Oliver James: Nanny states

Prince Charles had a working mother. She only saw her son for half an hour first thing and for bathing and bedtime in the evening. Not surprisingly, his first word was 'Nana' (his nanny, Helen Lightbody).

Even these brief daily encounters were curtailed by frequent absences, although Elizabeth seems to have taken these in her stride. She went away for a couple of months when he was two and on returning to England waited four days before finding the time to see him - a visit to see one of her mother's horses race took priority.

After a six-month absence when he was aged five, they were reunited on the deck of her yacht in North Africa. Charles joined the line of dignitaries who were waiting to shake her hand, apparently unaware of his filial relationship to her.

You might suppose this lack of closeness in his early years would have seriously damaged his mental health, but I suspect the opposite is the truth. All the signs are that Elizabeth would not have been a very responsive carer - she had strong signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as a girl and a depressive streak as an adult. Instead, Nanny Lightbody was Charles's real mother up to age three and she was a highly responsive, empathic substitute.

Sadly, not every working mother can afford a Lightbody and there is very little doubt that leaving children for more than 20 hours a week with minders or in day nurseries does increase the risk of problems. The definitive survey of the evidence showed that 43 per cent of children given such care are insecure in their pattern of relationships, compared with 26 per cent of children raised exclusively by mother.

Whether measured at age four or age nine, prolonged substitute care before age three predicts a greater risk of aggression, unpopularity and delinquency. Indiscriminate friendliness and flakiness are also more likely.

But before you hurl this article down in disgust (if you are a working mother), these facts are very much only half the story. For one thing, if 43 per cent of substitute-cared children are insecure, then 57 per cent are not: so long as the sub is as good as a mum, there's no prob.

However, most important of all, half of young children of depressed mothers who stay at home will be insecure. Overall, therefore, more insecurity is created by maternal depression than by substitute care.

It's absolutely vital that mothers have the choice to do the thing that they and their partner are most happy doing. At the moment, only 16 per cent of under-threes have a mum who works full- time and half have a mum with no paid employment.

So it's essential that we boost the status of the role of mother for those who want to stay at home, but it's also crucial that mothers who really want to work, like Elizabeth, get good substitutes and be allowed to feel guiltless. That way we could all be as sane as Charles (errr, shurely shome mishtake).

· Next week: the ultimate solution to the parenting deficit

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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