If You Send Your Kids to Daycare, Are You a Bad Mom?

Sleepy New Mom

Something has frustrated me and it’s more than just a personal issue. It’s part of the epidemic of mommy guilt and an unfortunate side-effect of patriarchy, although it may not be immediately obvious that they are related.A comment was left on a friend’s Facebook feed congratulating her for being a good mom, but then followed up by bashing moms who “don’t work”, but still drop off their kids at daycare. It wasn’t overtly stated, but rather implied that these mothers do not enjoy their children and the phrase “to get away from them” was expressly used. Later it was mentioned that such moms are dropping off their kids for “shits and giggles”.

Maybe I’m especially sensitive to such judgmental statements because I am a stay-at-home mom whose son goes to daycare regularly. Or I could be reacting so vehemently because I recently had a conversation with a friend who is struggling through post-partum depression. She feels like she has to do everything and can’t keep her house in the condition she would prefer. I spent so much time trying to convince her that she needs a break. That her son would be fine with another caregiver once he was accustomed to it. That there’s no way we can do it all and there’s nothing wrong with taking time for ourselves for “shits and giggles”. In fact, for most of us it’s necessary. Thank God she hasn’t read the previous mentioned conversation. The last thing she needs is more guilt and judgement weighing on her.

And that is why I felt the need to write this post. How many women out there were silently reading those comments and convincing themselves that their deserved breaks make them bad mothers? That they are slacking on the job. That their kids won’t want to be with them when they’re older. That they shouldn’t have had kids in the first place! (Yes, that was mentioned too. Seriously? Now we’re touching on eugenics because some mothers supposedly can’t hack it?)

Or maybe I was especially irked by these comments because I had a difficult time with my adjustment to motherhood. As gruesome and horrible as it sounds, I remember suddenly having new perspective on the horror of mothers who hurt their children. (I feel the need to proclaim that I would never hurt my son. But I do now understand how the complex intensity of motherhood could drive someone insane.). Simply put: The work Does. Not. End.

We don’t get lunch breaks. We don’t get coffee breaks. We don’t get to enjoy a commute to and from work (yes, enjoy! What I would have given to be stuck in traffic BY MYSELF, listening to music and just…driving.). In fact, many of us don’t get a break to get a full night’s sleep (my son is almost two and still wakes many times at night).

Let’s do some math here: There are 168 hours in a week. A person who works a full-time job works generally 40 hours/ week leaving them with 128 hours for leisure time (I’m including sleep in here). Full time daycare is generally 50 hours/ week. Therefore, if a stay-at-home mom drops off her children full time she gets 50 hours/week off from her job. I’m not including sleep in there because for many moms that is time when she is on-call. Even if we did include a full eight hours of rest each night, she would still have only achieved 106 hours off of work as compared to a full-time worker’s 128.

Now, clearly these estimates are full of flaws. Many husbands* do help out with some housework, but some do not. Some kids sleep through the night consistently from a young age, many do not. Some couples have family nearby who take the kids occasionally for date night or “shits and giggles”, some, like my husband and I, do not.

The point is, don’t judge. You don’t have that woman’s kids. You don’t know how much they wake at night or how long it takes to get them back to sleep. You aren’t married to her husband or trying to maintain her home. Most importantly, you aren’t in her head and her kids are not your kids.

Whenever I get down on myself for not being able to accomplish something others seem to find easy, my therapist reminds me that different people have different abilities and thresholds. There are things I can do easily that I take for granted.

If you are able to work 168 hours/week raising your five kids and you love every single gosh-darned minute of it, good for you! You deserve a medal! And you know what? So does the mom who “got rid of her kids” for 50 hours a week because she was wise enough to know that she needed that time so that she could function during the other 118. Maybe it makes her an incredibly attentive mother during those other 118 hours while you are plopping your kids in front of the TV so you can do the dishes and cook dinner while balancing laundry on your head.

