Science: Is it right this time?

Today I came across a ‘suggested’ article on my personal Facebook feed. It was an article outlining the findings of a study by Oxford University and The London School of Economics.   I have had some University experience, I am well aware of the high standing these two Universities hold so thought it may be worth a read.   The study they conducted was around the effect mothers have on the development of their children. The headline, which caught my eye, was ‘Young Children of Working Mothers have Better Skills than those of Stay at Home Mothers’.

The opening paragraph of the article states ‘Young children whose mothers are not working have lower capabilities in terms of talking, social skills, movement and everyday skills, according to new research from LSE and the University of Oxford.’

Instantly this has hit a nerve. I cannot deny that Perkys speech is slower than her sisters was. It is also slower than her cousin who is four days older than her. However I refuse to attribute that completely to the fact that I don’t work. Her sister does a lot of talking for her; also, she has been bombarded with more conversational talking from day one because I have her sister to talk to, direct, instruct. Pinky had a lot of one on one time that involved ‘Cow’ ‘Bowl’ ‘Window’. Instead of building up her use of single words Perky has jumped straight in with stringing two or three words together.

The article goes on to say: ‘The effect was particularly significant in both everyday skills and social skills. Among other findings were that spending more time in nurseries is associated with better social skills and better everyday skills, while spending more hours being cared for by grandparents is associated with better talking skills and social skills’.

Again, I cannot deny Pinky has better social skills and is more confident around other children than her little sister. I absolutely attribute that to the fact she started nursery when she was 10 months old because I had to go back to work. After Perky I went back for 6 weeks to work my notice period, she was looked after by family. If it were not for the cost of childcare I would still be working.

Believe me I long to work, to have a little time out of the house without a child in tow. However, as a low paid worker (nurses really do get paid peanuts!) I would like to know where my husband and I were supposed to find an extra £3500 per year to cover the childcare for both the girls 52 weeks a year 20 hours a week each. And to be very clear that figure was calculated to include Pinkys 15 hours free entitlement for 39 weeks of the year. I don’t stay at home out of choice so the last thing I need to read is that I am having a negative effect on my child’s development. (Perhaps I shouldn’t have read this since I’m not done ranting!)

I am 30 years old. I will be 31 in January. I am not an ‘old’ mother by any definition, so my next snippet from the article is for all you ‘Geriatric Mums’ out there… (anyone else up for petitioning to ban that term?)

Having an older mother has a negative effect on all four of the skills assessed: social skills, talking, movement and everyday skills. Conversely, and not surprisingly, having a mother with more years of education has a positive impact on all four capabilities.’

So if you are old and uneducated what were you thinking having children? How irresponsible!

What utter tripe!

I am sure education will come in very useful when children are at school. The primary level doesn’t scare me.  I know I will be able to help with maths, English and science to a point.  Perhaps my further education has helped with this confidence, but the notion that old age can effect the development of a child in four key areas baffles me. If there are any mums reading this who were categorised as ‘older’ when they gave birth can you understand this? Does any of this make sense or have I made you as angry as I am?

Next up… ‘There was also an assessment of which activities had the most impact on skills. Reading or telling stories and singing children’s songs are both found to have a positive impact on talking capabilities. Less obviously, visiting other families with children has a positive impact on talking ability.’ Less obviously? Less obviously to who? I know it helps! Most mothers I know, know it helps. It is a social event not just for the sleep deprived, wits end, stressed mother but for the children too. I don’t think anyone can disagree with positive impact reading has on a child but I would also like to find a mother who feels like they do it enough with the children… We feel guilty enough we really don’t need Oxford and LSE scholars rubbing it in.

‘Children with more siblings have better skills in all four areas, perhaps suggesting that they are learning from older siblings, despite having less time interacting with a parent.’ I hope none of you have only one child! Tut tut if you do apparently! We only have two children and we are NOT having anymore… Whoops! Poor deprived children.

The article goes on to highlight some positive things in a childs development, although I struggle to see that it tells us anything we don’t already know.

