Choosing Whether to Use Childcare — A Working Dad’s Struggle

photo credit: telework via photopin (license)

photo credit: telework via photopin (license)

So, this post is a bit more personal, and includes mostly my own experiences, thoughts, and feelings on the subject.  When you work from home, in any capacity, “being there” for your kids becomes a trickier thing to define and accomplish, because you’re rarely gone, but you still have to get work done as if you were leaving.  You have to wrestle with not only what childcare option is best for your kids, but also whether you should be using childcare at all.  Through trial and error, I’ve ended up in a situation that works well for me and my family right now, but your mileage may vary.  Regardless, perhaps my experiences can help you make your own decisions.

When Dragon Child was born, Astra had 12 weeks of leave from work.  My own workload tends to ebb and flow a bit, and besides being a slow period my employer was understanding and kept my duties light during this time with the new baby.  We both had time to adjust to the reality of being parents and bond with our new child.

(As a side note, I’m not going to touch the discussion of whether both parents working is right for the family here.  It depends on a lot of things individual to your situation, and is a separate (though related) discussion.  That is, however, a discussion well worth having with your significant other if you’re possibly in such a situation, if for no other reason than to make sure you’re both on the same page about what you want and can achieve for your family.)

I highly recommend something like this if you want to get housework done with an infant.

After Astra went back to work, I kept Dragon Child at home with me full time.  He was still napping a lot during the day, and although my workload increased I was able to get a lot done while he was asleep or just chilling on my chest in his baby carrier.  As time went on and we began to approach the six month mark, however, he was gradually awake more often and needed more attention when he was awake.  Sometimes I would have a friend or family member babysit a bit, but that was inconsistent at best.  I began to have busy days when he was fussy and I would have to put off work until Astra could get home and take care of him, leaving her to handle some evenings and part of the occasional Saturday solo.  I tried to schedule conference calls for when he would (probably) be taking his naps, but sometimes schedules didn’t line up or he felt like being different that day, and I would have my cell phone (on speakerphone, microphone muted) propped next to the changing table while wiping up poop and trying to keep one hand at least partially clean so that I could un-mute my phone if I needed to chime in or was asked a question.  Sometimes, when something really needed to be done quickly, I would have to set Dragon Child down in a safe place and just let him fuss for a bit while I took care of it.  My days became hectic, my evenings and weekends became patched with work, my work quality began to slide a bit, and an increasing majority of the time I spent with my son was spent just seeing to his basic needs without any room for either of us to enjoy ourselves more.  At that point I had a realization:

My quantity of time with my son was high, but the quality of my time with my son was poor.

It’s difficult to reconcile the reality of the situation with your own principles and inner monologues about what’s best for your children.  Astra and I discussed it and began looking at options.  Infants need a lot of attention and care, so programs like Mother’s Day Out in our area charge a lot extra for them if they’re even willing to watch anyone under 18 months.  Besides, I needed to be able to be available for calls etc. at any time of the normal business day–not all the time, but any time, as needed.  On the other hand, I’d grown to cherish my one-on-one time with Dragon Child, and really wanted to be able to keep some time with him for myself when I could spare it, especially when my workload was lighter.

We eventually settled on an in-home daycare to provide both reliability and flexibility.  We started part time and eventually started paying for full time, but I can still pull Dragon Child out whenever I want to (as long as it’s not in the middle of nap time).  Having time when I know I will be able to get things done has made a world of difference in my ability to schedule my work and separate my work from my kids.  I often keep Dragon Child with me for all or part of a day, especially when my workload is lighter, and when I do we can focus on doing things together, like going to visit Grandpa or playing at a playground.  When work gets really hectic, he has a place that he is well cared for and friends to play with (the other kids at daycare) while I focus on getting things done so that I can devote my evenings and weekends to spending time with my family (including Astra) instead of having to use them to play catch-up.

Ultimately, every situation is different, but I feel that the important thing is to find a balance that works for your family (including you!).  Once you find that balance, be willing to adapt as the situation changes.  Children change fast, and so do their needs, and just because you decide something different is best now doesn’t mean that what you were doing before was wrong.  As parents we sometimes wish we could do nothing but play with our kids all day, but for anyone not independently wealthy we have to consider how we can best provide for all of their needs as well as our own.  Ive learned not to be afraid to let go a little bit sometimes–especially if it means you can cling tighter the rest of the time!

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