The other day I pulled up in front of my son daycare and he yelled, “I’m home!”
Well, hold on there, Champ, I thought. Do you see any mac and cheese smears on those windows or Thomas the Tank Engine playing in a loop while 56 hours of kitchen make-overs die a slow, lonely death on the DVR ? No? Then clearly you are mistaken!
Our son has attended the same daycare since he was three months old and spends a considerable chunk of his waking hours here, so I can see his confusion. But I have a full-time job and a two-year-old son and I happen to love them both. Therein lies the dilemma.
I love being a mom, but I’m not going to lie. I also don’t totally hate being around adults all day either. (It’s pretty much the only time I get to eat an uninterrupted meal.) My work is engaging. It’s challenging and fun. The same can be said for stay-at-home parents, but I can unequivocally state their job is harder than mine. (I might see slightly more tantrums though.)
Oh sure, I’ve seen the looks when I told people I was returning to work barely three months postpartum and heard the sympathetic words about “how hard that must be” or “how much your son must miss you.” I’m sure they mean well, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some subtext. Do they think I’m doing my child a disservice by returning to work? Would he be better off if either my husband, or I were his sole providers? Is he going to fall in with a bad crowd and be exposed to Paw Patrol and juice boxes before he’s ready?
Childcare has always been a contentious subject. For one thing, it ain’t cheap and in some cases simply doesn’t make sense for one parent to return to work if a large chunk of their paycheck goes towards tuition. If daycare is an option, you might be swayed by myths and stereotypes about the kids who “suffer” through it. For us, daycare has been one of our best parenting decisions. While there are plenty of benefits to staying at home with your kids, the right daycare can also offer plenty of advantages.
Sippy Cups Runneth Over with Good Role Models
We’ve all heard the ol’ “Do you really want someone else raising your child?” My answer is, “That depends.” Are those “someones” highly educated experts in the field of child behavior, psychology, and development with years of experience dealing with children? Then yes. Yes, I do. Have at him.
But let’s be honest—“raise” is a pretty strong word. His teachers will definitely help shape him into the fine young man I hope he becomes, but if our kid turns out to be a jerkwad, that onus is on us.
The Babysitter's Club is Always Accepting Members
The other night, traffic was terrible and my husband and I knew we would be late for pick-up. (The disadvantage of carpooling together.) Instead of getting all panicky and taking out a second mortgage to pay the “after-hours pick up fees,” I texted a few people and BAM! I had FIVE offers from teachers and fellow parents to pick up my son.
This is not uncommon. I’ve hosted impromptu play dates before work, after work, and on the weekends. My son and his classmates spend more time with each other than anyone else so they’re more than comfortable together. In fact, they’re downright delirious over the prospect of adding on another couple hours of togetherness.
This past weekend I enjoyed a two-hour childfree dinner with a mom from daycare, while my son hung out with his buddy and her dad. In a few weeks, we’ll return the favor. When your family is 3,000 miles away, it feels pretty awesome to know you have a support team in case of emergency. (That Happy Hour was in fact an emergency.)
Social Studies 101
You know that kid at the grocery store who continuously waves and says hello to you? Yeah, that’s my kid. If he’s really curious, he’ll extend his hand and say, “Hi, I’m Quinny. Meet you!” (We’ll get to the whole “stranger danger” thing pretty soon. For now it’s all still pretty adorable.)
Daycare is a great place to get kids acclimated with, well, the ways of the world (at least, for a 2-year old). Not only can he nap on a mat in a bright room while other kids are duking it out over who's turn it is to pass out the afternoon snack, but he also knows how to share and wait his turn, and respect authority outside of mom and dad. He loves kids of all ages and adults, and says, “NO THANK YOU” if someone is bothering him. My kid is important to his teachers, but he’s not the center of their universe (I know!). None of the kids are and that’s a really good thing. Quinn will likely be an only child (and only grandchild on both sides) so having to compete for a toy once in a while is totally worth the price of admission.
They Keep Your Memories
No, not in a sci-fi way. More of an “in the cloud” sort of way.
Just today my husband asked me what Quinn's first word was and I said, “I’m pretty sure it was ball.”
“Are you sure?” Bart asked? “I thought it was mama?”
Disappointing, I know, especially since I spent much of my formative years condemning my mom for not curating my baby book. (I’m the second child, so the only pictures of me that exist are when I accidentally crawled into the background of a photo of my first-born brother.)
Thankfully, our daycare keeps excellent records. They post photos daily on their private Facebook page and have always been great about celebrating milestones. I know exactly when Lucy took her first step and when Maddex came to school in his first pair of Pull-Ups. Ingrid’s inaugural creamed corn lunch has been memorialized as was the day Eleanor got stuck trying to scale the Ride n’ Stride Hippo. I may not remember the exact date Quinn cut his first tooth, but there’s a good chance Facebook does.
Happy Hours (and Hours) for the Parents
Happy kids mean happy parents, and happy parents like getting together at Happy Hour to talk about their happy kids. See how that works? Our daycare hosts regular parties (complete with kegs and red Solo cups!) so families can get to know one another.
Some of my most favorite people are the parents of Quinn’s friends. When you see videos of your kids slow dancing to Let it Go or eating Play-Doh out of one another’s hair, an introduction is kind of in order. And how great is it to hang out with other people who have a house stocked with every kid-friendly accoutrement you’ll ever need and totally understand when you flee because you must get home in time for the nap.
He Knows What?
Every day my kid comes home and says or does something that makes my husband and I ask, “He knows that?” My son’s teachers encourage cleaning up after yourself and good manners, and discourage hitting and counting crayons as a food group. He knows songs (everything from Farmer in the Dell to We Will Rock You), how to spell his name, basic sign language. He recites the alphabet and loves to count. He’s building a vocabulary faster than Mark Wahlberg builds muscle before his next boxing biopic.
While daycare may seem like all fun and games, it’s not. There is a carefully planned and thought-out curriculum. He’s learning something new every day and eager to share it with us. If I stayed home with Quinn, he would be very well-versed in how to search for recipes on Pinterest and the torrid backstories of every Real Housewife, which is important and all, buy maybe not the stuff college essays are made of.
Someone Needs to Provide Objective Feedback About Your Kid
Four out of four grandparents agree our son is a genius. Sounds great, but I’m pretty sure being able to recite almost every page of Dr. Seuss’s The Foot Book doesn’t automatically grant you a Mensa membership.
Unlike me, daycare providers spend a lot of time around kids and therefore can give an honest assessment of your child’s development. I think my kid is a train building savant. Turns out he’s average, but his gross motor skills are apparently legendary on the playground. He’s great at catching and can hit a whiffle ball “to the moon” (according to him) almost every time. We all agree his dance moves could use a bit of work.
Parents have enough to worry about, but providing a safe and loving environment when you can’t be there doesn’t have to be one of them. And not being there all of the time is okay, too. His teachers are deeply invested. Other parents become Aunt and Uncle (as we’ve become to the other kids there as well). He has a whole village to celebrate major milestones. In a way, Quinn is right—daycare is like home. Only with less cheese smears worked into the décor.