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The Great Daycare Debate: Can't We All Just Get Along?

Baby

It's not entirely clear to me why people are so judgmental when it comes to discussions about childcare

Who doesn’t love a good, juicy, heated discussion, especially when it turns out that they’re right, as I usually am. On the rare occasions when I’m wrong, it’s usually because my debate partner is misguided or delusional, or both. But even then it’s OK, because I always know when I’m right.

Apparently, so do a lot of other moms. The debate about daycare vs. stay-at-home-moms is not one that’s easily settled, but it seems as though lots of moms know the answer — and not just for themselves, but for everyone else, too. And while I get the need to be right (because I always am, remember?), this is one issue where I don’t understand how and why others feel it’s okay to pass judgment on any childcare situation other than their own (assuming that the child is not any immediate physical or emotional danger).

I wrote a post a few months back about a program at Cornell University that lasted from around 1919 to the late 1960s in which orphaned children were placed in the care of “practice mothers,” who were 22-year-old students, in order to get experience rearing a real newborn. One baby had eight “mothers” at a time who were replaced by a different set of “mothers” every six weeks. They’d tend to the care and feeding of the baby, with the emphasis on the science of raising a child.

Hundreds of babies, usually from unwed mothers, were loaned to Cornell and other colleges around the country so the most current child-rearing theories could be practiced. The identities of the babies remained anonymous, and after they turned a year or two old, they were adopted out to actual families.

I shuddered upon reading about it then, as I do now. But what was unusual, and, frankly, somewhat unfortunate, I thought, was that the discussion in the comments section of the post devolved into a disagreement about daycare.

The first commenter wrote: “How is this different from leaving your baby in daycare center with rotating staff that constantly overturn? Day orphanages might be a better term. It’s heartbreakingly sad for the babies then, just as it is for babies now.”

Another wrote: “Though there are definite exceptions, the vast majority of parents are making lifestyle choices that necessitate two full-time incomes . . . Though having 40 hours of rotating care a week is not the same as the Cornell studies, I think it is fair to question the impact of half a child’s waking hours a week being spent in daycare.”

Yet another wrote: “Why in the name of all that’s holy would daycare and a constantly rotating cast of mothers be the same thing? … [And] am I not allowed to find fulfillment outside the home and the care of the children therin?”

The debate continued — or raged — for four days, and although some good points were made on both sides, I actually found myself sad that so many judgments were hurled back and forth.

Same thing on a post I wrote about the struggle I had to figure out my work situation after my daughter was born. I wanted to keep her out of daycare for personal reasons, and found myself being a little attacked by commenters who assumed my decision to work from home meant I was judging their decision to send their kids to daycare.

One person wrote: “You make it sound like women who work love their babies less. Thanks. We don’t have enough guilt already.”

Another wrote: “I think that it is clear that you think parents who put their kids in daycare are at fault… I think you and everyone else who used judgmental comments here owe WOHMoms an apology.”

And then a few days ago I wrote about an unfortunate story out of Houston in which a daycare worker left seven kids in her care alone while she went to the grocery store. A fire broke out in her absence and four of the toddlers died.

One of the commenters wrote: “That is absolutely horrible, but that is the risk you take when you pay a stranger to raise your child.”

Of course, as Heather wrote, there are plenty of ways to ensure that a daycare facility is safe. And I’m just not sure why the daycare debate draws such vitriol from both sides. Part of me thinks that it’s easy to make anonymous comments on a website, and that often times people put others down in an effort to feel better about their own decisions.

From my observations (and I’m neither a doctor nor have I played one on TV), stay-at-home-moms sometimes put down daycare moms because they’re either privileged enough not to have to work (and seem to be out of touch with the fact that others simply have to work — no amount of sacrifices will make them be able to stay home), or because they’ve had to sacrifice in order to stay home and perhaps they resent that.

And daycare moms seem to sometimes put down stay-at-home-moms because they either resent not being able to stay home, or they perceive women without careers as weak.

Because I know firsthand how emotional — and personal — the decision can be about children, childcare and careers, I wish there was more support and less finger pointing within the mom community. It’s clear we all want what’s best for our own kids, not to mention all kids. But I have a hard time with people assuming they know what’s better for my kids than I do, or when people make assumptions based on the choices I have made. It doesn’t seem fair, helpful or kind.

I think there are a lot of good points on both sides of the aisle, but unfortunately they can be lost when the delivery isn’t respectful.

Image: MorgueFile

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