After I had my first child, I couldn’t stand the thought of daycare. I wanted to be home to keep her safe from this big bad world. Just kidding — the cost of daycare was the same as a full paycheck, so it seemed stupid to me to work just to pay for child care when I could stay home and pull my hair out for free. Kidding! I rarely ever pulled my hair out. I mostly took my frustrations out in passive-aggressive comments to my neighbor about her barking wiener dog, and ice cream. I ate a lot of ice cream.
I didn’t mind my first year home with my first baby. Life was different but manageable. There was one-on-one time with her, and quiet moments for me. Then I had my second child, and things started to get a little more complicated, a little more overwhelming. I lost the free time I had because now I had two children running in two different directions at varying speeds. They were napping at different times and eating on different schedules. It was double the attention, double the work, double the time.
Then I had my third child, and it became about survival. With three kids under 6 years old in our home, life got crazy quickly. Our kids were conspiring against us with alternating schedules and bat-like ears sensitive enough to know if we were hiding in the closet with candy. They were fighting over things like socks and getting Christian Bale-tantrum angry because their hot dog touched a piece of watermelon. It was like living with a Black Sabbath after-party in our house. We didn’t know how safe our pets were or what would get thrown at our heads next.
We were outnumbered.
So when I saw a window of opportunity to work part-time, I took it like a starving dog takes a slice of raw bacon. I enrolled my kids in daycare, didn’t bat an eye at the drop-off drama, and walked out of those front doors like a boss in blue jeans with dried Cheerios stuck to the back of my thigh. I never looked back because…
1. I still get to be part of their day — without being part of their day.
I love my kids. But I’ve spent every day of their lives with them, including the nine months they were gestating. That’s a lot of time to spend with another person, especially when for a solid year apiece, I shared organs and limited body space. Their daycare has an app that I can use to check in on how they are doing. I can call anytime I want for updates. They email me photos of my kids, and reports on how long they napped or what they decided they didn’t want at lunch. They report all their daily activities and how that activity applies to learning. I get to share their day without having to peel someone off my leg to clean pee off the floor.
2. They are exhausted when they get home.
Which happens to be right at dinnertime, which happens to be an hour before bedtime. Parenting win.
3. My house is clean, and my coffee is hot.
For the first time since 2011, my house has plummeted down the list of top biohazard dangers in the United States because no one is home to mess it up anymore. I also have time for coffee —sweet blessed coffee. That first week, I sat on my clean living room floor and admired the fact that 20 minutes had passed, and not a single strip of torn toilet paper fluttered across the room in the wake of the air conditioner draft. It was a very spiritual moment.
4. My kids are socialized.
One of the things I didn’t realize would be so difficult as a SAHM was finding other kids for mine to play with. We moved to a new state the year we had our first baby, so I didn’t know a soul. It was a very difficult few years. Now, they have friends to get to know and play with regularly. I can sleep at night knowing there’s little chance I’ll have the kid who acts like a rabid raccoon and growls at anyone who gets too close to the slide.
5. My kids are learning.
Sure, they bring home garbage, like “Zombies like to eat brains.” Everyone knows that’s just not true. If George Romero didn’t support that theory in any of his six …Of the Dead movies, it can’t be fact. Moaning, jittery creatures aside, my kids are exploding with new vocabulary and skills every week. Their understanding of math and science has accelerated past anything I could teach them.
6. My kids love going.
Every week they have a new theme and a special guest. They come home buzzing with excitement about their day and wondering what the next day will be like. There are no battles or fights or strategies to lure them into the car with marshmallows and candy. Everyone files into the backseat and climbs into their car seats without complaint.
7. I’m finding balance again.
Since I’m doing something for myself so many hours a week, I come home revived and refreshed. I’m no longer trying to cram the things I want to do into the same tiny window of time with things my kids need. I don’t feel like I’ve hit a wall every day at 3 p.m. and switch to autopilot, pushing through just to get to bedtime. I come home and I’m mentally with them instead of mentally on a beach somewhere in the Bahamas while baby Timmy colors the cat with a Sharpie.
8. It’s not much more expensive than a sitter.
I live in Colorado where it’s cheaper to own an entire herd of cattle than it is to put a single child in daycare. You know what’s just as expensive here? A babysitter. Sure, we’ve had a couple of great sitters worth the money, but they always move on to college or career opportunities. We’re left with the ones who look like the “Meow Mix” jingle is on repeat in their head while you’re explaining the mechanics of a Sippy cup. When I did the math, it ended up only being a couple hundred more a month than hiring a full-time babysitter or nanny who would likely spend the majority of the day trying to figure out how to operate the straw in the Take & Toss cups.
9. My kids are busy beavers.
And what better place to burn off busy? Anywhere that I don’t have to go behind them and clean “busy” up.
10. I value my time spent with my kids now more than ever.
I know, that probably sounds strange. After all, shouldn’t we always value any time spent with our kids? The answer is no, because sometimes kids suck. It can’t always be happy, and sometimes those stretches last longer than a few days. When you are home all day, every day with your kids, the exhausting ebbs and flows like a tide of boring. Things never change. Sure you can add play groups and trips to the zoo or playground to break up your day, but sometimes that’s not enough. Having ample time and space to fill your cup allows you to share that cup with everyone else. That’s pretty important.
I love that I was able to stay home with my kids and be there for all the firsts. I don’t regret that time with them, or the memories and bonds created. However, my kids were ready to fly and explore outside our house long before I was ever ready to let them go. They sought things I couldn’t give them by myself. Who am I to hold back these little folks from exploring the world I’m going to send them into someday? If they are going to be outside the house, it might as well be to a place they love to go and a place where they are learning.
I’m a better parent when I can fill my cup, and my kids are flourishing with a balance inside and outside the house. It’s working for us. It’s working well. I look at daycare as an assistant in helping me prep my kids for launch day. I’m still the parent. I’m still their primary caregiver. I’m still the one who won’t let them go out into the world thinking Zombies eat brains.