According to a recent report a thinktank has urged the government to prioritise the provision of free childcare (25 hours a week) for all preschool children to enable mothers to return to work. They argue that free childcare would raise millions of pounds of tax revenue (less childcare costs) for every woman who returns to employment after one year of maternity leave.
The report also argues that high-quality early years provision can have positive affects on children and can lift families out of poverty. They also argue that universal childcare can help families to balance work and caring which can boost female employment and address gender inequality.
Whilst the mathematics sounds convincing, I find the implications of this policy idea troubling. The pressure on women to return to work has the potential to undermine parental choice in my opinion. Families differ and whilst some mothers have a need or desire to want to return to work, others may not want to pursue that. Some mums (or dads) want to stay at home and raise their children, particularly when they are so young, and I believe they should be able to do that without feeling pressured to return to work and place their children in childcare.
Furthermore, pressurising women to return to work undermines the hugely important work done by the stay at home parent. As I experienced, being with my children, playing with them, helping them to learn and develop, sharing in their discoveries is one of the most enriching experiences of my life and hopefully theirs too. I would hate to have passed that work on to someone else who does not have the emotional investment in my children as I or my husband. Above all I would hate to reach old age and look back and regret missing those early years with my children, a special time that goes so quickly.
The work I did, and still continue to do even though my children are now older, has been the most important work I have done in my life, work that is above anything I could do in the formally paid labour market. It may surprise many but being a stay at home parent is a vocation in itself and one that should attract a lot more respect and recognition than it currently does. (You can read more about my views on the stay at home parent here.)
How we raise our children should be a choice we make as individuals and couples and not one imposed on us by the state. Whether we choose to work outside the home and place our children in daycare or to stay at home to care for our children, the state should provide the incentives and support to enable us to choose to do either of those things.
In this regard whilst I do agree with the provision of more accessible and good quality childcare, I do not agree that such a system should be provided at the expense of not providing support for those who wish to care for their children at home.