Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Coming to Terms With Using Daycare: A Working Mother Reflects

It is important to understand my background. I am the oldest of four girls and my mom stayed home with all of us. Growing up I played on my own, with my occasionally willing and available mother, and with neighbor kids when they were available. At least this was my life until I was I was in preschool, where I excitedly got to play with kids my own age. I was one of the only girls in my preschool class, and while I have a few very close girlfriends, I honestly get along better with boys, which I blame on that first year of school when I spent an entire year of preschool playing He-Man and playing He-Man's girl friend, although I don't remember her name. Please notice that "girl" and "friend" are separated by a space. With that upbringing I spent my entire life believing that I would also be a SAHM, gladly doing my duty to raise my large family (at the time I was thinking 4-5 kids) with my husband.

Fast forward nearly 30 years after this initial fantasy started and you will find me a 33-year-old working mother of two, and (dare I say it?) only two. This is not the time and place to discuss the so-called "mommy wars". I'll save that for a particularly irritating day when I can't take the discussion anymore. This is about coming to terms with using childcare, and about getting to where we are now. When I got pregnant with our daughter the discussion was short. I asked my husband whether he wanted me to stay home, he said that it was up me to me and our finances, and after a quick glance at finances, increase in health care, and some self-reflection, I quickly made the decision to keep teaching. Ok, decision made. But now we had to find the right child care for our baby, our precious, desperately desired, baby. It was not a decision I took lightly, and one that left me with a head spinning constantly trying to figure out if I had made the right decision.

Last year when I was discussing plans for babysitters for both of our children, my aunt asked why I would consider taking the kids to a babysitter on days that I was not working, but she was really questioning my decision to work at all. The implication was "you don't want someone else raising your kids." No, no I don't want someone else raising our kids, so let's clear up one misconception about working moms. WE raise our kids. WE get up with them in the middle of the night and, when they are really young, nurse or feed them bottles until they hopefully fall contentedly back asleep. WE lay in bed with them to scare away the monsters. WE clean up their vomit and obsessively check temperatures when they are sick. WE read them the bedtime stories and make sure they brush their teeth. WE make the all important decisions about taking them to church, having them baptized (the most important decision I've made for both of my children in the last three years), and teaching them how to pray. And the list goes on and on. No, for most of us working moms out there we are not there with our kids during the day, but no matter how much we love our jobs (or hate our jobs but do so out of necessity), they are with us all day, every day. I have two pictures of each of my kids and one picture of the two of them together on my desk. And they come up in the strangest discussions in my classes. My son and daughter know that I'm mom and when I pick them up, they are thrilled to see me (or my husband if he is the one who gets to pick them up).

Are there things that I could do better than our caregivers? Maybe, but are there things that our caregivers can do better than me? I personally believe the answer is yes. Years ago Hillary Clinton got a lot of criticism for her statement that "it takes a village to raise a child". People were upset that she appeared to be indicating that parents didn't know best. That parents couldn't raise their children on their own, and maybe that assessment of people's perceptions is wrong. But I don't think that's what she was trying to say. I believe that what she was trying to say is that during the course of the 18 years that our children are with us until they leave for college, or for other adventures, more than parents should take responsibility for developing the whole person that our kids grow up to be. That includes extended family, teachers, pastors, youth workers, counselors, and anyone else who has a significant role in our kids' lives. Some SAHMs are phenomenal. They have found their calling. Not only have they figured out how to make a single income household work in the 21st century, but they do it with an ease and grace that allows their children to flourish. They are the moms that make me feel incredibly guilty every fall when I gladly return to my classroom, eager for adult conversation and the rigors of teaching literature and composition. You see, I'm great at loving my kids. I can snuggle and read Dr. Seuss with the best of them. But at some point during my two month break I know that I need my classroom and my kids need to play with other kids and adults who really appreciate the world of make-believe and 20 questions. Not that I don't enjoy it, but I've learned that there is only so much I can take. Does it take a village? Maybe. Our first babysitter guided this new mom through the first year of our daughter's life, as I worked through my inability to nurse, identified pink eye, and she helped me answer a variety of questions that she, as the mother of three and the caregiver to dozens of kids over the years, could answer immediately instead of me waiting for my mom to answer the phone or an email. When we moved to Fort Wayne, our next caregiver offered a home and playmates for my daughter, as well as friendship during my lonely first year in a new place. When she moved, our next caregiver gave our son the love and attention he needed as we dealt with early teething and what seemed like constantly shifting sleep patterns and worked with our daughter on numbers, colors, and letters in creative ways which sometimes left me astounded. She also struggled with us through a difficult year of potty training our incredibly stubborn little girl. Each of these women have been a huge part of our lives, and I am thankful for everything they have given our family and the love they have given our children.

Now our kids are in a full time daycare, and while I was hesitant to get them out of in-home daycare, this appears to be the best place for our kids until they are both in school. And the last two days I have picked up two very happy, yet very tired, little kids. Our social little girl is surrounded by kids her own age and in a Christian learning environment that will allow her to grow socially and intellectually in ways that I never could. Our little boy is surrounded by kids his own age and in a loving room where he appears to be happy as can be, although he has been exhausted by the time he gets home. One of my biggest parenting decisions has been deciding who will watch and love our kids during the day while my husband and I are working, and we've been blessed with people who love our kids while we are working during the day. And while I'm always working on finding balance, when we get home Jeff and I are raising our kids. We know our kids. We know what they need. And we will always be Mom and Dad. No daytime caregiver can take that away, and none have tried.

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