If there ever was a poster child for the “terrified of daycare” mom group, it would be me.
Due to our circumstances, we had to turn to daycare so we could eat and stuff, but I struggled with it–a lot. I shared some of my concerns about it in September, as well as an update after a few weeks in there. After about 7 months, I can wholeheartedly say that daycare has been one of the best things we’ve done for our daughter and family.
Which is not what I expected.
Because if you’re like me, before parenthood you watched way too many episodes of Law & Order: SVU to trust anyone with your kid. Ever.
And maybe you’ve had personal experience with abuse and are absolutely terrified of anything remotely similar happening to your child.
Or maybe you have been taught your whole life that a mother should be home with her kids 24/7 and no other caregiver is an acceptable substitute. Until they’re 5 and suddenly nobody remembers that because they’re allowed to go to Kindergarten and leave mom alone. But before then, you’d definitely be a failure.
Or life may not have gone as planned, you’ve had to make adjustments, and you feel guilty that the life you originally planned on is different from reality.
So let me emphasize again that I was not excited to send my 15-month-old to daycare for a few hours every day. Now let me share with you why I feel this has been one of the best things we have done for her.
Amazing teachers. She has some awesome teachers. She has loved them all, and I have been able to see how much they love her and the other kids. Let me tell you, it’s hard enough to be patient and full of love for your own kid, but these teachers show that love to 8 kids that aren’t their own. All day, every day. I can’t imagine that. And they are very well-trained in what they do. Because of my own schooling, I can pick out a lot of their teaching strategies and see how they’re really focused on early childhood education, not simply babysitting.
Beautiful facility. Crappy weather + a toddler that gets sick very easily = torture. Our first Winter here was tough, but she was still really young so it was ok that we were inside most of the time. This year’s winter was hell on earth, and if we had been forced to be inside our apartment the whole time, we would’ve lost our marbles. Fortunately, her daycare is a beautiful facility. If the weather is nice or decent, then they spend as much time outside as possible. Her age group has two large outside play areas, so she can climb, slide, ride bikes, sandbox it up, or just run around like the wild woman she is. When the weather is bad, there is a large room where they can take in some of the outside equipment to play with, and the classroom itself is huge. The facility is clean, secure, and doesn’t look like it’s going to cave in. Sadly, not every daycare is like this.
Friends & Social skills. My daughter loves people, but kids her own age kind of freak her out. Having classmates around her age has been really good for her. She adores them. Every morning when I struggle to get her dressed (because, toddler), all I have to say is, “Are we going to see your friends today?” and she starts naming them with a big smile. I love watching her interact with them. When she got carsick and had barf all over her, one of her classmates saw us outside cleaning up and held her hand all the way to class. Since they’re toddlers, they’re not always very patient with each other and it is great to see her have the opportunity to work it out with them. Even with the screams, tears and pushes that entails. We don’t have family here and the few good friends I’ve made with kids her age have moved after finishing their schooling. Being able to go to daycare gives her this opportunity that she would’ve had with cousins or my friends’ kids if we were at home.
Developmental Growth. We meet with the teachers every few months to discuss goals for her learning and development. It is great to be on the same page about what we’re working on with her. Everything they do is play-based, which I love. She’s learning exactly how a toddler should–through experiences and exploration. It is fun to talk with her teachers about what she’s doing, new things she says and does, and I can see their excitement as well.
Parental support. Like I said previously, we don’t have any family here. As a new mom, moving away from everyone I know was hard. I can talk to my family on the phone about parenting stuff, but it is really nice to have her teachers to talk to about it as well. Even the ones that don’t have kids of their own have valuable experience in child development that helps me as a mother. It goes beyond the classroom, too. I had briefly mentioned to one of the administrators about the issues we were having with our neighbor (long story, but he was harassing us), and a few days later she gave me the information for a department that works with landlords to help evict bad tenants in situations like ours. I had no idea anything like that existed, and she went out of her way to get that for us. It’s nice to have that extra support system. And when I feel supported as a parent, I can spend more time focusing on being a better parent.
There are more reasons why this has been great for our family, but those are the biggest right now. Which makes why I’m going to Washington, D.C. next week even more important to me. I’m going with Zero to Three to tell Congress to “Think Babies” as they vote on policy. There is so much that happens in the first three years of life, and Congress has an important duty to consider how policy shapes those three years and the rest of their lives. One of the things that I’ll be focusing on in meetings with my Congressional leaders is childcare.
Our daycare is an Early Head Start facility and we are incredibly lucky to be able to attend there! When our second daughter arrives this June, she’ll be coming the same week that my husband graduates. We’re very excited, but these two factors change things.
- My daughter will no longer be able to attend that facility because it is reserved for children of students.
- Because he is a student, we get a discount at the facility as well. I’m not 100% sure how Early Head Start programs work, but my understanding is that it is cheaper for us than an off-site EHS program would be. So if we went to a different one, it would cost more. That would still be cheaper than a quality non-EHS daycare. One of the nicer daycares here would cost over $2000 a month for an infant and a toddler full-time. Only a few hundred cheaper for part-time. My part-time income would cover little more than half of that.
- Because my husband and I are both students and live off my part-time income and student loans, I believe we qualify as “extra poor” and receive assistance through the state to help pay for daycare. We pay $65 a month, which is a godsend. Once he starts working, we will make too much money to receive that assistance. So I either work to only pay for daycare, put my kids in a childcare situation I’m not comfortable with, or quit my job to be home with them.
None of these are critical statements, it’s just the way it is and I understand why. I believe government assistance is a short-term means to helping people get financially secure, not a life plan. I didn’t always feel that way. I was taught to work hard and pay my way in this world. I still believe that, but I have also learned that life gives us different experiences. Our current society is a lot different from what our parents grew up with and it continues to change. I could go on for a while about the economic differences we face that impact our ability to “get ahead” in the same sense that our parents or grandparents did.
There are a lot of reasons why people need help that have nothing to do with them being lazy. And there are a lot of people who need help for a little while so they can stop needing help in the future. That’s our situation. We planned and prepared, and then things changed and we had to figure out a new plan. It was really hard for me to accept this kind of help, but it is giving us the opportunity to not need any help in the very near future. We’ll be paying off student loans for a while, but that amount is significantly reduced by having affordable daycare. Not only is it affordable, but as I explained at the beginning, it’s quality. Both are important when it comes to providing for our children.
At my OB appointment yesterday, the medical assistant was asking why I was flying next week and I explained who Zero to Three is and what we’re doing. The first thing she said was, “That’s great! I think childcare is a huge issue,” and then spent several minutes explaining how her family handles childcare and the difficulties they’ve experienced. This truly does affect families of all states, incomes, education and race. So how can we as a country help families afford quality childcare? I don’t pretend to have all of the answers for what needs to happen, but I very strongly believe that this is something that should be considered as Congress works to “Think Babies.” This affects children and families in very personal ways, and has the potential for an incredibly positive impact. It has for mine!
If you’d like to follow along with the Think Babies campaign and–even better–tell Congress your thoughts on what babies need to thrive, visit www.thinkbabies.org . You can follow on social media with #thinkbabies #zerotothree and #strollingthunder. If you’re in the D.C. area, come join parents from around the country for Strolling Thunder on May 2nd (that’s next Tuesday!!) as we push our babies and toddlers around Capitol Hill. Let’s make our voices heard as we plan for our children’s futures!