Monday, March 16, 2009

Can an attachment parent use daycare if there's not a really good reason?

Ugh. Well, I've been trying for a week to break this monster below into smaller chunks, and all I did was succeed in adding on to it with a couple related posts. But this is about our ambivalence in enrolling Mikko in preschool, and I'm running out of time to get this posted before he starts already (as I post this six days after I first began writing it). So, as Sam assures me, writing can be any length you want on the internet! I will try to break it up with catchy subheadings and pretty pictures.


We're enrolling Mikko in a German immersion preschool.

Well, I haven't sent in the deposit yet. You can see the ambivalence there.

This isn't my post only on the preschool itself (though I do get to that later) but on the advisability of sending a 21-month-old to one in the first place, when there's no real need for it.

Daycare, schmaycare, or enjoying a devil-may-daycare attitude

I've had the luxury of being ambivalent about daycare. Granted, it's a luxury our family of three deliberately cultivated, but we're blessed to be in a situation (personal, cultural, financial) that's allowed us to make such a choice.

Sam and I have worked from home since our marriage, first telecommuting (Sam) and doing contract work (me), and now running our own home business(es). We initially considered it temporary, that eventually we would become normal and work in an office, but we grew used to it. And we really, really liked it. So when Sam's salary job ran out, we found a way to keep the experience of working from home if not the stable paycheck.

It's meant sacrifices, although I don't usually think of them that way. We're not even close to the amount of income needed to buy a house, even in this crappy economy. We've had to borrow money from relatives on occasion (hooray for no-interest loans), though we've repaid it all. We've had stretches of eating pasta that we could pick up on clearance from Big Lots (59 cents a box for cheese tortellini, baby!). I remember the day I considered the holes in my socks and wavered on whether I could afford a new pair. That's when I knew I was truly hobo. Well, no, maybe that was when Sam came excitedly back from taking out the trash and said the Dumpster was ripe for the picking — someone had moved out of our apartment complex and inexplicably tossed all his belongings; Sam sold them on eBay for a few extra bucks (without mentioning their provenance).

We even put off having a baby for another year so we could get a little more stable, and not have to dress or feed our child out of the trash. Now, at a time we feel absolutely comfortable if not extravagant, I'm continually surprised when friends of ours complain about not being able to make ends meet when they, single women for the most part, earn more than our family of three live on.

We intentionally chose to continue working from home as we raised our child(ren), because Sam and I each wanted both aspects of life — the domestic and the professional. In a tribal culture, we wouldn't have to choose, but in our society, it's usually an either-or conundrum. We didn't want to give up either the chance to participate in our offspring's childhood or the pleasure of adult pursuits — not that our particular line of work is always a pleasure to us, but neither is solely watching Mikko all day (sorry, Mikko, but it's true). Our choice to work and homemake simultaneously has meant some compromises in terms of quality. We get less work done than before we had a baby to distract us, and Mikko gets bored a lot watching us, you know, try to earn actual money. Again, in a tribal culture this wouldn't be an issue, because we'd be doing interesting things and be outdoors much of the time, and there would be kids around for Mikko to hang with, but here it's just the three of us (plus a cat) indoors mostly, sitting around and staring at screens.

But, regardless, when it came to the issue of daycare, we abdicated the need to decide. Since one or both of us (usually both) are with Mikko all the ding-day long, it didn't make sense to pay someone else to watch him. After all, if I needed to get something done, Sam could take him on a walk, or vice versa. And if we both needed to get something done, well, that's what naptimes and staying up late are for.

This is bigger than the mommy wars

Whenever I did think about daycare, I was glad I didn't have to think about it too seriously. Because it was an area that engendered conflict, in me, and certainly in the so-called mommy wars. On the one hand, as a feminist and as someone who appreciates having a professional aspect to my life, I want childcare options to exist for those who need them. On the other hand, the whole notion of paying a stranger to care for a child never sat well with my attachment-parenting philosophy. No matter how you sliced it, ceding care of a baby to a professional is less than ideal.

The ideal, of course, doesn't seem to exist, at least for me, at least here. I suppose, to go back to the tribal as I'm wont to do, it would be a group of closely related allomothers (men and women) who would care communally for the group's young. The baby would have free access to the biological mother for breastfeeding, but the responsibility would be distributed over a wider group of caring adults (as well as older children), and the infant would bond with these other caregivers. If the mother wished to take a nap, or work at a task, she could do so without feeling guilty or harassed. The child would not feel abandoned in such a case, because he or she would be with familiar caregivers and could return to the mother at any time.

