I actually never even gave this a second thought until other mamas I talked to spoke about the judgment they felt.
When we decided to enroll Parker in a school, we began researching. As a former art teacher, I strongly support the education system and the benefits schools bring both socially and academically, but for awhile we had never found a school we were happy enough with that fit those needs and fit our budget. We looked at a handful, but neither my husband and I ever left our tours feeling a sense of “yay.” And with the price of daycare being ridiculous, we were being decidedly picky knowing an investment in our son’s education came at a heavy financial price and a change in lifestyle.
We were actually daydreaming on Groupon the other night looking at all the thing, all the vacations, kicking ourselves for never taking advantage of any of these travel opportunities before having babies — the cost of monthly tuition really puts things in perspective.
Luckily, my best friend found a Montessori school that her daughter had been in for a few months — the same school her husband attended when he was growing up. She raved about the new toddler program they began just this year, the smaller class size, and the great activities the kids did.
Plus, I’m not going to lie to you — after my son being home with me day in and day out for 2 1/2 years, my separation anxiety was through the roof. But when we took him to the school ahead of time one morning to introduce him to the room, his teacher, and all his new friends, he absolutely loved it. I saw him shine not only as my son, but as a little boy in the world growing into the person he will become. Seeing how happy he was the decision was a no-brainer: we enrolled him immediately.
The first day was hard. I cried all the way home as my daughter screamed in the backseat (she hates the car) and we promptly went up to his room and I cried smelling all his bedsheets. As I drove away, with the school in my rear view mirror, something just felt wrong about the whole thing. But I have to tell you, after what happened the next few hours, that initial panic fizzled into what was to become our new happy normal.
For the first time in months, I was able to give my daughter one-on-one attention not just for a handful of minutes here and there, but for hours. While she napped, I was able to focus on my job and the teammates that are depending on me. I was able to have coffee and finish it while it was still warm. I was able to have a few moments to (gasp!) relax.
Of course, that didn’t stop me from picking him up early because I missed him so much. And seeing his happy smile as he ran to me with his arms wide open and his first art project made it all worth it.
I also juggled with some mom guilt. During the quiet hours my daughter napped I couldn’t help but ask myself, Shouldn’t this be harder?! Why am I not running around sweating? Shouldn’t kids be crying and circling my feet like tiny sharks?
But that’s the thing about being a mommy that has been one of the hardest lessons for me — accept the help, welcome the support, and be mindful and enjoy those calm moments during the day when they arrive. Being stressed out doesn’t mean you are doing a good job — it means you need a break.
When I talked with some of my other mommy friends about Parker being enrolled in daycare/school, I was unfortunately sadly surprised how a few have actually been criticized by others for starting their kids in school before kindergarten. Although I was not subject to what some of my friends have described, it is still unsettling for me. Other people would say things to them such as:
- Why would you put your child in daycare when you are already home?
- Isn’t it the best thing for them to be home with you than have a bunch of strangers watching them?
- If you are on maternity leave, wouldn’t you rather have them home with you?
It makes me sad that other mamas I know felt judged by others. Everyone’s journey in motherhood is different, and no one has a place to “tsk-tsk” someone else. What’s more, a subject you may feel strongly about could completely change when you are actually in the situation.
Additionally, some of my mom friends work full-time and they spoke with me about the mom guilt knowing they had no other options when they had to go back to work immediately after the terribly short maternity leaves we are granted. Some mom guilt includes not being with their babies 24/7, and some comes from liking having their careers and feeling like they shouldn’t. The mom guilt is real all the way around, and it can be hard to overcome regardless your viewpoint.
Speaking only from my personal experience, I actually wish we had this school as a possibility when I was on maternity leave with my second. It was extremely hard for me to juggle a newborn and an 18-month-old while breastfeeding. My choice, but tough all the same. I missed the one-on-one time I had with my first, and was exhausted from not having an opportunity to rest more throughout the day. Since Parker has been in school, I also love that he has his own little universe and life experiences outside of our house. He’s social by nature so the transition was natural for him (not so sure about how my daughter will be).
For us, Parker going into school at this time was perfect and the right decision for us. The school is amazing, we love the Montessori style of learning he is being exposed to, and he loves his teacher and his friends so much he runs right into the room, and I have beg him for a kiss goodbye. He goes a few days a week, and it is the perfect balance for our family. Other decisions may work better for other families, and that’s okay, too.
At the end of the day, I think we can all be a little kinder to one another. Unless a mother specifically asks for your opinion on a subject, don’t give it. Unless they are asking for help, don’t recommend what they should or should not be doing. Instead, let us all try to give endless support, an available ear to listen, and arms to hug them if they need it.