Most of Elder Christopherson’s talk during the Saturday Afternoon Session of October Conference was uplifting. He talked about belonging and how we should recognize that many people are at different stages of life. I’m hopeful that most people will remember that message from his talk.
However, I am a little worried that one part will cause problems for mothers. There was a section of the talk where he talked about personal sacrifice. He quoted a conversation printed in Deseret Magazine from a woman named Christina.
Christina was recounting the “worldly” advice other women her age sometimes gave her. The part that stuck out to me was when the advice went like this: “Are her children annoying her? Then she should send them to daycare.” Here Elder Christopherson paused as if to indicate what a terrible attitude that was. Then he goes on to talk about how suffering is part of life and it teaches us to be better.
This was only a small part of his talk. But it was the only part of the conference when I audibly responded to anything that was said. I replied out loud, “No! Daycare is sometimes necessary!”
This hit me strongly because there was a point in my life when I put my children into daycare even though I wasn’t working. I was encouraged to do this by an LDS woman.
When my youngest daughter was four months old my husband’s Army unit was deployed* to Korea for nine months. My son was one and my twin daughters were three. I was the sole caregiver for four children ages three and younger.
Many people helped my family during the nine months my husband was gone. Some of the most helpful people were the Military Relations Missionaries assigned to our stake. We’ll call them Elder and Sister Smith. The couple came over weekly to help with whatever I needed. Sister Smith would play with my kids while Elder Smith mopped my kitchen floor. He mopped that dirty, cereal covered floor every week, and I will never forget it.
During one of her early visits Sister Smith talked to me about the hourly care that was available at the daycare on post. Because my husband was deployed our family was eligible for 16 hours of free hourly care per child each month. I knew about this but I hadn’t signed my kids up yet for several reasons.
1. The application process involved a lot of paperwork and appointments. 2. I wasn’t sure 16 hours a month was really worth it. And 3. I’d been conditioned my whole life to think that daycare was something evil to tempt mothers into giving up on raising their children. (I wish I was making that last one up.)
Sister Smith countered my concerns with expert care. 1. She offered to come with me to the required appointments to help with my children while I filled out the forms and did the interviews. 2. She told me about another mother who treated the hourly care like a pre-school. That other mother always made sure to schedule the hourly care on the same day of the week for 3 hours. That sounded worth it and doable for me.
As for my third sticking point. The one where I thought daycare was evil. I never voiced that concern out loud to Sister Smith. It was just something I was carrying around in my heart. But I think she knew that I was concerned about leaving my children. She’d often say things like, “you need a break from your kids so you can be a better mom when you are with them.”
We made it through the interviews and the paperwork and the doctor’s appointments. I signed my children up for their first session on a Tuesday morning. I felt so guilty about dropping them off at the Child Development Center. I felt like a terrible mother. Like somehow I was a failure for not being able to meet all of their needs all the time. That sending them to hourly care – even for 3 hours a week – was a sign of weakness.
I had to give myself a pep talk and remind myself that I put the kids into hourly care so I could be a better mom.
That first session went well. The children all did fine in the new environment. I was able to go grocery shopping without children for the first time in a long time. I continued to sign my children up for hourly care on Tuesday mornings.
I figured out that it worked the best to drop the kids off in time for breakfast in the morning and pick them up right after lunch three hours later. That way there were two meals that I didn’t have to prepare. I’d pick them up just in time for naptime so if everything went well I could put them down for naps at home and have a little more time to myself.
Occasionally I’d sign up only three of the children for a session and then take one child with me for some rare one-on-one time. But that came later. For the first several months I reveled in this new found freedom of three hours on my own.
What did I do during the three hours of alone time? I know that at least one time I went back home and took a nap. Usually I’d go grocery shopping. Sometimes I’d do things like take the car for an oil change or get a haircut – basically any errand that would be a hassle to bring children along. I’d usually drive our second car during these rare solo adventures. The car didn’t have enough room for four car seats so I couldn’t drive it when I had the kids with me. The car needed to be driven regularly so that its engine wouldn’t have problems. I realized that I was kind of the same way. I needed a chance to be alone so I wouldn’t have metaphorical engine problems.
I’m sure that from the outside it looked like my kids were “annoying” and I sent them to daycare so I could get away from them. But really this was an important act of self preservation. I have no idea what my mental state would have been like without that three hour break each week.
This experience completely changed my attitude about daycare. Three years later my husband left the Army and went back to school for another degree. I worked while he was in school. By this point the three oldest children were in elementary school. The youngest had to go to daycare all day and the older children joined her in the afternoon. I had no qualms about sending any of them to daycare because of that stint we’d done at hourly care.
I’m so grateful that Sister Smith had the wisdom and foresight to urge me to sign my children up for hourly care. I wonder how different things could have been if Sister Smith had tried to give me a pep talk about sacrifice instead of urging me to put my children into hourly care.
I’m curious about your experiences with daycare. What are the reasons you put your children into daycare? What motivated you? Did you worry that other people would think you were just doing it because your children annoyed you? Do you worry about that now that Elder Christopherson included that quote in his talk?
*Technically my husband was on TDY (Temporary Duty Assignment). But deployed is the term most civilians understand so that’s what I usually call it.