The reality in our Western culture seems to be a dichotomy of two imperfect choices: The mother shoulders all the burdens of caring for her young, alone for much of the day and tasked with being the primary or sole provider of sustenance, comfort, and entertainment. Or, a caretaker is solicited to share the childcare responsibilities, but often the caregiver in this case is unrelated to the children, a professional hired for that purpose, and there's no widespread or lifelong cultural accountability in the relationship — either (adult) party can end it at any time. And having someone not as invested in the child's wellbeing provide care necessarily lowers the standards for attachment, and in group daycare situations, children might not get the quantity of adult connection they need. Further, since the care is generally provided away from the mother, the baby no longer has easy access to breastfeeding and other forms of mama-only comfort.

So, even though I wholeheartedly encourage women who want a meaningful life apart from their mothering to pursue their paths, and even though I unreservedly deplore the double standard that sets up such a conundrum for women but not for men, I can't embrace outside childcare as an ideal solution.

(I went to find some insightful and more in-depth posts on the topic at Raising My Boychick and found the one I was looking for: The USA is misogynist and anti-family, or, I am not a SAHM, as well as two current ones dealing specifically with the mommy-wars topic as it relates to institutional gender inequality: The patriarchy loves the mommy wars and More thoughts on the mommy wars. I swear these had not been posted when I wrote the above, but it's not like you would have been under some misapprehension that I was copying Arwyn anyway.)

And yet...we make our choice

So, where does this leave me and mine?

I've been trying and wanting to raise Mikko to be bilingual, a benefit I never had but got a taste of when my family moved to Berlin in my youth. Without a tribe of similar German speakers around, I'm finding it hard to shoulder the responsibility on my own.

So when I heard that a half-day German preschool for young kids (technically ages 2 to 5, but there are some younger kids there, too) was opening up enrollment, I realized that might be my answer.

We visited the school, and I fell in love — with the concept, with the teachers, with the cute little wooden toys, with hearing the other open-house visitors speaking confidently in German to each other and to their children.

Paying for it is going to be a pinch, but we figure we can quit at any time if we figure out that we can't afford it. The cheapest option is also the most appealing from an attachment standpoint, which is two half-days a week.

We settled on it, and both of us parents were excited. Sam looked forward to Mikko making some actual friends, and I was giddy at the thought of his burgeoning German language skills.

By the day after our resolution was made, though, I was wracked with indecision. Could we really send away our little boy for eight hours a week? Would he fall apart? Would he scream the whole time? Would he hate us? Would we do him irreparable harm? Would it hurt our breastfeeding relationship?

I had been excited about the prospect of three-plus hours twice a week of undistracted writing time to work on my novels, but now I began to feel selfish and unmotherly. Was I doing this just to shirk my duties to my one-year-old son, when there are years ahead that I could be writing?

Back and forth, back and forth — excitement, despair. The teacher emailed photos from the past week, and I thought how fun it would be to see our little Mikko in these pictures, to view what he'd been playing with during his time with them. And then I started analyzing the young children's facial expressions and wondering if they were all missing their mothers. And then, regardless, I had a pang that Mikko would have all these experiences without me. And then I started wondering — am I just obsessive, that type of attachment-parenting advocate whom everyone derides as simply unable to let go and allow her children to grow and leave?

Am I overthinking this?

Our particular institution

I turn to you. Here are the stats and you let me know if it's evil to send Mikko there:

     • It's two half-days a week for nearly four hours each session. There is a drop-off time where parents are welcome to mingle for a bit, so it's probably about three and a half hours that Mikko would be on his own there each of the days.

     • So far, of course, these people are all strangers to us, but I hope to get to know the teachers better and look forward to any parent get-togethers as well.

     • The teachers seem lovely and enthusiastic, and very accepting of toddler behavior. For instance, because it's an immersion program, the teachers speak only German to the kids the whole time. But, if the kids answer back in English, they don't berate them but just cheerfully continue to speak German. (But all the teachers know English, so given an emergency situation they could understand.) Similarly, there's a circle time for half an hour, but the children can choose whether or not to sit still for it or continue to play, and there's an art project that they can participate in or not as they wish. And the teachers were saying that often on nice days they'll end up staying outside the whole time instead of doing what they'd planned, which sounds find to me.

     • So far there are 2-3 teachers and 5 students. That's a nice ratio, isn't it? The maximum would be 12 students with the same number of teachers. The age range is 1 to 5 years old, and all the children are together, which I appreciate.

     • They spend time outdoors each day, which Mikko lurves. He would stay outside all day even if it were blizzarding. There's a little picnic space out back and playgrounds at an easy walk.