Or maybe not. Maybe she’s juggling everything as much as you are the rest of the time. And maybe you are still handling it better and more attentive to your kids. So what. It’s not really any of your business, is it? Is she neglecting or abusing her kids? If yes, than by all means speak to her about it! If not, really, does it have anything to do with you?

Which leads me to my last point. They aren’t your kids. That’s right. Not your kids. Guess what? They are her kids. You know what that gives her the right to do? Raise them in her way and ask as many people for help as often as she wants. She can choose to be the sole source of their emotional, physical, and spiritual development or she can follow the philosophy that it takes a village and since we don’t really have much of a village these days, a daycare it is.

There has been a lot of talk lately about women’s rights being under attack. Once again, the issues of unpaid housework and childcare are absent from the dialogue. Of course, working women ragged for no pay nor benefits doesn’t make the news because that is how it has always been.

My hope is that these issues will make their way to the forefront as we continue to struggle, but that hope wanes when I hear hard-working women attacking each other for addressing their needs in a way most men wouldn’t hesitate to address them and no one would question it.

The only way we begin to get there is when we teach our children that it’s ok for moms to take care of themselves too. And as a bonus, when we take care of ourselves, we have a greater capacity to care for our children and become better parents.

*Please note: “husbands” is meant to imply any sort of co-parenting relationship.

What do you do when those around you judge your need for a break? Do you have any tips for tired moms trying to navigate their way through judgement-infested waters while balancing home, family, meals, friends, and possibly work outside the home?


26 thoughts on “If You Send Your Kids to Daycare, Are You a Bad Mom?

  1. I’m no expert, but it also seems like it’s good for your kids to get away from you for a while. You can’t be with them 24/7 for the rest of their lives!

  2. My wife and I both work full time, but we also have a spoken rule that if one of us stays home sick, or takes a sanity day, or has to do something like wait for a plumber, the kids still go to daycare. Because interrupting their routine because yours is off the rocker doesn’t help anyone. Caring for kids while sick is hell. Watching kids with a plumber around? Pain in the ass. The kids have a routine. They LIKE daycare, there’s other kids there and good Polish food and all sorts of stuff.

    It is a personal adventure, this parenting thing. Luckily, I’ve got a good enough perspective about how my family works on the micro and macro scale to not feel judged or guilty when I take some solo time. I love my daughters, they love me, we all have a pretty good life routine. I love my parents, and I have vivid memories of my daycare. I actually have a lifelong friend from my daycare. Chew on that, haters.

  3. Wow! Thanks KT. Interestingly, 1950s moms spent less time w/their kids than today’s women. More like, “Go out and play and don’t come home till supper.”

    The intensive mothering notion seems to be a backlash to feminism (kids need their moms – every moment of the day!) that now keeps many moms without relief. Yet it’s not good for kids or moms. Children get dependent, expect to be center of attention and entertained all the time, don’t learn how to work well with others. Not good for ANYONE!

  4. Thanks for posting this, Katie! I completely agree with your perspective, and am happy to hear that Sibi gets to go to daycare. Not only is it awesome for him- to be able to make friends, learn new things, etc, but you need that time for you! I often feel guilty when I feel “relieved” that my daughter is in bed for the night. But then I remember that it’s hard work, and after working all day long, I deserve a break, too. I think that it’s absolutely ridiculous that people judge stay-at-home-moms for bringing their kids to daycare. No matter what type of work one does, we all deserve a break. I’m glad you are finding a good balance between work, family and you time. Keep up the great work!!!

