Once upon a time, I was a stay-at-home mother. It suited my temperament perfectly, and I totally loved it. That, however, was pure dumb luck, because in the beginning, I stayed at home because it was The Right Thing to Do. If you're going to have children, I reasoned, why would you hand them over to someone else to raise? Children deserve a mother's attention. Childcare was second best.
I believed that. I truly did. I did keep my hand in at teaching for a few years, substitute teaching for a day a week while my three kids played at a friend's house, but 90 percent of the time I was home. I loved it, which is OK. I also felt morally superior to working mothers, which is not. Now, I was never rude. I never said anything unkind or judgmental to a working mother. But did I feel like I was taking the nobler path? Yup.
Then my marriage started to fail, and a lot of assumptions about a whole lot of things were tested. As marriage counselling continued, the cracks in the relationship only widened. Instead of healing, counselling uncovered land mines. We were not going to make it.
The writing was on the wall. I needed an income, and I needed one soon. Mothering was what I'd been doing -- and loving -- for the previous 12 years. Why not be a mother for hire?
And it was in doing childcare that I learned a very important truth: I had been a self-righteous prig for years. Moreover, I'd been wrong.
Providing childcare has taught me:
- A mother is a mother no matter what her working status.
- No one replaces a mother in a child's estimation.
- Parents are always top of the child's emotional hierarchy. Heck, even abusive parents are loved long past when they've lost the right to it. (Not, I quickly clarify, that any of my daycare parents have been abusive.)
- A childcare provider does not "raise the child" to the exclusion of the parents. Parents and provider nurture that child together; the provider can be an expert resource to the parents.
- How can it be bad for the child to have another circle of people who love him/her?
- There is poor quality, even abusive, care out there. There are also poor quality, abusive parents. These are true and tragic facts, but they have little to contribute to the discussion regarding childcare.
If I knew then what I know now, I'd still have chosen to be a stay-at-home mother. But knowing what I know now, I'd have recognized it as a career choice, not a moral one. I would choose the career of SAHM because it suits my skill set, training, and temperament -- not because it's a superior choice for my children, or my relationship to them.