WARNING: Here follows an incredibly geeky post that is unlikely to be of any interest whatsoever to anyone but fellow Harry Potter nerds. You have been warned.
I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter series lately, and, as often happens when I re-read old favourites, I’ve been thinking about aspects of the world that are only hinted at in the series. In particular, I’m wondering about childcare.
The only wizarding mother to appear much in the books is Mrs Weasley. While her husband works for the Ministry of Magic, she stays home, tending the home and garden and, early on, caring for their children. While Mrs Weasley strikes me as the kind of woman who would choose to stay home with her children if it is at all financially feasible (and, although the Weasleys do struggle with money, they seem to get by, aided by Mrs Weasley’s strong household magic skills), I started to wonder about other witches.
The wizarding world has always struck me as an attempt to create a gender-equal society that was nevertheless clouded by the author’s own unconscious biases. Take, for instance, the founders of Hogwarts. Two men and two women founded the school in the tenth century. However, the Houses that play the biggest roles in the novels are the two founded by wizards. Similarly, there have been a number of female Ministers for Magic, dating back to the late eighteenth century, but all the ones who appear in the series are male. As a result, I’m going to talk mainly about mothers here, but with the assumption that stay-at-home-mothers were never as common in the wizarding world as in the Muggle world.
Even so, it seems women may well take a back seat after marriage. Fleur Delacour, Mrs Weasley’s daughter-in-law, is a formidable witch in her own right before she marries Bill Weasley, having been selected as Champion for Beauxbatons Academy in the Triwizard Tournament. When we see her in Deathly Hallows, however, post-marriage, she seems to be take on the role of housewife and no mention is made of her prior job at Gringotts. It’s possible that, as a quarter-Veela woman, she is no longer welcomed by the Ministry of Magic, and so has left her job (or been sacked). She may also simply be better at magic than her husband, and therefore take on more household chores.
When Fleur and Bill have their daughter, Victoire, a few years after the end of the series, matters are complicated further. In Britain and Ireland, there is no school for wizarding children until they reach eleven years of age. Who, then, cares for them so their parents can work? Even if Fleur is no longer working, there are certainly other wizarding couples where both parents have careers. If we look at Ginny and Harry Potter, she was in the Patagonian desert corresponding for the 2014 Quidditch World Cup while she had three children still at home, with a husband working as an Auror, a demanding job that likely had erratic working hours.
In Harry and Ginny’s case, the maternal grandmother, the aforementioned Mrs Weasley, likely cared for them. Wizards live longer than Muggles, so it seems plausible that wizarding grandparents would still be quite young (by wizarding standards) when their grandchildren are growing up. It also seems that wizarding couples tend to have their children younger than their Muggle counterparts. For instance, James and Lily were 20 when Harry was born in 1980, though Mrs Weasley comments that at that time wizarding couples were marrying and having children young because they didn’t know how much time they had left. However, based on the epilogue to the series and the ages of the main characters’ children, it seems that in times of peace wizarding couples have children in their mid- to late-twenties. This may be slightly earlier than the average for Muggles, but considering there’s no wizarding university and many witches and wizards meet their spouses as teenagers, it seems reasonable. At any rate, however, it means that wizarding grandparents may only be a third of the way through their lives when their first grandchildren come along. Perhaps, then, it is common in the wizarding world for grandparents to look after their grandchildren.
Not all witches and wizards are fortunate enough to still have their parents young and spry when their own children come along, however. James Potter’s parents have presumably passed away by the time Harry enters the wizarding world, if not before, as Harry never meets them. Lily’s parents, too, must have died before Lily herself did, as otherwise they, the parents who took pride in their daughter’s witchcraft, would be the logical choice for Harry’s guardians. While Lily’s parents can’t have been older than their mid-sixties when they died (assuming they were in their mid-forties when they had Lily, which is rather unlikely), this does show that, while wizarding parents might still have another fifty or a hundred years left when their grandchildren come along, Muggle-borns’ parents do not.
In the case of the Potters specifically, who cared for Harry before they went into hiding? They were both members of the Order of the Phoenix, as was Harry’s godfather, Sirius. Their elderly neighbour, Bathilda Bagshot is mentioned as being close to the family, being the only non-relative present at Harry’s first birthday. It is possible that she also looked after him when his parents were unavailable.
It seems unlikely, however, that there are so few working mothers in the wizarding world that they can all manage through a combination of grandparents, neighbours, and possibly some home-based nurseries. Perhaps major employers, such as the Ministry of Magic and St. Mungo’s have nurseries, though I can’t imagine an eight- or ten-year-old in a Ministry-run nursery all day; when would such children be taught things like reading and writing?
Ultimately, we don’t know. Rowling has shown us a world in which mothers do work outside the home, but at the same time the only family she shows us the inner workings of has a stay-at-home-mother. Perhaps she herself does not know; indeed, perhaps she had not figured it out and that influenced her decision to make Mrs Weasley a stay-at-home-mum. Because I’m a geek, though, I wonder: what happens to older wizarding children when both their parents are at work?