One of the most controversial subjects that I often touch upon is that of daycare. Some people are adamantly opposed to even suggesting the topic, stating unequivocally that taking your child to a daycare is a detriment to them. Others speak very positively about it, looking at it as a way to balance a child’s experience, enable more family income, and allowing parents to be refreshed and focused on their children.
Is daycare really necessary in modern life? If both parents intend to work professionally outside the home, particularly when the child is under school age, daycare often becomes a necessity. But is the financial freedom gained by both spouses working balance out with the benefits and drawbacks of daycare? It’s a good question that’s bound to open up a big can of worms.
What Constitutes Appropriate Care for Children?
I think there are four things that really need to be addressed for care of a preschool-aged child:
Love, or a deeply caring provider
A small child deserves someone taking care of them that loves them, or at the very least has a deep sense of caring about their happiness and well-being. A caring individual will give the child attention, console them well, and develop a bond that’s vital for emotional growth.
Basic personal needs
A child needs food, diaper changes, a clean place to be, medical care, and so on – the nuts and bolts of sustaining health and life.
A child needs to interact with a diversity of people in order to learn to interact with others of all shapes, colors, and sizes. Establishing a comfort level, both with peers and with older and younger people, not only brings deep fulfillment to children but builds in them basic social skills and self-confidence, both of which are needed in the real world.
Education and experiences
A child needs someone to learn things from, from the basic stuff of how to brush your teeth to a trip to the fire station to see how the fire truck works. The world is full of richness and vibrant life that a well-rounded child needs to be exposed to.
Obviously, the biggest asset a stay-at-home parent brings to the table is love. There is no stronger advocate for a child’s all-around well being than a concerned parent – no paid provider can really compare to that. Also, a stay at home parent can provide basic personal needs at a high level, likely equal to or better than a daycare can.
A daycare provides that basic care element quite well, and by their very nature provides a rich environment for peer-to-peer socialization. Good daycares go beyond that, providing fulfilling experiences for a child that, in some cases, can’t be matched at home. However, a baseline daycare does not provide for a child as well as a stay-at-home parent can.
Statements like that are often enough to fully convince people to become stay at home parents, but they’re not the full story. The parents themselves have issues of their own to manage:
Many households simply can’t make it if both parents aren’t working. That’s the economic reality today. To state that a “poor” family shouldn’t have children – an argument I’ve heard before – is patently ridiculous, as a loving family that wants to have a child should have all the opportunity in the world to have one.
Being a parent is emotionally and personally demanding. Many people need a diversity of experiences in their lives in order to be able to survive. Many parents are able to devote a few hours a day of uninterrupted love and attention to their children, but after that period, they’re emotionally spent, and further time leads to conflict. This is human nature – no matter how much you love a person, no one has infinite patience.
For many people, working outside the home gives them a deep sense of personal fulfillment, one that when balanced with caring for a child makes them a very complete and fulfilled person. That complete and fulfilled person is a person who will be a stellar parent for a child.
Finding the Right Balance
Balancing all of this stuff isn’t easy. Parents everywhere have to make some difficult decisions, and different parents are going to come to different conclusions. Stay at home parenting is the right answer for some situations. For many others, daycare is the right situation.
My wife and I concluded that the best solution for us was to find the best possible daycare in our area, one with providers who were adequately compensated and genuinely cared about the children, provided substantial amounts of fulfilling activity for all age levels, and had a full open door policy for parents to visit as they wished. Quite frankly, our standards were very high – we visited eight daycares and said no to all of them. The only daycare we found that really matched the level of care and experience we wanted for our child was an expensive one – it was also challenging to get a slot, as they are pretty rigorous about maximizing the space for each child and keeping the ratio of adults to children at a very impressive rate.
This was worth it to us. Our children get a great deal of education, interaction, and fulfillment at daycare – they are exposed to a lot of different concepts, often using a level of creativity that impresses me. Meanwhile, my wife and I both have the time to not only earn a good wage, but also to get the kind of well-rounded personal fulfillment in all aspects of life that we need to be the best parents we can be.
Maximizing staying at home
On the flip side is a parent that chooses to stay at home. There’s a different set of demands here. The commitment of spending a full day every day with the child, the need to seek out socialization opportunities and have learning and enrichment opportunities as well, and the need to find personal space as well (which, when lacking, degrades your parental abilities).
It takes a special person to be up to those challenges, and it should be a goal that you set for yourself not just over the long haul, but every single day. If you can commit to that, then being a stay at home parent is probably the best thing that could happen to your child – but it’s not a commitment that most people are psychologically able to make.
In A Nutshell…
Children need a lot of care. They need to have their basic needs met, and they deserve much more: love and caring relationships, socialization, and additional enrichment and experiences. The answer to providing those things isn’t so easy, and it depends a lot on your set of skills and talents as an adult.
You owe it to your child to figure out what the best balance of these areas are for your situation. Never let a sense of guilt or disdain imposed by others because of your choice cause you to second-guess what you’re doing. There is no formula for the right answer, but if you look at the options available to you, look at your child’s needs, and look at what you need to be the best parent you can be, an answer will emerge that’s right for you. Don’t just settle for the quick, easy, or cheap answer though – be patient, listen to your own heart, and find what’s right for your situation. Make the choice that will give your child the best chance to develop into the kind of young person that every parent can be proud of, a well-balanced child with all the tools he or she needs to chase their dreams and perhaps change the world.