Making decisions about child care : a study of Canadian women
The increasing involvement of mothers in paid employment has brought attention to child care both as a critical social issue and as a pressing need for families. Nevertheless, child care in Canada continues to be framed as a private issue to be resolved by individual families. In the absence of policies and programs that ensure widespread access to affordable, high-quality care, women who combine motherhood with paid employment face considerable challenges in making decisions about child care. This study examines the processes by which women make child care decisions and sheds light on both how and why they make such decisions. The emphasis is on the meanings that women themselves give to motherhood, paid work, and child care and on how they resolve the competing interests that inevitably underlie work and family decisions. By drawing on women's accounts of their own lives, the research elucidates the multiple and interrelated factors that enter into women's decisions and thus offers insights into the reasoning behind complex patterns of decision making. In-depth interviews were conducted with 25 women who were intending to return to work or school following the birth of their first child. Women were interviewed at three points in time, encompassing a period from late pregnancy to several months after returning to work. The study furthers our understanding of the public and private dimensions of child care by revealing the dilemmas faced by women who frame their child care concerns in deeply moral terms, yet are called on to meet their child care needs within a public market oriented child care system. In particular, women's accounts of their experiences demonstrate the ways in which the intertwined and deeply privatised notions of 'dependent child' and 'good mother' underlie women's decisions about child care. Moreover, the research leaves no doubt that women's experiences of making child care decisions do not accord with the prevailing neo-classical economics version of rational and self-interested decision making. By examining women's decisions over time, the study illuminates the sequence of decision making about child care and adds to our understanding of what is entailed in looking for and deciding about child care. The study concludes with a discussion of implications of the findings for policy development and future research.