Last night, at my mom book group, one of my friends shared how desperately she wishes she could quit her job. Her husband has asked her to work to contribute to the family income, but she is heartbroken and torn at how much time she is away from her baby and toddler. Another woman shared how she cried every day after dropping her little ones off at daycare. We prayed for wisdom, new opportunities that would maximize time with the kids, and good time together when they are able to be home with their children. When I talk about mothers who are not able to be home with their kids, please know that I am writing with compassion. In recent conversations with working moms and formerly-working moms, we’ve all been in agreement on subjects that I think new moms or women considering family and career options should consider. Mom is best; other options may be necessary in some situations, but they’re not as good as little ones being home with mommy.
Anna wrote last year about the many effects that daycare actually has on children, but my friends tell me there is yet another negative to this option–a financial contract can force you into a situation where you have to pay for childcare, even at times when you don’t need to use it. A friend on maternity leave with her second is keeping her three year old “at school” while she is home because if she stopped paying the daycare, they’d give his spot to someone else. So instead of cherishing three short months off work to spend with him and the baby, she sends him off every day to keep his spot at the prestigious and convenient daycare attached to her workplace. To be honest, this scenario makes me want to cry, and I’ve heard it so often when a working mom has a subsequent child–oh, well, it’s a big adjustment for him, so we’re keeping him in daycare to “save his spot.” Sometimes there’s the excuse that oh, well, it gives me more time alone with the baby, and it keeps her in her routine with all her “friends” at daycare. All three of my oldest were around two when the next one was born, and it was indeed a transition for each of them. But I think the cruelest thing I could have done, at the time when they most were mourning having to share my attention even more, would have been to send them away 8 hours a day. Here’s a baby who has turned your life upside down, and she gets to stay here with me while I’m briefly home from work, but you have to leave. Is that really how I’d want them to adjust to a new sibling?
Whenever I ask moms why their kids aren’t home while they’re temporarily home, the explanation is always that they’re paying for the time, anyway, so they might as well use it. This seems ludicrous from a parent’s perspective, but such a policy makes sense from the daycare’s perspective. The daycare doesn’t ultimately care about what’s best for the child–staying home with mommy as much as possible–but for the financial bottom line. Yes, the staff might be nice (though more often, they’re overworked, underpaid, disillusioned, and crabby, according to multiple friends who used to work in daycares), but they don’t care about your child enough to do it for free. Daycare workers need a steady income just like everyone else in a service industry, and that’s why they often can’t just save a spot for three months of maternity leave.
When a child is home with mom, there’s no such conflict of interest. My children spend all day, every day with me, and there is no one else in the world who cares more about every aspect of my children’s well-being than I do. My sweet friends who shared their hearts last night are grieving that their children are missing out on that level of care. How I wish more young mothers realized the ramifications when they set out to juggle career with children.