Yesterday, I saw something which resembled orphanages I have seen in Africa, although a little less cheerful. After five pm, as we walked home from the park on a blustery autumn afternoon, we passed an enclosed area where a group of tired, irritable looking children aged around five and six were running around a concrete area, with a few disinterested personnel standing around. My sons asked me what was happening.
In fact, what was happening is something which is promoted by our current government and takes place in thousands of locations across our country. This was ‘wraparound’ care at the local primary school, a school which I should mention, has an excellent reputation and is favoured by quite a few friends of mine in comparison with other local schools. It sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Drop your children off any time after seven am, and pick them up sometime before six. This enables both parents to work which is clearly to the benefit of the child.
My children are at the age where they ask so many questions, and have a frankness which is both refreshing and occasionally embarrassing. Why were these children not with their parents? Why had they been at school for such a long day? Why would both parents work if they didn’t need to? I try to answer these questions fully and honestly. And in honesty, the thought made me want to cry. Many of these children were just a little older than my eldest, and the thought of having him in such an environment for such long days was not a good one. I understand that families have diverse circumstances, and I don’t know the reasons why many families make the choices they have done; to many, things are not seen as a choice at all, although some do fall into the default mode that anything which is actively encouraged must be beneficial.
In what way does this benefit the children? Do families really need a dual income? It seems so ironic to me that many parents work long, hard hours in order to be able to spend money on their children (occasionally newspapers publish statistics of what the ‘average’ parent spends on their child in terms of food, clothing, toys etc, and I am always flabbergasted). Similarly, there are many extra-curricular activities which are expensive, and are considered to give children ‘every opportunity’ in life. I understand as a homeschooling parent we have already chosen to step off the beaten track, and as Christians, our whole worldview and values system swims against the tide. But experiences like that I have described here make me marvel at how our advanced and progressive society seems to have just got things so very wrong.
Discussing it later with my husband, we reflected on whether this type of childcare (long hours away from parents at a young age becoming the norm) in any way explains the deteriorating standards in our country. Additionally, you hear terms such as ‘generation Y’, and probably now something else being used. Often these describe the prevailing worldview of teenagers and young adults, and over the past two decades seem increasingly characterised by a lack of certainty and security regarding one’s place in the world, an increasing insecurity, and rising rates of behavioural and psychological problems. As with other areas, these are complex, multi-factorial issues, but I can’t help but think that the rise of ‘day orphanages’ plays a role.
Without ever wanting to become self-righteous (and I pray that the Lord will search my own heart and test my anxious thoughts cf Psalm 139), I have once again thanked God for giving my husband and I clear goals and priorities as we seek to raise our family in a God-honouring way which is truly best for our children. I have described some of our these in posts on our reasons for home education and considerations of the best use of my time. What is the highest aim for our children? I pray that we continue to stand firm in the face of a rapidly changing society which tells us we are crazy.