I sent my children to daycare – when I was a stay at home mom

 

Photo by BBC Creative on Unsplash

 

Most of Elder Christopherson’s talk during the Saturday Afternoon Session of October Conference was uplifting.  He talked about belonging and how we should recognize that many people are at different stages of life. I’m hopeful that most people will remember that message from his talk.

However, I am a little worried that one part will cause problems for mothers. There was a section of the talk where he talked about personal sacrifice. He quoted a conversation printed in Deseret Magazine from a woman named Christina.

Christina was recounting the “worldly” advice other women her age sometimes gave her. The part that stuck out to me was when the advice went like this: “Are her children annoying her? Then she should send them to daycare.” Here Elder Christopherson paused as if to indicate what a terrible attitude that was. Then he goes on to talk about how suffering is part of life and it teaches us to be better.

This was only a small part of his talk. But it was the only part of the conference when I audibly responded to anything that was said. I replied out loud, “No! Daycare is sometimes necessary!”

This hit me strongly because there was a point in my life when I put my children into daycare even though I wasn’t working. I was encouraged to do this by an LDS woman. 

When my youngest daughter was four months old my husband’s Army unit was deployed* to Korea for nine months. My son was one and my twin daughters were three. I was the sole caregiver for four children ages three and younger. 

Many people helped my family during the nine months my husband was gone. Some of the most helpful people were the Military Relations Missionaries assigned to our stake. We’ll call them Elder and Sister Smith. The couple came over weekly to help with whatever I needed. Sister Smith would play with my kids while Elder Smith mopped my kitchen floor. He mopped that dirty, cereal covered floor every week, and I will never forget it. 

During one of her early visits Sister Smith talked to me about the hourly care that was available at the daycare on post. Because my husband was deployed our family was eligible for 16 hours of free hourly care per child each month. I knew about this but I hadn’t signed my kids up yet for several reasons.  

1. The application process involved a lot of paperwork and appointments. 2. I wasn’t sure 16 hours a month was really worth it. And 3. I’d been conditioned my whole life to think that daycare was something evil to tempt mothers into giving up on raising their children. (I wish I was making that last one up.) 

Sister Smith countered my concerns with expert care. 1. She offered to come with me to the required appointments to help with my children while I filled out the forms and did the interviews. 2. She told me about another mother who treated the hourly care like a pre-school. That other mother always made sure to schedule the hourly care on the same day of the week for 3 hours. That sounded worth it and doable for me. 

As for my third sticking point. The one where I thought daycare was evil. I never voiced that concern out loud to Sister Smith. It was just something I was carrying around in my heart. But I think she knew that I was concerned about leaving my children. She’d often say things like, “you need a break from your kids so you can be a better mom when you are with them.” 

We made it through the interviews and the paperwork and the doctor’s appointments. I signed my children up for their first session on a Tuesday morning. I felt so guilty about dropping them off at the Child Development Center. I felt like a terrible mother. Like somehow I was a failure for not being able to meet all of their needs all the time. That sending them to hourly care – even for 3 hours a week – was a sign of weakness. 

I had to give myself a pep talk and remind myself that I put the kids into hourly care so I could be a better mom.  

That first session went well. The children all did fine in the new environment. I was able to go grocery shopping without children for the first time in a long time. I continued to sign my children up for hourly care on Tuesday mornings. 

I figured out that it worked the best to drop the kids off in time for breakfast in the morning and pick them up right after lunch three hours later. That way there were two meals that I didn’t have to prepare. I’d pick them up just in time for naptime so if everything went well I could put them down for naps at home and have a little more time to myself. 

Occasionally I’d sign up only three of the children for a session and then take one child with me for some rare one-on-one time. But that came later. For the first several months I reveled in this new found freedom of three hours on my own. 

