here that we can all see – but the narrow focus of the proposed changes to the act does not allow us to think about what to do to ensure that mothers with infants who have to work or go to school can find affordable and high quality places for their babies.

It is hard for a mother to give up her baby at this young age. She does it because she has to. What mother of a 1 year old would want then to settle for anything less than a great place with great people.

There is lots of work to be done to look at the broad issues of the act and how child care affects the Island. But as we stand, the scope of the change and the focus of the department is narrowly focused on the economics of a few owners.

Let us please look at the larger view of the workforce, children, what happens in the early years to determine a person’s life and in the end how all of this affects society and our economy on PEI.