Who Will Lead the Children?

I love my work. I make no apology for that fact. But every day I am aware of a personal/professional tension that I've never resolved and probably will never resolve. I love babies and toddlers. I love working with them. But personally I believe that young children should not be in day care.

As a professional with a diploma and degree behind me, I am no stranger to the overruling childcare philosophy that regulates our services. I’ve read the policies and studied the research. I’m familiar with the government’s strategies to get women away from the home and into the workforce, offering incentives to working mothers and effectively discriminating against those mothers who stay at home but would welcome a break one or two mornings a week to go shopping, play tennis, or pay the bills.

On one hand, I believe quite passionately that children – especially children under two years of age – should be at home with their mothers; on the other hand I work as an early childhood teacher with infants and toddlers. It’s a contradiction that I struggle with each day: I believe one thing yet I do another. I love my work and believe that we offer a quality care and education service but still I believe that children grow and develop best when cared for by their mothers.

The only way I can remotely reconcile these differences is by realising that many of the children I care for would be in childcare somewhere but at least in our centre which has a Christian philosophy we have the opportunity to show them Christian love.

Yet the tension is still there. At times it’s as if I’m walking an invisible tightrope. Nothing can change how I inherently feel about early childhood care and education. I will forever feel blessed that I was the one at home with my children during their early years, enjoying a fifteen year break from the workforce. Because I believed then (as I do now) that in the majority of cases the best care that a child can receive is from its mother.

Who else cares enough to instill the values that they need to live by? Who else cares deeply about their character development? If mothers are too busy then who will answer their questions and soothe the tears or kiss the grazed knee? Who will read the same story again and again and again? Who will pray with them about the little things as well as the big things? Who will lead them to the feet of Jesus?

Regardless of good intentions the early childhood teacher can only do so much. We can never – and I mean never – replace a mother’s love and care. Even the highest quality care and education cannot measure up to a mother’s care. Because we can never give a child what they need: and that is their mother!

However I’m realistic enough to know that there are instances where the mother does not have the option of staying at home. This is not a perfect world and there are many examples where mothers have had to return to the workforce, often against their own desires. So what can be done in these cases?

I’d like to suggest several options:

1. If at all possible refrain from returning to work for at least the first year, preferably the first two to three years;

2. If this is not possible, consider part-time work until the child is in school;

3. Consider working from home. I cared for other children in my home to bring in some extra income when my youngest was still at home. There are other jobs where you may be able to work from home and fit work in around children’s sleeping routines and perhaps just go into the office one day a week or fortnight;

4. Arrange for someone who loves your child as much as you do to care for him/her while you work. Often this is a grandparent or close relative;

5. If a relative is not available consider home daycare where the child is with one consistent caregiver and a small group of children. Large centres where there are many children together are not ideal for infants and toddlers. I would recommend that the caregiver have no more than 4 children in her group and at the most only two under the age of two;

6. If all else fails, look for a Christian centre where the staff genuinely love the children and will teach them values that you hold precious.

The women’s magazines tell women not to feel guilty – that leaving their little ones is of no consequence. The latest research tries to convince us that children do "better" in childcare than the child at home. Yet can it be possible that our guilt is God-given because we are going against His plan for the family? Should we be sacrificing our children’s moral and emotional development in the name of "success" or "academic achievement"? Sadly it will only be in years to come that we will realise the price we paid when we sacrificed our children on altars of our own making. And by then it will be too late.


April said…
Reading your post today took me back in time, Jules. I was one of those mothers who didn't have a choice. My husband got very sick with paranoid schizophrenia and ended up having to move back home with his parents in another part of the country he was so debilitated. I was 24 and couldn't care for him and a newborn too - and work full time. And he never got better; it was so sad. Schizophrenia is a horrible disease and they had so many drugs in him I wasn't even sure if it was safe to leave my son with him, even though he loved him so much.

At any rate, I had to take my son to daycare when he was 6 weeks old. 6 WEEKS! You just can't imagine how horrible that was. I felt like my heart was being ripped away from me leaving him there that first time. I VERY MUCH wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but for whatever reason, it wasn't to be. I did take my son to a Christian daycare that was located right next to the high school my mother worked at (she started working when we were in high school at the school we went to). I loved the teachers and assistants there and after the first month, it wasn't quite as bad. But I always hated not being able to be at home with him.

