My maternity leave is coming to an end. Well, it ended in March but then the COVID-19 lockdown happened. People got furloughed, recruitment was put on hold until further notice. So we had to postpone my return to work for an indefinite period.
Now businesses are reopening, and things slowly are getting back to normal. Our nursery reopens on the 1st June 2020. With a mixture of relief and trepidation I realise it’s time to send my baby to nursery and go find a job.
But then questions started popping up in my head: is my child ready? Am I ready? Is it good for her at all? She’s going through such a severe separation anxiety at the moment, will she be traumatised if I send her to nursery now?
So I decided to use this opportunity, during my last few weeks as a stay at home mum, and find out what modern science and research has to say about children going to nursery. Learn about the benefits and what to watch out for.
The Independent recently reported on a study that suggests children between the ages of 2 and 3 are typically better off at nurseries than staying at home with their parents. Children are more stimulated at daycare as they are constantly interacting with other kids and the nursery staff. This stimulation leads to better speech and cognitive skills development. Nurseries are also beneficial for making friends, building confidence, and to prepare for school.
However, as the article also implies, a lot depends on how actively involved you are with your child's development. If a stay at home mum takes her kids to socialise with other children, attends playgroups or regularly sees other people, then her kids get stimulated enough to gain those developmental benefits. And if she also spends quality time with them - singing, doing arts and crafts together and reading books - those children develop as well as nursery goers.
Another study came to a very interesting and amusing conclusion - children of working mums are happier in adult life and are often high achievers at work. They did some additional research on daughters only and discovered that daughters of working mums can potentially be better educated and earn more money as daughters of non-working mums. Working mums serve as positive role models. It gets more interesting, son’s of working mums have more progressive attitudes about women and men equality in a workplace. As they see their mothers working their attitudes towards working women is more positive.
One more study found out that the children consistently spending time outside of their parent’s home are better adapted. They worry less, are less likely to lose their temper, and more eager to share their toys. However, more than 35 hours per week in childcare has the opposite effect - the children are not able to manage their emotions as well. So it’s all about the happy medium.
I have not found many research studies about age groups below 2 years old. There is one very famous (and controversial) study conducted in the 1980s suggesting children in full-time daycare under the age of two might have slightly increased levels of aggression in later life. There are also some moderate developmental benefits. But the research comes with a list of caveats and an even longer list of researchers that disagree with the findings. They suggest there is not enough evidence to support this claim. This remains an area of controversy, and the jury is still out.
Circumstances vary from family to family. Majority of mothers need to go back to work even before their child turns one. And different mothers have different feelings about it. But one thing is clear - availability of quality childcare makes it more reassuring for mothers. Even if we feel a little sad leaving our children with someone else, we know that they are in excellent hands, being looked after and cared for by dedicated and highly trained professionals.
Regarding my situation - we have agreed on a compromise - our daughter will join nursery in a few weeks' time on a part-time basis until she is a bit older. That means I will start applying for part-time or flexible positions. This is not ideal, as part-time jobs with decent pay are scarce. But this should work for our family, allowing us to establish our new normal.
So, has this exercise helped to put my mind at ease? No, not really. Am I convinced nursery is the best way forward for me and my child? Not sure. But I realised one thing: whatever I decide it won't be easy. My child is growing up. The end of maternity leave is one of the first big milestones in our relationship. There are many more to come, no doubt. It is possible that I am suffering from as severe separation anxiety as she is. I just need to learn to accept that changes are inevitable and start planning for those evenings and days when we are together.
Is your toddler attending daycare? How do you feel about it?