Many parents who work outside the home know the feeling – especially during the toddler and preschool years.
Six months after my eldest child was born, I went back to work. Two to three days a week wasn’t too bad. In fact, the part-time schedule proved to be a blessing since it gave me a chance to earn some money, use my skills and establish balance in my life. When I had to start coming into the office 40 hours a week, however, everything changed. I was constantly torn between my job and family. I was wracked with guilt over the fact that someone else was taking care of my child. I had great childcare, but I still felt bad because my son spent most of his waking hours without me.
Most of us don’t have a choice. We have to work to pay the mortgage or rent, to buy groceries, to access healthcare and other needs. And no matter how emotional we feel about putting our children in childcare, there are some benefits – for the family as well as the child. According to a recent Reuters story, a long-running U.S. National Institutes of Health study has found that children who have high-quality childcare see academic benefits lasting into high school.
“High quality child care appears to provide a small boost to academic performance, perhaps by fostering the early acquisition of school readiness skills,” James Griffin of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development told Reuters.
The keyword, of course, is quality. Our children make gains only when they receive excellent care, which the NIH measured by how much time the provider spends interacting with the children, as well as warmth, support and cognitive stimulation. (Previous studies have shown that children who spend long hours in low-quality childcare settings are more likely to experience aggressiveness and peer conflicts.)
We were and continue to be lucky enough to have quality childcare for our children. But we also made some career and lifestyle changes that allowed me to spend more time with my kids.
As a result, they received the best of both worlds: time with their parents but also two to three full days each week at a wonderful children’s center where teachers nurtured their natural curiosity, love of the outdoors and other gifts. They also learned how to collaborate and coexist with other kids – a skill that they don’t necessarily acquire when they’re hanging out with me at home.
What do you think are the benefits of placing a child in a childcare setting? How many hours a week is ideal for your children and family?