Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The ‘mommy wars’ – about the hardest decision in my life

We make decisions every day: some are small and have little consequences; like what will I be wearing today? Others are more life-changing; like are we going to move to another country? Other people often make different decisions than we do, and that is usually fine. We are rarely criticized for the majority of the choices that we make (well, unless you have a very improper choice of clothing perhaps). However, when it comes to deciding how to raise your children, there are lots of people harshly criticizing other people’s decisions, which the media called the ‘Mommy wars’ (why not at least the ‘Parent wars’, since fathers need to make decisions about how to raise their children too, right?).  

So why is it that these decisions about raising our children, like sending them to daycare versus staying at home cause such conflict? I don’t think it has that much to do with whether you have the money to make any decision that you would like, even though the recent discussion started by Ann Romney made some people think that if everyone had as much money as they needed this conflict wouldn’t exist. I don’t think that is true, because even in circles where people have enough money to choose whatever they want (or in societies where government has more programs to allow parents to stay at home longer) these conflicts exist.

I think this is such a sensitive subject because to me the decision whether to send BlueEyes to daycare so that I can work was one of the hardest decisions in my life. Many decisions that we make are relatively reversible: if you’ve chosen the wrong clothes you can change, if you’ve married the wrong person you can get a divorce and if you’ve moved to a country you don’t like you can move back. However, the choice to stay at home or not seems less reversible to me. Not only is your child never going to be a baby again, but the stress of being in daycare may alter your child’s brain for the rest of his life (although this doesn’t need to happen when children have one caregiver who they can bond with). On the other hand, deciding to stay at home for four or more years will most likely severely disrupt your career, which is why to me it made sense to work for nearly nothing since most of my paycheck goes directly to BlueEyes’ daycare. So not only does this choice seem irreversible, it's also not about money at all. It’s about whether you put your own needs before your child’s needs (and not in a straightforward way, because I think I’m much happier at work than as a stay-at-home-mom, and a happy mom hopefully makes BlueEyes happier). And because it’s the hardest decision in my life, it’s hard to imagine that other people do it different than me.

When we see people in clothes that we would never wear ourselves we can be polite and not say something about it, so why not act the same way when people make different decisions about raising their children?


  1. "When we see people in clothes that we would never wear ourselves we can be polite and not say something about it, so why not act the same way when people make different decisions about raising their children?"
    Because we all think we know best.

  2. When I announced my pregnancy as a graduate student, multiple people asked if I was going to stay in the program. It was shocking how many people thought that a married woman who was ABD would walk away from a PhD because she was going to have a baby. For me, staying at home FT was not an option. I did work part time for 9 months, then hubby worked PT for 5 months so our kiddo was 14 months before she had full-time daycare. This extra bit of time at home was really valuable for all of us and worked out pretty well, but did slow my progress a bit. Daycare ate up more than my grad student salary and we carry some debt because of it, but I don't regret our decision to have a baby when we did. As an only child, I think daycare has been an excellent way for her to socialize and interact with other kids and adults.

  3. I'm starting to believe that the decisions I make as a parent have less and less to do with how my kids will turn out. Both my kids have been raised essentially the same way and yet their personalities, interpersonal skills, coping strategies and intellectual and physical abilities/proclivities are so different from each other. Kids are pretty adaptable, which is why I think that parents think that the way they raise their kids is the "right way".

    Still, I wouldn't let my kids eat at a McDonalds...

  4. 1) what Nam said

    2) see # 1

    3) note that raising your child yourself w/o daycare experience *also* "permanently alters" the kid's brain. The assumption that one is better or worse is historically ridiculous.

    1. You're right that of course everything we do changes our brain in one way or the other. What I meant to say is that there is some research showing that children who go to daycare have higher stress levels which could very well have long-lasting consequences (whether those are negative and even noticeable is another question).