To help you reconcile what you do, just remember that there are many of us who have no choice and you are helping sooo much. I don't know about there, but here the rocky economy has caused many people - men and women - to lose their jobs. Sometimes the wife has to go to work until her husband can find a job again - or they both have to work since their pay might have been reduced to the point that neither is able to stay home.

At least you are aware that things can sometimes happen; life isn't always predictable, unfortunately.

I agree with your post, just so you know. :)
SchnauzerMom said…
I agree with you.
Daisy said…
Wow, that was a well written post Jules!
Jules said…
Hi, I was afraid that my post would be controversial and would offend some people. I didn't want to upset anyone but this is something I'm passionate about and this blog can't be real if I write just what I think my readers want to hear.

April, I realise there are instances where mothers have no choice at all and yours was one of those cases. That is so sad that you had to leave your son at 6 weeks. I can't imagine doing that and the only way I could've ever been able to do it was if I was in a situation where I had no other option.

Of course I don't know people's personal situations, but it seems that a lot of the working mothers that I meet are ones that choose to work. They might say that they 'have' to work but that's because they've taken on a huge mortgage (rather than settling for a smaller home) or want their annual overseas trips, or whatever. Or as one mother told me, "Going to work is far easier than caring for my kids."

I just wish that parents could see how important those first few years are and realise just how quickly they go and make the choice to stay home with their babies if at all possible. Unfortunately, the women's magazines are screaming at them that they can have it all and to put their babies in day care and go back to work. But once that time has gone there's no getting it back.

April, I admire you for doing what was best for your son. You put his safety first and returned to work to support him. That's commendable and I admire you and respect you for making that decision as difficult as it must have been.
Jules said…
I want to add too that what you did April was a sacrifice. You gave up what you wanted for the best interests of your son. I think that kind of sacrificial attitude becomes obvious to children - because it's present in other decisions that you make. However, the parent that decides to return to work for selfish motives is often the same parent that never has time for her children and children sense that too - especially as they get older and enter the teen years.
Jen said…
You made some excellent points Jules. You wrote a lot of great things, and I didn't think it was offensive at all. In fact, what you wrote seemed very thought out and caring.
BellaMama said…
I agree!!

and it's not easy to leave it at that! :)

Bella Mama
mermayd said…
I loved what you wrote Jules. With my son I had to work and like April said - it was like he was ripped away from me. And the scornful looks from the daycare workers didn't help matters. I was a frazzled, overworked mom with so much guilt I would try and compensate by keeping my son up way too late so that I would have time with him. Sometimes if I got some time off work (like a dentist appointment) and would have an extra hour or two I would try and run some errands or whatnot, to help lighten up my load, so that I could spend more time with my son on the weekends. The daycare always somehow found out when I was not at work and would find some excuse to call me and make me come get him (claiming he had a fever when there was no fever) because they thought he should spend more time with me at every opportunity. The life of a working mom is so frazzled - it's not natural in any way shape or form.

When I got the opportunity to stay at home (when he entered first grade) I took it. Life was much dfferent from then on. Happier, calmer, more of a "life" for both of us. Then my daughter came along and boy what a difference staying at home was with her compared to having to work wtih him! To my surprise one day I returned to his daycare to show them his "new sister" and they all confided in me how much better off he was at home with me in the afternoons and how they feel sorry for all the kids they watch. It broke my heart to hear that, but at the same time I felt blessed to be able to finally stay at home.

You're so right about teenagers and older kids needing moms at home just as badly! So many mom I know return to work once the are in school and don't even realizing what they are doing. Of all the "delinquent" teenagers I know and see around our part of the world, their moms work. I'm not saying all working moms have delinquent teenagers, and there are plenty I'm sure whose moms are at home too. But it is a vulnerable age and I truly believe they need their moms after school -to talk with, to supervise who they are being friends with, to take them places, all sorts of reasons. Just not being frazzled for one!

