Child care: Do it for the parents

Another reason for a national child care strategy

I was blown away by the results of the Today’s Parent survey on child care fees — which you can read about here. I expected some interesting numbers that I could slice and dice to reveal differences in child care fees in various parts of Canada. But what I actually found — particularly as I read parents’ comments — was the most convincing argument I have ever seen for the need for a national child care system.

The survey data revealed huge, unacceptable variations in what parents pay for child care. More disturbing, the parents’ comments revealed vast discrepancies in their feelings about the service they get in return for those fees.

Check out these statements from two respondents:

• “Finding quality child care is one of the most stressful parts of my life.”
• “Sometimes I just feel like staying home and forgetting about child care.”

Contrast that with the giddy I won the lottery happiness of parents like the one from Prince Edward Island, who said, “The centre my daughter attends is amazing; I could not ask for a better place to have my child.”

There were many other examples, but you get the drift. Think about how different life is for two families who have such wildly different experiences of child care. One family feels supported in their parenting. The parents go to work feeling confident their child is engaged in stimulating activities, eating nutritious meals and getting hugs if he’s upset. They’re not second-guessing themselves about whether one of them should be at home. They can save their emotional energy for their kids when they are reunited.

Parents who don’t win the child care lottery carry a burden of stress and worry that affects job performance and family life. They may go to work with, as one parent put it, “a sickening feeling,” wondering if their baby is sitting in a dirty diaper or spending much of the day buckled into a stroller. Those parents will have to dig deeper to find the emotional energy required for good parenting.

Who doesn’t parent better when they’re less stressed, less guilt-ridden and feeling supported in their child rearing? One parent from Ontario said the caregivers at her daughter’s centre felt like a second family. A parent from Manitoba wrote, “The teachers are all very loving and caring and always go the extra mile with our son and our family. I can talk to them about any issues with my son and they feel the same way. They are essentially helping me raise him.”

Exactly! When families can find quality child care, not only do their children have a better early childhood experience, working parents are better off too. When parents are better off, kids are better off. Quality child care doesn’t just benefit kids, it supports the parents who, though they go to work every day, are still the most important people in their children’s development.

For me, the fact that high-calibre child care supports and enhances good parenting is the most compelling reason that federal and provincial governments simply must stop doling out dribs and drabs of money (mostly for subsidies) whenever they want to buy off the child care lobby for a few years, and make a real commitment to building a child care system (including supports for stay-at-home parents).

Sure it would cost big bucks. But isn’t it interesting that politicians always seem to be able to find billions for roads and bridges whenever the economy needs stimulating. We’ve been in a child care recession for years. It’s time to find a few billion dollars to stimulate this core human service that isn’t serving families nearly well enough.