Care of parents a ‘gift’ the Constitution must protect

Care of parents a ‘gift’ the Constitution must protect
Concern for a baby’s development at the heart of ‘woman in the home’ clause, writes Fr Brian Kavanagh

Paragraph 1 of article 41.2.1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states a truth that needs to be acknowledged, re-iterated and emphasised.

In 1937 when the Irish Constitution was ratified, it was the woman who stayed at home to mind each baby that was born into the family and today we’d have no doubt that it could be father.

However, the unwritten focus of the article is the care and development of the baby. Those who drafted this article may or may not have been aware of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and his work in the area of psychoanalysis concerning the stages of the baby’s development.

However, we are definitely aware of it now and the significance and the importance of parent-baby relationship is unquestionable.

Another perspective on this is how can the State support the woman and man in their close parental role in the love, care and development of the baby until aged three. It is only with this support that the common good can be achieved as is stated in Art. 42.1.1.


With the development of psychoanalysis, psychology, and psychotherapy it is now recognised that the woman, who can also be known as the ‘primary caregiver’, might not be the only primary caregiver.

In 42.1.1 we can understand that in current times, the woman and her life within the home or the father and his life within the home are the first and primary caregivers in the first three years of a baby’s development.

There is no doubt that during pregnancy the mother is the primary caregiver, but recognition of the other relationships and external impacts on the baby while within the womb needs to be acknowledged also.

So, rather than calling the language or concepts of this article as archaic or outdated, perhaps we need to add father and primary caregiver alongside woman to the article so as to bring clarity and ensure the focus of the baby’s care and development is upheld by this article.

Article 41.2 speaks of the life of the woman within the home and her role as mother. The mother/father/primary caregiver is the ‘living’ presence for the care, development and love of each individual baby.

The primary caregiver is responsible for the baby’s foundational development, particularly with regard to the emotional, human, sensual, physical psychological, cognitive, intellectual, spiritual, social, linguistic dimensions.

At the core of all these aspects of development is the concepts of attachment and bond. John Bowlby (1907-1990) wrote extensively on the attachment theory, taking it up from Sigmund Freud and contemporary psychoanalysts, psychologists and psychotherapists.


Psychoanalysis places particular emphasis on the first three years of a baby’s development and with the advances in this area it is now timely to recognise the importance of early child development and the significance of attachment.

This attachment is an irreplaceable one-to-one emotional bonding experience between mother/father/primary caregiver and the baby.

The primary caregiver’s ‘life within the home’ and the ‘duties’ carried out are crucial to the baby’s first three years of development. The ‘duties’ are about the central place of creating the attachment and bond that the baby needs in the first three years and all the other oft-defined duties are secondary.

According to the ‘Child Care Act 1991, Regulations 2016’ the ratio of adult-child under one year of age is 1:3 (1:5 for one-two years; 1:6 for two-three years). While this ratio seems reasonable, it is not the same as the one-to-one care needed for the baby’s development, particularly on the emotional, sensual, physical, human and personal level.

Sensitively, I ask: how can one person have an emotional bond with three babies as he/she carries out the survival needs of each baby? Can she/he provide a good caring service in the creche? Yes. Is the baby feeling, sensing and experiencing an emotional bond? Partially yes, partially no or maybe not at all?

The love and attachment a mother/father/primary caregiver gives to the developing baby and child is a gift to the State.

The gift is one of “support without which the common good cannot be achieved”. The common good is the primary and long-term objective of care given to the baby, an objective that begins in the family of origin and then extends to the local community and the state as a term to refer to the citizens of our country.


As the African proverb says: “It takes a village to rear a child”. To state that the common good cannot be achieved without such support from the benefit of the primary care given to the child is inviting us in 2024 to ask how should the State be supporting the mother, father or primary caregiver.

Article 41.2.2 explains that the mothers, and in today’s terms mothers/fathers/primary caregivers “shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour”.

We need to acknowledge, appreciate and value the labour and caregiving of the mother/father/primary caregiver since the 1937 Irish Constitution.

A new, different and respectful response to the present economic reality is that the State should pay the mother/father/primary caregiver to fulfil the ‘duties’ of loving, caring and nurturing the development of the baby.

These ‘duties’ should be seen not only as a gift to the State, but also to the Family and Community, “without which the common good cannot be achieved”.

The sad reality about failure to impress the principle of the common good is that some of the recent parlance in Government circles is that there is a need for bigger prisons.

Human development and social interaction start on day one of birth, and we could also say during pregnancy, and modern psychoanalysis, psychology and psychotherapy will verify that the key foundation for a person’s life is established in the first days, weeks, months and three years of life.

Every government, present and future, needs to value and appreciate the immense contribution that the mothers, fathers and primary caregivers are making by staying in the home caring, nurturing, and loving the baby and giving the baby the experience of attachment, bond and loving development for the first three years.

The State should be paying, giving tax credits or similar benefits to our primary caregivers for the first three years of a baby’s and child’s life and then from the age of three give families financial support through the Children’s Allowance.

The Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (ECCE) was initiated by the Government in 2019 which offers each child aged at least two years and eight months the first formal experience of early learning.

This is highly commendable but the 32 months or almost three years from day one of the baby’s life still needs much more Government attention and support given for the mother, father and primary caregiver.


Fr Brian Kavanagh, a priest in the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, has been a counsellor/psychotherapist since 2014.