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Why I Sent My Son to Daycare as a Stay-at-Home Parent

Two things happened simultaneously that would alter my opinion of what it would mean to stay home with my son.

The first time I dropped my two-year-old son to daycare I cried. There were tears from both parties involved (my son was livid when we quickly let go of his hand and he was whisked away by the teachers) and while I was expecting his, I wasn’t ready for the onslaught of emotions that I had. I wasn’t crying because he was all grown up and going to school, I was crying because I felt like I had failed him.

My desire to be a stay at home mom was influenced by my childhood. Both of my parents worked full-time jobs (in fact, they still do). You could say my mother worked more than a full time job, as she ran her own business. I remember being woken up in what felt like the middle of the night to get dressed and spend the day at the family restaurant, where I would sit by myself in the office and build doll houses out of Ellis Coffee stamped boxes while they tended to customers all day. Needless to say, it got lonely.

I envied my friends whose mothers stayed home with them. Mothers who were there in the morning when they woke up to make them breakfast, who could take them to and from school and to extracurricular activities themselves. Who could volunteer for the class bake sale or the school field trip. Who were, above all else, present for their child’s childhood.

I decided that this is the kind of parent I would be. One that would never put work, put anything, before my child if I could help it. They would be my absolute, number one priority. Looking back now, I can see now has this black and white, this all or nothing perspective, would become problematic.

For the first year of my son’s life, I was in bliss. I adored my son and the time we spent together, whether we were snuggling on the couch, walking around our neighborhood or attending our local library’s story time. There were days I could hardly bear to be away from him, which was all well and good because I didn’t usually have the option. I was his primary caregiver and of that fact, I was proud. I didn’t need babysitters or daycare or anyone else to watch my child (ok, I did allow the grandparents to watch him from time to time but the point was, I didn’t want to). We were in an exclusive club, one at times even my husband had a hard time getting into.

Then two things happened simultaneously that would alter my opinion of what it would mean to stay home with my son. First, a global pandemic swept the world. Staying at home with my son was no longer just an option, it was a government mandate. Each day we woke up, for months on end, and did the exact same thing. Make breakfast, go for a walk, play in our basement, make lunch, put him down for a nap, watch CoComelon, make dinner, clean up toys, bath, bedtime. While I have many beautiful memories from that time, those days were isolating, trying and above all, never-ending. From the moment I opened my eyes to the time I closed them I was on the clock and I began to desperately crave the ability to do anything outside of my childcare duties.

At the same time, my son was transforming from a sweet baby boy into a toddler with boundless energy and needs. Suddenly, I was navigating all of the issues that moms have been going through for years – curbing temper tantrums, limiting screen time, feeding picky eaters – but trapped inside my own home without any additional support (save my husband). I was exhausted, touched out, confused, guilt-ridden, and I didn’t know what to do. Hadn’t I decided that I wouldn’t work full time, outside of the home like my parents had so I that could enjoy these days at home with my children while they were little? So why wasn’t I enjoying them anymore? To add to the stress, I was now pregnant with our daughter and I began to worry how I was going to keep up with two littles. It felt like there simply wasn’t enough of me to go around.

I hadn’t realized that stay at home parents work 24/7 and if they don’t build in their own breaks, if they don’t lean on others for support, they will break. ESPECIALLY during a global pandemic. And not only do we deserve that help, it is essential so that we can keep on doing the important work of raising our children (and being fully functioning and happy human beings). Reframing it this way helped me see that giving myself a break from my childcare duties did not mean that I was any less loving of a parent or any less present in their life.

After an awful lot of talking, research and evaluating our finances, my husband and I signed our two-year-old son up for part-time daycare as Covid restrictions began to lift. The decision left me racked with guilt and for weeks I wondered if we’d made the right choice for us. How could I send him off for someone else to watch? And how could I even justify that if I wasn’t bringing home a paycheck?

Fortunately, as time went on, I began to feel more confident in our decision and the mom guilt has eased. My son has grown in leaps and bounds at school. It’s been such a joy to watch him thrive in an environment outside of the home, in a new and loving community. Meanwhile, I’ve been able to use that time he’s away from the home to explore other and interests and responsibilities beyond parenting. This new change also happened at the same time that my daughter was born so I was able to get some one on one time with her too. Raising my family is still my number one priority, it just now extends to all of us!

Are you starting to think about daycare or preschool options for your child? Check out our Education Guide for more information on local schools, preschools, and enrichment programs that could be a great fit for your family.

Feature photo of the author and her son taken by Ivory Tree Portraits

Editor for Bucks County Parent. Email tips to christine@familyfocus.org.