As I kissed my son goodbye, a flier hanging on the door of his daycare caught my eye. “Music time at noon on Wednesdays! Parent participation is welcome.”
I spent the remainder of my day at work thinking about how I had never been and wondering if my son felt at all sad watching other parents walk through the doors during music time as his mom remained at work.
I began contemplating about how my family could get by on one income, and how surely I could drop-out of college now and return once my son was in kindergarten.
My email dings. It’s an email from his teacher reminding parents that the Christmas party is today at 5 p.m.
“I can make that!” I rejoiced to myself. I left work 15 minutes early and turned on talk radio during my drive to the party. A woman was recalling how her son’s behavioral problems began when he started daycare at the tender age of two and how they were still working to correct them now at the age of 12.
Alas, I arrived at my son’s school. I walked into his Christmas party with half a mind to speak to his teachers and unenroll him from the program altogether when I was met by my son’s smiling face at the door. He escorted me to a table covered with holiday-themed crafts that he and his classmates had been working on, his face gleaming with pride. I spent the duration of the party watching him interact with his peers and his teachers. He was happy, proving my worrying was done, once again, in vain.
The truth about childcare is that the kids will be alright.
In 2006, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development concluded a 15-year study on childcare with 1,364 kids as the primary subjects of research. The results revealed that kids with 100 percent maternal care fared no better than kids who spent time in childcare. In short, there is no reason for mothers to feel like they are harming their children if they decide to work. In fact, the study also showed that children who were enrolled in high-quality childcare went on to score better on school readiness based on standardized tests of literacy and numbers skills.
A separate study conducted by the the Families and Work Institute surveyed children of both employed and nonemployed moms and found responses remarkably similar. Whether mothers worked or not, children were equally likely to say they got enough time with mom.
The bottom line is that daycare needs to stop being the main source of guilt for mothers in work or school. According to Aletha Huston, a University of Texas at Austin psychology professor and past president of the Society for Research in Child Development, “The amount of time that mothers spend with their children does not seem to be that important; it is the quality of the interaction.”
In other words, rather than spending time counting the minutes of the day our children are in daycare while we are at work or school, mothers should focus on the time we do have at home with our kids.
When my son and I arrived home from his Christmas party, I sat with him on his bedroom floor and asked him what he did at school. He sat on my lap and told me about how Santa visited their classroom, then followed with an impromptu performance of his version of “Jingle Bells.” Though I wasn’t there to watch all of his day unfold, I made a conscious effort to enjoy this part that we had together.
Daycare is a small portion of our children’s lives, but their time with us as their parents is forever. Do not spend it getting caught up in the dogma of parenting nor listening to the self-righteous comments of bystanders who insist that your career or your education can wait till your child is older. They can hold their tongue, and you can enroll your kid in daycare.
Mia Villanueva writes the Thursday column on her experience as a student-parent at UC Berkeley. Contact her at [email protected].