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Can You Have Too Much Childcare?

By paulabernstein |

At The Wall Street Journal’s “The Juggle” blog, writer Jennifer Merritt confesses that her children are in other people’s care for up to 57 hours a week. She writes that she is “hesitant to admit” the figure – perhaps because she fears she’ll be criticized for “letting someone else raise her kids.”

I put that in quotations because it’s a phrase I’ve heard often — usually referring to a mom with a demanding, time-consuming job. I’ve yet to hear a man accused of letting someone else raise his kids, so clearly, there’s still a gender bias when it comes to parenting.

But it’s also clear that Merritt feels guilty abut the fact that she’s away from her kids so much. Merritt says that some of her friends have worked out ways to spend more time with their children by waking up early or forgoing date nights and weekend activities.

“All of the parents I polled said they wished they could figure out how to reduce the amount of child care they use but that work pressures make it difficult,” writes Merritt.

Like many parents, I bemoan the fact that corporate America doesn’t encourage a healthy work-life balance. Sure, there are some jobs that allow for flextime or telecommuting, but especially during a recession, most people are reluctant to push their luck when it comes to special privileges.

Of course, everyone has their own comfort level. I’m sure some parents couldn’t imagine being away from their young kids for over a week at a time as I was when I went on a book tour. But I personally can’t imagine having the kind of job where I left for work before my kids woke up and returned after they went to bed. The issue isn’t that I think they’d suffer so much without me. It’s more about the fact that I’d feel lost without them.

One woman commented on Merritt’s blog saying that she “cracked” around the time her daughter turned one and was in daycare 50 hours a week. “I reduced my schedule and we now have Friday’s together,” she wrote. “I had to do something in my juggle to create more balance. If my employer objected to my schedule request I probably would have eventually found a new job.”

Is there such a thing as too much childcare for your family? How many hours are your kids taken care of by someone else?

Photo: flickr/NCBrian

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About paulabernstein

paulabernstein

paulabernstein

Paula Bernstein is a freelance writer and social media manager with a background in entertainment journalism. She is also the co-author of Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

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0 thoughts on “Can You Have Too Much Childcare?

  1. bob says:

    Oh, boy. Here come the guilt and recriminations. I’m heading for cover.

  2. Lindsay says:

    I definitely think that if your child is in daycare more than 45 hours per week, then you need to find another arrangement. What’s the point of having children if you never see them? If your job is too demanding, then find another one, even if it means a pay cut. No amount of money is worth losing time with my daughter! And I think that mothers and fathers should both be held accountable for holding jobs that are too demanding.

  3. Gretchen Powers says:

    For our family, with a child under school age, anything more than a handful of preschool hours and the occasional date night with a babysitter is too much time in childcare. I believe that kids under school age do best when they spend the majority of their time in an unstructured environment with a parent overseeing them. I absolutely believe in women and moms working, but there is a season to everything in life, and if one can afford it, I think a parent should be prepared to tone down the career for the first 3-5 years of the child’s life and gradually pump it back up as the child gets older and needs less direct oversight. There are even studies that show too many hours in care are detrimental. Young children just aren’t wired to be “on” for so many hours a day (and make no mistake, when they’re forced to share space and attentions with so many other children in a non-family setting, they are “on” and not relaxed). It is stressful to them, whether people want to admit it or not…

  4. Manjari says:

    “How many hours are your kids taken care of by someone else?”

    Right now, it’s zero hours. In the fall it will be 7 hours a week when they go to school for two mornings a week. I can’t imagine leaving for work before my kids wake up and coming home after they go to sleep, even if they were older. I guess maybe some people have to do that, but for me it would defeat the whole purpose of having kids. I want to actually see them more than 2 days out of 7. I wish I could find a part time job that would allow them to go to school for a few more hours a week, but I haven’t found anything that will work out. It’s really hard for me to imagine a parent (unless there is no choice) deciding to work such long hours on a regular basis. So was the point of reproducing just to continue the biological family line? Unless there is no other way to put food on the table, I don’t get it.

  5. JBoogie says:

    But I think that’s the point, Manjari–for many people, there is no other way to put food on the table. Yeah, you can make the argument that they should try to find something part-time or change jobs, but that could often mean relocating their family (away from friends and other family), more travel time, or taking a drastic cut in way of life. And I’m not talking about the super-rich, I’m just talking about living comfortably, being able to save, and being able to put your kid through college. It’s a trade-off. Do you want to work full-time, missing time with your kid when they are young but know that you will be able to keep a roof over their head and provide an education for them, or do you want to have more time with them so you sacrifice your savings and possibly their higher education? Not an easy question to answer.