‘Singing children’s songs and painting and doing arts and crafts are found to have a positive impact on the development of movement skills, which researchers linked to the actions associated with songs and the hand skills needed for arts and crafts.’ I knew that! Or am I just being a smart arse now? Never fear because they are about to rip that positivity right our from under us…

‘Taking walks outdoors is negatively associated with movement skills, which is surprising but may be because children spend long periods in a buggy and spends less time doing other activities which appear to promote skills.’ Quick, throw that buggy in the bin! What a waste of money that was!

The closing statement finished me off: ‘Professor Anand commented: ‘We are delighted that one of first economic studies to look at the behaviour of very young children comes out with positive messages about activity involvement with parents, and shows that different activities promote different skills.’ I’m glad someone took something positive from it all because I didn’t.

The worst thing about it all is for some of it I know they are right. I didn’t need a study to tell me the benefits of a nursery setting. I always wanted my children to go to nursery for the social and learning aspect. It is easy to see the positive impact it has on Pinky and I would love Perky to have that too. But we can’t afford it! As soon as her 15 hours free entitlement kicks in she will be going and I will skip her all the way to her preschool with a beaming smile. As for the arts, crafts and reading I think you will be hard pushed to find a parent that doesn’t already know the benefits of it all.

This has just been another thing that has made me feel you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Have kids too early and you may not have the career that can support childcare costs. Have kids too late and your age will hinder their development. Does any of it truly matter? Don’t all children just want and deserve to know that they are loved, that they are special?

If you want to read the article I am talking about then click here. I have decided not to request the whole study paper but you can if you want to, the email address to do so is at the end of the article. In the interest of a balanced argument I know I should reference other places and studies. However, since I am not submitting this to be marked for a University course and since I didn’t actually conduct the study I am not going to. This did not make me feel like balancing my arguments today!


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  1. Oh these “experts” love to make us feel bad about ourselves and our parenting, don’t they! I’m a SAHM mum too and I hate reading stuff like this. I am sure that there are lots of things kids learn from being at nursery, but there’s also lots they learn from being at home.

    There is loads of research to say how important it is for a child (0-3yrs) to have a strong bond with 1 primary care-giver (it affects their confidence and ability to form and maintain relationships in later life) – when they’re at nursery, the teachers change all the time (or they seemed to at my daughter’s nursery).

    There is also research that says the amount of time a child spends in green, open spaces has a direct impact on the development of their brain – being cooped up in the same 4 walls in a nursery doesn’t aid this at all.

    We are all trying to do the best for our children and many people are forced into childcare arrangements because of circumstances outside their control. We’re not bad parents, we’re doing the best we can with the hand we’ve been dealt #BloggerClubUK

    1. You are so right! I’m glad you have seen something that was contradictory. There must be so many variables I can’t believe they can actually say some of this stuff. Thank you for reading and making me feel a little better about it all x

  2. I don’t want to read the article – it would just annoy me. Thankfully for Piglet I have a masters degree and I’m young (27) so thats ok then 😉 but I am a SAHM as childcare costs are ridiculous and I would just have been working so I could pay for nursery fees….. at £1200 a month average up here they are outrageous and unaffordable. Piglet is slow to learn to crawl, I highly doubt time in a nursery would change that! They all develop in thier own time #fortheloveofBLOG

    1. No don’t read it! I agree that nursery would have played no part in his crawling. I do understand the social skills argument but I feel a little damned if you do damned if you don’t! At least you are highly educated and young like you say! #winning 😉 Thank you for your comment X

  3. I was a SAHM when I had Booey. She did everything development wise when she should and is over average at school now. So how did me staying at home hamper her exactly? Articles like this are ridiculous.

  4. But there you go – is there a possibility that the children that they ‘assessed’, who have working mums’, are the couple’s first child? Because I also worked full time with one child, and so my first was in full time nursery. With my second, I reduced to 4 days a week, so he had a little less nursery. And with my third I reduced to 3 a week, and he had a nanny, because I couldn’t manage the logistics of having one in school, one in pre-school, and one in full time nursery. And now, 2 years on, I don’t even work anymore. Do I do all the activities they do at nursery? Of course not! Is my child ‘missing out’? Maybe, but he’s at home with me, and we’re both pretty happy. Are his skills at a different level to where his brothers were? Some of them, maybe, because he’s a DIFFERENT CHILD, and yes, the circumstances are different. There’s always a balance in these things – they come up with fancy headlines and statements that are meant to get people’s attentions and make it to the papers, but when you look at the details, and you really look into it, some of the stuff is neither here or there! Great piece, thank you for sharing #KCACOLS