     • Parents are encouraged to stay for awhile to help their children become acclimated (unlike our church nursery's no-parents-beyond-the-sacred-half-door-of-doom policy) and to call to check on how they're doing. We can drop in at any time, and as I've already discovered, we receive regular email and phone communication from the main teacher/director.

     • Speaking of the director, it's run by a husband-wife team who work alongside additional teachers, so it's my favorite type of business — the local, mom-and-pop kind. It also means less turnover and more stability if Mikko attaches to them.

     • I plan to stay in the neighborhood and work on my writing on my laptop (preferably somewhere without that beautiful, distracting wi-fi), so I can race back at a moment's notice for any screaming jags.

     • The teacher seems genuinely interested in Mikko specifically, asking what his interests are and whether he had any particular needs. I mentioned that Mikko still breastfeeds, and the teacher encouraged me to pump and drop off nummies (not the term she used) each time in case he wants some.

     • I've only ever left Mikko with relatives, apart from the church nursery. The nursery is for an hour and a half or so, and we're in the building with a pager. I go to ballet class once a week for a couple hours, and Mikko stays behind to play with Sam and Sam's sister. I believe three times we've left him with Sam's sister or mother to go out for a couple hours on a date. He's done mostly well with these separations but can get clingy by the end and wanting to nurse.

     • Mikko is only 21 months old.

     • Mikko's not yet fully vaccinated, a decision we felt comfortable with in part because he had so little contact with other children. Speaking of this issue, we might not even get accepted because of this — I haven't brought it up with the teacher, but I have to turn in a Washington State vaccination exemption with all the other paperwork. Maybe all this debating will be a moot point.

     • There's a curriculum of sorts, but I hope and expect that they don't focus too much on that as much as just having a good time. In some ways, daycare situations are very child-centered, to use Jean Liedloff's term, but in our (my) culture I'm not sure how to correct this. It's only for a few hours twice a week that he's getting so much child-centered attentIon, and I think, barring an interesting tribal life, children need that kind of direct interaction.

     • On the elimination communication front, Mikko mostly uses his little potties at home and doesn't wear pants or a diaper around the house, but when we're out he won't use public restrooms. The school has a little Baby Bjorn potty and a quieter restroom than a public one, and the teachers are eager to gently help with potty learning, so it's possible this could be a bridge to using the potty outside the home.

     • Mikko has heard me speaking German but has never spoken it back (he doesn't speak much in the way of English, either), so I don't know how much he understands and how comfortable he'll be with hearing it the whole time. He'll try to sign to the teachers probably, but fortunately they've said they know some baby sign language. I'm not concerned about this, because at such a young age, he'll just (come to) think it's normal for this group of people to speak German.

     • We pay every two weeks and there's no established school year, so we can quit at any time.

Unschooling and the lazy parent

Other advantages and disadvantages in general:

I sort of see this as an "in" into the greater German-speaking community in the area. I now have an excuse to be hanging out with them, because my son goes to a German preschool!

I'm a proponent of unschooling and wish I were unschooling Mikko in this regard. But the fact of the matter is that I'm not as active about speaking German with him and surrounding him with German-language culture as I would like and as I think is necessary for him to grasp the language. It's possible that as he gets older and as I become more comfortable speaking German (with Mikko and with actual German natives) that we could substitute more of a tribal situation, with regular get-togethers with other German speakers.

Part of my distaste for traditional schooling is in its mindless-drone aspects, which preschools, or at least this one in particular, don't seem to have. There is a structure to the time there, but it's not regimented.

Part of my fear of unschooling is that it both attracts lazy parents (read: me) but is perhaps not best suited to them. I don't say that to offend non-lazy unschooling parents (most of them) but to point out my own shortcomings, and I don't mean to suggest that this in itself is not a reason for us to unschool in general. I only mean, and I'm speaking solely for myself here — I would rather sit around doing my own thing all day than genuinely and creatively interact with my son. I get bored taking care of him. I feel bad about that sometimes, but I do. I'm an adult, and I crave adult activities. In a continuum life, my active adult lifestyle would be appealing to Mikko, and he would switch off from participating in what I'm doing to run around with the other kids in the tribe. Unfortunately, the sort of lifestyle we have means that I sit around staring at a screen or two much of the day, and to entertain Mikko means stopping what I want to be doing and intentionally creating another experience. And I'm not very good at that, and neither is Sam.

I mean, we try. We play with toys, we involve him in washing the dishes, we go on long rambles to the beach and playground. But there's only so much we can stand of the more mindless activities, and at some point each day we really do have to get our paying work done, not to mention fit in the non-paying things that keep us sane and happy.