What did I do during the three hours of alone time? I know that at least one time I went back home and took a nap. Usually I’d go grocery shopping. Sometimes I’d do things like take the car for an oil change or get a haircut – basically any errand that would be a hassle to bring children along. I’d usually drive our second car during these rare solo adventures. The car didn’t have enough room for four car seats so I couldn’t drive it when I had the kids with me. The car needed to be driven regularly so that its engine wouldn’t have problems. I realized that I was kind of the same way. I needed a chance to be alone so I wouldn’t have metaphorical engine problems. 

I’m sure that from the outside it looked like my kids were “annoying” and I sent them to daycare so I could get away from them. But really this was an important act of self preservation. I have no idea what my mental state would have been like without that three hour break each week. 

This experience completely changed my attitude about daycare. Three years later my husband left the Army and went back to school for another degree. I worked while he was in school. By this point the three oldest children were in elementary school. The youngest had to go to daycare all day and the older children joined her in the afternoon. I had no qualms about sending any of them to daycare because of that stint we’d done at hourly care.

I’m so grateful that Sister Smith had the wisdom and foresight to urge me to sign my children up for hourly care. I wonder how different things could have been if Sister Smith had tried to give me a pep talk about sacrifice instead of urging me to put my children into hourly care.

I’m curious about your experiences with daycare. What are the reasons you put your children into daycare? What motivated you? Did you worry that other people would think you were just doing it because your children annoyed you?  Do you worry about that now that Elder Christopherson included that quote in his talk?

*Technically my husband was on TDY (Temporary Duty Assignment). But deployed is the term most civilians understand so that’s what I usually call it.

Ann

Ann has a Bachelor's Degree in Economics and recently earned a second one in Accounting. Contrary to what some people told her, she has been able to use the degrees while raising her four children.

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13 Responses

  1. el call says:

    I’ve been a stay at home mom for my kid’s life…until two years ago, when my depression got so bad that my husband suggested we put him in daycare part time. We’d done it briefly in the summer a year before, but that was always going to be short term–and partially because no one in our ward was able to help us watch him for a couple of hours a week.

    It’s made such a huge difference in my life and my son’s life. I’m able to be more present when he’s home instead of limping through every single day. He’s made friends and learned so much. Being a mom is so mentally taxing, and with an already overloaded system, daycare was precisely what I needed.

    Turns out, most parents don’t put their kids in daycare just because they think their kids are annoying–they also want to be better parents, and that’s much easier to do when you get some substantial time without them.

    Also? The daycare (and now preschool) teachers are trained to teach him! I want to use the specialized skills that other people have to give him the best opportunities.

  2. Beth Somerton Young says:

    I had similar experiences and thoughts about daycare. I was wrong to think that daycare was a cop-out on mothering. I was wrong to stay at home, even when our finances were in disarray due to leaving the military. I resisted help when it was readily available. Elder C is absolutely wrong about what is best for women and children. But then, I’m assuming that he had built-in childcare due to his own unpaid wife being on-task. These men do not speak for the Lord regarding anything about women, because they can’t get their own experiences, biases, and agendas out of the way. Take anything they say with a grain of salt, if it doesn’t feel right to you.

    • Lily says:

      “These men do not speak for the Lord regarding anything about women, because they can’t get their own experiences, biases, and agendas out of the way. Take anything they say with a grain of salt, if it doesn’t feel right to you.”
      AMEN.

      This is the same guy that thought his father was a great priesthood holder when he bought his breast-cancer-afflicted mother a new iron so she could keep ironing his shirts.

  3. JC says:

    I’m not a mother, but I have a sister, cousins, and friends who are mothers. They’ve told me about how motherhood is demanding and emotionally taxing despite the rewards, and that there is a lot of pressure to portray motherhood as being happy, joyous, and without any difficulties whatsoever. I think this pressure – and pressure church leaders put on stay-at-home mothers to eschew outside help – is harmful.

