As any parent of young children will tell you, toddler groups exist as much for the adults as for the kids, and my local meet-up is no exception. We knock back coffee and compete to see who has had the least sleep while the children run riot on trikes. The small talk always winds its way round to nursery: which ones are good, which ones are near work, how much they charge per hour. You’d be forgiven for wondering why any of us chose to have children, such is the zeal with which we plot our escape. ‘They just installed CCTV,’ enthused one mother to me recently. ‘So I’ll be able to watch her playing from the office whenever I like.’
I daren’t admit it to my circle of mum friends, but since having children I’ve become a secret nursery sceptic. It’s the speed of change more than anything that is the cause of my alarm. While my parents’ generation might raise their eyebrows at putting children as young as six months into nurseries from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., most of my middle-class peers don’t bat an eyelid; it has become so normal it is no longer questioned. In fact, parents frequently fawn over all the mod cons that nursery care provides: commuter-friendly hours and a feed of updates straight to your phone throughout the day. Big Mother is watching you.
But has anyone stopped to ask whether nurseries are doing our babies any good? My cohort of parents are taking part in an unprecedented social experiment. High house prices and rents mean most families need two parents at work to pay the bills; and as a result our children are the first generation to have been given largely institutionalised care since before the age of one.