Concerns About Daycare

As a working mother, should I be worried about placing my child in a daycare facility? Personally, I have some serious misgivings about this option, but my husband thinks it's fine. Are you aware of any research on this subject or other choices we might consider?

There has been a lot of research on daycare, but the findings are mixed. Some experts believe that children do just fine when placed in a high-quality daycare center staffed by well-trained workers. In fact, they argue that kids from low-income backgrounds often receive more intellectual stimulation in a good daycare than they do at home, which may contribute to higher academic achievement once they begin school.

But other research has produced some very different findings, leading another group of analysts to draw contrasting conclusions. Certain studies, for instance, indicate that young children often suffer negative effects when they are separated from their mothers and placed in a daycare facility for many hours each week. Longitudinal research shows that kids who are placed in daycare beginning at an early age and for long periods of time each day may have behavioral problems when they start kindergarten. There is evidence to suggest that these children are more likely to be disruptive in the classroom, aggressive with their peers, and disrespectful toward adults.

Still another body of research suggests that some children placed in daycare have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their bloodstream. Cortisol is the hormone that is present in the blood when we experience fear or anxiety. In some children, cortisol levels rise in direct proportion to the amount of time they spend each day at a daycare facility.

It’s our position that, whenever possible, women with young children should make every effort to put their kids first and their career second. As we understand it, the most reliable research indicates that very young children do best in every area of measurement when they are allowed to thrive under a mother’s care at home. At the same time, we are keenly aware that circumstances don’t always permit a mom to make this choice. A variety of factors may make her employment outside the home unavoidable. Financial pressures, marital disruptions, a disabled spouse – these are just some of the conditions that may force wives and mothers into the workplace. Such circumstances are regrettable, but sometimes they are realities with which we have to live. We are sensitive to the plight of both married and single moms who must work out of necessity, and we believe in supporting and encouraging them in this difficult task.

To return to the specifics of your case, you didn’t mention why your husband wants to place your child in daycare. If he simply wants you to supplement the family income, we would challenge him to re-examine his priorities, especially if you aren’t struggling financially at the present time. If his motive for having you go back to work is to provide the funding for a higher standard of living – in other words, to buy a bigger home or a nicer car – the two of you are going to have to sit down together and ask yourselves some tough questions. In the larger scheme of things, is affluence really more important than the well-being of your child?

Speaking of finances, it might be a good idea to “crunch the numbers” and see how your potential return to the workforce looks on paper. When you figure in the high cost of quality daycare, the possibility of a jump to a higher tax bracket, and the extra money you’ll need to spend on gas, clothes, and other work-related expenses, you may decide that the added income you expect to realize will be minimal at best.

We recognize, of course, that decisions of this nature can be extremely complicated. If you would like to discuss the details of your situation, we invite you to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department.


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Focus on the Family Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care

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Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS)

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