Thursday, May 5, 2011

Making decisions that are right for us

Recently a friend and I were discussing kids who stay at home and kids who go to daycare.  Both of us are very much FOR going to daycare.

I have always been pro-daycare.  With Bianca I had to go back to work when she was 4 months old.  For one, that was how long my maternity leave was, but also I needed to go back to work, for me.  We were the first of our friends to have kids and so I found my maternity leave very lonely and boring and where we lived I didn't feel safe to just go walking around. 

I didn't consider having a domestic worker / nanny combo because I had vivid memories from visiting one of my mother's friends way back when I was at school and upon arriving at their house, it was only the domestic worker / nanny with the kids.  The youngest little boy must have been no older than a year and when I got there he was stuck in his cot screaming his little head off and she didn't seem phased by it all, was in the kitchen cleaning and completely ignoring the little man.  It seemed that he had been crying in his cot for a while.  His nappy was soaked through with wee and his face was very red and tear stained and his little voice was quite hoarse from all the crying.  I really felt so sorry for him. 

Then much much later on I worked for a while at one of my previous employers' home while they were busy building their office.  They also had a nanny / domestic worker combo and she was diligent at feeding the little boy and giving him his lunch, but of course the house still needed to be cleaned and tidied and so more often than not he pretty much had to entertain himself while she kept an eye on him during the house cleaning.  I often wondered about his stimulation, about being exposed to things that he could learn to help with his development, but in the 3 or 4 month period I was working from there, it was always the same routine. 

And I remember reading horror stories where kids were exposed to horrible abuse at the hands of their nannies or their daymothers where there was pretty much just one person responsible for looking after the child and a child that young would not be able to say if something made them sad or unhappy or scared. 

One of the new blogs I'm following had a really scary blog entry dealing with exactly this.  And it was only when they spied on their nanny that they realised the true extend of what was going on behind their backs.  I just felt so devastated for them at what their baby had to endure.  Now I know not everybody is like that, but my worry would be how would I know?  What if the person I got to look after my precious baby girl was like that, there was no way she was going to be able to tell me.  And so I have always known that I would never be truly comfortable having a nanny / domestic worker.  I was even reluctant to consider a day mother where the pressure would be even more for a single person as she would have more little ones to look after at the same time.  And besides if I had a nanny / domestic worker, then would my child truly get as much attention as I wanted her to get or would the cleaning / tidying of the house become priority and my child would have to entertain herself for most of the day as was the case with my one boss' son?

And so we knew that daycare would be the best option for us.  We were fortunate that our company where we both worked had their own daycare centre just across the road from our offices.  It was an initiative from one of the PAs who convinced management that as they had sufficient parents working for them, it would be a worthwhile investment.  And it was.  It was a very well set up system with different classes for different age groups.  Well staffed.  Great policies.  And what I liked even more was when the manager insisted I don't make an appointment to go and look at the place, I simply arrive.  That way I would know they don't window-dress, I would see things the way they really are.  Bianca's favourite teacher at the time was Sylvia.  She would follow Sylvia around all day long :-).  And Sylvia absolutely adored Bianca.  Sylvia was so passionate about what she did she introduced an art session with the little ones.  Bianca was 10 months old at the time and Sylvia would help them splosh paint on the paper or help them hold a crayon as they scribbled on paper.  It was all about experiences.  All about feeling what it would feel like when they did this.  Bianca stayed there until she was 14 months old when we moved to New Zealand.

So when we came to New Zealand we went on to find another really nice daycare centre for Bianca - first in Auckland and then in Wellington when we moved here the first time.  Just the other day I was paging through Bianca's profile book from her Auckland daycare center and I was smiling at the photo of her and her best friend Ashleigh hugging each other tight.  This centre was split into under 2s and over 2s (until they turn 5), as was the one in Wellington when we came here.  The centres here are very much focused on sharing, saying please and thank you, lots and lots of free and messy and outside play, mat time and once a week they would have show and tell where the kids could bring a toy from home and tell the class all about it and show what it did.  The teachers would guide the kids and this was great for confidence building.  This particular session became one of Bianca's favourites and she would leap up on a Friday morning and excitedly choose the toy she would take for show and tell.

When Bianca became sick and couldn't go to daycare anymore she really really missed it.  She missed her friends, her teachers, the activities they would do every day, mat time, show and tell time.  We tried doing lots of things at home and even enrolled her with The Correspondence School, but it simply wasn't the same as being at daycare.  Bianca felt really really lonely.  The au pairs we had to get were really lovely and they incorporated many learning experiences for the girls and we are grateful for that and of course because they were not responsible for house cleaning we knew the girls were truly getting loads of attention.  So when Bianca started school and we felt safe enough health-wise we immediately put Caitlyn into a daycare centre also.  She absolutely loved it.  She loved the au pairs, but she also loved all the different toys, the different games they played, mat time, the different routines they had, and just the concept of having teachers and lots of friends in her class. We have never looked back. 

At the moment Caitlyn goes 3 days a week.  She is in the get ready for school class because when she turns 5 next year she'll go to big school.  It is not a class where they teach them things like reading and writing, but they introduce a bit more independence, a different way of giving instructions, do a few different activities where the kids would be exposed more to concepts like colours and shapes, cutting with scissors, holding a pencil properly (they do that in the other classes also, but more so in this class).  It is so much fun seeing how Caitlyn's drawings have changed.  She now draws people with big round heads with legs and arms and even bellybuttons :-).  And just like Bianca when she was in daycare Caitlyn has started trying to write letters.  She's been trying to write her own name and even Bianca's name and it is so special watching her learning develop this way.

Looking at my girls I know with 100% certainty that daycare was absolutely the right thing for them.  We tried the staying at home thing with them during Bianca's illness, but they absolutely craved being in a daycare setting.  Sure people say there is the risk of kids getting more illnesses if they go to daycare, but other than Bianca's leukemia and the tonsillitis she got which was actually thanks to the leukemia because we didn't know by then her counts were non-existent already, my kids have not been very ill at all, maybe because the places we chose were focused on hygiene and had good practices.  Sure they've had a minor cold here and there and sure Caitlyn recently had a week off school because of a cold, but I can't say that they have been significantly and constantly unwell (okay excluding the leukemia).  In my opinion exposure does boost immunity and I've had a friend whose son stayed home all the way until he started big school and then the colds and flu really hit him - big time. 

But yes, some prefer their kids to stay at home and would even go so far as homeschooling them all through the rest of their school career and that's fine.  We all do what we believe is best.  For me, when I see my kids so happy and well settled and exposed to the learning opportunities and I see their confidence and how proud they are to share what their friends and teachers were doing, I could never take that away from them.  But now, before any of you jump up and down telling me how wrong I might be, this topic is only based on my personal experience and relate to MY kids.  I am not speaking for others, I am not saying that my decision has to work for others or that other decisions are wrong.  I am simply saying our decision was right for us.

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