Although we are very happy with Little Man’s crèche, one thing that Charlie and I really feel it is lacking is a male presence. For 8-10 hours a day on the days he is in childcare, Little Man is in a solely female environment. There are no male childcare workers there. And this is not a phenomenon that’s exclusive to one particular crèche.
When we were looking for suitable childcare, not one of the facilities we looked at seemed to employ male childcare workers. But of course that shouldn’t be surprising. According to an article called ‘Men in Childcare’ in the Irish Independent on May 28, 2009, fewer than 1% of childcare workers in Ireland are male.
In our home life, we have made a real effort to ensure that Little Man is raised by both of us. We each take one day a week of parental leave, and then for three days a week he’s in childcare. It’s a good compromise for us, and we feel it means he gets the best of both worlds. He has the socialisation of a daycare setting, and he has his weekends with both parents and one day with each parent during the week. We know that we each bring different things to the table when it comes to our parenting. Charlie has a different parenting style to me – different, but equally valid.
And yet, outside of the home, for the next ten years at least, we can expect that the majority of people who will be involved in caring for and educating Little Man will be female. And I can go even further than that and say with a reasonable amount of certainty that in the next five years, they will all be female. After all, there’s less than a 1% chance I’ll be wrong about that.
What impact does this have on our children? What message does it send them? What is the long term effect on our children of having no male role models in caregiving roles outside the home?
Small children learn as much from their observations of the world as they do from the official lessons we teach them. And in their experiences of early childcare and early school years, they learn that looking after children is women’s work. That women are the caring ones in their lives. And that men don’t do this kind of thing. But we all know that’s not true. In reality, more and more Dads are becoming the primary caregivers in the home; more couples are making similar choices to ours and recognising that we can each take advantage of our parental leave allowance and take a strong role in caring for our children.
In many ways, I can understand why men are reluctant to take on a role as a childcare professional. I don’t for one minute believe it’s because men don’t love children or enjoy looking after them. I think it’s the fear of being accused of abusing a child. More than that, I think it’s a response to a pervasive feeling in society that men can’t be trusted with children. Well, the truth is that some men can’t be trusted with children. But some women can’t either!
I think it’s very sad that our children miss out on a male influence for the vast majority of their time in childcare and early education outside of the home. And when I hear news reports year after year, explaining how our school system is failing our boys, how they are falling further and further behind, I have to wonder if the situation could be improved if boys had more male role models within the education system. Would there be more of a drive to cater for a broader range of learning styles and needs in our schools if more of the teachers were men? Of course I can’t say for sure that it would make a difference, but I suspect it would.