I recently read that our field will never professionalize until we view nurturing as a skill set rather that an attribute or a female characteristic. As I thought on the writings from the book Reframing the Emotional Worlds of the Early Childhood Classroom, I realized that this concept---that early childhood education is seen as middle class mothering---was based on assumptions about who and how we nurture in society.
Why do we assure that nurturing is connected to gender or gender identity? Why can’t we recognize that everyone can nurture and to nurture with intention is a skill that is developed and honed over time? Nurturing as a skill recognizes several important constructs about how children develop social-emotionally, physically, and cognitively. If we are to support whole child development, then we need to acknowledge that nurturing all the ways young children develop and learn is a complex business.
In research, nurturing is identified as a soft skill. Traditionally identified with maternal emotions (Madrid, Fernie, & Kantor, 2015). It is a skill set that is both rewarded and punished in our society. As early childhood educators, we are rewarded for nurturing behaviors in the relationships we build with children, and in the trust that is given to us by parents who seek nurturing environments for their children. We are punished for these skills that are seen as soft or inherent to gender because the skills are identified as being part of who we are, rather than what we do. Society typically does not offer monetary compensation for who we are as people, rather current structures are set up to reward what we do based on our skill sets.
So, how do we go about changing the perceptions of nurturing as characteristic and focus on nurturing as a skill set? First, it is up to us to speak about nurturing as a skill rather than a characteristic. When we speak of our work with parents and in our communities, we make visible our thinking that goes into how we do the work focusing on the skill involved. Too often, we focus on the why we do the work. When we focus on the why of relationships, we miss explaining the structure and intent of the work. We can mistakenly reinforce societal opinion of the depth of our profession, the intentionality, and the work when done with integrity. Our voice, offering professional insights to parents and our communities are our best strength in changing perceptions of who we are as professionals.