A growing trend has seen the term ‘love’ used to describe everything from government welfare drug testing to what educators should aim for in their practice and environments for young children. Two blog posts on The Spoke examine the issue from very different perspectives. In this blog, LISA BRYANT argues that love is not interchangeable with care. Love may be unconditional but it is also blind and a shift in the sector may have implications for children and for educators.
You might also like to read why Fay Hadley and Liz Rouse argue for the reinstatement of ‘professional love’ in early childhood. Click here to find their blog on The Spoke.
Ever seen or heard the expression ‘yeah, nah’? Apparently it’s an expression pretty unique to Australians and New Zealanders. It was the first phrase that came to mind when hearing about the concept of ‘professional love’ in the early education and care sector.
There are those that argue that we don’t even need the care part in ‘education and care’—because care is implicit in education. Although it may need to be made clear to families, to politicians and the general population that we undertake both tasks—educating and caring for young children, I don’t think the care part needs to be elevated above the education part by elevating it to professional love. After all our primary and secondary schools don’t even use the word care in what they do—but we automatically presume they do care for the children they are charged with educating.
Did you know that a quick online search shows 10 services in Australia that use the word ‘love’ in their name?
All make me squirm.
In the post-Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse world, I’m really not sure any institution should be talking about loving kids, much less naming their service love and hugs or anything similar. I want every child to go to a service where love and hugs are available if a child wants them, but I don’t want it to be the dominant offering of any service.
When educators tell me they are educators because they love children, it also bothers me. I want and expect educators to love children (collectively, rather than individually) but I don’t want this to be the main reason they are working in the sector. I want them to love learning, to love helping children reach their potential. Loving children per se in a professional context seems fraught. Do the children you love have the option of being in a loving relationship with you or is it all one way?
There is no doubt that the best sort of love is unconditional love. I want parents to have that for their children. On the other hand, I want educators to have objectivity about a child because, as we all know, love is often blind. We need educators and early childhood teachers not to be so blinded by love that we rush to make the world right for a child. Educators facilitate learning by not rushing to always give the child what they want. Some children are more lovable than others—often the children that need the most from educators and carers are the ones that are least likely to evoke love. If professional love is all the rage, what happens to the somewhat unlovable?
Love is also not a word that is interchangeable with care. Love is that intense feeling a parent describes having for their child. I have heard many parents talk about the fact that when they meet their first-born child they realise that for the first time they would lay down their life for another. That feeling is not easily duplicated, no matter how much an educator cares for children they are responsible for professionally. Do parents really want us to love their children? Isn’t what they really are after is someone to care for their child, maybe even intensely care for them, while they are unable to?
Research conducted by Professor Karen Thorpe and the late Professor Collette Taylor as part of the E4Kids study examined the relational quality of services. It showed our services had ‘high-moderate emotional quality such as warm and positive emotions, responsiveness to children’s social, emotional and learning needs and regard for students’ perspective’. We have the caring bit down pat—without the need to muddy it up with the introduction of terms such as professional love.
I wonder if introducing the concept of ‘professional love’ makes it hard to advocate for higher wages for the sector. As soon as people think that those working in a service are loving the children they work with, bing goes the argument they need decent wages. Because parents (especially mothers) always prioritise loving and caring for their children society escapes the need to collectively value the act of child raising. If women just ‘love’ caring for children, why would they need to get paid for something so intrinsically rewarding? (The reward being the reciprocity of their love).
Hopefully every educator deeply cares for the children in their care. But love? Yeah, nah. Let’s keep that on the quiet until society values and pays for whatever it is educators do.
So do I think we need to talk about love more in the sector? Talk about professional love? Yeah, nah.
In early childhood settings, educators can support parents’ and carers’ wellbeing. This resource contains strategies for educators to develop positive relationships with families, and invite feedback from them. You can purchase your copy here on the ECA Shop.