Shortly after I had Sloane I had my first freak-out about how fleeting maternity leave is. It was May 8, I had a 13 day old baby and it was already 1/12 over. That’s 8 percent done. Which seemed like an awfully big number in that moment. After that, every time I thought about going back to work I felt the anxiety squeeze my rib cage, quicken my breathing and send my pulse skyrocketing. So I made a deal with myself: I wouldn’t deal with daycare or even think about it until she was 6 months old. I deserved 6 months of burying my head in the sand.
Alas, just a couple weeks ago I decided it was finally time to face the music.
In an absolutely ideal scenario, I wouldn’t have to go back to work until Sloane was at least in pre-school, if not Kindergarten. Sadly, there are no Rockefellers in my family tree. In the second-to-ideal scenario, I could at least put off the inevitable until she turns 2. Still no Rockefellers. In the third-best situation, we would hire Mary Poppins herself to care for Sloane while I returned to work part-time. Sadly, a no-go. In the fourth-to-ideal scenario, we put her in the care of a normal, reasonably priced daycare or day home while I return to work 4 days a week (3 if I can swing it without risking my job or losing too much of my salary in the deal). So this is where we are – and fourth best isn’t too bad when I’m well aware that there are about a thousand much less desirable scenarios that many less-lucky-than-me moms cope with. We are supremely lucky in myriad ways, not the least of which being that we live in a country with 12 month maternity leave, and that living with my reduced EI salary for a full year is totally do-able.
Back to complaining. It’s not that I don’t want to work, but that I want to take care of my baby more. It’s not about mommy guilt or being overprotective. I do believe that there are plenty of qualified caretakers out there, I do want her to meet and socialize with a variety of people, and I don’t feel guilty about going back to work per se – I just like being with my kid. It really is that simple. But I do like what I do for a living and I won’t lie – there are things about going back to work that are incredibly appealing…like eating 2 meals a day without having to attend to a baby. Drinking coffee while it’s still hot. Not getting puked on. In fact, an average day at my office sounds like a vacation compared to the effort it takes to spend 12+ hours a day solely responsible for child care. So no, I don’t want to stay home because it’s easy – but because it’s important, rewarding, fun and meaningful work. Sometimes advertising is too (a lot of the time it’s not) but at no point has it (or will it ever be) more important to me than Sloane. Duh.
However, I also like earning a wage and contributing financially to the household. It would be a switch to rely on somebody else for my pocket money and while in theory I understand that it is “our” money, it’s something that I still struggle to get my head around. We’ve always been more of a “both parties kick in the cash” than a “let’s throw it all in a pool together” kind of couple, with our own credit cards and separate bank accounts. Obviously, our household contributions aren’t financially equal, given the grand canyon between our salaries, but it works somehow. If he’s paying the big Costco tab, I’m picking up the daily Safeway bill. If he’s paying rent, I’m paying the utilities (except when I forget, as you may recall.) Plus I like to think that what I lack in funds I make up for in sweat equity – like cooking the majority of the meals and keeping our daughter alive. And while I don’t mind using his (our) money to pay for the necessities of life, I would feel quite silly spending it at Sephora or to fund my Kindle one-click payment bills. Anyways, these are all secondary musings to the issue at hand. Daycare. See how good I am at avoiding it?
In my head (and often, out of my mouth) the story goes that I have to go back to work. That I don’t really have a choice. But of course there is a choice. I could choose not to go back to to work for a couple of years, putting the burden on my husband to be the sole income earner. We could skip vacations and cut back on evenings and meals out. We could keep renting where we are, indefinitely, or move to a more affordable neighbourhood in the suburbs that we don’t really love. We could get rid of one of our vehicles. There are lots of things we could do to financially cushion that decision. But would any of those things make me a happier mom? Make for a better marriage? Help us maintain a fun lifestyle and household? Reduce our daily stress? Increase our joy?
No. Which means that none of these things are ultimately what’s best for Sloane either. So even though the choice is ours to make, it would be foolish to make a choice that didn’t take the overall happiness of our whole family into account.
That decided, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of choosing a childcare provider. Do you go daycare? Day home? Licensed? Approved? Private? What do all these things even mean?! Thankfully, I am a doggedly determined researcher, so sifting through all of the information and options is right up my alley – my lack of time to do so, notwithstanding.
There are so many pluses and minuses on both sides of the daycare/day home debate. On one hand for example, I like the structure, supervision and accountability of a daycare. But on the other hand, I don’t love the germs, the number of kids, the chaos and the institutional feel. And while day homes may be more cozy, attentive and personal, you have to be even more diligent about background checks, references, and experience/qualifications. With one caregiver in charge and no other adults watching to create “checks and balances” for proper conduct, you want to be damn sure you’ve chosen wisely. You want safety and security most of all…but you also want fun, stimulation and love to be a huge part of it. And then of course there is price to consider…it has to be worth going back to work, especially since I’m not dying to do so strictly for my own fulfillment.
So far we have visited (and waitlisted for) one daycare, with another one on the agenda for tomorrow morning. I only almost cried once (maybe twice) the first go-round, so I’m slowly building confidence in my ability to get through this with the appearance of being a sane, emotionally stable adult.