Do Good Parents Put Their Children in Daycare?

by Tina Blue
January 22, 2001

In a comment on a recent article of mine, "Children Don't Belong in Daycare," one reader expressed her outrage that I would be so "judgmental" about parents who put their children in daycare instead of staying home and raising them.

I think that because she felt I was judging her for putting her baby in daycare, she became so outraged that she did not really see what I had written. I point out in the article that many parents have no choice. They put their kids in daycare because they both have to work outside the home. And, of course, some mothers do so because they are raising their kids alone and must work to survive.

What I said in that article is that my heart breaks for those who have to put their kids in daycare rather than being at home with them during the precious years of their childhood. If you had read the comment, you would have noticed that the reader is precisely the sort of person I am taking about when I say that some people have no choice.

It is obvious from her comment that if she had a choice, she would not leave her child in daycare. She obviously would much rather be home with her, and in fact she is frantic at the thought of having to leave her daughter.

But to her, and to all of you, I have to say, after eighteen years in daycare, many parents really don't care all that much about their kids or want to spend time with them.

Oh, sure, they would be devastated if something happened to their child, but that doesn't mean that they want to actually have anything to do with that child.

Many parents would bring a child at 6:30 in the morning (I opened at 7:30, they had to be at work at 8:00, but they "needed time to themselves"). The same ones would then not pick the child up at closing time (5:30), but delay for a half hour to an hour, because they wanted to pick up a loaf of bread at the store, and it was easier without the kid. (I did not have a car. I often took six children on foot the three blocks to the store to buy needed groceries. If I could handle six kids and groceries on foot, then the parent could surely handle her own child in the store long enough to buy a loaf of bread!)

One woman who worked exactly ten blocks away on the same street I live on would routinely not pick her kids up until 6:30, even though she got off work at 5:00. I had to be at my tutoring job at 6:30, which she knew, but she still would not get her kids before 6:30. I had to have a friend come over at 5:30 to watch the kids so I could get ready and go to my next job!

This same woman was constantly begging me to take her kids overnight, or on weekends, because she wanted some time to herself, or because she needed to run errands or go shopping. I also needed to do errands and go shopping (and, remember, I did not have a car, so it was way harder for me to do these things with her kids than it would be for her), but that was an insignificant or irrelevant detail, as far as she was concerned.

When she went into the hospital one December for a hysterectomy, her children spent a week at my apartment, all day and overnight, even though their father was at home and could have taken care of them in the evenings and on the weekend. After the first day they were with me, he didn't even come by to visit them! Nor were they taken to see their mom in the hospital!

This is just one example--I could tell you a hundred stories about a dozen or more parents that bad or worse--and so could everyone else who does daycare. Now, let me tell you a different kind of story.

One young woman I met when she was an eighteen-year-old freshman in my English 101 class at KU ended up being my assistant daycare provider for the five years that she was an undergraduate. She lived a block away from me, and her mom also ran a daycare home, so she was very experienced.

Robin took care of the kids during the three hours a day, three days a week, when I had to go up to KU to teach my classes. (I had office hours and conferences on weekends and at night so I wouldn't have to be away from the daycare any more than that.) She made me promise that when she had a child, I would be her babysitter if she needed one.

Well, when she was five months pregnant with her first child, she came by to let me know that she was holding me to my promise. I was delighted that I would have Robin's child in my daycare, because Robin and her husband are among the best people I know.

Robin is a social worker. Her husband is a city planner for a small city near Lawrence. Every day at lunch, Robin would hurry over to my apartment to spend the time with her daughter Connor. Some days they would stay and eat lunch at my place, some days they would take a walk or go to the park, and some days they would go shopping or to the library or out to lunch.

Whenever Robin or her husband Bryan got a day or a half-day off from work, the other one would also take some time off (out of their sick days), and they would spend that time as a family, with their daughter. These parents never missed a chance to spend time with their little girl. Sometimes Bryan even managed to get to my place to have lunch with his wife and daughter, though that was very difficult, since he worked farther away.

Financially they had no choice--both parents had to work. But they scrimped and saved, until five years after Connor was born, Robin was able to switch from full-time to half-time work. Connor had just started kindergarten, so Robin worked mornings while Connor was in school, then picked her up and spent the rest of the day with her. This was two years ago. Connor is in school all day now, but her mom is there to pick her up when she gets out.

Here's another story. One single mom, Christie, had two daughters in my care. Whenever Christie got off work, she would hurry home to get her girls, because she wanted to get them. She would not dawdle or delay--she would come for them as soon as she could. If she got a day off, for whatever reason, she wanted her girls with her. Once she got off two hours early because the factory she worked for finished a job up ahead of schedule. I would never have known that she got off early that day, if she had decided to take that two hours for herself.

But Christie was at my place to get her daughters ten minutes after she left the factory. This woman worked long hours, and her work was exhausting--but she never used that as an excuse to avoid her own children.

Unfortunately, not all parents want to "waste" their free time by spending it with their children. With many parents, I would even have to be very firm about their not bringing their kids to me on federal holidays, since I took such holidays off, too. But even when I said I was closed for federal holidays (like Christmas, for heaven's sake!), some parents would try to pressure me into keeping their kids--again, because they "needed time to themselves." (Ask daycare providers you know if they have gotten that excuse. They will tell you they get it constantly.)

The person who left the comment on my other daycare article wants desperately to be with her daughter, and I am quite sure that as soon as she can get back to her each day, she will.  I would not think judgmental thoughts about you, Ms. McN., because you obviously care deeply about your daughter and want to spend time with her. But not all parents are as attached to their children as you are. I wish they were, but I have seen too much evidence that they are not. I have babysat for both kinds of parents. There is a world of difference between them, believe me.

One thing your child will know, which a lot of kids don't know, is that her parents want to be with her, and that when you can, you will be with her. What too many kids who spend their entire childhood in daycares know is that their parents would rather do almost anything than spend one minute more in their company than they are absolutely forced to spend.

But don't take my word for it. Ask around. I am sure you know a lot of people who babysit full-time, because there are a lot of people these days who do. Ask them whether they see the sort of thing I am talking about--and whether they see a lot of it. You won't like the answer.

    I know I don't.
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*An excellent site with a wealth of information about daycares and the risks you take when you have to put your child in one is "Daycares Don't Care."

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