Each of my two children have spent the majority of early childhood in a licensed day care center while my husband and I both worked full-time. And yet, I won’t use a babysitter who is not a family member under any other circumstances.
No nannies, no au pairs, no local high school student on Saturday date night. Even when my children have had a day care teacher who also did home babysitting on the weekends, I never considered it an option.
You see, child care by outsiders was not part of my parenting plan when I first thought about having children. My parents never used babysitters when I was growing up. And I didn’t want to either.
Then came the reality check. The baby was due, none of the grandparents were retired, and we had a choice to make. Either my husband and I could spend every waking moment with our children living in a tent somewhere, or we would both work and find the highest quality child care we could afford.
Eight years later, and still at the same day care center, I have been pleasantly surprised. In some ways, I am even happier that we found ourselves in the situation of using child care by outsiders (bloated budget aside) because there are many more positives to the arrangement than I ever imagined.
Most importantly, the teachers and day care center directors don’t feel like “outsiders” any more. Even though my son is now in third grade, his infant and toddler room teachers still dote on him when he comes with me to drop off his little sister.
They share memories of cooing over him when he was one of the first babies to start at the center (he was only there a few days a week at first because my sister was good enough to watch him along with her two toddlers until he was 10 months old). Now that he’s five feet tall, L.’s former teachers find it amusing to stand next to him and joke that he’ll be taller than them by the end of the school year. And the same “lunch lady” who talked fishing with him all summer is also quick to remind us that before he could even speak, he used to clap his hands when she wheeled breakfast into the room (his second meal of the day — and the kid is still a beanpole, explain that).
Socially, nothing beats having your child exposed to a group of children of the same age on a daily basis. Sure they share germs, but they also learn to take turns, follow classroom rules about respecting others, and work together. I love how my youngest runs into her classroom every day and readily joins a group of friends putting a puzzle together or guiding each other through a counting program on the computer. Kindergarten will be a breeze — just like it was for her brother.
My introverted self also secretly admires the fact that they are both adept at making new friends, and how cultural diversity has always been second nature to them.
I could go on and on about the unique experiences my children have been exposed to by being at a day care center — like running around in diapers and using their feet, hands, and knees to paint on a rainy day (not exactly something I would do in my house, but hey, if you want to clean it up, go for it). Come to think of it, I probably could not have done a better job myself. Their daycare teachers are able to be more creative and give them more undivided attention than I would have with things like laundry, dinner, and bills hanging over my head.
So why is all of this OK, but babysitters make me squirm?
I guess it’s that there are multiple adults (trained as educators and certified in CPR and first aid) who watch over my children in the day care setting. A form of checks and balances, if you will. Two teachers in a room, with video monitors linking to the director’s office, makes me more comfortable than a single babysitter alone in my home with my child. Nothing’s ever fail-proof, but choosing a quality day care center with protocol for screening staff and building security systems in working order does ease my mind.
And at all other times, we’re lucky enough to have a group of grandmas and grandpas at the ready if there’s somewhere we need to be sans kids. So, sorry high school babysitter with your boyfriend waiting in the bushes, we are just fine for now.
What is your comfort level with child care by outsiders? Do you prefer one setting over another?