I have some real problems with daycare centers.  But before I continue, let me be sure to say that I *don’t* judge anyone for putting their child in daycare.  Not everyone has the option of caring for their children themselves, and not everyone would be happy doing so.  It certainly wouldn’t be good for kids to be with a stay-at-home parent who was unhappy in that role.  Having said that, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about daycare, for those of you who are considering staying home with your children.

I’ve had the privilege of working with children for many years.  My mother stayed at home when I was young, and cared for other people’s children, and so I had the company of not only my younger brother but also a number of other younger children.  I began babysitting at a young age, and one of my first ‘real’ jobs was at a daycare center.  My background is in psychology and education, and I’ve worked in early childhood and elementary settings.  My baby hasn’t been born yet, so I haven’t been a mommy for very long 🙂  but I do have a great deal of other experience with children, from itty-bitty babies on up.

I worked at two different daycare centers, both of which were considered among the best in their respective cities.  One was associated with a hospital, and the other had a number of successful branches.  Both daycare centers had wonderful directors who were mothers themselves and who were commited to the children in their care.  At both centers the children were safe and were kept clean and well-fed.  The facilities were in great shape and they had ample toys in addition to wonderful playgrounds.

But we all know that kids need more than just diaper changes and feedings.  To grow to their greatest potential, children need to have their social, emotional, and cognitive needs met by consistent, loving care providers.  One of my main issues with day care is that children do not get the amount of adult attention that they need.  No educational toy can substitute for playing with your child, talking with her, reading to her, and giving her the snuggles and kisses on which she thrives.  In the state where I live, day cares are required to have at least one adult for every four infants, one adult for every five “young toddlers,” a 1:10 ratio for two and three year olds, a 1:12 ratio for four year olds, and a 1:20 ratio for school age children.  In order to make a profit, day care centers have to put the fewest number of adults legally possible with each group of children.  These adult to child ratios especially concern me when it comes to the little ones.  Older children can interact with and learn from one another, and can interact with the materials in their environment more independently.  Infants, on the other hand, rely on adults to interact with them.  If your child is an easygoing baby, and will sit contentedly in a swing or a Boppy without fussing, then your child isn’t going to get much attention outside of being changed and fed.  This may not be what you see when you pick up your child, but that’s what happens when you’re not around.  Providers know when you’ll be coming for your child– don’t assume that the behavior you witness when you pick your child up is representative of what’s happening during the day.  It’s not that daycare providers are bad people, it’s just that they have a lot of children to care for.  The squeaky wheel gets the grease– if your child isn’t the type to seek out attention, then he’s not going to get a lot of it.

Another reason why children in daycare don’t receive the same quality of care as do children with stay-at-home parents is that substitute care providers can not possibly feel as strongly about your children as you do.  I’ve taught for years, and I care very deeply about my students.  I’ve always gone above and beyond to give them the best of me, and they have wrapped themselves securely around my heart 🙂  Having said that, when I’m overtired, or when I’m having a particularly trying day, I’m ready for my work day to be done, and getting through the day trumps giving the children my extra energy.  As much as I love the children in my life, I can plainly see that I’ll never care for them with the same depth and passion that their parents do.  Since becoming a mommy, I’ve been overwhelmed with the intensity of my feelings for my son.  Little Paulie hasn’t even been born yet, I haven’t even held him yet or gazed into his precious eyes, and yet I feel so strongly about my son that at times it almost scares me.  I knew a lot about love before becoming a mommy, but the devotion that I feel towards my baby takes my breath away.  Substitute care providers, by their very nature, can not give your child the same love and attention that a family member can.  When push comes to shove, they are just not as invested in your children as you are, not madly in love with every ounce of their beings in the way that you are.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think that daycares are “evil” or that working parents care a drop less about their children than stay-at-home parents do.  From what I’ve seen, daycares are run by caring, patient adults who enjoy being with kids and who genuinely care about the children in their charge.  I also know that it’s easier for me to be with children all day than it might be for other people– I’ve chosen to work with children in my professional life.  I know that not everyone finds time spent with children as satisfying and magical as I do.  I just thought I’d share what I’ve learned, to give you some food for thought as you decide who will be caring for your children.