Monday, October 03, 2005

Mother's care is best. Really?

Noticed this report in The Times today and couldn't help but feel -- only initially -- a little smug

Basically, what it's saying is that a child is better off -- in terms of developmental tests -- if its mum had stayed at home instead of palming it off to a nursery or other carer. Such children manifest less aggression, for example.

I have mixed feelings about this. I stayed at home to look after my child. He was a a few weeks old when I trotted off to a post-doctoral fellowship interview. While on the train I realised that I could not leave my baby to take up an academic post. When the phone call came later that evening to say, sorry, you were very good, but someone else was better, i felt a tremendous sense of relief that i didn't have to choose between son and a job.

That was five years ago. Now that son is in school, I am beginning to wonder if I did make the right choice.

What the researchers do not indicate in this piece of research is whether the birth order of the children made any difference. Research has shown over and over again that first-borns do better than their younger siblings. So my being the youngest of six (yes, SIX) would suggest that I should be a total failure.

I guess you could call me that if you think that someone with a PhD from London University should not be languishing in domestic chaos but should be out ... well, doing something else rather 'more useful'.

I believe that much of my achievements are in no small way due to my older siblings being very selfless in caring for me. They gave me opportunities that my parents could not afford to give them due to a sheer lack of money. At which point of the 'economic cycle of a family' is the firstborn/lastborn born into has a bearing on his/her success.

Likewise would 'only children' like my son who has no siblings be better off had I sent him to a nursery for at least a day of the week? I wonder because my son is not only naturally shy, he is very timid. As an only child he has no one to spar with, physically and mentally. Surrounded by grown-ups he resolves differences by reasoning and argument. He cannot always do this in the school playground.

The researchers are spot on about that 'lack of aggression'.

We are learning to help him cope with this. But the researcher in me wants to know: what other factors in the research have been overlooked when someone comes up with a headline like 'Mother's care is best'?

Still, my consolation is we can teach him to be tough in later years. If he had learned aggression or felt a sense of abandonment, it might not be so easy to get it out of his system.

I wonder if there are any other mothers with 'only children' who have anything to add to this.

Follow-up reading:
Mother of all debates

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