Daycare Dilemma

daycareFirst of all, let me just say, I hate what the term “childcare problems” implies about our children.  Unwittingly, this subconsiously sends the message that our children are hassles and inconveniences.  Children that need care-taking are problems.  Why don’t we instead gather together as communities to discuss “parentcare problems?”  Why is it so hard to get parents to stay home with their own children and raise them?  Why is it so difficult to get a good-paying, full-time job with benefits and still be the primary care provider for the kids?  Why don’t we have greater worker rights or family rights in the work place?  Our kids aren’t the problem.

So tonight I was the bad-gal.  Tonight, our community had a meeting discussing the “childcare problems” in our community and county, and I think (no, I KNOW) I was the lone voice decrying the need for more childcare providers in my community.  I don’t think my perspective was well-received.

But let me share with you why I feel the way I do about this issue.

It is well known, extensively studied and proven that the early years of a child’s life are the most important, most formative years, setting the tone for pretty much all further development.  Furthermore, the concentrated, focused care of that child by a sole provider–meaning the caregiver’s attention is pretty much undivided and total–especially that of a parent, in the home is the greatest gift the child can receive.  This home environment with a parent present provides security, familiarity, continuity, and familial bonding in a way that no other environment provides.  Thus, a stay-at-home parent is the most ideal situation a child could be nurtured in for maximum growth and stability.  And healthy, secure children raised in such ways have an overwhelming reputation of being well-adjusted, successful adults who go on to raise children in much the same way, thus perpetuating a cycle of health and relational stability which is crucial for the well-being of all of society.

I won’t be so ignorant to believe that all of a society’s ills can be attributed to something like daycare.  And I won’t be so narrow to declare that every child that has a stay-at-home-parent is healthy and will be a great contributor in life.  Just because a child is reared at home by a parent or family member doesn’t mean she will grow up with all odds in her favor and life will be peachy keen.  Life is messier than that, but the numbers are staggering.  And while it may not be an exact rendering of data, just ask professional educators about what they experience of students raised by intentional stay-at-home-parents as opposed to those who aren’t.  Their personal observations are pretty telling.

Grant it, not every home is a model home; not every parent is a model parent.  However, if there are problems in the home, these problems are further exacerbated by the shuffling to and from daycare, the inevitable “chaos” that accompanies multiple children from multiple family dynamics, and the divided attention that even the most loving daycare provider has on a daily basis.  Let’s face it, no matter how much a person loves children and organizes their toy boxes and keeps a tidy house , taking care of multiple children at a time–especially if those children are not their own–a divided attention is inevitable.

And yes, even parents with multiple children have divided attentions within their own family units; however, when a child is raised primarily in his or her own home, even if mom or dad is caring for other siblings, the comforts of home–personal spaces, cups and plates, their own bed/crib, the smells and sounds of the house, mom’s or dad’s voice–provide the continuity that conveys stable fluidity of the family unit.

By and large, the majority of families that pursue daycare and the like for their children avail themselves to such services for a full-time need, 40 or more hours each week.  Most people aren’t procuring childcare for only 6 hours each week.  Therefore, the majority of a child’s rearing is in the hands of someone else.  The most formative, impressionable years of our babies’ lives are given to another.  Here’s the main problem I have with this.  When I decided that I wanted to be a parent, I didn’t think to myself, “I sure hope that when I have this baby I can find a good enough person to do the majority of the parenting.  Hopefully, we can find someone to take my place for the best hours of each day to be the parent I plan on not being.”  Okay, does this sound a bit harsh?  You bet it does.  But let’s face it, that is the reality of it.  Most people who have children today don’t plan on being the primary parent.  They plan on daycares and daycare providers to do the greatest share of the work.

I believe in the principle of stewardship.  I am to steward all things God has given me the best I possibly can.  Well, when it comes to our children, my husband and I are in the best position to steward these lives because they come directly from us.  No one can have a better read on them than we can.  And if God allowed us to birth them, then they are ours to raise, not someone else.  I don’t mean to say that no one else can ever watch our children or lend us a hand when we need help, but the task of parenting our children rests squarely on us.  Even when it comes to grandparents, while this is the next best option to the childcare dilemma, they raised their kids–us–and now it’s our turn to raise ours.

And the most cited reason for choosing daycare rather than being a stay-at-home-parent?  Money.   It goes something like this, “We need the extra income that two people working outside the home provide.  We can’t afford for only one of us to bring home a paycheck.”

