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To Day Care or Not?

(c) 2004 by Cheryl Williams Levey,

This is a hot button issue in the apparent division between moms who have jobs outside the home and moms who don't. I'm not looking to stir up controversy here, but I did want to share my seemingly unique perspective as a mom who has: (1) worked in an office and put my child in day care, (2) telecommuted from home while my child was (a) with me and (b) in day care, (3) not employed outside the home (freelanced mostly at night) with my children at home. I feel like I've basically been at both ends of the spectrum and mostly everywhere in between.

Initially, I felt tremendous guilt putting my son in day care to return to work, but at the time, I felt I didn't have a choice. Except for one place in the six we tried over the course of just the first two short years of his little life, he didn't do very well and I'd pick him up in the evenings, trying not to cry myself at the visible tear-stains on his face.

So I worked out a telecommuting arrangement where my child went to preschool in the mornings and was with me (mostly napping) in the afternoons. This phase was just wonderful. It worked out very well because he was with other kids a little bit of time, but not long enough to feel abandoned and get upset.

Then, about the time my first child started school, I had another child and kept him home even after I returned to work. When he was an infant, I wore him in a sling and cradled and fed him literally while I typed. As he grew, though, it became apparent that being home with mommy trying to work wasn't going to work. He was too active. Instead of looking for a day care, I quit my job and pursued freelancing at night.

Working at night and being coherent for the kids during the day can be done for a period of time, but after a while, my stamina gave out. So I started working more during the day so that I could limit my bedtime to something more reasonable than 3am.

This situation presented me with a dilemma - my son needed interaction, but I no longer had the entire day to play with him. And even if I did, I felt that he still needed more than just me. He just lit up around other kids and was extremely social. So I started researching day care options. Initially, my husband and I had decided we would not send him to day care but we would send him to preschool when he was old enough. However, we felt that based on his personality, he would thrive in a day care situation (until eligible for preschool) as long as it was only part-time, like when we finally hit the right solution for his brother.

So, we found a place that seemed great and was very positive about having him go there. Unfortunately, he did not thrive. It was apparent to us pretty quickly that he simply wasn't ready to be away from home without a parent.

I know that this is due, at least in part, to the fact that he had never been left anywhere before (while his brother had from the beginning). So we un-enrolled him and have decided to take some "Mommy and Me" classes to help him interact with other kids while keeping the safety of Mommy nearby. We're hoping this helps prepare him for the wonderful preschool that we've been waiting his whole life to start him in!

My decision to send my child to day care, even though he didn't *have* to go, was based purely on what we felt was best for him and for us as a family. If he had loved it there, he would still be there.

When it didn't work out, I was so grateful that I didn't have to force him to stay (like I did with his brother). I am so grateful to have choices and to be able to make decisions based on what is best for us - and not because we are chained to traditional jobs that force us to put our kids in day care.

Now, I am not criticizing people who have their kids in full-time day care. These kinds of things are personal family decisions and should be made based on what is best for the child and family - which is the point I've been trying to make. Unfortunately, many people don't seem to have the choice.

My wish for society as a whole is that more parents have the choices that I have. Some kids thrive in all-day care. I think my older child would if I were to enroll him now. But some kids don't. And it would be really nice if more parents could base their day care decisions on what is best for their individual child and not because of the need to work because we can barely get by even on two incomes these days.

For people who want the choice, there are some positive changes on the horizon. From my personal research, it appears that there are more organizations (including many government agencies) who encourage telecommuting in some form for jobs that are appropriate. So, it never hurts to ask at your job if that's something you'd like to do. However, it is not a substitute for day care. It just opens up more flexibility for you in the sense that your child could go somewhere for a shorter day, or you could have someone caring for him right in your home part-time (or both).

Another option is striking out on your own. The population of freelancers, consultants, and at-home business owners has exploded, paving the way for others to follow in their paths.

So if your child loves day care, great! If he or she doesn't, there are more choices these days than ever before to make positive day care changes based on what is best for your child and your family.



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