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When I first became a mother I prepared myself for the advice, tips and even the judgment that I knew would be thrown my way. Friends had warned me that anyone I came across would have an opinion on at least one aspect of parenting life, if not several more.
But I never thought I’d have to defend my choice not to send my kids to daycare.
I’ve always considered myself lucky to have the option to stay at home with the kids. I’ve kept busy with playgroups, music classes and a host of other age appropriate activities. I’m happy, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job of keeping my young kids happy too.
So I wasn’t prepared when other people’s comments about me not using daycare started to crop up.
As my first-born approached his third birthday and I still hadn’t enrolled him in daycare, the pressure really began to mount. I started to wonder, what was I doing so wrong to make people think that he was better off somewhere else rather than with me?
Nothing. As it turns out, this is just another parenting pressure many of us face.
When Rachel Writes began a family, it felt natural to her to start an at-home business so she could work while also being with the kids. She thought her situation would be considered ideal, but instead, she was shocked that the majority of people thought she was crazy.
“I seriously heard it all: ‘how will you ever manage? How can you seriously run a business with kids in the background?'” she says. “Even ‘It’s so selfish – your children need to play with other kids all day!'”
“It now seems that choosing to stay at home with (the kids) is less socially acceptable. The only thing to make it socially acceptable is to say, ‘Yeah but …’ and then lie and say you have them enrolled in some super-exciting playgroup every day of the week just in case – God forbid – they were ever bored or lacking socialisation.”
Dani Lombard works full time running her own public relations company, using the services of a nanny as well as her own parents to care for her child. As her daughter approaches her second birthday, Dani is finding the pressure to enrol her in daycare is increasing.
“I’m very happy with the one-on-one care she’s receiving, but people often say ‘oh isn’t she in daycare yet?’ and it makes me feel like I’m cheating her out of time with other kids.”
Because of the comments, Dani is now considering daycare instead of the nanny. She feels like if she doesn’t, she isn’t doing the right thing by her daughter in terms of socialisation – something she wouldn’t worry about if it wasn’t for the comments of others.
And then there’s Jackie Smith, who gave up work to be a full-time stay-at-home mum. She loves the time she spends with her son, who has recently turned two, but is feeling the pressure from family and friends to send him to daycare “at least once a week – not only for my son’s sake, but also because they all think I need to take a break and have some time to myself too,” she says.
Jackie wants to do what is best for her boy, but feels reluctant to send him off to daycare just because that’s the expectation. “I don’t want to take a daycare placement that a working parent really needs,” she says. “And besides, I don’t even feel like I need a break from him. I mean, if I needed a break that much I’d go back to work!”
So should we be using daycare whether we need to or not? It seems even the professionals aren’t sure. According to some studies, kids are better off in their parents care while under the age of three. According to other research, there are huge benefits to attending daycare at any age.
As with all other parenting decisions, I guess it all boils down to what works best for your family.
Some people might need daycare. Some might want it. And others might not use it at all.
And you know what? They are all the right answer.