  5. I can agree with a lot of your points.

    I am one of those mothers that always has at least one child (I have 4, 3 biological and 1 niece) with her 24/7. And like you pointed out there are other parents out there that have family that will watch the kids for “shits and giggles”… I don’t have that. I also can’t afford a part time day care or the kid across the street to watch mine for a half hour. I wish I could.
    I really like how you out lined the hours. Priceless. I am one of those Mom’s that don’t really get a “lunch break” and sometimes not even a “dinner” or “breakfast break”. When I make something I’m always reheating it to eat while I’m on the go with kids. People are most likely saying “why don’t you eat when the kids do?” My replay is; “I have three that feed themselves and an 11 month old that still needs help while I’m trying to keep the other three to eat kind of “clean” at the same time so my clean up isn’t so bad.”
    I do have a husband, but because of his work hours I’m like a single parent Monday – Friday and get a lot of shared help on the weekends.

    My break is when all of the kids are put to bed and I give myself 2 – 3 hours to wind down before I go to bed and wonder which kid will be the one to get up between 2 – 3 AM. (because they seem to trade off of who gets up on which nights)
    In my case I most likely wouldn’t put them in a child care every day, but 2 -3 times a week at a play school for a couple of hours for a small break would be nice (if I could afford it).

    Being a Mom is has its ups and downs, but is challenging and not everyone can do it. And it’s harder when you don’t feel appreciated for the work you do. 😦
    (I’m sorry this comment got to be a bit long)

    Thank you for writing this up Katie. You are doing a great job as a Mom.

  6. I am a mom with 5 kids… We moved to a new country a year ago so all my support system is gone. I am considering sending my kids too daycare because I’m going crazy, my marriage is not what is used to be and because I want to go back to school. Most of the time I feel depressed, and burnt out. I have given my family 10 years of my life and I feel like now is my turn! I honestly enjoyed it but since we moved I have not had a break, and I need it. The kids also need a break from me. I used to believe daycare was not good for my kids, that they needed to be with me as much as possible. Til now, that is! I had to experience this misery to understand. Don’t get me wrong I love my kids to death, it’s just that I rather be alive for them ’cause if I keep going like this I won’t last too long!

  7. I agree with you for the most part. I think EVERY mother (and father) needs a break. I have a very supportive husband who helps me with the kids WHEN I ASK. That’s the big ticket. I have to say “can you change the baby’s diaper?” or “can you WATCH THEM while I grocery shop?”. Because when the hubby’s watching them, it’s considered babysitting, right?! Hehe:). I digress. Anyway, I unfortunately do not agree with mothers who send their kids to FULL TIME daycare when they don’t work. Like I mentioned above, it is absolutely imperative to take breaks of you are a stay-at-home mom otherwise you’d find yourself going insane. BUT…. if you stay at home and send your kids to full time day care- what’s your job? Clean the house? Woo hoo! Also, is your husband okay with that? I feel like staying at home with my children until they reach school age will be the most challenging but fulfilling goal I’ve ever accomplished (I have very little help btw). My husband makes more than enough money to support our family so I could potentially take the kids somewhere a couple hours a week (which would be wonderful somedays) but I enjoy being with them. If you don’t get in the habit of being around them 24/7 from the beginning, then it’s never gonna get easier. This may seem odd… But I find it to be harder to be with my kids 24-7 after I’ve gone on a hubby/wife getaway then have to come back to the real world. If Ive been around my kids 24/7 for 8 months straight, it’s easier bc you’re used to it. But I’m a firm believer in a traditional household. Children need their mommies because that’s nature. Let the confrontations begin!!!! I have to go… My daughter needs a drink:)

    1. It is true that you get in a routine when you have the kids 24-7 and it gets easier. However, about 4 times a year my 3 year old goes to stay with his grandparents for 5 days (all of our family is out of town), and I use that time to “Catch up”. Reorganize that closet that is overflowing, go through old clothes, catch up on errands, plan meals for the week he gets back, etc. When he comes back I am rested, and ready to go, and I can find things again. Honestly, I would rather have a break at home to myself for 2 days than a 2 day getaway with the girls. I just need time to “catch up” on housework because I get so overwhelmed when the house gets in such dissarray. When I am organized, I feel like I am a better parent. I just wish I could stay organized all the time. Any tips?

