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Day mothers: a little-known and difficult-to-maintain resource

Day mothers: a little-known and difficult-to-maintain resource

In a conversation between two day mothers a few years ago, the question flew over: “Can you imagine Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem taking their children to a day mother?”. They commented on the visibility that would be given to their group if two well-known characters like them opted for this resource to care for their children. That did not happen, but the image of Penélope Cruz taking her daughter to a day mother materialized in Parallel Mothers, the latest film by Pedro Almodóvar. In the film, Penélope Cruz plays Janis, a single mother who decides to turn to a day mother after what she considers a bad experience with an au pair. As coincidences reign in life, it turned out that although the scene was filmed in Ainhoa ​​Limon's Casita en Amores, in Vallecas, Arancha Cuéllar, one of the day mothers who years ago dreamed of the publicity that Penélope Cruz could do to her profession.

“Pedro Almódovar visited my house twice, in October 2020, with the aim of finding out how we worked, what these spaces were like... and thus be able to faithfully convey it in his film. I was very calm when he told me that it seemed fair for us to get to know each other, because he said that he had been very impressed by our way of working with early childhood, and I think that he has made a fairly real portrait", says Arancha, who in addition to being a mother by day at La casita del Pez Austral, she trains mothers by day.

Family atmosphere and very small ratios

The pandemic did not make us better, but it did make us rethink our lives, at least for a brief moment. Fast, intense, stressful, in cities there is no other rhythm than that imposed by the schedules and distances that make them up. The search for spaces that are kinder to children, the uncertainty about the development of the school year and the fear of contagion have resulted in an increase in interest in day mothers. Almudena García, founder of the alternative education directory Ludus and author of the book Otra educación ya es posible (Litera), explains that the number of day mothers who have joined the directory has been growing in recent years, but right now, Due to the coronavirus crisis, it has noticed an exponential growth in interest in this type of project. “There are more and higher queries in the directory. Many families that perhaps in other circumstances would not have considered it, now prefer to opt for spaces with lower ratios. At the same time, many people who worked in nursery schools and who have been laid off are beginning to consider this employment option”, he points out.

Mar Lombo and Silvia López, from the Madrid Mothers of the Day Association, explain via email that they have observed how since the end of August 2020 and the beginning of September 2021, there has been an increase in interest and Demand for places by families looking for another option to care for their sons and daughters. "The mother of the day provides a second 'home', which is the natural environment. It is like being at the house of the grandparents or uncles, where they feel safe and comfortable, with the added value that the spaces in the houses of the day mothers are professionally designed to encourage the movement of children. in their spontaneous activity, their autonomy (materials within their reach, games, stories, moments of cleanliness, food...) and the connection to an already known space that provides warmth”, they explain.

A reduced ratio, of no more than four children per household, is another of the attractions of this resource, since it enables closer socialization and being able to pay more attention to the needs of each boy or girl, both at the physical as emotional. The ratio can also contribute to greater control of viruses throughout the school year: fewer children, less chance of contagion and greater control in the face of disease symptoms. From the Mothers of the Day Association of Madrid they point out that, although there are families who know in advance the type of service that a day mother provides, others come after having opted for another resource for the care of their children, generally a crowded nursery school. "They are usually families that have children who often get sick in kindergarten, who need more flexible hours or whose sons or daughters do not adapt to the current educational system at such an early age." The flexibility in terms of the number of hours and schedule is an incentive in the case of families that can organize themselves in a more coherent way, since it is not mandatory that they remain a minimum of hours, as occurs in most nursery schools, but the time that the family needs up to a maximum of seven or eight hours a day.

Ignorance and legal vacuum

Day mothers: a little-known resource and difficult to maintain

The mothers of the day are really such small projects that their support is not easy. On the one hand, there is still a great lack of knowledge about these alternative resources. “Despite the fact that the pandemic has boosted us and we have often appeared in the media, we continue to be a very unknown option in Spain. Word of mouth is perhaps what has contributed the most to our increasing popularity among families, but we are still far from reaching the popularity levels of countries like France, Germany, Belgium or the United Kingdom”, explains Arancha Cuéllar.