  6. Gretchen Powers says:

    I would just argue that it’s not an all or nothing proposition (and this is the last I’ll say because I could go on and on). To me, the ideal is a short-term (3-5 year) trade-off. People might say, then, that that would damage their career, etc., and I guess that is a choice each individual must make–damage your career or damage your child–if more people ramped down temporarily, though, it would become more accepted in the business/work world and employers would have to tolerate it.

  7. JBoogie says:

    That’s true–it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, but I think it depends on what field you are in. I’m a teacher, so taking 3-5 years off would not be that big of a deal as long as I kept my certification status current. But people working in the financial sector, advertising and marketing, etc… would be left in the dust after 3-5 years. They would become totally irrelevant because the business changes so quickly. And for many people there is an issue of certification or licensing. Many people have to stay current on their licenses and taking that much time off could require them having to go through some sort of school to get re-certified or licensed. It’s just not cut and dry.

  8. Angela Gail from firsttimesecondtime.com says:

    I would have a hard time feeling sane as a person if my kids were in childcare 57 hours a week. I like to have a little downtime and I hate rushed mornings and evenings. I also like to spend some weekday time with my kids. But overall, childcare has been nothing but good for my kids. Whether it is my mother our our extremely awesome family care provider, it is wonderful to have other people taking care of our children. It helps my kids and it helps me to be a better parent for them. It also helps that my wife and I divide up the chidcare chores and are each fortunate enough to be able to take a day home (two days home this past year with an under one year old). Other folks might not have the ability or the inclination to do that and I think that’s fine. Quality childcare is really a winning proposition for everyone as far as I’m concerned and we shouldn’t try to micromanage how other people use it.

  9. Gretchen Powers says:

    “Many people have to stay current on their licenses and taking that much time off could require them having to go through some sort of school to get re-certified or licensed”…Ok…so why not do that? Anyway…

  10. PlumbLucky says:

    The schooling and recertification/relicensing is only one aspect of it. I work in engineering. If you take off, or even cut back to much, for three to five years? You.Are.Done.Pick.Another.Career.

  11. JBoogie says:

    Because that costs money, Gretchen. Lots of it. If I let my teaching certification lapse, I would have to take 18 hours of courses (at $395 a semester hour) to get it back, plus pass all the tests again–at $200 a pop. If an insurance agent let’s their certification lapse (at least in my state) they have to pay a penalty fee, retake the two-week class at $345 a class, and retake all the licensing tests, at $180 a pop.

  12. JBoogie says:

    And hopefully you pass those tests on the first try, or you just have to keep paying and taking until you do. And it’s not like you get reimbursed…

  13. Gretchen Powers says:

    To be really honest, I think the whole time out/you are done thing is a lot of hype few people are willing to test. People change careers all the time in this day and age. I bet that skills, if they in fact, are outdated so quickly, can also be re-picked up quickly. Who’s to say you can’t read professional journals, do mock projects, attend networking groups, etc. while you are in your ramp down phase. There is a whole are ripe for business culture development there. I guess it is all just a cost/benefit analysis, then. Alright…I have to be better at keeping to my commitment of being done with this. I actually do have work I need to do!
    Back to business.

  14. bob says:

    In high-powered careers, and block of time that a person is not furthering their career can be a killer. It can be kind of impossible to come across as sufficiently dedicated and driven if you are willing to put it all on hold to do something else entirely. Then your contacts get stale, your knowledge gets outdated, and your childless and male competitors take all the good jobs.

  15. Gretchen Powers says:

    so, you really do have to choose between a “high-powered” career and the “making a living” that so many people claim is what they really just need to do…I don’t think having a “high-powered” is really compatible with having a small child…arghhhhhhh…must. stop. reading.

  16. MomofBeans says:

    I don’t have a high-powered career. I have a job that provides health insurance for my family. I am lucky enough that my job is at a family-friendly non-profit, but is it a career? No. Would I rather be at home with my daughters? Yes! That’s the beginning and end of the story for me. We can’t afford health insurance through my husband’s career.

