My second daughter is due soon, and like her big sister, once I’m done with maternity leave, she will be attending a full-time daycare center. I know there’s a lot of thought that goes into making this kind of decision for your little one, and for us, center-based care is what worked well in the past, and there’s a high-quality daycare center near our home.
However, like with so many parenting decisions, it’s still fraught with the worry that you’re not making the right choice or that others will think you’re not making the right choice—does it look bad that I’m away from my baby for long periods of time? I felt this a lot more with my older daughter, as I was making these decisions for the first time. The second time around though, I am going in with a lot more confidence (and no guilt!), and here’s why:
My older daughter is flourishing
My 6-year-old went to a daycare center starting at 3 months old, and she’s now a smart, social, and flexible first grader. I attribute a lot of her personality and ease into adjusting to elementary school and making new friends to her years spent at daycare.
They say it takes a village to raise a kid, and I’ve seen so many benefits from effectively using my village. There’s so much I can provide my kids, but I am certainly not the best at everything. Allowing someone else with the credentials, experience, and more natural ability than me to assist in my daughter’s early childhood education was a huge benefit to her. It’s also a relief to have help with big items on my mental load list. Plus, I also love that she has other adults in her life that she knows are there for her and that she can trust.
I can’t feel guilty about needing an income
Some of the decision-making around working parenthood vs. stay-at-home parenthood is strictly logistical instead of emotional. A full-time daycare center is certainly expensive (and definitely prohibitively expensive for many), but I still net more money keeping my full-time job and paying for full-time care than I would if I left the workforce. I would also worry about the financial risk I’d be taking of leaving the work force with the intention to return later.
Both my husband and I need our steady full-time incomes regularly coming in to the bank account in order to keep up with the mortgage, bills, and the nice but not overly extravagant extras that go into our daughter’s life, like tuition for weekly gymnastics and art classes, fun weekend activities, and fresh school clothes. If we were down to one income, there would be a lot of scrimping and possibly worrying about if there’s enough for every bill that comes in. Unfortunately, we didn’t build up much of a nest egg before having our daughter, so there hasn’t been much flexibility in choosing to work or stay at home. It’s just the required logistics to keep our home life moving along.
Additionally, until recently, my husband worked at a smaller employer with very scarce benefits. I work at a bigger employer with access to much more comprehensive and affordable health coverage. In this world, taking that into account is unfortunately a huge reality.
I’ve never felt replaced or diminished as “mom”
In my six-plus years as a working parent, I’ve never felt like sending my daughter to a center during the day has diminished my role as her mom or affected our bond. Sure, daycare is during the working hours of the day, which is a long stretch of time, but it’s certainly not open on evenings, nights, weekends, holidays, or if my daughter is sick. My daughter has always enjoyed her daycare providers, but at pickup time, I’ve always felt like she clearly knows the distinction between her mother and the comfort of home versus a teacher who is responsible for her care and learning during the weekday.
Bonus: Trying new foods
My older daughter can be a picky eater. It’s to be determined if she actually doesn’t like the foods or if she is trying to find a way to make a point. She can be difficult when it comes to trying new foods at dinner with us, but the reports at daycare were always that she tried everything and usually finished the meal.
I think the group setting with other kids really helped her in the hesitancy to try something new. So far, the same pattern seems to be playing out at elementary school, and it’s a relief after an evening dinner battle knowing that she had a well-rounded meal earlier in the day and maybe even tried something different.
Now that I know all of these benefits going into this care arrangement the second time around, I have no need to feel any guilt about the decision. Of course, there are downsides to daycare, like with every other care scenario. Kids can definitely catch a lot of colds in their first year or so at the center, and you might end up missing the very first instance of a certain milestone. Like all setups—nanny, babysitter, family member care, stay-at-home parent, etc.—there are pros and cons.
This is just my personal experience with the pros of choosing a daycare center. I hope this helps another first-time mom who is feeling any guilt about her decision to use full-time care centers. From my experience, it can really be a blessing to your family! Remember, it’s likely that no one would ask a male partner the same questions about child care guilt.