  8. You are so right. Thank you for this. I am worried to put my son in daycare after hearing horror stories and struggling to find a decent one. BUT… I. NEED. A. BREAK.

    So it’s based on the individual mother, and all are in denial that they need a break LOL.

  9. This article is really what I needed. I’ve only just started my nearly 4 year old in kinder, twice a week and the guilt is kicking in! She hates it, we’ve been together pretty much 24/7 since she was born. My son is nearly 2 and it breaks my heart that she cries but waves goodbye to us when we leave her. But I keep reminding myself before she started, I was a madwoman! Even 2 days makes a big difference and you are able to do the little things you never seem to get around to. Children also need social interaction with other children. This will teach them the foundations for when they attend school, such as sharing, being polite and having respect etc. Childcare is not the enemy! It’s the people who don’t even have children and feel the need to give their opinion that are! Thank you for the article.

  10. I am a stay at home mom of 2 boys (1 and 3). My husband works about 60 hours a week. He helps on the weekends, but not during week. My 3 year old is a very “spirited” child (or, strong-willed), and he is constantly tormenting his baby brother (playing too rough, pushing him down, kicking his face), and he also throws extreme tantrums multiple times a day, doesn’t cooperate, argues with any request, etc, (anyone who has a strong willed child understands this and knows that it is not a result of bad parenting.. those with easy kids please don’t judge). I have a lot of patience with him (friends and family watch with dismay), but it is a full time job with just him. I cannot leave the kids in a room alone by themselves for 5 seconds. If I walk into the kitchen to make a sandwich, i need to separate the children. This has led to my 3 year old watching way too much TV in order to get his attention off his brother (he never watched TV until baby #2 was born, and now he watches 3+hours a day). When baby takes a nap I use that time to spend special 1 on 1 attention with my 3 year old. He does not respond to traditional discipline (timeouts, sticker charts, etc) because he is so strong willed. The only time I can find to do housework or grocery shop is between 9pm-11pm when my boys are asleep (the side by side shopping cart is a disaster with my 2). So, I am extremely exhausted, and feel like everyone is getting cheated; my 3 year old is watching too much TV so I can do laundry, cook dinner (or even just make a quick snack), use the bathroom, etc. my 1 year old does not get much 1 on 1 with me (his first year is a complete blur), and I am overwhelmed and exhausted (did I mention we are also building a house and selling the one we live in?). SO, after months of guilty feelings and being worried about being judged, we decided to put our 3year old in full time daycare (preschool). I won’t take him full time, but I needed more than 8 hours a week (as offered with Mothers Day Out). I will still have my 1 year old to care for full time, so it’s not like I am not “working”, and I can get ALL of my house building decisions, packing, cooking, housework, moving boxes, etc, done while my 3 year old is learning, thriving, and socializing. I hope this will give me the chance to enjoy more quality time with both of my kids. I feel guilty and worry about others judging me. My husband is extremely supportive and tells me not to worry about what other people think. He is paying for it because he feels it will make our entire family more happy. I am even writing this reply to complete strangers just to justify it because I feel like a failure. Is this justified? Am I still a good “stay at home” mom if my 3 year old goes to daycare?

    1. I’m the same mom, two boys ages 2.5 and 1, my 2.5yo is a spirited child and my 1 yo has major separation anxiety (i.e. cannot be put down or left alone w/o crying). My older son was in daycare since 17 months when I was a month away from delivering my second. He went 3 days a week, just so I could have a break. Now that he is older he is going 4 days a week and I’m home full-time with the 1 year old. The only time to get anything done is after 9pm when they’re both finally asleep. I find myself so exhausted that I just zone out on the couch and accomplish nothing. My husband works 60 hrs a week with lots of evenings and weekends (feeding dinner and getting kids bathed and asleep solo is always fun!) My house is a disaster always and my husband knows that it’s because my 1yo refuses to let me do anything, and if both kids are home then housework is a total write-off. He wants me to send my 1yo to daycare as well once he’s 1.5 just as we did with my first. Only part-time of course, just so I can manage all the housework and do all the errands we need to run our home smoothly. Because as it stands, what we’re doing/not doing isn’t working for us. I am torn and the thought of having them both in daycare makes me riddled with guilt. How do other moms do it? I’ve even tried purchasing self-help books for moms on how to keep a clean/tidy home haha. I’m constantly torn on whether I should keep them both home or send them both, either way there’s hate on whichever side you choose. Thank goodness for this article. I know that the problem must be me, but at least I know I’m not the only one.

