Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are expecting our first child and we’re on the fence about whether to hire a nanny or find a child care center for our son.
It would be great to have someone at home to take care of household chores, but our friends say that there are some great advantages – for us as parents – to having our child in day care, too. Is there any truth to this?
A: In a word, yes. While it’s every parent’s dream to come home to a sparkling clean house where the laundry and the toys have been put away and a healthy dinner is on the table, having a child in day care offers some definite benefits to parents as well as to kids.
In fact, the same day I got your e-mail, I received a copy of a new book by Mario Small, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, who has extensively studied a number of these benefits.
For example, in a day care setting, you’ll get to interact with more parents than if you had a nanny caring for your child.
Day care parents often become each other’s support, helping each other navigate child rearing issues, sharing their concerns for their children’s development and health issues, helping out with emergency baby-sitting, and providing different perspectives on schools and extracurricular activities.
In short, it’s a way to expand the proverbial village.
Parents who send their children to day care also have access to professionals (usually the staff and administration) who have at their disposal resources and a wealth of experience that they can share with parents.
But there’s more to day care than community building. In his book, “Unanticipated Gains: Origins of Network Inequality in Everyday Life,” Mario Small writes that mothers who put their children in day care tend to have more friends than mothers who don’t.
As for the children, yes, there are some wonderful advantages to leaving children at home with a nanny. It’s their home.
At the same time, there’s no question that in a good day care setting, your child can thrive and learn all sorts of important social skills. He’ll be exposed to other children who will eventually start to seem like siblings.
He’ll learn to eat around other people and will discover the all important skill of sharing. And while he’ll bring home a germ or two (or two dozen), studies have shown that children exposed to germs early in life actually have stronger immune systems.