Over the past few weeks, we’ve been around family and friends with infants. As we chatted and caught up, the topic of illness inevitably came up. “Has Ben gotten sick yet?”
The answer is no. Not once. He just turned 8 months old and other than a couple 99* fevers with red, red gums, this kid has been healthy as can be. We haven’t even had the panicked first time parents (of a preemie!) run to the doctor because he just seemed off. (Well, there was that time that he almost had emergency hernia surgery, but that doesn’t count.)
When we tell friends with little ones that our son has never, ever been sick, they all gasp, say WOW, and then tell us how their kids have had a little bit of everything, ranging from small ear infections to hospitalizations for RSV and pneumonia.
After these chats, when Dustin and I are alone, we tell each other that even though this has been the most challenging (financially and emotionally) year of our lives, we undoubtedly made the right choice for Ben. That for every time we heard someone tell us that “it’s good for babies to build up their immune systems” we knew better – a preemie is not a full term baby, and we listened carefully to every word of caution and advice our pediatrician gave us to keep Ben healthy, especially during the scary months of cold/flu/RSV season.
But what about now, when it’s summer time and there’s less illness and plenty of fresh air to keep germs moving and out of stagnant houses? We don’t keep Ben under lock and key anymore – far from it! I busted that kid out of this house the moment we got the OK and am thoroughly dreading the possibility of another RSV season under lock down. What has kept Ben healthy while these babies get sick?
One word: daycare.
This happens ALL THE TIME in daycare. Kid is dropped off at 8, and at 11 spikes a fever. We know damn well they were given Tylenol to buy the parents a few hours of work. In the meantime, this child has now passed along his illness to his friends. These parents just plain suck…and are usually the ones who complain most when other kids are sick!
Now before you roll your eyes and think I’m knocking daycare, you should know that we had Ben on a waiting list for an infant room sometime around July 2013. I am 110% a believer in the benefits of early childhood education. Note: this is different than a “babysitter”, or the nice neighbor lady offering to watch a few kids. I’m talking about centers and programs that are designed for the development of young kids, with staff who have anywhere from their AA to Masters in early education.
I worked as a teacher for several years followed by several years of management before I moved on to another field. (If you’re wondering why I left – there is no money in daycare. None. After 5 years and a BA, I was making $13.10 an hour with the hope of a .10 raise every year, if the economy picked up. No benefits, no 401k, barely any PTO…this is why turnover is so high. A topic for another post, promise.)
My point is – I wanted Ben to experience the best of both worlds. Part time at home, part-time in an early ed program.
Now that I’ve been home with him for 8 months, I can’t imagine having done it any other way. In addition to friends dealing with constantly sick infants, I have other friends who suffer terrible guilt over leaving their babies behind all day. I never understood how painful that must be until I had Ben and tried to imagine not being with him when he giggled, or needed extra snuggles, or needed any kind of accommodations that a homogenized center could never offer for him.
Having worked in one world and parented in another, here are my top 5 reasons that staying at home with an infant (older kids are a different ballgame) is well worth the sacrifices. And oh yes, there are sacrifices. Going down to one income? Terrifying. Wondering how you will pay the bills and possibly enjoy some small pleasures in life? Stressful. But would I do it again, if given the choice? You bet I would. Here’s why.
8 months and counting – healthy baby, happy baby. There is no question about it – send your infant to daycare and they will get sick. Period. Think I’m exaggerating? The number one complaint I fielded when working at a center was angry parents who were sick of their kids being sent home sick. Pink eye. Ear infections. Coughs. Rashes. Hand, foot and mouth. Thrush. Whooping cough. RSV. You put a bunch of little bodies together in a room and no matter how much you clean and disinfect, toys and germs will be shared. Will this help build an immune system in your infant? Perhaps. But as one parent I know said, “it just seems unfair that my baby has to be sick all the time, she always has the sniffles”. As I mentioned before, Ben has never been sick…and the only notable difference between him and his friends is daycare.
Money can’t buy this time back. I used to get annoyed when people would tell me that there are always jobs, but you can never get your baby’s first year back. Job security is a huge deal, and households are requiring higher salaries to make ends meet. I get it. You wouldn’t believe how much I get it. But all those people are right – the first year goes by so fast, and then it’s over. They’re walking. Talking. Ben changes so much every day, and I’m selfish – I want to be the one to make him smile when he wakes up from nap, or to read him stories, or to just hold him for a little while because we both enjoy it. These are the things that money can’t replace, and while I sure wish we still had my income, I wouldn’t change being Ben’s primary caregiver for the world.
One size doesn’t fit all. Ben has several PT exercises that ideally should be done 4-6 times/day. If he were in daycare, I know the staff would do their best to fit them in, but odds are, the demands of the day wouldn’t allow for the one-on-one that he needs to succeed. Obviously not all kids need PT, but in daycare there has to be a class schedule, and what works for one child might not be the best for another. For example, if Ben were in daycare his teachers would be pushing him to get to 2 naps/day, because in a couple months he would transition to an older infant room. Ben isn’t ready for that yet, but he would be forced as much as possible to stay awake at a daycare so he could fit the mold. Infant how-to guides are great, but they’re just that. Guidelines. Each baby is different, but there isn’t too much room for different in daycare.
Patience and turn taking are lessons for later in life. When there are 8 infants in a room with 2 teachers and two need naps, three need bottles and three need new diapers, someone is going to have to wait it out. Or, someone is going to have to be put in a crib in a rush because they can be upset and maybe fall asleep while a poopy diaper won’t change itself. (Don’t start in with the “it’s ok for babies to cry”…I know that. Not the point.) Does the world revolve around your child? Hell no. But should any infant have to wait her turn when she really needs a few snuggles before her crib, or is hungry for a bottle but all arms are busy? Babies don’t understand things like “patience” or “it’s nice to take turns”. They understand that they have a need, and if the need isn’t met they react. In daycare, babies will inevitably have to wait it out.
Babies need consistency. While a baby in daycare may benefit from the consistency of a class schedule, it is pretty rare to find a classroom with a permanent, long-term teacher. Low pay, horrible management conditions, no benefits and many other reasons prompt teachers who are really great to quit. Trust me, it is very upsetting when the person you’ve left your infant with for the past three months, who you finally trust and feel comfortable with, puts in her two-week notice. While the center scrambles (and yes, it’s a mad dash scramble) to hire a new body for the room, subs come and go. Sometimes it is easier to keep getting subs than it is to hire someone, and so your baby has a new teacher every day or every other day. So much for a consistent, loving presence that they (or you) trust. By staying home with Ben, I’m providing him with the consistency that will only benefit him and his relationships in the long run. (And before the haters claim I’m one of “those moms” who think no one else can watch their baby….HA! My mom babysits Ben all the time, because I know that a)we need date nights and b) consistency is different than clingyness.)
Whew! That became a long post! But hopefully this helps some of you understand why parents might make the decision to step out of the work force and away from the security that comes from a regular paycheck (and sanity from adult conversation) to spend some time at home with their baby.
Later this week I will post my top 5 reasons for why your children should attend an early education program – stay tuned!