If you have a child older than three months, someone has criticized about your childcare choices. And unless you have thicker skin than a rhinoceros, you’ve probably felt at least a twinge of guilt about it. I understand. With my first child, I stayed home full-time till she quit napping (which, okay, was 18 months, but who’s counting?), and my friends said I was a “baby hog” because I never let anyone else watch her. When I finally put her in two-day-a-week preschool, my family shook their heads and said she was awfully young for school. It quickly became clear to me that no matter how much childcare I used or didn’t use, someone was sure to tell me I was making a big mistake.
And no matter what style of parent you are, you’ve experienced this. If you work full-time, someone has told you — with an arch smugness better than any mean girl could ever achieve — “I could never bear to have my children raised by someone else.” (As if any absence from your child negates your status as, you know, the parent.) And if you’re home full-time, someone has undoubtedly asked you, with a deceptively puzzled expression, “So what do you do all day?”
But the truth is, it doesn’t matter if you work 80 hours a week or if your job title has been “Mom” for the past ten years, and it doesn’t matter if your child is two months or twelve years old. The fact that you leave your child with a daycare or a nanny or a relative isn’t the problem. Here are the real childcare mistakes you need to worry about.
1. You only use childcare while you’re working, and you feel like you have to work every second that you have a babysitter.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s perfectly fine if you want to eat lunch at your desk so you can leave early and have time to take your kids to the park for ten minutes before dinner. But if you never take advantage of the fact that your kid is not with you to spend 5-10 minutes in the bathroom all alone, you should reconsider your approach to childcare. Peeing alone is one of the great advantages of being a working mom. Enjoy that. Even if it’s an ugly public bathroom at work, it’s really nice to not have little fingers all over you while you’re sitting on the toilet.
2. You feel like you have to work hard to create quality time every second that you’re with your kids because your time is so limited.
There’s nothing wrong with planning fun family outings for the weekends or setting up an amazing art project on Saturday afternoon. But don’t let it become a chore you feel like you have to do. Because the truth is this: for your kids, quality time means just having you around. Even if you’re sitting on the couch in your pj’s sort-of watching them and sort-of chatting on Facebook. You are still there. Really, you are. And in those moments when they really need your attention, they’re usually pretty good at getting it. (Screaming, crying, and grabbing at your knees are great attention-grabbers.) I’m not saying don’t plan those fun outings, because great experiences are fun for all of you. But if you need a weekend to just sit on the couch in your pj’s, it’s okay. Have them bring you books and sit in your lap while you read them all. That’s quality time, even if you’re sneaking glances at Pinterest between Cat in the Hat and Knuffle Bunny.
3. If you have more than one kid, you never use childcare for one child so you can spend one-on-one time with the other child.
This can be really difficult to do. It’s hard enough to pay for childcare while you’re working, so how on earth can you pay for childcare while you’re with your other kid? But if you can possibly work it out, it’s worth it. Even if you just leave one kid with a neighbor for twenty minutes (a favor you can reciprocate later) so you can take the other kid out to help you pick up bread from CVS. Put your kid in charge of paying for the bread, and you can combine quality time with a quick math lesson.
And if you have made these mistakes? Don’t worry. It’s never too late to change. Just don’t make the most important mistake of all: don’t let anyone make you feel guilty. Because no matter whether you’re working or staying home or working at home or starting your own business, you’re doing the best you can. You’re doing what’s right for you and your family. And what other people think about that is none of your business.