When parents work full time outside the home, they often send their child to a day care center. Yet eight to twelve hours a day, five days a week, is a long time for parents and children to be apart, and the separation can take an emotional toll on parents. They miss their child, particularly when he first begins a program, and worry about the care he’s receiving. Is he happy? Safe? Are his teachers taking an interest in him? Does he have friends?
Parents may feel guilty because they fear that day care will have a negative effect on their child. If they see his behavior change, they wonder if it’s because of his program. They may feel bad about not spending enough time with him, and a mother, especially, may wonder whether she should have gone to work full time in the first place. Even when parents and child are together in the evenings, the effects of work and day care continue. There’s never enough time together at home, and parents who want time for themselves may feel guilty about not paying enough attention to their child.
If you’re concerned about having your child in a full-time program, your feelings are natural. There are things you can do to lessen your guilt and worry, and to solve some of the child-care–related problems you experience. The most important step is to reassure yourself about your child’s well-being by staying in close contact with his teachers. Call the center periodically, and find out how he’s doing. If the teachers agree (and they should), ask that he be brought to the phone so you can talk to him. When you have a chance, drop by the day care center unannounced so you can observe him at play. You’ll feel better if you see him happily involved.
If you suspect that he’s not happy, don’t ignore the problem, even if you feel desperate about the need for child care. It takes a great deal of effort and energy to become involved in your child’s day care situation; some parents avoid or deny all problems because they don’t have the time, desire, or energy to cope. Others are afraid even to question their child about his day for fear he’ll say something negative.
If you’re worried about your child’s adjustment to day care, you have to become involved enough to help him. Make sure the quality of his program remains high, don’t compromise. Spend as much time as possible with him, playing and doing activities together, when you’re home in the evenings and on weekends. Look to other parents for support and advice. Don’t leave him at day care when you have a day off work.
Instead, take him with you to run errands. And finally, reconsider your need to work outside the home or to work full time. You and your child could benefit greatly if you were able to stay home with him as much as possible during the few short years before elementary school.