  17. g8grl says:

    I think a certain amount of outside childcare is good for kids. It provides them with socialization skills that allow them to learn when it’s time to go to school rather than learning the rudiments of how to behave among their peers. Additionally it builds their immune systems. We all know that socialization skills are important to happiness, career and life span outcomes. Learning how to play well with others and learn in a group environment is an important skill.

  18. jenny tries too hard says:

    Is there such a thing as too much childcare? Sure. Just like you can have too much wine, too much medicine, too much hovering, too much chocolate (just kidding!)… a certain amount of most things is fine, but, yeah, I would definitely be uncomfortable leaving for work before my kids got up and coming back after they were in bed on a regular basis. Thankfully, that sort of situation is pretty darn rare in this country, no matter what the parents’ careers are.

  19. NC Mom says:

    Just to clear up any confusion…there are absolutely careers that you cannot take 3 to 5 years off. I personally am in one of them, I specialize in a particular tech field and I would fall far behind if I did not continue working. In my career you are expected to both have experience and continue training regularly. The training and tools you need are to put it mildly not affordable for the average person. Maybe some would say I should just quit and find another job in 3 to 5 years, but this was 15 years of training. I right now can pay my family’s mortgage, bills and health insurance. I think the responsible thing would be to continue to work rather than force my family to depend on government help while my husband finds ways to make more money. Just because you may not personally know someone in a career that requires that level of training and dedication doesn’t mean we don’t exist…in fact I’m not the only mother sitting in my office. Our careers aren’t high powered jobs that require 80 hr work weeks…they are just specific skill. With jobs that require a special skill and you have to keep them up…it really is that simple. Now if you believe people like us shouldn’t have children…that’s your issue to deal with…our kids are doing just fine…but it doesn’t change the fact that we exist.

  20. cookie says:

    I have been in my career for 13 years and am the primary “bread-winner” for my family. If I took 3-5 years off or changed careers, I would have to figure out to continue to support my family on 50% or less of my current salary. This would be difficult, to say the least. Things like saving for higher education would definitely be out the window.
    One point I’d like to make is this: I would love to be able to spend more time with my daughter and have a rewarding career. Did I struggle with the idea of being a working mom? Absolutely! But I know how fulfilling my career is AND how fulfilling it is to be a parent. I also see how my daughter is developing socially and learning things that I may not be able to teach her (either because of lack of training or simply not exposing her to the preschool environment she’s in every day). I think my work makes me a better mom. And I know that as my daughter grows up, she will see that it is possible to have a great mom who also has a successful career.
    For the record, most weeks my daughter is in childcare for 45-50 hours. And, it’d be more if my husband didn’t help with the drop-offs/pick-ups.

  21. Linda says:

    I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to be primarily a SAHM all these years. I’ve worked some, of course, but on contracts or at home mostly. There is no doubt that I have literally given up half a million dollars in income over the past 13 years. Eh. There’s more to life than money. I would not have had children if I felt I had to leave them in daycare all the time.

  22. Gretchen Powers says:

    I completely agree g8grl…that’s what preschool is for. I understand not everyone can forego leaving their children in care. It is understandable, but not ideal, in my opinion.

  23. jenny tries too hard says:

    There…much nicer

  24. Heather says:

    One thing I don’t understand is why so many people seem to think that going to college on your parents dime is a right, rather than a privilege. In fact I believe that going to college at all is a privilege. What is so wrong with working you way through school if you go. I know plenty of people who have done it successfully. I think of my Uncle right away. He started out at Aamaco when he graduated from High School pumping gas. He worked his way up in the company and the company paid for him to go to school. Now he has several Masters degrees and has a pretty high position in the company (which is now BP)
    So many people see things as necessary that really are not. Food, shelter and heat are necessary, anything beyond that is not. It surprises me how many people think that they have to work, and then sit down and do the math and realize just how much they are putting into childcare, and exactly how little they actually bring home. Now don’t get me wrong, I could care less if you work or don’t work, that is you decision. I just wish more people would admit that they want to work, instead of hiding behind the “I have to work” statement, when in reality if they sat down and did the math, they could make it work on one income. In this world of entitlement, people think that they have to have the newest toy, gadget, clothing, etc… When in reality you don’t need any of that, all you and your family needs is food, clothing, and shelter that is properly heated. Just my opinion though.