      1. Wow! I had to look at the top of your post to make sure that wasn’t me that wrote it, lol! Currently my 1 year old goes once a week (for 4 hours), and my 3 year old goes 4 days a week. My 3 year old LOVES school and gets a lot more out of it. I feel like my time with the kids is more quality now, since I can get so much more done when older one is in school. We are in the process of selling our house and building another one, so that is the main reason I needed him in school (lots of meetings with contractors and trips to tile store, etc). So my plan is to keep them both home more once we move, but we will see. I wonder how other moms do it, too.

  11. I am a mother of a 1 year old and I work full time. I leave my baby with my mother every morning to go to work and fetch him when I come back but at times I feel that I need a break I mean looking at my relationship with my partner it really has changed very much we no longer hang out or have quality time together as we used to. I getting a transfer to work closer to home and was considering day care but I feel guilty and think that people will judge me I mean I don’t have money to send him to expensive day care but always worry of his safety and all that I heard that at some day care they only change their nappies once a day which results to them having nappy rush and the fear of him for ever being sick but it gives me comfort that I am not alone and there are other parents who are in the same situation as mine thank you for the information.

  12. I have an almost 2 year old and almost 4 year old and am pregnant with our last child… My husband and I had a date about 3 years ago on my birthday and we have been away from the kids for 2 meetings… noone else has looked after the kids only us.. my family is far away and when they visit or we visit them they never offer to look after the kids.. I love being a SAHM I love spending time with my kids but my husband feels like he needs some time at home without them and to be honest I feel like a few hours away would do me and the kids a world of good and I would be refreshed to be the great mum I strive to be. I also plan to homeschool so there is no running out of time or deadline where the kids will finally get some time away and I think their socialization is really important so we have enrolled them in daycare from 9-1 on a monday and a friday (8 hours a week all up)I will still take them to playceter (thats like playschool where the parents stay with the kids) and to swimming and stuff but II will also have more energy for all the fun things we love to do at home. I feel like people will judge me but other people have family members or friends who care for their kids regularly which we don’t have and I think the kids will be happier at daycare than with a baby sitter.

  13. Thank you so much for writing this! I’ve just put my seven month old in daycare 2 days per week, just so I can breathe. I’ve been getting a lot of judgment from my mother and sister specifically, who would be FINE with it if I were “working” those two days… but because I’m taking time just for me, it’s a problem. But I’ll tell you something, ever since we’ve started daycare, I have more energy, I’m more engaged with my daughter, I look forward to playing with her and teaching her new skills. I don’t feel like a zombie anymore. And I’ve been struggling with the guilt — but I’m done with that. I’m a mother, but I’m a person too — and I need to remember who I am, because it helps me be a better mother.

  14. Everyone is all stressed out and needing time away. Did you ever think that this is how it would be when you found out your were carrying? It’s hard. It’s a mothers job. Things won’t be like this forever. Children will grow up and leave the nest. Embrace all the challenges. Seek some help. This will all be something you look back on. No it’s not bad parenting. But sometimes if you are home. 5 days a week might be a bit much. Do your research and make sure you are sending them to a reputable daycare. I’ve seem hidden camera footage of some and boy it was terrifying. All the best and don’t be so hard on yourselves. God Bless ❤

