Five years ago, if you asked me where I would be now, I would probably have replied, “A few more rungs up on the corporate ladder.” Never would I have guessed I’d be a stay-at-home Mum and that I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I haven’t always wanted children. There was a point in my life when I was convinced that children weren’t for me. When I finally came around to the idea, I thought I’d be only too happy to hand my baby over to someone else to look after.
I could say that pregnancy, or rather the pregnancy hormones, changed all that, but it wasn’t just the hormones. It was more than that. After Gavin was born, I felt so intensely protective of him that I surprised even myself!
While I was pregnant, I planned a little extended holiday around Shanghai to coincide with my brother’s wedding. I was really looking forward to it because I’ve never been to China. After Gavin was born and everyone seemed opposed to the idea of me taking Gavin with me to Shanghai, I didn’t want to go any more. I cut short the trip and made it an overnighter so we could attend the wedding and came straight home to my baby.
One of the most rewarding benefits of being my son’s primary caregiver from the day he was born has been the fact that I have been there for all his firsts. I’ve seen his first steps, heard his first words, basked in his adoration of me, nursed his cries, heard him singing in his sleep, and shared so many special moments with him that I know I will fondly reminisce in my old age when Gavin has long spread his wings and flown from the nest.
To have given up all this for a career in the corporate world would have been a price too great for me. Even now as I look back upon the decisions I have made, I can think of no other way I would have wanted it. To have handed Gavin over to a nanny, a maid, childcare or even his grandparents to look after while I went off to work would have been too wrong for me.
As arrogant as it may sound, I still believe that I am the best person to look after my son because no one else will hold his interests to heart as closely as I do. Well, except maybe his Dad and his grandparents (and yes, I’m sure his aunts and uncle do, too). No nanny, maid or childcare worker, no matter how experienced with children or how fond of children, could ever offer my son the kind of dedication I have given him.
While his grandparents might have, I strongly believe in the cycles of life. Grandparents have done their dues as parents and should not have to parent their grandchildren. Grandparents should have the liberty of enjoying the all the delights of their grandchildren, not having to take charge of raising them. Goodness knows that should I be blessed with grandchildren, I intend to do exactly that.
Babies and young toddlers do need to be with their mothers. The attachments they form and the experiences they receive during those first few years are critical for their future development. Beyond those first few years, a secure child can eventually progress towards a setting with external carers. Steve Biddulph offered the following guidelines for sending young children to childcare by age in “The Complete Secrets of Happy Children”:
- Ideally, no institutionalised childcare during your child’s first year. Babies need to be with one parent all the time, with the occasional breaks, such as days off and evenings out when there is a trusted and familiar babysitter to watch your baby.
- One year old plus – up to one short day per week, e.g. 10am-3pm.
- Two years old plus – up to two short days per week.
- Three years old plus – up to three short days or half days per week.
- Four years old plus – up to four short days or half-days a week.
It should be noted that these recommendations are not based on scientific research and are merely the opinions of a family psychologist who has worked with many families for over twenty years. Allowances must also be made for individual circumstances.
Steve Biddulph also offered a recommendation in terms of type of care by order of preference for a child under the age of three. If neither parent is able to care for the child then ideally the child should be cared for by the following individuals in the following order of preference:
- Close relative or friend whom you trust and who loves your child.
- A trustworthy and friendly family day carer (a nanny who can come to your house to look after your child), whom you know personally.
- A quality childcare center with stable staff whom you get to know and feel comfortable with.
For children three years and older, the benefit from the social interaction, planned activities, playing space and equipment, and professionally trained and motivated staff of being in a childcare setting can be a bonus.
Other reasons for considering childcare as an option for your child:
- Family survival – for instance, you need to work to provide for material needs.
- Time to care adequately for other children – for example, a new baby or a sick child.
- Provision of things to your child that you cannot offer – such as resources (if poor), stimulation (if limited at home), friends (if isolated or an only child).
Even then the kind of childcare that you should be looking for is one that:
- Meets your standards of discipline, respects your child’s being and safety.
- Builds long-term relationships where carers become your friends and friends of your child.
- Is a setting where you feel welcome to drop in at any time, spend the day with your child, make special requests or let them know of concerns, without feeling you are a bother.
As I mentioned earlier, these aren’t scientifically proven guidelines, but they do sound logical and reasonable when I read them. I found them especially insightful especially now that I am pregnant with my second child and deliberating upon the option of sending Gavin off to pre-school.