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 do parents really need today?

March 28, 2008

Why is parenting so hard today? It’s always been hard but I think that modern life has made it harder.

For all of human time before the late 20th century, the family was a much larger unit than simply mum, dad and the kids. Today many families are just mum and the kids.  Could a Chimp mother raise her young all on her own? The value of the larger group is that it not only spreads the work load but also recharges the emotional battery of the mother. For successful parenting is not only about having the money to get the stuff and the help but also it is also about emotional energy. Modern life seems to have stripped parents of the emotional and the physical support that they really need.

Two generations ago, most new parents had a lot of help around. Young girls had looked after real babies. Babies were not scary novelties but old hat. Most women had learned as girls what works and what did not. Most were taught by osmosis by observing their sisters, their mother and their aunts. There was always someone to talk to who would not judge – all were sisters of the mystery of raising kids. There was also help with all the workload. Young mothers had sisters, aunts and your mother were close by. There were fewer economic pressures that took the mother away from her baby. Not all families had this support but most did. The timeless stuctrure that all primates use to raise the next generation was there. It did not work for all but it worked for most of us.

This essential emotional and physical structure for raising primates, indeed for raising most mammals, has been eroded and even destroyed by aspects of our modern life.

Today, for many mums, the first baby they hold is their own. They have no hard earned experience. The baby is indeed a mystery and many worry a lot about whether they are doing the right thing. Competing books by “experts” often make you feel even worse. Who is there to support you emotionally? Your girl friends are busy and maybe your sisters and mother live far away?

I think of my own family. My daughter is in Toronto. Her mother in on PEI. Hope has no extended family to draw on at all. She has a mortgage, a full time job and soon a long commute. She has a husband with a challenging business of his own who travels a lot. She is going to be fully stretched without much help when she has a baby. She has a middle class income and will be able to afford daycare. but who will support her emotionally?

What about a single mum with no income and no supportive partner. She is confined to her room and her baby. What future does she dream of at night?

When you are unsure of what to do, how do you feel? When you are alone and exhausted and your baby has returned from daycare and wont eat or go to bed are you strong? When you are alone and exhausted and there is no daycare for your baby and no work and hence no money for you, how might your feelings affect your relationship with your baby? When the man in your life treats you badly how does this affect and hence your baby? When you have no one to talk to that you trust, how do you feel and how does this affect your baby? If no one grooms you, can you groom your baby?

This is the challenge that most mothers face today – rich or poor- they are often drained emotionally and physically. There is not much emotional strength left for the baby.

What kind of support so mums need? If all had access to good daycare, more on what good means in a later post, at least some of the physical drain would be reduced. Also for many, it would be possible to be in the workforce and have the chance o have some economic stability. We all know how draining it is to have money worries and to be dependent.

But my bet is that, just as a baby monkey will chose love and affection over food, our primary need is emotional support. Sure we need to know how best to feed and look after our baby. But we tend not to hear advice from experts. We best take advice from people we know love and trust us. Look at the two girls in the picture. They are experimenting together.

So yes, a great thing would be to have a universal daycare on PEI. But the real gap to be filled is the emotional support gap. Here is link to the next chapter that offer you more detail as to why mums and why their emotional health is so central.

Can this be done? Are there some models that we can learm from? Can we in this modern world find a way of filling in the gap that has been left by the death of the extended family.

I think that there is and I look forward to sharing this with you later.

Still no reply….

March 28, 2008

You may recall that April and Jane , our Co-Chairs wrote to Sarah Henry in the Department of Social Services seeking answers to many questions regarding the complex issues that we are currently dealing with in relation to child care and early learning.  We asked for a reply by March 7, 2008 for the following reasons:

  • The government’s own fast track schedule for changing the act
  • If the department had done the required research to consider any changes, all that we asked for should be ready and pose no problem.

On March 7, 2008 we received the following reply from Sarah via email.

Good morning Jane and April,

Thank you for your letter, and interest in the Child Care Facilities
Act and Regulations. A response is being prepared and will be mailed to
the address provided.

I look forward to our continued conversations about supporting children
and families in Prince Edward Island.



Sarah Henry
Early Childhood Services
Department of Social Service and Seniors
Province of Prince Edward Island
161 St. Peters Road, P.O. Box 2000
Charlottetown, PEI      C1A 7N8
Tel: (902) 894-0260
Fax: (902) 368-6169
Email: skhenry@ihis.org

Well it is now March 28, 2008 and still nothing has come to us via email or regular mail, despite several follow-up attempts.  Guess it is time to step things up a bit…

What’s it all about – A Mother Speaks

March 24, 2008

This week we are going to do our best to offer up a context so that we can ALL do our best to help ALL our children on PEI. But first before we dive into some facts and figures – let’s look at the reality as it is lived in every family – where every child is special.