A great post by Emily Dawson who is currently studying for a PhD in Education at Canterbury Christ Church University and works as a childminder from her home. All names have been anonymised.
As a childminder, I welcome lots of children into my home and my heart. One day, a child was being dropped off by his mum, who jokingly referred to me as his “other mother”. When I reflected upon this, I considered how different my relationships with the minded children are in comparison to the relationships I had with children as a teacher. Our interactions are more playful, tactile and loving, closer to the interactions I have with my own children. I wondered whether that was due to working from my own home, caring for these children alongside my own. Perhaps because I look after smaller numbers of children? Different ideas about my professional status? Because the children themselves are younger and so I spend more time caring for their physical and emotional needs?
I decided to focus on this for my dissertation research, beginning by reading extensively about the concept of ‘Professional Love’, as developed by Jools Page. Page suggests that the concept is difficult to define as ‘love’ has many different connotations but has reached a definition of Professional Love as a term to describe the reciprocal relationship between practitioners and children which develops through warm, responsive interactions.
The aim of the research was to discover what Professional Love meant to childminders like myself. Three childminders participated in semi-structured interviews, which took place online due to the Covid-19 lockdown at the time. They were asked about the relationships they develop with children, how they demonstrate care and what Professional Love means to them. Interestingly, all three women became childminders in order to meet their own family’s childcare needs. Here are their stories…
Sharon has been a childminder for 20 years and made lots of familial references during our interview, referring to herself as an “auntie” to the children. She describes being tactile and affectionate with the children to demonstrate her feelings. Her perspective on Professional Love was unique within the small participant group. She wanted the children to feel like they were the most special person in the world to her, while she herself maintained some professional distance to protect her emotional wellbeing when the children moved on from her setting.
Rachel has been a childminder for 3 years but worked in EY settings for 20 years in varying roles, including managerial. She felt her relationships with the children were more “motherly” as a childminder, but was keen to explain that her role was not that of a mother-figure because of her focus on learning alongside caring. Rachel’s understanding of Professional Love was focused on demonstrating affection for the children, while also being mindful of the boundary where this behaviour would become inappropriate. However, she felt it was essential to be demonstratively loving with children for their own emotional development and wellbeing.
Anne has considerable experience, having worked as a childminder for 26 years. She was also the most focused on her professionalism, in the traditional sense of the word, of the three participants. Unlike the others, she did not use familial language when describing her role but spoke passionately about the need for children to feel valued and safe. She described Professional Love as a way to justify affectionate touch with children, while also being wary of the need for childminders to protect themselves against safeguarding allegations.
As a group, the childminders agreed with Page’s view that children require responsive, warm interactions in order to meet their emotional needs and develop loving relationships. However, the childminders in this study felt that they needed to keep some emotional distance from the children in order to protect their own wellbeing or to avoid overstepping boundaries, while ensuring that the children felt loved. Page’s definition does not encompass the emotional labour done by practitioners in order to provide this nurturing environment.
Have you experienced love as part of a professional relationship? What does Professional Love mean to you? We would love to read your comments.