Many couples choose for the man to work and “win the bread” and for the woman to stay at home and raise the kids until they are old enough to go to school. Often having 3 kids 1-2 years apart, the woman saves the family child care money for 7 years and then returns to the workforce.
From a calculating adult point of view, this seems like a great arrangement, especially with the bonus of government subsidies for single-income families.
From an emotional adult point of view, spending quality parenting time with the kids is a much better choice than “neglecting” them among a host of other kids in the hands of some initially-unknown professional carers who may not pay special attention to any particular child.
But is this really a good idea?
Eden and I take a walk around our neighborhood every day. On one of the streets on our route, there is a house with a balcony facing the front. Many days, there is a little girl on that balcony. She is under 2 years old and has short blond hair, fair skin and gorgeous blue eyes.
As we walk past her house, she waves her hands at us and calls out in the cutest high-pitched voice, “Hello!”
We smile at her, wave back and return the greeting, but she calls out again, “Hello!”
We keep smiling and waving, but we keep walking. The little girl follows us to the corner of the balcony, where she is stopped by metal bars, looked at us longingly and keeps calling out, “Hello!”, until we disappear from sight.
Breaks our hearts every time.
Sometimes, when the person watching over her finds out she is “out on the balcony waving at people again”, a hand comes out from behind a curtain and pulls the little girl in. Someone is really thinking her behavior is not a good idea and may not realize what it indicates – this kid is obviously dying for other people’s company.
We also know Alice, a young woman who was recently married to a divorced man, Charlie and became a mother for his 3-year-old daughter, Nora. Charlie and Alice agreed that Alice would quit her job and take care of Nora. This was before Alice really understood what that meant.
Since their marriage, Alice has been doing her best to keep up with Nora, who is a very active and inquisitive little girl. Alice loves Nora like her own daughter and Nora is a well-developed, bright and friendly kid. However, both of them suffer from this arrangement.
You see, Alice was just starting a career and was doing quite well and enjoying herself. Most importantly, she was spending time with other people who shared her interests and building her self esteem through achievements, learning and progress.
Now that her only companion is a 3-year-old and her day involves playing on the carpet, shopping and keeping the house in order, she is missing adult company and her self esteem is eroding.
Nora, on the other hand, is at an age when it is crucial for her to socialize. Her language control and self expression are good and she is ready to broaden her range of experiences in life by interacting with other kids.
Since Alice and Charlie decided that “mommy time” and saving money were important for them, little Nora is missing out on a critical skill that could help her be more successful in life, but mainly a lot happier.
My experience shows that giving up your ambitions and your personal fulfillment to be with your kids is likely to result in resentment towards them. Although the kids never take part in the decision making, they get a frustrated mother and possibly a strained relationship between their parents as a result.
When Ronit was working in early childhood, she could easily tell at the start of each year which of the kids had been at home. Those were the kids playing by themselves, grabbing toys and books from the others and crying a lot. Over time, they learned to deal with other kids better, but it was clear they were already behind on their social skills.
Here are the main arguments for keeping your kids at home and how to overcome them:
- “I don’t want my kids to think I’m deserting them”
Well, this is your own perception, not your kids’. In fact, kids will generally go along with anything you present to them as the way life works. Choose a good place for them and make sure you drop them off when some kids are there and pick them up at a reasonable time, when there are still plenty of kids there.
- “He/she cries when I leave”
One of Ronit’s young students did this to her father, who had lost a child to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death). He was afraid his daughter, who was 2 years old at the time, would cry for a long time and perhaps choke too. Ronit asked him to go outside, wait 5 minutes and then come back and peek through the window. Amazingly, his little girl was playing happily. When he returned to pick her up, she cried to high heaven, but he just said to her, “OK, I know you’ve had a great day. Why don’t you tell me about it?”
Kids do not waste time crying unless they have something to gain from it. No parental attention – no crying. Most kids are OK the first week, cry on the second (go figure) and then settle down and have fun with the other kids.
- “I need the extra money”
Go work, then. This will also build your self esteem. Working gives you a lot more than money, you know. Besides, most jobs pay much better than what your child care charges, so if you want extra money, let your child play with other kids and you go play with the grownups.
- “It’s a mother’s job to stay home with the kids” – Says who? Is it really your job to give up your aspirations while depriving your kids of play time?
- “I (the father) can provide for my family by myself”
This may be true about providing money, but have you considered other things you should provide, like good education for your kids and happiness for your wife?
So as soon as your kids can walk, check out a few child care centers (kindergartens) in your area, watch the kids interact and have fun, talk to the people who work with the kids, bring your kid along to observe the first contact and pick the place that makes you feel most comfortable. Know that by sending your little angel to a children’s place, you are being a good parent, while being good to yourself.