It was my first day back to work after having my second baby. Every time someone asked about him, my eyes started watering because I felt so guilty about leaving him at daycare for nine straight hours, without really knowing the people who were going to take care of him and without being able to personally give him all the attention, love, and care that a 12-week-old needs.
Working outside the home has never been a question or a doubt for me, even though I still feel guilty about leaving my kids and sometimes I secretly envy the lifestyle of full-time, stay-at-home moms.
While writing this, I googled “nine hours at daycare,” and there are a lot of negative comments and guilt from moms who have to accept something that may seem unacceptable for many, including the Latin culture to which I belong. When I perform the same google search in Spanish, the first result starts with the word “regrettably,” and there are many forums where concerned moms express their feelings over their kids spending so much time in a daycare atmosphere. When I perform the search in English, the results are similar. Many parents, including me, work eight hours a day in a regular work environment and must leave their kids at daycare for nine or even 10 hours a day.
It is easy to start thinking about all the negative consequences of this lifestyle. Sometimes, I can’t sleep thinking about all the bad things that could happen and comparing my kids to others who have stay-at-home moms or whose moms are off during summers. While other children were able to spend all summer break at home, my kids had only a week of “vacation”; a week is all I could offer, as I have only 15 days of vacation a year and must use those days not only for summer but also for holidays.
Acceptance of our lifestyle has cost me a lot of time, but I’ve finally reached a point of peace. I want to share the ways I’ve learned to be happy while my kids spend nine hours at daycare:
Accept that while I work, my kids are learning and having fun. Yes, they enjoy time when I’m not around. While I’m thinking about them all the time and pumping breast milk every three hours, they are at a daycare that employs an interactive learning program to stimulate their minds and bodies.
Even my baby, who is in a classroom with infants 6–12 months, has different activities that help him discover his world and his senses. They read books, go for strolls, have “gym time,” and do sensory activities. During the summer, he even had a day of water play.
In the classroom for my oldest son, who is four years old and recently started pre-K, we parents receive a learning plan every week. Kids can talk about animals, the ocean, holidays, or the city of San Antonio, while also learning the alphabet, how to write, numbers, and other skills that will help them once they start Kindergarten.
Trust in their teachers. Even though the teachers are usually complete strangers when my kids start going to a new classroom, we value them for all the time, patience, and love they put into the kids’ care. As parents, we have to learn to trust our children’s teachers; I know that nobody is going to educate my kids as I do, but teachers do their best and follow the school’s learning program.
Ignore the comments. This is one of the hardest things to do because everyone has a different opinion. Some people may feel sorry for my kids because they are at a daycare all day. When children get sick, doctors always blame the daycare environment (and perhaps rightfully so). We just have to learn to be happy with the lifestyle we choose. In the end, only we can know what our situation is and how happy our children are.
Make the best of the time we have together. This represents another challenge, because after I pick up my kids, I still must do things at home: cook dinner and prepare for the following day. I always try to involve my kids in different activities around the house and find a way for us both to enjoy the time that we have together in the routine of a hectic week. On weekends, I make a plan for what we are going to do to make the most of our time together, usually an outing to a fun place for all of us, like the zoo or the McKenna Children’s Museum.