This daycare will give Mikko opportunities that we're not giving him. Not that we can't give him, but that we just haven't gotten around to. For instance — painting. I keep thinking, gee, I really should set up some plastic over and under the dining room table and let Mikko at some finger paints. But I really abhor messes like that, and I just have never done it. At preschool, though — check! Or playing with other kids — I keep thinking we should schedule some playdates with parents so Mikko has a chance to interact with some other young'uns. He loves babies, and he's fascinated with older kids, so it's not just some random "he should socialize" mandate that's in my head; I really think he'd enjoy it. Preschool with several kidlets of mixed ages — check!

Guilt, guilt, guilt

So, there you have it. All my ambivalences in one long post. I didn't realize how guilty I'd feel about sending my child off without any financial need until I truly contemplated it after that initially fun open house. In fact, sending him is creating a financial need. I've resolved to work soooo hard during those three-ish hours without him to make up the price of tuition.

I've felt vaguely ill ever since the open house, churning it all over in my mind. I catch Mikko smiling up at me, and he's so small and trusting — how can I be giving him away to someone else?

I suppose the ideal would be staying with him at this school — maybe I can eventually worm my way into a job as a teacher's aide, if I ever get up the courage to speak German out loud.

But, I guess I'll go ahead and turn in the deposit and the forms and see how it goes.

Rationally, it all makes sense to me. Emotionally, I'm finding it hard to stomach letting my little baby go.

Photo credits: fingerpainting courtesy Flávio Takemoto, play mat courtesy Abigail Arabit, box of crayons courtesy Pam Roth, evocative first day of school & child drawing courtesy Bianca de Blok, and all the rest of the preschool photos courtesy Anissa Thompson.


Lisa C said...

Wow, long post! Well, I think you should send him off. It sounds like a great place for a child, and he will have the opportunity to be with other children on a regular basis, as well as form relationships with other adults. Too bad you can't do your work in the corner or something! I feel for you, I don't know if I would send my son to preschool, but it sounds like a great opportunity for the both of you. And like you said, you can always drop out.

Anonymous said...

Wow! And, I can only say well done! I have had to work since my daughter was very young... 4 months, in fact. As I am a seamstress and worked from home it only worked until she started crawling.
It is hard to send a small child to someone else for looking after. In the beginning I cried a lot... My daughter just went without looking back!
Well, she is now just over 2 years old and we have moved countries. We live in Germany now. I don't work. But, we felt that it would be good for our daughter to integrate and for her to learn the language and get to know the culture as soon as possible. We are still learning and after 10 months, I think she speaks more German than we do. I still want to cry every day when I drop her off and she walks off not looking back. But then, when I pick her up and she comes running to me and hugs me, I know she had a fun day and she can cope with whatever boring afternoon lays ahead... She has no problem playing with other children and sharing. I am expecting again and not exactly planning to send the little one off to a playgroup as early as 6 months or even 18, but maybe I would consider it when baby is 2. Since Kindergarten starts here at 3 years, it may be good preperation if baby goes a couple of mornings a week...
Good luck! Hope you manage to organize your time "ohne" child well and get lots done!

Kristine said...

I struggled with putting my baby in daycare, but I felt it was the safest option for childcare. I do consider myself an attachment parent, although I felt that by going back to work I was committing a grave sin since all the people in my AP group are SAHMs. I am a teacher with an AMAZING job I don't want to give up in a precarious economy, so going back to work is in the best long term interest of my baby. I feel good about providing him (and his future siblings I hope) with financial stability and the best medical insurance we could ever ask for.

I did a couple of things to make me feel better about daycare.
1. We waited until he was 10 months. I do not think daycare is the best situation for a kid under 6 months because they simply cannot be held enough, and that hurts me to think about.
2. Husband does drop off at 9, I pick up at 330 or earlier, so he's not in there too long.
3. I picked a place where the caregivers are experienced (10 and 15 years respectively) and loving. Many teachers I know send their kids to the place and I only hear good things. I've observed the baby room for at least 5 hours and I like what I see. I leave my ten month old there and do not worry a smidge- I do think of him sadly because I want to be with him, but I don't have any nagging in the back of my mind about the care he is receiving.

I guess I"m saying, in the right situation, sending the kid out of the home might not feel great, but if your career (or something else) necessitates it, find a place that you feel completely comfortable with. That was the only way I could not cry every day about going back to work. (starting when he was like, two weeks old.) I still cry, but not because I feel bad about who he's with.

They ARE small and trusting- and that is why you have to trust their caregivers.

