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Tuesday, July 28, 2009


My nursery nightmares: responses

Following are some readers' views on Jenny Holt's June 23 Zeit Gist article "My nursery nightmares":

Discipline and routine

With all due respect to the real and imagined concerns of Jenny Holt, I would like to come to the defense of the too-easily-maligned Japanese penchant for discipline and routine.

I am an Indian full-time working mother who enrolled her daughter in a ninka hoikuen (nationally accredited nursery) at the age of 9 months. Now, after almost four years, I have seen her grow from a tiny toddler into an energetic child, but one who just has to wash her hands before eating, and whose nighttime ritual will never change — food, bath, milk, brushing her teeth, in that order — not one activity can get out of place!

Does this bother me sometimes? Sure, but this slight annoyance evaporates every time I visit India and see almost all other mothers facing a major contest of wills every time their child needs to bathe or brush his teeth. With an extended family, where invariably one family member will "come to the rescue" of the child, the child seldom learns the importance of discipline and routine.

Just watch a hoikuen sensei in action with a child throwing a tantrum — it's iron hand in velvet glove personified; voices are never raised and spanking is out of the question, but the message will be communicated time and time again that such behavior is unacceptable.

I do hope that Jenny can learn to trust her sensei and appreciate that the discipline and warmth given by the sensei will stay with her child all her life.



Farming out babies not ideal

Jenny Holt did not quote the literature that argues mothers should look after their own babies if they can. Farming babies out to nurseries may enable the mother to work, but it is surely not ideal for the child.

Seventy-five years ago, when I was a babe in arms, my mother employed a fully trained children's nurse who remained — in the true sense of the word — a "member of the family" forever after.

Today, of course, it is so difficult and I can understand why Jenny feels trapped. Peasant women in parts of Asia and Africa work in the fields with babies strapped to their backs. Japanese women also carry babies on their backs and young children on the back of their bicycles, albeit somewhat perilously.

Obviously men have a better deal, but in Germany, where I also live, I understand dads can get "maternity leave." So Jenny, plus husband and baby, might consider upping sticks and coming here!


Bayreuth, Germany

Facilities better than in U.S.

Ms. Holt, I understand some of your points, but I disagree with most of them.

I assume that you have not researched day-care centers in other countries. There are good things about Japanese day-care facilities. For one, they are open longer and even on Saturdays. I remember that in the U.S., day-care centers are open until 5 or 6 p.m., and none are open on weekends.

In my experience, Japanese day care cost less than half of what it cost us in the States despite the longer hours. I did not have to join a waiting list for day care in Sendai and Tochigi. Maybe you are talking exclusively about Tokyo.

The biggest reason I prefer day care in Japan over the U.S. is that teachers care about the kids more in Japan. In the U.S., teachers think of their job as a "profession," with checklists to make sure they are in compliance with the state or the city. The kids come second — actually, third, because unfortunately money is their No. 1 priority.

I agree that there are many educated women at home who should be in the workforce. Day care is part of the problem. I believe the unwritten or written policies of the companies discouraging part-time or flexible hours for working mothers are to blame.


Shimotsuke City, Tochigi

Do-it-yourself day care

If all the "good" ones are full, it looks like there is a great opportunity for some smart, industrious person in Japan to establish a new kind of child-care facility.

Decide what you would want in a place for your child and take it from there.


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