As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a working mom. I send my child to day care five days a week. And according to some people, that makes me a failure.
It depends on where you look, but there are many people out there who judge and look down on women who don’t give up their jobs and stay at home to raise their kids. I still have a lot of guilt over sending the Monkey to child care, and when I’m vulnerable, those people’s comments/views/whatnot can be soul-crushing.
Because in my perfect world, I would be home with the Monkey full-time. My mom was a stay-at-home parent for 14 years. The Hubbs‘ mom stayed home until he was in grade school.
The Hubbs crunched the numbers when I was pregnant — several times — and there was just no way we could swing it. We have a mortgage and lived through some financial disasters this past year (the Monkey’s ICN stay being the smallest of the three), that had I been unemployed would have bankrupted us.
Another factor in my continuing to work is the benefits provided by my employer. In a word, they’re faboo. All our family’s health benefits (health, dental, and eyes) come from my company. Our life insurance, disability insurance, etc? All through my company. At a discount. We have a 401k plan that includes profit sharing. In two years I’ll be fully vested in our pension plan. Yes, I said pension. Its nearly unheard of to people from my generation, and this company has one. And although it doesn’t SEEM like it from our take-home pay, (thanks to all those faboo benefit deductions) I’m actually the breadwinner.
The only way for me to stay home would be for us to sell the house (at a loss, thanks to the tanking/tanked/whatever real estate environment) and go back to renting. Even then, things would be very, very tight on only one paycheck. Unless we got a studio apartment. In the sticks or the ghetto. Next to the railroad tracks. (You get my drift.) But in this scenario, we’d be paying a lot more for our medical bills, since the Hubbs‘ employer is a small company with limited benefits. (No vision, for one.)
So while I was still pregnant, we decided that I would return to work after my nearly 4 months of maternity leave were over. Leaving the Monkey with a relative wasn’t an option, unfortunately. Instead of moping, I poured myself into finding a day care provider I could trust. Someone reliable. Someone caring. Someone who didn’t talk on the phone for 20 minutes while children wailed in the background. (You’d be surprised.)
I scoured Web sites and city referrals. I exhausted personal contacts. (Our first choice, a provider who came highly recommended by a friend’s neighbor, had no room on her wait list.) In the end, it came down to interviews. And my gut. In all, I interviewed about 50 daycare providers on the phone. Many of them left me feeling sick to my stomach. For example, here are some things I experienced over the phone:
- A woman shrieking at a bunch of kids that she was on the phone and they needed to “shut up NOW” before taking a deep breath and answering “XXXX day care, this is X,” in a chipper/perky voice;
- People who were flat-out rude and annoyed that I wanted to interview them before allowing them to watch my child (as if!);
- People who told me I was looking “too early” for day care, since I was still pregnant;
- People who told me I was looking “too late” for day care, since they had a full waiting list and my baby was due in 3 months;
- People who never called back;
- People who obviously just wanted to chat and were ignoring their charges in the process (for example, I heard one little girl say “XX, I REALLY have to go potty!” Provider: “Not now, I’m on the phone.”)
In the end, it was a Craigslist ad that won. As it turns out, the “K” lives less than 5 blocks from our home. Her husband is retired, and helps her with the children. When I called, I got an answering machine. She called me back after all her kids were gone for the day, because she doesn’t answer the phone when the children are there unless its a parent or her own family. And although she’s licensed to care for up to 8 children, her personal limit is 4. Why? Because she thinks 4 is all she can handle and still give each one the personal attention she believes they need/deserve. We spent two hours at their home on a weekend, just talking and getting to know one another. They have two grown children, one of whom had asthma problems as a child — so they were familiar with breathing issues (which was such a relief after the Monkey was born).
After meeting with her, I interviewed about 10 more people, but my mind was already made up. She was IT. We put down a deposit when I was 9 months pregnant to hold the spot. (We had talked to them when I was 7 months pregnant. She came through on her promise to call if someone else was interested in hiring her. I dropped off a check for her the next morning.) The Monkey and I visited twice while I was on maternity leave.
And when it was time for the Monkey to actually GO to day care? He was still clingy from the first and second sleep studies. His breathing was very noisy. I was terrified that she would take one look at him and say “no way.” But she didn’t. In fact, K invited us over for two days straight before I returned to work. She wanted to ease the Monkey into the new environment. So for the last two days of my maternity leave, the Monkey and I spent about three hours each day at her house. The Monkey was FASCINATED by the other children. And the other kids — two girls and a boy — were equally interested in him.
They already knew his name. K had been talking up “Baby Monkey” for months. The kids knew that “Baby Monkey” was little and would need more of K’s time. That he’d need bottles. That he had a binkie. That they weren’t allowed to hold him or to try to pick him up. They were excited that K would “need their help” by getting his diapers or handing her his bottle.
K purposely had kids of varying ages, that way she only had one infant, one toddler, etc. She said it made things easier on her. As it turned out, the Monkey was fine the day I went back to work. My boss let me telecommute my first week (3 days) back to help ease the Monkey in to it. This meant I was able to visit the Monkey and nurse him on my lunch break, which helped me tremendously. In fact, I think the whole thing was harder on me than it was on him.
The benefit of child care is that the Monkey knows how to play with other kids. He’s good at sharing. He’s used to the noise. He’s content to crawl after the big kids and sit next to them and grab a toy and babble along. He has two little girls to play with all day. They love to give him his bottle, hand him his binkie, and give him kisses on the top of his head each day. In turn, he smiles at them, crawls to them, and plays with them.
In the end, its probably a great thing for him. Would I prefer to be home and not need child care? Absolutely. But he has friends and playmates, and K and her husband take excellent care of them all. Its the perfect situation in an imperfect world.