It is axiomatic that children’s caregivers have a profound influence on their development and that the younger the child and more long term the exposure the greater the children will be impacted. The subconscious shaping of who we become is strongest when we are most plastic, pliant, supple, and the younger we are the more accepting we are of our environment. How could it be otherwise? Newborns have no basis for comparison and our uninformed human default value is that our environment, our “here and now,” is universal.
John Locke coined the phrase tabula rasa, the “scraped tablet” or “blank slate,” philosophy that states children arrive in the world void of mental form and that the people, places and things that children encounter mark, mar and mold the formless putty of infancy and beyond bit-by-bit into the people they become. Locke’s concept is simplistic of course, each of us is pre-wired with likes, dislikes and tendencies, but at its core tabula rasa is correct, we are molded by our experiences and molding is most profound at its earliest when the reality we are presented is accepted as a universal state-of-being. Early childhood training creates us, forms us, and forever influences us.
Daycare was practically unheard of in the late nineteen-fifties and early sixties and neither my three older siblings nor I attended preschool, nor did we go to daycare. (My younger sister attended preschool part-time when we moved from the Midwest to suburban D.C. in 1971. “Preschool?” I remember ten-year-old me asking my mother, “What’s that?”)
The benefits and handicaps associated with daycare and preschool have been hotly debated since early in the Twentieth Century when a need for safe housing of preschool age children became a growing issue as ever greater numbers of parents found themselves in a position where a full-time, stay-at-home caregiver role was not financially tenable and/or desirable. Regardless of the advantages and disadvantages associated with children attending daycare, it is undeniable that children who attend daycare have a broader scope of caregivers than do infants, babies and toddlers who are reared by one primary caregiver.
Daycare and preschool children are, as I like to say, “cross pollinated,” and cross pollination creates a wider variety of offspring than does limiting the gene pool. Preschool teachers come in every shape, size, color and faith and can span over a half-century in age. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of diversity influencing a malleable mind by a huge number of people writing on that tabula rasa.
While parent(s) are likely to remain the strongest influence on their children for decades if not centuries to come, with multiple caregivers we have a lessening of any one individual’s influence on child development. Since the era when caregivers were born will influence the children for whom they are caring, then multiple, diverse caregivers reduces the influence of any one caregiver upon young children.
Whether the correlation between multiple, diverse caregivers and the dilution of a primary caregiver’s influence upon children makes you glee filled, dread filled, contemplative or nonplussed it remains a fact. More caregivers molds children who develop from a more diverse background differently than do children reared by a single caregiver. Multiple caregivers means a lot more people are writing on that blank slate, that tabula rasa, that is a preschooler, so no single individual’s handwriting will have as visible an effect upon a child.
My primary caregiver was my mother, a woman born in 1920, and her primary caregiver was her mother, a woman born in the Nineteenth Century. All of my grandparents were born in the eighteen-nineties, a fact that makes me older than most of my contemporaries. “Older” in this case refers solely to my world view, not the inevitable decline in vitality that progresses as we slowly travel through time.
My world view was influenced most profoundly by a woman who was born the same year the United States granted women the right to vote, and her world view was greatly shaped by a woman who entered this world when the fifty United States only numbered forty-four.
When I describe my mother as my primary caregiver I mean her children were her job twenty-four-seven. My father, as I am fond of saying, was very progressive for a man born in rural Michigan in the nineteen-twenties and as such he would gladly assist Mom and babysit his children when the need arose.
“Gladly assist Mom and babysit his children when the need arose.” One does not babysit one’s own children, one cares for them, unless, of course, one is a man born in the first third of the Twentieth Century of parents born in the Nineteenth. Societal norms and expectations change over time and the zeitgeist of the 1920’s, the decade when my parents were born, was decidedly different than the 1940’s, the decade when many of my contemporaries’ mothers were born.
Parents want to protect their children from harm and most parents believe strongly that their ways are the right ways. Preschool opens children at an early age to a much broader spectrum of humanity than does a single caregiver environment and this creates a different child written upon by more and more hands.
My two children did not attend preschool until they were nearly five-years-old and one-and-a-half respectively. My wife and I struggled through alternating as caregivers, she attending our kids while I worked days and I while she worked nights. It was difficult, but we prioritized keeping our children home as much as possible until they were older. (We also flat-out could not afford it. Our children’s early years were our most financially difficult and we barely survived on two paychecks and insignificant childcare expenses.)
Interestingly, our younger son, the one who spent years rather than months in preschool, is the more diverse world view holder than is our elder. I’m not attributing that difference solely to preschool exposure, those two boys were wired very differently, but it is a single radar blip that corresponds to available data on preschool’s influence on children as well as my world view on the influence of multiple versus single caregiver on child development.
Preschool exposure changes the tablet’s content and creates different children than those who are influenced to a much greater degree by a single, primary caregiver. Me? I’m cool with that. I’m still working on rejecting the ingrained prejudices of my “progressive” 1920’s era parents and seeing the world from a broader, more multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-perspective than they did. We all grow into people who are influenced by their environments and seeing the world from multi-perspectives can do nothing but make the world a more understandable place in which to live.