  25. Gretchen Powers says:

    “I just wish more people would admit that they want to work, instead of hiding behind the “I have to work” statement, when in reality if they sat down and did the math, they could make it work on one income.”

    uhm, yeah…totally.

  26. holly says:

    “I just wish more people would admit that they want to work, instead of hiding behind the “I have to work” statement, when in reality if they sat down and did the math, they could make it work on one income. In this world of entitlement, people think that they have to have the newest toy, gadget, clothing, etc… When in reality you don’t need any of that, all you and your family needs is food, clothing, and shelter that is properly heated. Just my opinion though.”
    This argument always gets me. I work. People look at me and my house and car and think, “gee, if she stopped working and stayed at home she might need a smaller house but she should make that sacrifice!” I’m here to say loud and clear, even if I stopped working I could afford the same lifestyle. Not everyone is working for the paycheck and not everyone want to be a stay at home mom. I WANT TO WORK. I like work. I like my career. And, it’s a known and proven fact that if I quit for 3-5 years I would not be able to pick back up. Call me selfish, all you holier than thou mamas, for enjoying my life. Go ahead and tell yourselves that you are better than me for wanting to stay home, and make snide comments about my supposed material selfishness. But, when you get a small second, consider for a bit that that working mom “with the latest clothing and gadgets” might just be happy and fulfilled. Oh, and so might her kid be downright delightful, bright, well-adjusted and all that anyone could hope for. So get off your horses ladies and realize that for every different family there is a formula that works, and it ain’t the same as yours.
    The mommy wars are not dead as long as there are people that say that to be a good mom you have to stay at home (or at least protest loudly that you desperately want to). Don’t get me started on how this models for the same little girls we are raising to be doctors, lawyers and presidents. Are they meant to be that only if they fail to get married and have kids? Perhaps high school should have the college track and the mommy track, then? You know, for the girls who plan on unrewarding, undemanding careers just to pay the rent while they wait for babies? How sad.

  27. Gretchen Powers says:

    hmmm…why the photo change, Babble?

  28. Heather says:

    Relax Holly, I never said there was anything wrong with working, in fact if you go back and look at my post I said as much, my problem is with the people who really want to work, but sit here and say, they “have” to work either because they think people will think less of them if they say they want to work, or because they really think that they need all the stuff they have. If you want to work, good for you. Work if you want, don’t if you don’t want to. I just can’t stand the entitlement attitude that so many people seem to have these days. The, “I need to work, so I can have the 50 inch big screen t.v. attitude.” If you said however, “I love my job, and it gives me satisfaction, as well as allows me to have things that I want and things my children want” they we have no problem. I just wish people would be honest with themselves and others. That is what I was saying. So don’t get all upset, because I really don’t care if you work or don’t, I just was attempting to make the point that what you want and need are two completely different things.

  29. Linda says:

    Holly, why do you want the approval of people whose values differ from yours? Why do you even care what we think as long as you’re happy? And since you ranted on about it, what makes you think you can make nasty comments about what awful role models SAHMs are and then complain about the Mommy Wars? Hypocrite.

  30. WAKE UP says:

    Ladies and gent, Childcare is good. For the lucky ones who can afford to stay at home with their children good on you but you must realise that not all can afford to do this on one income especially lower incomes. I also have to point out that just because someone stays at home with their child does not make them a good parent.

  31. Beverley Smith says:

    Solution is easy- government funds kids directly. Parents choose childcare style the child needs, that suits family lifestyle
    RIght now balance is tilted with government only funding and valuing nonparental care. We even see it by the expressions in the article that oddly and ironically assume childcare is not ‘care of a child’ but only care of a child by a stranger.

    Women have been sold a bill of goods here, devaluing one of our key roles as if we are incompetent at it.
    Sure we can earn and do any job men can. We are also good at caregiving. All mothers work and all locations where a child is tended is a childcare location- even at home

  32. Leah Beah says:

    Husband and I both work full time and have 2 under-school-age in full-time daycare. Hard to get enough time with kids (alone and together), and also enough couple time. I think my own ideal would be to work 3 days a week but alas my employer does not agree. My antidote to such busy weeks is to try and have a totally unscheduled weekend as much as possible. We all seem to be refreshed by a weekend of downtime together.

  33. K. says:

    Heck yes it is possible. We live on only $32,000 a year. It all starts with not caring about how well off we appear – small house, family sedans with low gas mileage and eating meals at home.

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