We are one of the wealthiest nations on earth.  Even our poorest in this country are blessed in comparison to the poorest around the world.  What most people don’t account for is that they are working for a particular standard of lifestyle.  Eat out less.  Spend less on entertainment.  Don’t take destination vacations.  Sell a vehicle.  Whatever.  Most people could afford to have one parent stay home, they just don’t really want to make those adjustments.

Studies have shown over and over that, generally speaking, debt isn’t dependent on how much a person does or doesn’t make.  Debt is most directly linked to spending habits.  If spending habits remain the same, even if a person makes $70,000 instead of $50,000 their debt ratio remains the same.  The more he makes, the more he spends.  So while it may sound cruel, the way I see it, as a childcare society we are sacrificing our children on the altar of consumerism.  And any culture that makes that kind of bargain can’t truly be successful, honorable, and lasting.

Now to be fair, I do recognize that there are people in situations where they must provide for their children but have no alternatives except something like daycare.  I totally get it, and I understand the dilemma.  With single moms as our fastest growing population and nearest to poverty, as many do not receive the monthly child support due them, there are few other viable options.  It is for these individuals that daycare providers earn their wings and halos.  No woman, or man for that matter, should ever have to sacrifice feeding their kids because they have no one to take care of their kids.  It is for these situations that childcare providers should exist–to alleviate the burden of those with the greatest need.

And one more thing, daycares can NEVER be an equal substitute or alternative to the family unit.  No matter how much time a child spends with Miss M at her Kiddie Corner Child Center, no matter how much he loves Miss M, no matter how many friends she has at KCCC, it isn’t family.  Little John learns about family relationships and dynamics by being in family.  Little Jane learns about parenting from her parents.  Little John and Little Jane learn about family the more they interact with family.  And if they only get little snapshots of family life, the majority of their waking hours growing up spent mostly around other little kids, their knowledge is incomplete and sketchy at best.  It’s the difference between really learning something that remains with you and cramming for a test only to forget it once the test is over.  Unfortunately, too often, we’re cramming family to our children rather than deeply learning what family means and does, and the contrast is vast.

Just think about most daycares or even unlicensed childcare providers that you know.  How many of these places resemble a typical family or home?  While it may be true that some families have a lot of kids, there’s a reason the Duggers have their own television program–It’s Not Normal, folks.  And even if there are some anomalies like a couple having 3 sets of twins, or sextuplets, or even multiple children with disabilities,  the averages of those situations are slim.  So let’s just kind of adopt the law of averages for a moment.  Many people have children ranging in ages with an average of 1-2 years between each child, and in a number of studies and surveys, the average couple has 2 children (remember, these are just averages and don’t reflect all situations).   So, if a child were to grow up in an “average” family she would have one other sibling unlikely to be her same age.  The dynamics of her environment and how she comes to know herself within this family environment are much different than what she would experience at her daycare.  For at her daycare, there are two babies under 18 months old, 3 toddlers all at different stages of potty training, her sibling and herself.  On most days there is just one adult to oversee all the kids.  Most families don’t look like this at all.  And yet, these are the kinds of environments that are replacing the home and family for a large majority of children today.

For the record, I did not go into all of this at tonight’s meeting.  I briefly stated my opinion as best I could without passing judgement on anyone there.  So if anyone felt judged, they were picking up something I wasn’t throwing down.  However, these are just some of the reasons I’m not pro-childcare.  We have problems, to be sure, but the solution, I think, starts with reevaluating us as parents and making the adjustments to value our kids like we say we do.

It would be presumptuous to say that I’ll never rely on daycare or relatives or close friends to watch my kids, but so far, my husband and I have done everything we can to be the primary care providers for our children.  Until just recently I was mostly a stay-at-home-mom (mostly, because there was a short stint where I worked about 10 hours outside the home each week and had a wonderful gal watch our kids who were the same ages as her two kids).  Even now, while I work during the day while my kids are at school, I do whatever I can to see them off in the mornings and welcome them home at the end of every school day, and if ever that stopped being a possibility for me, I am prepared to quit my job.

Trust me, this hasn’t always been the easiest decision.  There were times I loathed paying my student loan payment when I had nothing to show for my college education.  There were times I wished I had co-workers to get together with and professional achievements to feel proud of.  There have been seasons where even a couple hundred dollars extra each month would’ve been nice.  But somehow, we made it and are still making it.  And I believe, in the deepest parts of my being, that sacrificing money over my availability to them is the best sacrifice I can make.  And trust me, if I can do it, I bet others can too.

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