    My own mother has always said, “You can’t serve from an empty tray.” I feel that’s true. Mothers need to take care of themselves in order to be present for their children. People who look down on mothers for utilizing daycare, preschool, and other childcare services are either ignorant of or in denial regarding the difficulties of motherhood, or have used those resources themselves without saying a word about it anyone.

    It’s okay to put yourself first sometimes. It’s okay to want a break. It’s okay to want to keep your sanity. I feel that if the church and its general authorities truly cared about and lauded mothers and motherhood so much, that they’d work to pass more family-friendly legislation (longer family/maternity leave and more paid vacation time off), provide paid childcare during church services and activities, improve the mother’s room(s) in church buildings, support better breastfeeding accommodations, and stop stigmatizing working mothers and mothers who stay at home and utilize the village to help them out once in a while. God bless Sister Smith for encouraging and supporting you in doing what was best for you in the situation you were in. The church needs more people like her in it.

  4. Cheryl Preston says:

    You are my hero! You survived 4 kids under 4 and had the energy to go back to school.

    Lots of women have a mother near by who takes the kids. I would not have made it without mine. And sisters, sisters in law, neighbors to do day exchanges with, etc. Isn’t that day care? I didn’t leave my kids because they were annoying. I had a career. Much like Elder Christofferson.

    Look at Camille Johnson, General Relief Society President. Who watched her 3 kids while she practiced law? She probably had a nanny. But it’s the same thing.

    It’s long past the time for the bad mom guilt trip. I am surprised by Elder Christofferson’s comment. I am quite quite certain he never spent a single day managing 4 children under 4. Or any time as a single parent. He sat in a office, in a elegant and clean suit, with a secretary, an office manager, and janitorial services, doing something very lucrative.

    I know. I’ve been there. And I’ve been home with 3 healthy, well mannered, over-achieving kids (and house help). I have no standing to critique the life of a single mom with 4 kids under 4. Or 6 kids, or kids with health problems, etc. I don’t feel like he does either.

    • JC says:

      “Look at Camille Johnson, General Relief Society President. Who watched her 3 kids while she practiced law? She probably had a nanny. But it’s the same thing.”

      It’s so hypocritical how general authorities pressure women to be stay-at-home mothers, eschew outside help, and tell the YW to prioritize marriage and motherhood over education and career whilst calling professional, working women (who undoubtedly utilized outside help before/during/after their work days) as presidents and counselors over the general women’s auxiliaries.

      The church wanting to have its cake and eat it too in regards to this will come back to bite them at some point. Something tells me that day isn’t too far away.

  5. Ruth says:

    My baby goes to daycare all day every weekday while my husband and I work. It’s wonderful for him and for us. We needed extra help to take care of him while also using our divinely-given talents to do good through our work. The warm, expert women who join us in caring for him every day are valuable members of our kid-raising village.

    This moment in the General Conference talk stood out to me as well. Right after it happened, my husband picked up our baby and said to him, “Hey, YOU go to daycare! It’s great!”

  6. Jack says:

    You were dealing with special circumstances. Even the proclamation on the family acknowledges that adaptation may be necessary in some circumstances. I think the problem is when we collectively drift away from the ideal. Even so, that doesn’t mean (IMO) that it’s wrong for mothers to find some respite even when they’re trying to live up to the ideal. Mothering is the most demanding job on earth.

  7. amphvivian says:

    Let’s have a shout out for those providing the daycare! I hope those of you utilizing daycare are paying your providers well, thanking them profusely and being considerate with dropping off and picking up on time while they care for your healthy, well adjusted children.
    My personal sacrifice was providing daycare for others along with my own children in our home. In some cases I was treated badly with little recompense. Alternately, in one notable case it was a dream job and we still consider that family part of our own. I acknowledge that it’s hit or miss – we need more people to be willing to make it a great experience for everyone involved!