So when I worry about my own future of not saving for retirement, for example, I try and just have faith in G-d that this is how it is supposed to be and that he will take care of what needs to be taken care of.
Jules said…
Mermayd, I really appreciate your thoughts and comments. I hope no one felt I was condemning them for the choices they've made. I realise that sometimes there is no other choice and I hope my post reflects that. I did try to present some alternatives for those that perhaps have not considered all the options or don't know what the options are.

I'm sorry that you felt judged by the day care workers. I hope I don't portray that attitude at work. I do believe that children should be at home with their mothers if at all possible but I also believe that if they are going to be in day care, then our centre is a good choice. We do love the children and genuinely care for them and their well being.

I do realise how blessed I was to be at home with my children. And it's something that I still consider important. I only work part-time so that I can fulfil my household responsibilities on my day off. I don't have the stamina to work full-time and do everything that a mother should do and then cope with teens on top of that (even if they are good teens) and my choices about work etc reflect that (much to my manager's disgust).

Thanks for the comment about keeping your son up late to spend time with him. It's shed light on what has been an ongoing problem at work (children staying up late then being tired and cranky the next day) and it's hard not to feel that the parents should get some kind of 'routine'. Hopefully now I'll be more understanding and more compassionate.
mermayd said…
Your thoughts are true ones spoken from your heart. Nobody, including us "had to work" moms believe you were condeming us. It is what it is. And yes, many women work when they don't have to, or work longer than they have to, or work full time when they could work part time. I once knew a mom that arranged to work part-time then kept her kid in daycare full time so she could cook dinner while he was at daycare! How silly is that? And the "working mothers" magazines do brainwash women into thinking it is a good thing. That the kids will grow up to be more independent and smarter as a result. Well, let me tell you, my daughter didn't go to one day of preschool and guess what? I can confidently say that in her entire grade at her school, she likely holds the #2 spot out of 150kids if you had to rank all the kids in smartness! Having done "both" I believe children learn more when they're getting lots of one-on-one interaction throughout the day.

That said, I also see a lot of stay-at-home moms that like to send their kids to preschool (part-time a few hours, not daycare) so that they can go to the coffee shop with their friends. Or they arrange babysitters as often as possible so they can "do their thing". Or they are simply not there emotionally. So it's a mental state too, not just whether you work or not.

To those moms that think "working outside the home is easier" - I say NO IT ISN'T. When you are home full time you are "bonded" and "in sync" with your child so much more - you instinctively know what they want or what they need or what will calm them down. When you work outside the home everything becomes much more difficult when you are at home! Ever wonder why the daycare workers always seem to make it look so easy?

Okay, off my soapbox. Jules, your thoughts are very valid. It's a shame that our society is such that many many more kids are in daycare than in decades past. And that those of us who do now stay home feel like it's a much larger "sacrifice" than it was decades ago. Or is it?????
Jules said…
"When you are home full time you are "bonded" and "in sync" with your child so much more - you instinctively know what they want or what they need or what will calm them down. When you work outside the home everything becomes much more difficult when you are at home!"

You make a valid point. Early childhood teachers who see the child for the better part of the child's day often are the first to become aware that a child is not well. When a parent sees a child only at the end of the day and the child is tired or cranky it's hard to know whether it's the usual end-of-day tiredness or something more.

I do think it's harder for mothers who stay at home than in times past. When everyone stays home then you not don't have to struggle with going against the norm or having to defend your position, but you also have the support of others in the same situation. So I do think it's a bigger sacrifice these days but certainly one that has its own rewards.

I know when I had my children, all my friends worked and I felt very much alone. It wasn't always easy especially when we had to go without so many things so that we could live on one income.

Although I think some hours of pre-school or early childhood education per week can be valuable, I chose not to send my children. I have five well-adjusted and intelligent sons who have all acomplished much in their chosen fields. I know there's been research to support the value of daycare and early childhood education but there's also new research that shows that children do better in the home - especially boys. If we ignore it I think we do so at our own peril.
Civilla said…
Thank you for a well thought-out post that deals with reality. I have always said that although the Bible holds up a standard, life is not perfect and we are not always able to meet that standard due to circumstances beyond our control -- especially today when extended families do not live together.