It's a choice every new mother faces. Here's some sound input to help you with your decision.
Jessica and Tim's first child, Timmy, is five weeks old. While Jessica's been on maternity leave, she and Tim have discussed the idea of her coming home from work to take care of the baby. But so far it doesn't look like that will work financially. Jessica will have to go back to her job while Timmy goes to day care.
But that's not really what Jessica wants. Every day after her husband leaves for work, she cries while holding baby Timmy. It hurts just to think about leaving her little boy in someone else's care.
She doesn't know exactly why she feels this way. Is it unnecessary guilt? Hormones? Or has God wired her to want to raise her baby? She knows friends who've placed their children in day care. Some of them struggle with it; others seem perfectly content. Jessica isn't keeping her inner conflict a secret from her husband, but she isn't it's intensity with him, either. She feels she must deal with this, get through it, and go back to work.
Are you wondering what to do about the question of day care? Are there moral considerations involved, or is it strictly a matter of preference? Here are some issues to think about.
1. Which choice gives your child the best caregivers? The most important question about day care may be the influence other care providers will have on your child.
Your little one needs to "attach" to consistent, loving adults. If you use day care, it's best for your child's emotional well-being that these caregivers be a regular part of your child's life for the first three years. A changing parade of adults won't give your child a stable connection when he or she is away from you.
With that much at stake, you need to evaluate the character and values of alternative caregivers. This is often hard to do. It takes spending time with the facility's administrator, observing the caregivers at work, and talking with other parents.
2. Which choice allows you to be a good steward? The Bible says that children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3-5). With blessings come responsibilities.
Just as we're to be good managers of time and money, we're responsible for the children God entrusts to us. That includes taking responsibility for the care they receive - whether it's from you, a family member, a day care facility, or a babysitter. Are you confident that the caregivers you're considering will be good stewards of your child?
3. Which choice lets you spend enough time with your child? It's been said that the person who teaches your child to speak teaches your child his or her value system. Whether or not that's true, it's clear that the person who spends the most time with your child will have the greater opportunity to influence his or her development.
A few decades ago, parents were told that they didn't need to spend a lot of time with their kids as long as it was "quality time." That turned out to be wrong. Children need quantity, too. This is one reason why using day care is a difficult and scary decision for many people; they know it's hard to make up for lost time in the few hours before bed or before the day care day begins.
4. Which choice can you and your spouse agree on? Conflict can arise between spouses on this issue - even as it arises between "working moms" and "stay-at-home moms."
Talk with your spouse about your hopes and concerns regarding daycare. In the case of Jessica and Tim, the two of them weren't on the same page - even after visiting several highly recommended facilities.
Jessica still felt as if her heart were being torn apart. The night before she was to return to work, Tim could tell she was in turmoil. After she put Timmy to bed, Tim called out, "Jess, come here. Tell me what's going on."
Jessica started to sob. "Oh, Tim, this is so hard! I'm trying to be okay with this. But I don't even care about my career now that we have Timmy. I might again one day, I suppose. But I just don't want to leave him."
Tim sighed. "Honey, I'm so sorry. I know you're hurting. I don't want this, either. I wish I made enough money that you could stay home. I just don't see how it's possible right now."
"Let's keep talking about it, with each other and with God. Give it a month and let's see how we're doing."
A month later, both of them were struggling with having Timmy in day care. They talked further, and soon shared the goal of bringing Jess and Timmy home within six months. They started considering the pros and cons of selling their second car. As they brainstormed possibilities, they both felt better because they had a goal - and soon might have a plan.
You and your spouse are the ones who'll have to decide prayerfully whether one of you can leave a job in order to stay home with a child. Your decision may change as circumstances do. For example, some women who return to outside-the-home careers after a first child don't go back to work after their second.
It's not possible for some families, including many single-parent households, to have a parent stay home to care for a child. If you determine that your family falls into this category, decide whether your child will be with a family member, in an in-home care placement, or in a day care facility. Many parents feel that having their child with a family member is the next best thing to having the child with Mom or Dad. Other parents don't have this option, and must choose a day care facility.
So how do you assess such a facility?
1. Security. Many facilities now have systems requiring parents to type in a code in order to come in and pick up or drop off a child. At the least, doors should be kept locked and visitors monitored.
The center or in-home care provider needs to have a policy on who can pick up each child. An up-to-date authorization list should include first and last names, addresses, and phone numbers of people approved by you. The care provider also needs to know that whoever is picking up your child has a safe way of transporting him or her.
2. Staff. How experienced are the workers in providing care? How do they seem to interact with the children? What's the center's ratio of adults to kids? In the U.S., states have different requirements regarding the number of staff caring for children of particular ages.
If in the U.S., does the center require staff background checks from both local police and the FBI? If it doesn't, you should keep looking.
3. Policies and procedures. Look at the facility itself. Is it clean? Are there enough age-appropriate toys for the children? Are toys disinfected at night? How do workers take care of diapering? Diapers must be changed in a location that's separate from the food preparation area.
What does the center do with a sick child? Is that policy consistently enforced? How are you informed if your child has been exposed to an illness? What are the emergency procedures in case of an accident, illness, fire, natural disaster, or attack?
What are the policies regarding discipline of children?
Getting all your questions answered takes time and tenacity. But it's the only way to make an informed choice.
No matter what you decide, always let your child know that you love him or her. If you choose day care, make sure your child knows that being away from him or her is not what you want, but that you aren't able to do otherwise right now.
Spend as much time as you can with our child. Let the dust and the laundry pile up if necessary. Your child will be young for only a short while. You'll never get these days back; do what you can to make sure you don't miss them.
Excerpted from The First Five Years of Marriage (Tyndale House Publishers.). Copyright (c) 2006 by Focus on the Family. General Editors: Phillip J. Swihart, Ph.D. and Wilford Wooten, L.M.F.T. All rights reserved. Used with permission.