Did you know that there has been a two-century long debate about whether or not children should go to preschool? The modern debate around preschool began in the 1800s in the New York / Philadelphia area.
The stay-at-home moms (better known as "housewives" back then) pitied the working moms who had to work and leave their children unattended.
So the wealthy ladies of the cities got together and started centers where they would hire someone to take care of the children to keep them off the streets. These early centers eventually morphed into the big-business of preschool that we see today.
This may surprise you, but as recently as the 1960s, preschools were still considered to be places for unfortunate children whose mothers had to work.
And then something suddenly changed. President Johnson started pushing early education through his No Child Left Behind act. Aggressive marketing campaigns convinced mothers that preschool was the best place for their children.
The rest is history. But still, we have to ask, “Is preschool the best place for children?”
Children go to preschool as early as three-years-old now, and they go to daycare centers even earlier.
When the child cries and the mother questions whether or not she's doing the right thing, because deep down her instinct is telling her to keep her child close to her, she's told, "Don't worry, he'll get used to it. All babies cry in the beginning."
When a dog yelps or a cat starts meowing loudly, we take note and go to their aid. When our children cry we do the same. When it comes to preschool, however, for some odd reason we go against our better instincts.
Most children today aren't home long enough to put one foot solidly on the ground before they're plucked off to virtually fend for themselves in a strange environment.
I know precisely how mothers feel too. When my first-born was young, I was studying homeopathy. There was a psychologist in my class that kept telling me that I was "afraid" of pursuing my career because I chose to stay home and take care of my child.
I didn't know any better back then, so I started to believe her when she said that my daughter would be fine if I went back to work.
Against my maternal instinct, when my daughter was just about a year old, I rented some space in a clinic, and I began to work one day a week. I usually left my daughter with her dad, but this particular week he had to suddenly go out of town, and there was no one at home to watch her
I called my friends until I found someone whom I trusted to watch her, and I hesitatingly dropped my daughter off at my friend’s house. I left for my clinic with a sinking feeling in my heart.
It did not feel right to leave her in a home that was strange and unfamiliar with people she barely knew. When I came home six hours later, my daughter clung to me for dear life and would not let me go. She was frightened.
That was when I realized that this psychologist didn't know what she was talking about. I had gone against my better judgment even though I knew inside what she was telling me was wrong. But she was the expert and who was I to disagree?
I remember being angry at myself and swearing never to go against my maternal instincts again.
It's an instinct that mothers are given to guide them in being a good mother, not to disregard because some psychologist put her children into preschool and thinks you should too.
What's best for young children is what's always been best for them: a loving home.
I understand many women today have to work outside the home so the family can make ends meet, but this doesn’t change what children need.
As a country, mothers should have the choice to stay home with their children, at least for the early years. As working mothers, we need more careers that allow us to work from home.
We would have a much healthier society if we did.
If you think that you'd prefer to go to work because staying home with a young child is exhausting, then know that it doesn’t need to be.
Contrary to what the experts tell you, motherhood does not expect you to become a professional playmate to your child to be a good parent; you can relax a lot and still be a very good mother.
For starters, children are born to explore and play; they can and should learn how to occupy themselves, but you need to give them the space to do this.
Preschool won't teach them this or many other necessary life skills like independence, resilience, or diligence; they need to learn these for themselves. The best place to learn these is under the care of a loving and astute parent, not a stranger.
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Elizabeth Y. Hanson is a Love and Leadership certified parenting coach with 17 years of working in children’s education.