Monday, January 18, 2010

Thoughts on Day Care

I was wasting time one day playing a game on the computer called Diaper Dash. If you’ve ever seen the Diner Dash series, you’ll have the basic idea of what this game is. Instead of serving people food, you’re running a day care.

Jake, who was around four at the time, came and was sitting beside me, watching as I played, and he began to ask me questions. Our conversation went something like this:

Jake: “What are you supposed to be doing in this game, Mom?”

Me: “Well, you’re taking care of people’s kids and trying to keep them happy.”

Jake: “Who are all those people at the doors?”

Me: “That’s the moms and dads dropping off their kids and picking them back up.”

Jake: “Why are their moms leaving them there?”

Me: “Well, because they have to go to work and they have to take their kids somewhere so someone can take care of them.”

Jake: “But…. (long pause) ….Mom? Why don’t their moms just stay home with them?”

I had to pause to think about this question. His total innocence was touching, even heartbreaking. It occurred to me that in his four or so years of life, he had never really known any kid that went to child care/daycare/preschool, and he certainly had never been exposed to it himself.

It had never occurred to him that there might be kids in the world who didn’t get to be at home with their own mothers all day long. He just didn’t understand why on earth anyone would want to do anything else.

So I tried to explain to him that there are a lot of mothers in the world who have to work, because they’re single moms or even with their husbands around, it takes two incomes to survive. I’m not sure he ever really grasped that, because he just kept saying things like, “But you stay home with us, Mom, and Dad isn’t rich!”

Long after he had run off to do something else, I just couldn’t get that conversation out of my head. I was thinking about how in America (and most other places in the world), public child care and school has become so mainstream that most people don’t ever stop to question whether it is really the best option. The juxtaposition of that mainstream-American mindset versus my little boy’s innocence was striking. Whereas most people today never stop to think that we should be balking at the thought of the majority of our nation’s children being turned over to non-relative child care so early in life, here was this four year old with a very good question that no one bothers to ask any more: Why don’t their moms just stay home with them?

As of 2005, approximately 61% of all children aged 0-6 are in some form of non-relative child care. (As a side note, a very interesting fact caught my attention: while only 4% were in “mother care”, about 17% were in “father care” -- there’s something to make you think!) 61% of children!Of the remaining 39%, 21% were with either their mother or father, and 18% were with another relative (grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc.) So in total, 83% of America’s children are cared for on a daily basis by someone other than their own parents! (Statistics from )

I used to work in the child care field. I started in it when Katy was 2 years old, because it was the one place I could work where I could still have her near me. She was, in fact, in the classroom just next to mine. A new teacher started in her class on the same day that I started in mine, and as it turned out, this new teacher had a daughter in my class! We became very good friends during the time we worked there! But still, even with Katy just next door with a friend that I trusted, it was so hard for me to drop her off every day!

After I had Becca, I stayed home for about four months. When I went back to work, I went to the very best child care place in town, and still I hated dropping Katy and Becca off. There was no room for Becca at the place where I worked, so my friend Amanda, who had a son just five weeks older than Becca, kept her for me, and Katy went to “school” with me.

Every break I got, I would stand and watch Katy in her class. On my lunch break, I would go get her and we would find a quiet place to have lunch together. I think I called Amanda at least five or six times a day to check on Becca.

The day that I picked up Becca and found out that she had rolled over for the first time while she was there--and I wasn’t--just about broke my heart.

I was miserable every day, having to leave my kids with someone else. It wasn’t that they were being left in bad places. They were well-taken care of, interacted with, etc. But they were MY children, and I wanted to experience every moment with them.

The time came that I became pregnant with Jake. My already crazy maternal hormones went into overdrive when pregnancy kicked in. I could not stand it. I could not bear to leave my kids in the care of strangers. I could not bear to be apart for them all day, every day. I could not bear to miss out on every glorious moment of their little lives.

Tony and I talked it out, decided we could try the stay-at-home mom thing, and I quit work.Actually, truth be told, I quit work first and then we worked it out!

This is not a blog to put down moms who have to put their kids in child care. It is simply me saying, “Wow. What a nation we have become, when most people don’t ever stop to say, ‘Hey! I want to be with my own kids! Hey! I refuse to give them up so easily! Hey! I want to be there for every moment, I want to be the one to see them the first time they roll over, or sit up, or crawl, or walk. I want to hear the first word. I want to teach them to draw their first circle, write their name the first time, read a book on their own the first time!” The fact that so many people just do it--just put their kids in child care and go on like it’s perfectly normal without even thinking about it--is very disturbing! Non-relative child care is NOT NORMAL! A hundred years ago it was pretty much unheard of, and even just 50 years ago it was very rare.

I hope that my children will always be of the attitude that my son expressed that day, “Why shouldn’t moms stay home with their own kids?”

We have never come and out and told our kids, “When you grow up, girls, you have to stay home and take care of your kids,” or “When you grow up, son, you have to make your wife stay home with the kids.” And yet, because they have grown up in a home where Mom is always home, surrounded by a group of friends of which most also have stay-at-home moms, and because they have seen their mother consistently show and express in word and action that she enjoys being home, being with her own children, and seen their father happy to come home from work to a smiling wife, a clean house, and his children that he loves, each of them have expressed to us many times that when they grow up, the girls want to stay home with their kids (and homeschool!) and Jake wants to get a good job so his wife can stay home and homeschool their kids!

How sad it is that most children today grow up believing that it is normal to be shuffled from daycare to school and back to daycare again. How sad that neither parents or children are getting the best of each other, after a long day spent apart.

How very, very blessed I am, and how very thankful for it, that our kids grow up at home--with me--where they belong.

Again, this is not a blog to put down parents who have to put their kids in day cares. In fact, it is in sympathy with those who have no other choice. Shouldn’t we as a society be doing more to make it possible for moms to stay home with their own children?

Rather, this blog is just to say, I am so glad that I am able to stay home with mine, and that they growing up believing that for a mom to be at home with her own kids is the way it should be.

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