Not since I made the glopping great error of asserting in this column that 30-year-old women are less attractive than teenagers (an error because, 1. It's untrue and 2. The majority of OM readers are women over 30) has my email been so busy. I was expecting my column of two weeks ago to trigger more wrath when I presented readers' objections to my doubts about daycare for toddlers. Much to my surprise, of the 22 responses, 19 were very favourable.
The critics made the very reasonable point that expressing my views was liable to foster guilt in already very pressed parents. One sent a two-liner: 'Great. I have no choice but to send my 12-month-old to a creche. Your article has served to double the intensity of my guilt and anxiety. Thanks for that.'
I encountered similar responses to my series of articles about the role of parents in causing schizophrenia. As then, I can only apologise for distress caused but I also have to point out that if no one sticks up for children, the hurt to them will never get an airing.
Anna Dukes, my fiercest critic, rightly pointed out that my second article had not fully addressed her side of the argument and stressed again that I was ignoring the damage that can be done if a child stays at home full-time with an unhappy mother. This reminded me of a Danish woman I met in Copenhagen last year who seemed very sane despite having had a flaky mum. It became obvious that getting away from her to daycare at a young age had been sanity-saving, in her case, at least.
However, the great majority of correspondents felt it was right for me to raise the problems with daycare. 'Sally G' specifically took Anna Dukes (whom I quoted) to task.
'When she talks about scaring parents, she would be strongly advised to go into the day nursery incognito, as a student, to observe what really goes on when the parents have gone... While studying for an HND, I was very worried by the attitude of some staff. One child, about two-years-old, was admonished for crying for her mother. She wasn't picked up or cuddled, and I was told, "We can't pick them up or they'd all want to be picked up, and we don't have time."'
A grandmother described how only one of her three grandchildren had been in daycare. Compared with his siblings, this boy 'is on the one hand bossy and on the other can burst into tears very easily. He is definitely the most highly strung of all my grandchildren. To me it seems the effects of putting baby into a nursery at such a young age can be long-lasting.'
Almost all the correspondents felt the solution was for one parent to be given the option of being paid to look after their children, rather than do other work.
I am afraid I can only agree - in most cases, paying another woman badly to look after your children badly just does not seem to make much sense.