On the other, the uniqueness of these spaces, as they do not exceed four spaces and do not have legal recognition or subsidies for other care options, means that many of these projects walk a continuous tightrope. Also, is it an option within the reach of all families? Arancha Cuéllar is of the opinion that a day mother is not that expensive if one takes into account the highly personalized attention it offers. “A place in a private center (which has nothing to do with us) can be around 350-400 euros, and a day mother moves between 400-550 euros on average per place. We offer the children a home, individual attention, a healthy and homemade menu, the ability to go outside every day, quality materials adapted to their evolutionary development, quality care, attachment…”. Rocío Crisol Boyano, a day mother in Torrejón de Ardoz (Madrid), for her part, says that although some families are very interested, sometimes they discover that it is an alternative that they cannot afford economically. “We should all be able to choose what we think is best for our sons and daughters,” he says. For this reason, he considers that the aid given from 0 to 3 years of age to finance nursery schools should go to families so that they can decide which option they prefer to care for their children.

It is difficult to know what the evolution is because there is no national registry that draws a map of day mothers in Spain. Only in Madrid is there a real database, since every Mother of the Day must register with the current Ministry of Family, Youth and Social Policies to be able to practice this profession in the community. There are currently some 80 Mothers of the Day registered in said registry. From the Mothers of Day Association of Madrid they remember that there is only regulation as such in the Community of Madrid and in the Foral de Navarra. In Galicia there is a specific regulation of Casas Nido, which are spaces that follow the same philosophy as the Mothers of the Day, but with some differences, since it is a model designed exclusively for rural areas, for towns in Galicia where, for Due to its small number of inhabitants, the traditional models of care for children from 0 to 3 years of age are not viable (and they can be located at the owner's home or at a location).

According to Mar Lombo and Silvia López, given this lack of regulation, many day mothers are grouped into different associations, both nationally and regionally, so that they self-regulate under the same requirements as the communities in those where there is regulation. Among the requirements to be a day mother, the Red Madres de Día, a non-profit association made up of day mothers from all over Spain, demands: official qualification of Higher Technician in early childhood education, pedagogy or child psychology; the completion of the Mother of the Day initiation course taught by the National Network of Mothers of the Day and a course on first aid and food handling; and recommends additional training in respectful pedagogies such as Waldorf, Pikler and Montessori. In addition, to start the project you must have an adapted space in your own home and home and civil liability insurance, register with Social Security and establish a private contract with the user families.

What a day is like at a day mother's house

Ideally, when a family decides on a day mother, there is a bonding period between the boy or girl and the companion for between 15 days and a month so that he can be in his company, at home and with his "day brothers". In this bonding period, the reference figure of the child (usually the mother or father) accompanies him in the mother's space by day, but without intervening in her play or in her discoveries. After longer and longer periods of time, that reference figure moves away from the boy or girl until total separation from that adult is achieved during the hours that they are going to spend in the mother's day.

Next, what is day-to-day like in a little house for a mother by day? Rocío Crisol Boyano, a day mother in Torrejón de Ardoz (Madrid), responds that the time to welcome and receive families in the morning has to be calm, without rushing: “When they arrive they prepare to be comfortable in the nest: they they take off their shoes and coat and leave them on their perches. We give some time to be able to talk with the families in case there is something important that we should know in order to be able to better accompany the little one, and the parents say goodbye. It is a moment of closeness and a lot of contact, in which we sing or tell stories, then each one, as they feel, joins their free play”.

The role of the day mother is to observe and be present, accompanying and offering the strategies, spaces, and materials without influencing or conditioning. “They are the ones who freely choose their game. Our intervention is an obstacle for them”, explains Rocío. Day mothers take into account respectful and active approaches such as the work of Emmi Pikler, Reggio Emilia, playing with unstructured materials or Montessori pedagogy. Outdoor play is also very important, and day mothers usually have a garden or a nearby park that they go to every day. “We go out every day to the streets. If it rains or is cold, we prepare ourselves with the clothes and accessories we need to enjoy the outdoors and observe the changes that are taking place. When we return, each one places their coat, their shoes in the places that I have designated for them and we go to the bathroom to wash our hands. It is very important to give them time to participate in all the housework or their own care without rushing”.

Meal time is one more time for learning: “Each one collaborates in what they can: put the plates, the glasses, clean up. This moment is also very important, since their autonomy continues to be promoted. Once we have finished eating and cleaning up, we go back to the bathroom to clean up. Everything is within their reach so that they can actively participate in hand washing. They also have time for toilet training at their own pace, without forcing, and we have all the accessories they may need to cover the needs that arise (diapers, urinals, adapters)”. Finally, it is time to rest, which according to Rocío is also a very "pampered" moment. “The play areas are separated from the rest area. We prepare the atmosphere, we dim the lights and I sing them lullabies and songs to sleep. I accompany each little one in whatever they need to facilitate sleep and rest. After the nap comes the reunion with the families, which is used to transmit all the information about how the day has been. A much kinder day than the one our terrible adult rhythms impose on us.

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