  8. Katie Ludlow Rich says:

    I love the metaphor about the car engine! I’ve never had regularly scheduled daycare, but I use drop-in hourly care for haircuts, dentist or doctor’s appointments, theray, or sometimes to get work done without interruption. It is SO helpful. While at some times in my life I have had friends who lived close by and had kids of similar ages and we would trade watching each other’s kids when needed, I haven’t had that for years. Drop in daycare makes me able to take care of my physical and mental health.

  9. Stacey Carruth says:

    I had such a similar experience. But even taking it a step further… just because you feel the need to send your children to daycare, it doesn’t mean you aren’t willing to sacrifice for them. Why make life harder on purpose if you have the resources to make it easier. Would a man be shamed for taking a lower paying job because he found the work more rewarding than “sacrificing” by staying in a higher paying job? I don’t think that would be right either. I mean if the bills get paid either way, then you’re free to consider other options. If the children are healthy and happy whether with you or at daycare, no shame!
    But what if everyone is happier with the kids at daycare? Not all women love caregiving… that’s like expecting all men to love construction. It’s not realistic. There’s also very needy conditions of children like anxiety, ADHD, autism, etc. making these mothers feel guilty for using their resources to handle raising these children is simply wrong. It’s more than wrong, it’s evil. It kills their spirits and blasphemies their ability to receive divine revelation for themselves

  10. Abby Hansen says:

    I am also a military wife, and I had very similar experiences/emotions! My husband deployed three separate times for a year or longer when we had young kids. He was gone when I was pregnant with our first baby, missed the birth, and came back when our son was almost a year old! That year, I discovered the day care at the gym where I worked out. For like $1.50 am hour, they’d hold my baby for me. (I got in great shape, ha ha.)

    At that time in my life, I’d often listen to the Dr. Laura show on the radio. She was a big proponent of stay at home moms and never, ever using daycare. A woman with a deployed husband called in and asked her about using her gym daycare and if that was bad, and she said, “There’s never an excuse to use a daycare for your own children! You can exercise with a baby. Put him in a pram and go for a walk!” I was totally stunned. She didn’t think a wife with a DEPLOYED HUSBAND deserved an hour break? And what if you have multiple kids – they don’t all fit nicely in a pram for an hour. And I wanted to lift weights and do kickboxing, not “walk with a pram” for exercise. It was my only interaction many days with other adults. My kids were right there at the gym playing with toys down the stairs from me. How was this a bad thing?!

    For the second deployment, I used a real daycare. We’re reservists, so we don’t live on a base – but at this time they starting offering the same program to us that you used. They would pay a local daycare for 16 hours a month per child. It was a lot of work just to find a daycare even willing to accept kids for only 3 hours a week (most had a ten hour minimum), and the paperwork wasn’t worth the headache for most of them anyway. This wonderfully kind daycare owner said she’d be willing to do it for me anyway.

    I remember the instructions saying, “Try not to use these day care hours to drop one kid off while taking another to a doctor’s appointment. Drop them ALL off and spend the time doing something you enjoy. The one of this service is to give the spouse at home respite from demanding childcare duties so they can be a better parent when they get their kids back.” I was so surprised by the different rhetoric the military program used compared to the LDS church and Dr. Laura. They told me I would be a better mother BECAUSE I took a break, not in spite of it.

    I’ve tried to keep this way of thinking intact as my kids get older. I am just as important as they are! I take myself hiking instead of cleaning the house while they’re at school. I’ll make my favorite breakfast to eat even if it takes a long time and berries are out of season and expensive. I buy myself new clothes that make me feel cute even if I’m a stay at home mom with nowhere to wear them most of the time. It’s not a bad thing to take care of yourself as much or more than you do your kids.

    I can’t believe the military is ahead of prophets in knowing what makes a mom better at her job, but I think they are!

    *First bump* from one military spouse to another!

  11. Elisa says:

    This was the only part of Christofferson’s talk that I heard and I found it troubling as well. So many LDS women still think that daycare is evil and this doesn’t help. Thank you for addressing it.

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