I saw an interesting post on an online parenting forum of which I’m a member – the question was whether or not the “ideals” of La Leche League would be offputting for new mums. The question came from someone who had invited friends to come along to a meeting and in the end they hadn’t – she wondered why. She mentioned that the “ideals” of LLL include one that says babies should spend their early years with their mothers.
This caught my attention – I had been to two LLL meetings just before my maternity leave finished, and found them to be lovely, relaxing experiences with mums chatting, babies and toddlers playing, and lots and lots of homemade cake – a perfect way to spend a typical maternity leave morning. I was just sorry I hadn’t discovered the meetings sooner, as being back at work meant no longer being able to go along.
I do remember being a little anxious before my first meeting – LLL was supposed to be pretty serious stuff. I took my baby’s soother out before I rang the doorbell and hid it in my pocket! But I wonder if I had known about and read the philosophy beforehand, would it have affected my decision to go. Or would I have felt a rankle of annoyance about the suggestion that children should be with their mothers in the early years. Would this have put me off going, in a partly indignant, partly defensive way? There’s that guilt creeping in again….
So, should mothers stay at home with babies for the first few years?
My own feeling is that while I would defend forever a mother’s right to work, babies are likely to be better off at home with ta parent for the first year – a mother or a father, or a few months with each.
This coming from someone who started her firstborn in creche at six and a half months old, so no judgement here.
I remember when my friends and I had our first babies and started them in creche, we assumed we would be getting expensive and reliable babysitters but little more – it was lovely to discover how warm and genuinely caring the minders and teachers were, and how much effort went into the activities – indoor beach parties complete with paddling pools, trips to farms and the Ilac library on the Luas, learning Irish for Seachtain na Gaeilge and endless streams artwork coming home. My baby settled immediately (she was only six months – she didn’t even realise I was gone!) and was mostly happy in creche throughout her four years there. But I still have a fear that a study will come out in ten years to say that all children left in creches as early as six months will turn out to be bank robbers.
My friends and I often spoke about how much attention the creche minders could give our babies compared to how much we could give them if at home fulltime – at home we were always trying to do house-work and cook dinners, and not able to take time to sit down and do hand-prints in paint or Play Doh (I cannot stand Play Doh, that’s another topic for another day). So we were doing the best thing for them really weren’t we?
It’s a moot point anyway, none of us was in a position to give up work, with our Celtic Tiger boom-time mortgage repayments for our tiny three-bed-semis (speak for yourself says my one friend with the four-bed).
But regardless of how great the creche was and notwithstanding the financial need to work, this doesn’t change the fact in my opinion that babies would be best served spending their first year, or ideally two years at home with a parent. I don’t think it means that this is a far, far superior ideal, and that any other choice is damaging. And I don’t think I’d change any of the choices I made if I could go back. But if ten years ago I read a statement that said children are better off at home, I would have felt it was false, chauvinist, insulting, and would have taken it as a suggestion that mothers shouldn’t work. Now I see it for what it is – a statement of an ideal that it often not attainable but nevertheless probably true.
I just hope she’s not a bank robber.