Dear Mr. Dad: Ever since my son was born, three years ago, I have been a stay-at-home mom. Now, I have to go back to work to supplement our income.
I found a good day care facility for him, but I am really worried that my son will resent me and that this will somehow affect his emotional development.
A: Well, you’re certainly not alone. Whether by choice or economic necessity, more and more moms (and dads) of preschoolers are heading back to work, entrusting their children to some kind of child care.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that there’s absolutely no reason for you to feel guilty. Last year, researchers at Columbia University in New York released a study showing that young children don’t necessarily suffer cognitive setbacks just because their mothers work.
And a long-running study carried out by the U.S. National Institutes of Health indicates that children who go to a high-quality child care actually score slightly higher in academic and cognitive achievement years later, as teens. There’s also other research suggesting that a day care environment helps children acquire good social skills, expand their vocabulary, and better prepares them academically than their stay-at-home counterparts.
In addition, children who have attended day care adjust better to kindergarten than those who spent their early years at home. And they tend to have healthier immune systems.
Your task now is to prepare your son for day care, since it can be an overwhelming experience for a lot of kids.
• Start by explaining what day care is and what he’s going to do there: play with other children, do fun activities, learn new things, etc. Make sure to sound positive and upbeat.
• Tell him that you’ll drop him off every morning, but that you, his dad, or someone else he knows will always pick him up at the end of the day.
• If possible, visit the facility ahead of time with your son so he can get a taste for the daily routine, and so he can meet the other kids and the caretakers he’ll be spending so many hours with.
• On the first day, allow yourself enough time to spend half an hour or so with your son at the facility before leaving.
Be prepared for a flood of tears (he might cry too). A lot of children cry the first day or so, especially if they aren’t used to being left with strangers.
No matter how hard this is for you (it might actually be harder than on him), tell yourself that you’ve found the best possible child care option for your son and that he will be none the worse for it.
Children are often more resilient and adaptable than adults, and they tend to better deal with change in their lives.