Sorry Fionola, but putting my girl in creche doesn't make me a terrible mother ...
After columnist Fionola Meredith hit out at working mums who leave their kids in 'baby farms', Belfast Telegraph journalist Claire Harrison just had to hit back
I have a confession to make. I'm a bad mother. In fact, I'm a terrible mother to an unloved child. I abandon my poor little mite to a 'baby farm' every day where she is ignored by bored and barely qualified staff so I can pursue my career to her psychological detriment.
If she turns out to be an axe murderer, I am solely to blame. But I don't really care. As I said, I'm a terrible mother.
Or so one of this newspaper's columnists Fionola Meredith would have you think. You see, I am one of those disgraceful mums who works full-time, pays taxes (shame on me) and tries to make a contribution to society. I do this by putting my daughter into a day nursery.
In her column last week, Fionola took a pop at women like me when she asked the question: "Why bother having a child if you are going to dump it off in daycare?"
Her vision of full-time childcare (Dickensian sweat shop?) is so far off the mark, I wonder has she ever set foot in a creche?
We have a brilliant nursery on our doorstep and Katie's been clocking in for a 40-plus hour week since she was seven months old (have you called social services yet?).
But far from having a breakdown, she loves it – loves it to the point of extreme disappointment every Saturday morning when we have to explain gently that it's shut.
Now aged two, she's not feeling unloved or emotionally damaged, she's too busy singing and painting.
My job is not suited to flexi or part-time hours, and I have to be at my desk in order to do it. Even if I could work from home with the rug rat around my feet, I'm not sure what motherly benefit she would get from being plonked in front of CBeebies while I batter a keyboard. I'm not a single mother or from a low income home. I didn't return to work full-time under pressure. I did it because I wanted to. Imagine!
My husband works long hours and we don't have a network of grannies, grandas, aunts and uncles to babysit a full working week (nor would I want them to). Our only real option is full-time day care but it's one of the best things we've ever done.
I've no hesitation in saying Katie's a better child for having been cared for in a creche. She has a group of little friends and together they paint and glue, sing nursery rhymes and learn stories, play games, go for walks to the park, feed ducks and enjoy visits from local librarians and dentists.
She's not rocking in a cold, damp corner all day like some sort of urchin. There's not a day goes by that she doesn't come home with a new skill or story. She doesn't snatch or fight, not because I taught her the theory at home, but because she learned it in practice with her pals.
She is sociable, confident, independent, happy and well balanced. She doesn't need to be attached to my hip 24 hours a day to know we love her more than anything.
Katie is looked after by motivated, highly qualified and enthusiastic women. She thinks the world of them and I know they genuinely care about her. I'm not for one second saying that replaces the love of a mother, but then I don't need it to. She gets bucket-loads of love from both her parents.
At home, the three of us make the most of our time together. Katie travels the countryside on the back of her dad's bike, shouting at ducks and falling asleep in the fresh air.
We read, dance, sing, take day trips on the train and teach Katie how to pet her two cats in a way that won't kill them.
Why does Fionola presume that a child in full-time day care doesn't have a parent to guide and answer all life's important questions? Just because I do a day's work in an office, doesn't mean I don't spend an hour every night reading The Gruffalo for the millionth time.
I agree with Fionola that hardworking mothers who choose to stay at home shouldn't be made to feel guilty. That's their choice and it should be respected. But why should I be made to feel guilty for choosing a different path? So there, sister! And I have another confession to make. Sometimes, when I have a day off, I put Katie into creche for a few hours anyway and go do my own thing.
While she's in the kiddie sweat shop learning sign language or celebrating Dewali, I get my hair done, or go shopping. And I don't feel the slightest bit of guilt. Call the police!
and what our readers are saying online about Fionola's column
• I am absolutely appalled that you call yourself a feminist and feminist organisations ask you to chair their events. I guess you just don't know what being a feminist means. It certainly does not mean attacking other women as you have done with this article.
For a mother, childcare is a total minefield of emotion and guilt, especially for those who either work to pay bills or those who want to be a mother but also want to work.
I'm assuming you have no children, otherwise you would understand the dilemmas that most mothers face in the decisions they take. What mothers need is guidance, information and above all support for whatever decision they make. What they don't need is a pompous so called 'feminist' telling them what they should do. It is their decision alone and they should be supported for whatever they decide. How about you go get a proper job and stop masquerading as a feminist. If you can't say anything nice then I suggest you say nothing.
• I'm a mum and I applaud this article. I know a lot of single mothers who do not work, some have never worked and never intend to, and yet their young children get priority placement in nursery school and that is where they spend their day while mum meets up with her ilk at the food court/cafe, pub during the day.
I also know mums who can afford not to have to go to work and pay for their children to spend three or four full days a week in private day care while they do their own thing. I live very close to two private day care nurseries and often walk past the outdoor play area during the day and I see wee tiny toddlers aimlessly wandering around the play area, sitting on ride-ons waiting to be pushed along but being ignored, just sitting quietly on their own while the young assistants stand and chat. Those children just look so lonely and it breaks my heart. But then it is all about mum these days and the phrase I hate most is the one I hear all the time 'I need my me-time'.