Catherine Parish: ABC’s collapse an unexpeted Christmas gift?

03 Dec 2008

By The Record

Sitting watching my children perform in their school band and choir at the big musical concert our school runs each year (or rather, standing in the canteen getting the after-concert supper ready, if we are being really precise about it) it crossed my mind that the collapse of the ABC Learning Centre group might be a crisis for mums and dads, but it might be a blessing in disguise for some children. 
Now, I am not being judgemental or condemnatory here, and I fully realise that there are many single parents out there bravely struggling along supporting their families, and that paid childcare is their only option. I know there are many families that need both parents to work just to make ends meet.
But when I see the ‘representative’ case in The Australian, a nurse working four days a week, with a film producer partner, and two children in care, one of them four months old, I have to ask –  is this the best thing for those children?
There is a growing body of solid evidence that one-on-one daily care from one constant carer is the best beginning for children, at least until they are two years old and, ideally, until they are four or five years old. 
Boys especially need the security of this ideal environment for optimal development.  With the best will in the world, there is no child care centre able to provide that level of care; and if there were, most people would balk at the astronomical cost of it.
Perhaps having to stay home after Christmas, even for a little while, with their children because there is no other option for their care, might work to the advantage of both children and parents.   Having to seriously reconsider the structure of their lives, at least temporarily, might lead some couples to realise that their child’s childhood is quickly passing, and they are missing it. 
They might realise that they are missing getting to know their children intimately, learning to read the little signals that kids use to convey messages without necessarily speaking, establishing that trusting and loving relationship that comes into its own when your children reach adolescence. 
Missing establishing relationships in the community in which they live, with neighbours and with families of their children’s schoolfellows, with the school itself. 
These links are vital to the well-being and safety of children as they get older and begin to go out independently.  The list of useful and interesting information I have discovered through the local grapevine is quite a long one!
Some couples might find that the cost of the second car, the child care, the convenience meals, the work clothes and shoes, the union dues, the work outings, professional registration fees, that they no longer have to pay for, might be a worthwhile trade for more time with their children. 
And it isn’t only a good thing for the children’s sake.  The truest and most memorable joys of parenthood are not to be found in bytes of so-called quality time snatched in the evening and at week-ends between other commitments.  As any parent could tell you, they come to you unexpectedly – but you have to be there to catch them.