When I was in college, one of my professors introduced me to Dr. Laura. She was an adamant believer that mothers should stay home with their children in the early years and be home when they came home from school in the later years.
“I’m my kid’s mom,” she and her listeners would say as I heard and read reason after reason to stay home with my future children. I had strong convictions early on, but over time, "success" and the messages of this world began to drown out those initial yearnings.
When I gave birth to our son, I was on the upswing of my career, making more money than I ever expected. With only two weeks of vacation per year, I knew I would be busy, but we decided that this “lifestyle” was in the best interest of our baby.
Shortly after his birth, we began our search for the best day care.
We found a nice one a few miles from home that was on the way to my office. It had a pretty white stone exterior, a colorful playground for the older children, clean rooms, and a friendly staff. We registered our son and scheduled his first month for September.
I was with him on extended maternity leave for his first three months. Those three months felt like a hamster wheel, turning, turning, turning with no end in sight. No break. No “weekends.”
I wish I had known that that first year would soon pass, and his babyhood would go by so very quickly. Instead, I almost welcomed the “break”of work. I selfishly sought to get "my life" back to the way it was. What I didn't expect was the heartache I felt when I dropped my sweet boy off at day care.
At three months, our son was one of the larger babies in the newborn nursery. As I held him close and lingered in the room, I saw the teeniest of babies being left in cribs, crying and screaming for their mamas. I saw baby after baby, leaving the warm and comforting arms of their mothers to be placed in the care of strangers.
I began to get so very emotional those first few weeks and found myself rushing to my sweet baby during my lunch breaks. The day care was twenty minutes from my office, but I found that I could eat on the way and be with him for at least 20 minutes before having to head back.
Over and over again, I was told that I would “get over it.” I was told that it would get easier. I was told that it was just “a part of life." As I sat in that day care, lunch break after lunch break, however, I found that it only got harder.
Each time I walked in, I saw my precious boy, sitting in a swing, staring off into space, all alone. There were two caregivers in the room with 10-12 babies, which meant that one was changing a diaper, one was feeding a baby, and the rest of the babies were left in swings or cribs, whimpering or staring at the walls or ceiling. It felt so unnatural.
One of the caregivers tried singing a song one of the times I was there, but for the most part, it was all business. Change diapers. Feed babies. Put them in the swing and then the crib. Take notes on it all. And try to keep them from crying too much.
There was still a lot of noise in the building. There were bright lights and lots of motion everywhere. But there was no love. No extra snuggles. No motherly words of affection. No kisses on the babies' foreheads. No baby-wearing or familiar smells and sounds.
It was a conveyor belt of responsibilities, one baby after another, for hours on end, day after day. It completely broke my heart, but the thought of quitting my “dream” job just didn’t seem like a possibility.
We were in the process of moving to a larger home. We had satellite television (at the time), cell phones, designer shoes and suits, and expensive cars to go with it all. Giving up an income meant that we would have to make lifestyle changes; and the more we worked on the budget, the more impossible it seemed.
But our son was sickly.
(We later came to find that he was being injured by the injections he was receiving.) Within the first month at day care, I had to call in sick three different times and have my mother come in from out of town to help us a fourth time. It was a very stressful time, and we soon decided that my job was just too demanding. I needed to stay home in order to take care of him.
Little did I know that it would be one of my greatest of blessings. . . (Romans 8:28)
Letting go of my career and busy lifestyle over the next five years made me slow down and pay attention to all that was right in front of me. It opened my eyes to the gifts of marriage and motherhood and the precious blessing of the little years. As I grew in my faith, The Lord gave me such a desire for my family and my home, and things really began to shift for me.
As our family continued to grow, we willingly gave up the satellite television and cable. I downgraded my cell phone and plan and gave up the designer shoes and suits. We made adjustments that most didn’t understand, but ultimately, we found freedom and so much joy.
There was no rushing out the door to drop off the children. There was no being apart for hours on end. There was no more coming home exhausted, longing for their bedtime so that I could catch a break.
I was able to soak it all in, and enjoy them with such a soft and open heart. I was also able to see how much I would have missed had I continued to pursue my career outside the home. There were so many memories and experiences that I would have given up, so much time that no amount of money could ever buy.
I also realized that even the “best of day cares” could not in any way compare to the time spent with a loving mother in the comfort of home.
In the home, babies are surrounded by all the things that make them feel safe and secure. They can sleep in the comfort of their own crib and not be startled awake in the early hours to be driven across town, apart from all they love. In the home, there are familiar smells, sounds, and routines, and the opportunity for adventures with Mom.
There are walks outside, play dates with friends, and trips to the stores and parks and library. There are puddles to jump in, creeks to wade in, and outdoor picnics with fresh, homemade treats. There are stories read and songs sung by the loving voice of Mom. There are snuggles and kisses, smiles and laughter, and so much life in between.
The early years are so much more than scheduled diaper changes and feedings. They are so much more than what a single building or facility could ever offer. They encompass the brain's largest and most rapid overall growth in a child's lifetime. They lay the very foundation for cognitive, social, and emotional development.
I know not everyone can afford to stay home with their baby. I know there are many mothers, who wish they could stay home but are unable to because of the choices of their husbands. For those, who long to be home but cannot, I pray that one day The Lord will give you the desires of your heart.
My heart in sharing is not to shame or condemn. It is simply to encourage the mothers, who stood where I did twelve years ago, caught between the pressure of career and lifestyle and the pull of motherhood. It is also for the mothers, who stay home with their children, only to be told that they are "wasting" their talents and education.
This simply is not true.
Our society tells us over and over again to pursue achievement, financial success, and status. Historically, this was done to increase the number of taxpayers and minimize the importance of the nuclear family. It also minimized the role of motherhood, and the significance of childhood and overall development.
We were convinced that work without pay was insignificant. We were told that child-rearing could easily be outsourced with little to no consequence.
We were lied to.
And sadly, our children are more chronically and mentally ill than at any other time in history.
Young Mothers, your love and dedication to your children and home matter and are worth infinitely more than you will ever know. Never underestimate the importance of your presence and your commitment to your family. Your time with your little ones matters. Your gifts and abilities that you pour into your home matter. Your research and homemade meals and snuggles and kisses matter. Your babies matter. . .
And they are so worth it.
As overwhelming as it all may feel now, the diaper changes and feedings and crawling won’t be forever, for our babies do not keep. But know that the love, memories, and connection you share will always be a part of each of you. Embrace this opportunity with a heart of gratitude. Pour into your loved ones.
And rest in knowing that YOU are the best possible day care for your baby.
Enjoy every minute.
Titus 2: 4-5, 1 Timothy 5:14