Over the past three years, there have been numerous posts in the mom Facebook group I started from dozens of working moms sharing the soul-crushing guilt of how much time their child spends in daycare. As a mom who works full time with a three-year-old child who has been in daycare nine hours a day, five days a week since he was four months old, I am painfully aware of this particularly gnarly kind of guilt.
The early days were the hardest, especially when I dropped my child off and picked him up when it was dark out. I would rush out of the office just to make sure he wasn’t in daycare for more than nine hours a day, a rule I made up for myself to alleviate guilt. I even changed jobs to cut down my commute time (among other reasons) so that he would be in daycare for—I did the math—five hours less a week.
I still have tinges of guilt. But I’ve realized that I am not alone. Solidarity is oftentimes what we as working moms need. Here are a few things that have helped to keep the guilt at bay:
1. Finding childcare you feel good about, and that your child loves.
I cannot stress how important it is to find childcare that works for your family. When my child was about two years old, I made a hard decision to move him to another daycare center. He would scream and cry every time I dropped him off. The center was not well managed, which meant high teacher turnover and constant chaos. As a result, my child was struggling, so I moved him. The switch really helped with my guilt and anxiety.
If you are looking for out-of-home daycare, do your research. Look at multiple centers, talk to parents whose children attend, get a good sense of how the center runs, talk to the teachers, and ask about teacher turnover, which is a good indicator of how well the place is managed. Trust your instincts and speak up if something isn’t working. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to change centers. You and your child will be better off for it in the long run.
2. You are normalizing the “working mom” culture for your child.
I am constantly reminding myself that I was raised by a mom who worked full time through my entire childhood, and I turned out just fine. Her example—and the fact that she was single for several years with three small children—constantly reassures me I can do this. My child won’t know any different and my hope is he’ll be a better employee and manager as a result. A recent study out of Harvard showed that the children of working mothers grow into happy adults. That in and of itself is enough to give millions of moms hope that their child will be just fine.
3. Daycare helps socialize children and prepare them for kindergarten.
I am in constant awe of the things my child has learned that I definitely did not teach him. His teachers also come up with the most creative activities that I could never think up. He also plays really well with other children, which I credit to his time in daycare. Good childcare providers teach children skills that we as new moms never even knew needed to be taught. They also teach children critical social and emotional skills that help them build bonds with classmates and prepare them for kindergarten (and larger class sizes).
4. Employers and bosses that supports working moms are a game-changer.
When my child was about a year old, I made the hard decision to change jobs. Finding a job that is fulfilling, offers flexibility and pays well has helped me keep the mom guilt at bay. We absolutely need to not be afraid to advocate for what we need, whether it’s a work-from-home day, a reduced schedule, or other accommodations.
I would be remiss if I didn’t state that jobs that offer flexibility and good pay are a privilege that many working moms don’t have, my own mom included. Our social structures, workforce and economy were created by men, for men. Women are still paid less, childcare is way too expensive, and workplaces are not always parent friendly.
Every day, we’re losing brilliant moms in the workforce because of work cultures that don’t support them, and the astronomical cost of child care doesn’t make financial sense for many families. This has to change or we will continue losing great talent.
There are some great organizations and elected officials like presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren who are working to change this, and we should be advocating right alongside them.
5. It’s not about the amount of time you spend together. It’s about the quality.
Some of the best advice I have gotten since becoming a mom, which was fortunately given to me by my boss was, “It’s not about the quantity of time. It’s about the quality of time.” I have gotten better at making a concerted effort to be present when I am with my child at the end of the day. I sit down with him at dinner, I play with him and try not to check my phone. I am sometimes distracted, but that comes with the working mom territory. I am fortunate to work for an organization that prioritizes putting families and children first.
6. You are paying for daycare, so use it.
There are days when my partner drops my child off early and I pick him up late. Other days he’s one of the last to arrive and one of the first to be picked up. Some days my child is a handful (he’s a toddler) and so I take my time picking him up, just to have some “me time.” Other days I can’t wait to pick him up. It took me a while, but I rarely feel bad about having him in to daycare when, in theory, he could be home with me. I always remind myself that I am paying them a lot, so there’s no need to feel guilty.
7. The more people your child loves, and the more people who love your child, the better off your entire family will be.
It is critically important that children learn to trust and love spending time with other caring adults. Fostering bonds with trusted teachers, babysitters and family members helps children to trust that they will be okay when their parents aren’t there. Date nights and vacations are so critical to our relationships with our partners/spouses, and our overall well-being.
Being a full-time working mom shouldn’t be so hard. We have enough guilt as it is. There is a reason why we suffer from higher levels of depression and anxiety. We are all just doing the best we can, given the unfavorable circumstances we often find ourselves in. We need bold solutions that will give parents the support they need. In the meantime, we need to speak up, give ourselves a lot of grace, take care of each other and keep fighting for better work cultures.