As a teacher, I am very conscious of this. Even though my students are 11, they are still very much babies. I have a huge responsibility not to TEACH them- that part's easy- but to keep them happy and loved and secure- that is harder, but that's more rewarding. Of course, it makes teaching easier, so it pays off big time.

I hope I can be a representative for attachment parents who work- because I feel like working is looked down on in the AP world, and I don't think that is right. ALthough, I think I'm being a hypocrite, because I did whatever it took- which was totally stretching our finances to nothing- to stay home for almost a year.

OK, I guess I'm done. Thanks Hobo Mama!

Lauren Wayne said...

FC Mom: Thanks for your perspective on this. I think both working and stay-at-home moms feel the brunt of other moms' judgment, which is sad. You sound like an amazing teacher, and I so respect your awareness that you're called to make your children feel secure and loved. That's awesome, and something I very much needed at 11.

Now that we've been in this preschool for almost a year, I can say that it's been a good thing. Because the teachers are the same each time, he's gotten to bond with them, which I think is one of the most important aspects to finding a daycare. He knows the other kids' names, and he loves all the toys, and especially the music class. When we go to pick him up, he never wants to leave, because he's still too busy playing!

And it's really been beneficial for us as working adults to know we have two solid times carved out each week to get things done that don't work when kids are around (as Janda the seamstress noted!).

At the same time, I do still feel conflicted! As you said, you miss your kid when he's not around. You just do. Maybe if we lived in a society where everyone had trusted adults around to help them for free — but we don't.

Anyway, thanks for letting me babble back at you! :)

Megan said...

I've been following your blog for a few weeks (by which I mean clicking every link that sounds interesting, which is pretty much every link) and now that I've gotten to the topic of daycare/preschool I actually have something I can contribute, since I'm not actually a parent (yet - though not for lack of wanting). What I am, right now, is a Montessori teacher.
I think you might be interested in checking out the Montessori philosophy - if you aren't familiar with it try reading "Montessori Madness" by Trevor Eissler or anything by Paula Polk Lillard. It sounds like the program you found for your son is very similar to Montessori, with mixed age groups and freedom for the children to choose their own activities. I'm sure you love the program you're at now, even if you still have occasional misgivings, and if it only goes to age 5 you'll need someplace good after that - enter, Montessori. One tip to you and/or your readers: if you do choose Montessori, make sure the school or at least the teacher is certified by a reputable agency - AMI (Association Montessori International) is my own training and preference.

Krista said...

Just stumbled upon your blog recently as well. I am loving it! I couldn't begin to express in words all that you do - and it is such a wonderful feeling to read someone else's thoughts and have them hit home so well! Thank you for that! :)

So, just wanted to say that I too felt/feel the same way about sending my son to daycare. He's 2.5yo and I've been home with him since he was born and am still breastfeeding.

And about the "lazy" parent thing and the finger paints? That's me, too. I've felt so bad about myself because of that. I see all these other kids his age or younger that talk better than him, can rattle off their ABC's, etc, and I feel like I'm letting HIM down. But then at the same time I don't want to drill him until he memorizes things, just so I can "show him off" to people.

And all that about missing him and missing out on the experiences he's having was/is difficult for me, too. Is that a control thing?

Well, I'm glad to hear he (and you!) are happy with the preschool!

Thanks again for the wonderful blog!

Write About Birth said...

As I was reading your post, the one thing that struck me is that the preschool sounds really nice. We are homeschooling, but would welcome the opportunity to do something like that several hours a week. It sounds like he would have a lot of fun there, and improve his language skills.

It's funny how much I identified with your post. I'm a writer too, and as such spend much of the day in front of the computer. My children are trilingual, but it took a big conscious effort to speak the non-majority languages with them, even though those are my own mother tongues and not the language that became the majority language.

My children picked up English from talking to friends and relatives on skype, something they do around the same amount of time Mikko would go to the German preschool. When talking to people who don't speak your preferred language (or pretend not to), that is absolutely enough to become fluent, at such a young age.

Sorry for the rambling - I'm really tired and enjoying a beer :). But it sounds great, and I would send him off in your place!


Write About Birth said...

Ha! I managed to miss the fact that this was a post from 2009, somehow. Disregard my post! :)

Lauren Wayne said...

@Write About Birth: Well, I still appreciated your perspective! :) Mikko's so prone to separation anxiety that we keep waffling on whether to keep him in the school, so it's nice to hear a positive vote.

I think that's really interesting how your kids picked up their languages. It's good to know what's possible!

Also, I envy you your beer. Silly pregnancy. It seems to last for months! ;)

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