This is a smidge convoluted, how I got to be thinking about daycare. I follow Shelley over at Tales from the Waiting Room and she had a thoughtful discussion on her choice to (probably) send her expected little guy to daycare. One of the posts she linked to as informing her thoughts on it is this one from a SAHM. We're also just about to hire a babysitter for Little Monster's pre-daycare opening (and daycare age) care 15 hours a week, so we've been interviewing people and hoping to find someone we like.
The reasons given in that post really struck a cord with me, although I think that all 4 reasons given are reasons that I really want my kid in daycare. Let me explain.
Disclaimer: I am not here to criticize your choices, but to explain mine. If you are happy and your family is happy with one parent staying home all or most of the time, more power to you. That's not me and it isn't us right now either. Do I hope that maybe the spouse can stay home with Little Monster at some point? Yes, because the spouse would be really good at that sort of thing (while I would clearly not be). Do I occasionally feel guilty that I send my kid to daycare? A tiny bit, but mostly, I am sure it's the right choice for our family and the kid.
Reason one from the Diapers & Daisies post for staying home: A mother has unconditional love, a teacher doesn't.
True. But I don't want my kid expecting unconditional love from every angle all of the time. The world isn't a nice place where everyone is loving and caring, and I want her to navigate the real world. If she spent all her time with me being loved unconditionally, even when she was being a brat or choosing to be badly behaved, she'd never learn that life won't accept that level of behavior. I want her to be prepared to have to take direction she doesn't like when it's important. I want her to understand that things can't always be her way, on her time table. I think it's fantastic that the kid gets to spend time with adults who care for and about her but don't love her unconditionally because they don't let her get away with stuff in the same way I do or Grandma surely would.
Reason two: Teachers don't love your kid as much as you think they do.
Also good, in my view. Loving my kid is my job. I wish the kid's teachers would be honest about whether my kid is the one they hope goes away early, because I might be able to help change her behavior such that she stops being that kid. If she's already having a hard time being a contributing member of a community, I want to know now. Again, I think that love shouldn't be the only thing kids experience. If we prolong the phase of life where kids aren't responsible for their actions, we are making it harder for them later in life to handle a world where they aren't at the center. Example: one of the girls at the kid's daycare has a teenage older sister and spends a lot of time acting just like this older sister, playing the "let's be best friends! Now I hate you! Now you must give me all your stuff/attention to be my friend again!" game that is so common among older girls. I don't like it one bit. It irks me. But I know that it was only a matter of time until the kid ran into this game, and it's one she will have to be able to play, at least a little bit, to survive in school. I am glad she gets to practice coping now when there's only one girl playing this game rather than 15 of them in her kindergarten class. I am glad that her teacher is there to provide feedback on the situation to her and help her along without the mama-bear instinct to try to help her "win." The kid shouldn't be winning at the expense of others, but as her mom, my gut says, "DEFEAT THAT MEAN KID! Put her in her place! Squash her!" It's good that someone else is also helping her manage, someone with more objective distance than me.
Reason three: Our children are special and perfect in our eyes only.
Perhaps it's because I am from a place where being out of the ordinary is stomped out of people, or perhaps it's because I am practical enough to recognize that my kid cannot be perfect (she's a person, and people are imperfect by definition), but I don't want my kid feeling extra special about herself. I want her to know herself, to understand her strengths and weaknesses, and to know how to cope with herself. I don't want her thinking she's perfect, not now, not ever. People who declare themselves perfect are either lying to themselves or trying really hard to convince the world they believe that lie about themselves. (By "perfect" I mean without anything to improve. I think we should all know our weaknesses and work to improve our weak areas as best we can.) I also find it very valuable for my kid to know that she is a kid, just like other kids, and that while some things about her are special, there are special things about everyone. Example: she's lucky to have a cat at home. Other kids might not have a cat, but they might be able to speak another language. She will be a big sister, and that's special. Other kids might be a little brother or sister, and that's special too.
Reason four: They are not always doing what you think they are doing.
I know that our daycare has a preschool program. I'm paying more than is typical around here for her to have that program. I know that they have a curriculum, and that it dictates some of what goes on each day. I also know that they do actually work on things from the curriculum. Do I care that the curriculum said they should spend 15 minutes writing the letter D and they only spent 7? No. Does it bother me broadly that for some reason, in pre-middle school settings, skipping part of the curriculum is "just fine because they were too squirrelly to learn anything anyway?" Yes. It sets up a very bad precedent for when kids are older and there is no skipping the boring/unfun/hard parts of the curriculum because of standardized tests. It sets kids behind because the curriculum (hopefully) builds and if you skip the early stuff, the later stuff falls flat and in middle/high school you wind up reteaching stuff that should have been mastered long before but got consistently "skipped." I think, at least in the pre-k setting, that equal parts of the important learning come from structured and unstructured time. Over the week I presume that it balances out. Today they spend less time with letters, tomorrow a little bit more. That's fine and part of the deal. If I think she's being consistently shorted on her structured time, I would be concerned and would think about making a different choice for her daycare/preschool because I would feel lied to about the whole thing. I don't think it's likely to be the case though. Most programs seem to do pretty well, in my experience.
This article that Shelley also references does a great job of talking about the mommy guilt that goes with choosing EITHER to work or stay home. Boo on being guilty. BOO. Life happens, and all we can do is make the best choice available to us at the moment, do our best, and be happy with what we get. Life is never ever perfect, no matter how much we try. Daycare is a choice, and it can be a good one. Being home with your own kids is a choice, and it can be a good one. Doing some fancy hybrid of other people watching your kids and parents watching the kids is a choice, and it can be a good one. Can we please not attack each other?