  15. My god… reading this has just made me feel so much better about my choice to send my child to daycare. I am suffering mild depression and my child doesnt sleep well. Due to this break i am coping much better and although my son is in care, he has a happy, relaxed better functioned mother to come home to. I feel guilt sometimes but im quickly reminded by my child nurse and health professionals, im doing this FOR him. How can i be a good mother when im too tired and emotionally a wreck from lack of sleep to be the mother he deserves? Your post, was truly helpful. Thank u

  16. If I could find you I would hug you. I hope the person that originated this post sees my response. I am a first time mom and have 1 son that is 2 years old. I am 44 years old. He has been in daycare since I returned to work when he was 8 weeks old. I so want to be a stay-at-home-mom but we can’t afford it. If we could, my son would still be in daycare everyday. Why? Because I would then have time to cook (which never happens much because both my husband and I stay exhausted), to keep the house clean and organized, to run errands, to shop for clothes for my son and for me for a change without doing it on company time because there’s no other time to do it, and to catch up on the things that I enjoy outside of parenting such as making jewelry, watching tv and reading. I would be a MUCH better wife to my husband and mother to my son if I had this time each day to get these things done while he’s at daycare. I’m so exhausted by time I get home from work that rarely do I make it to the gym and as I said, not much cooking is done. We ensure our son has a good meal whether it’s picking up from the store, cooking only his meal, and my husband and I just eat “whatever”. I’m so glad that are others that feel the way I do. I will say that I, too, had some post pardum depression after I had my son. Parenting, esp. at an older age, has been extremely challenging but others tell me it will get easier as he gets older. He also doesn’t sleep through the night since birth, had reflux until he was 9 months old, and was colicky for a month. I had a rough pregnancy with a rough c section recovery. All of this I think has contributed to my decision not to have anymore children. My husband is an only child and we have no problems with my son following in his footsteps. 🙂

  17. Wow this is the pill I needed to heal my guilt wound, why do we feel guilty anyway? I also got post partum depression a few weeks after giving birth to my baby and 18 months later I still struggle to be with my baby (alone) for 4 hours. Yes, I had to take my baby to daycare because I was exhausted from sleep deprivation. I also had no close family or friends to help me. I seriously want all the judges to tell us how they coped with their newborns, and if they were still living with their parents or had their aunts, siblings and friends help out with free baby sitting, cleaning, laundry, cooking etc then I would suggest they shut up.

  18. I know this was posted a long time ago but, this is one of the best articles I have read in a long time. I’ve been suffering from postpartum & recently enrolled my newborn in daycare, to try to get myself help. I’m a stay at home mom with little to no help from family or friends. My bf works away & is only home 1 day a week. When my son was born, I was so excited & really thought I had this parenting thing down but I soon realized that I do not! It’s scary & stressful! I find myself crying more than my son! So when I read this article it makes me feel a lot better to know I’m not alone. I’m really hoping that a day or two a week away & some time for myself will help me be a better mother to my kids. Thank you for writing this article

  19. Thanks for this post. After my son was born my husband began struggling with an alcohol addiction and I had to leave our home and move in with my mother. I suffered from postpartum pre-eclampsia, and almost lost my life. My son didn’t nap, and would only sleep if I held him in my arms due to silent reflux so I slept sitting up with him in my arms for 9 months. He began napping after he turned 1 but I couldn’t get him on a schedule. He’s a happy, pleasant, little boy but he is extremely energetic. He’s been solely in my care 24/7 since birth, until today. He started his first day of daycare and will be going 3 days a week. I am completely exhausted as he still night-wakes but still wakes up at the same time every morning no matter what kind of night he has. Dealing with my husband has been nightmarish and I haven’t had time to even hear my own thoughts. I hate that I had to put my son in daycare. I’m not working, but having to deal with leaving my home, a separation, and an alcoholic as well as the problems he has caused with his family who he has been lying to has drained me. I feel guilty because I feel like if I was in a happy stable marriage I wouldn’t have had to go this route. I’m exhausted so I don’t feel like I have any other option.

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