Marjorie writes in with a very interesting question:
I’m a single mom with a four year old daughter. Each weekday, I take my daughter to stay with one of my aunts so that I can work to earn a living and keep food on the table. After Christmas, my mom sat down with my aunt and I and gave us a bunch of information about a few great preschools in the area. My aunt told me later on that she’s supportive, no matter what I choose. So, for me, the real question is whether or not my daughter would get enough benefit from preschool compared to days with my aunt to make the extra costs worthwhile.
I live next door to a single mother and I see time and time again how she is forced into making difficult choices about the devoted time spent with her children. Does she make a nutritious home-cooked meal or does she spend an extra half an hour with her girls? Does she spend some time in the yard with them or does she get some of the never-ending household chores taken care of? This comes in on top of the prerequisite day of work for a single parent, after which they’re exhausted but also often wanting a strong connection with their children. On top of that, there’s the money concerns – a single income household in the modern world is never easy.
When it comes to a choice between preschool and other child care options, I don’t think there’s a simple cut-and-dried answer to this because there are so many factors involved.
The first one – and the most important one – is your child. Is your child outgoing around others her age? Is she intellectually on par with other children her age – meaning is she capable of holding a writing utensil? Can she count to twenty or so? Is she curious about the world around her? If these things are all true, preschool likely doesn’t have a great deal of value for your daughter.
When things get murkier – in my opinion – is when several of those questions have negative answers. This can indicate a lot of things, from something as simple as social anxiety to a learning disorder or simply more focused one-on-one time. If you’re witnessing these issues and you genuinely feel concern about your daughter’s intellectual growth, I would lean more towards preschool. If not, I would lean more towards maintaining the caregiving situation with your aunt.
What about the money, though? Is the extra cost of a good preschool worth it when compared to a normal daycare if your child is socially thriving and developmentally on pace?
In a word – in my opinion – it’s not, unless the difference in cost makes no difference in your life. Here’s why.
If you spend that extra money to send your child to a top preschool, you’re putting an extra financial burden on yourself. This has several effects on your life. You’re more tied to your job than ever before because you can no longer afford to lose it, which means your boss has more power than before and your job is more stresful. You also have less money to spread around in other areas of your life, like an emergency fund or on something as simple as a stop at the ice cream shop with your child. On some level, these things are given up to afford that high-quality preschool – and these things have a negative impact on your child’s home life.
This basic idea is true no matter what you’re looking at in life. When you bump up the financial cost for something of higher quality, you’re paying an additional price beyond the dollars and cents. You pay the personal costs that go along with maintaining that higher level of income. If you can’t see the benefit in doing so, don’t do it.
To me, that’s an exchange not worth making unless there’s a clear and dramatic benefit from the higher-cost preschool. Never forget that early on, you’re the biggest impact and influence on your child, and if sending your child to the higher-cost preschool will put stressful burdens on you to disrupt that in any way, there had better be a big reward. If your child is doing fine, then I don’t see the benefit there.
No matter what you choose, however, do not let others make you feel guilty about it. Simply by asking questions like this and seriously considering the answer, you’re looking at the unique situations, gifts, and opportunities in your life to make the right decision for your daughter. You obviously love her. You obviously want what’s best for her. Never let other people attempt to use guilt or shame or other tactics to guide your choice.