    1. This is exactly why it angered me. Circumstances change, sometimes that is uncontrollable. How can that be ignored and how can they get any form of conclusion from their studies? I really would love to send my second to nursery because I know it would benefit her in many ways but I don’t believe she is suffering because she is with me all the time. It isn’t like I have a choice anyway. Bloody ‘studies’. Thank you for reading and commenting X

  5. I won’t bother reading it, how ridiculous! I think it is entirely dependant on how they are raised, as in: how their parents treat them and interact with them, do they do activities and go to play groups and play dates? You can be a sahm and go to a different baby group every day of the week and they will get as much social time as if they’d been in nursery. Also you can read/write/etc with them at home, it’s all dependant on the effort the parent puts in. I work part time but recently we haven’t done as much with our eldest due to lots of stress and upheaval and the negative effect has been obvious, we are slowly getting back to normal activity wise and the difference is noticeable immediately. xx #kcacols

    1. It is ridiculous isn’t it. You can’t completely plan and control your life so why should you feel guilty. There are so many things that change from family to family and child to child I fail to believe they have any ‘real’ findings! Thank you for reading X

  6. After aerating this I really feel it just highlights to me that no study can really say there is a one size fits all. My sister went back to work after both her sons were born. Her eldest cried everyday on the way for the whole 5 years. But was happy once he had settled for the day. But at 16 years old now he is still one of the shyest boys I know, he hates public talking and doesn’t thrive in social situations. He prefers small groups when talking, eve though he plays group sports. My children were all at home with me until they started school. Aspen never shut up, she talked and sang and read books, she was socially shy, but now at 12 she is a classroom leader and one of the brightest kids at her school. April is much more quiet, she was slower to walk, to read etc, she struggled to talk to other kids. She is 9 now and is very quirky but has so many friends, and again is highly intelligent. Adam is 7 and is reserved in social situations unless he knows people well, again he is very bright, and loves being with his best friend who is also on the shy side. All kids are different, and will develop at their own rate. I used to worry about April because she wouldn’t interact with people easily and she was slow to walk but she is so loved by everyone who meets her, her friends and teachers love her. We have enough parent quilt without more being piled on! Great post! #fortheloveofblog and #KCACOLS

    1. Thank you I’m glad you enjoyed it. There are so many variables I can’t believe people can ever come to a final conclusion about their findings! You alone have proven how different children can be within themselves before outside influences get involved. Thank you for taking the time to comment X

  7. I am very wary of this type of study and can totally understand how you feel. I have a PhD in Epidemiology and worked in this sort of research before giving up work to become a SAHM. I’m also old! (Do the effects cancel each other out then!?) I was 30, 34 and 37 when I had my 3 girls. My concern is that there are methods of raising kids and parental techniques that it is almost impossible to quantify or record in a study. As you quite rightly point out, things change WITHIN a family as well. Some siblings may attend nursery and others will not. In relation to mothers who are not working – there are many reasons why a woman is not working and each could impact a child in different ways. Some could be positive and others negative. Is it right to bundle them all up together? You are absolutely right to post about this and question the ‘experts’ and I really enjoyed reading this.

    1. Oh I am really please you liked it. I studied nursing at University and we were always taught the difficulties in conducting a study of any kind. I have always struggled with the idea of generalising the effects things have on children, like you say reasons for mums working/not working are so different and therefore not quantifiable or comparable. Thank you for reading, I really appreciate your comment.

  8. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase before: correlation does not equal causation. Just because they’ve found links between working mums and these skills, doesn’t mean that mums working actually cause these things. I work and my 2 children have both been in childcare about the same amount but one is achieving better with language and social skills. They are both totally different despite having the same parents doing the same things. I can understand universities doing this sort of research. It is great if research like this supports the government doing more to support working mums. But it’s obviously not a guide for which choices actual parents should be making, nor a measure to judge them by. Very interesting post – I enjoyed reading it. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I really don’t see how you can actually study the effects of working/non working parents on children and actually form any conclusions. Far too many variables outside of those parameters. X

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