Day Care and Your Kids: What You Need to Know

I am very happily employed single mom but I'm worried about the impact that working has on my two children. Will working full-time, and being a single mom, cause long-term damage?


Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

As a single working mother, you are saddled with two potentially destructive myths which must be debunked for your sake and for your children.

Myth Number One: A "good" mother is a stay-at-home mother.

It is the quality of the parent-child relationship that matters. Mothers who are fulfilled themselves are not only good role models for their children, but are happier people, too. Research bears out what common sense tells us -- that happier women make happier mothers, whether they work outside the home or not. Is it really any wonder that when mothers take care of themselves, they also have more positive energy for their children?

Myth Number Two: Single-parent families are, by definition, deficient.

Functionality is not a result of two parents; it's the result of effective parenting. Research shows single-parent families to be as diverse as two-parent households. In other words, their behavior and academic performance runs the same spectrum as their peers who live in families with two parents.

Two parents under one roof is no assurance that harmony and love will prevail in the home, any more than having a mother at home during the day insures well-adjusted, happy children.

Part Two: Learn the Importance of the Connection between Your Child and Caregiver

Part Three: 4 Qualities to Look for in a Caregiver

Part Four: 5 Easy Ways to Stay Connected

In the past decade, several studies researched the effects of a mother's employment on her children. Conclusions clearly identified quality of daycare and quality of the parent-child relationship as the two most significant influences, rather than whether or not the mother was employed.

In order to feel secure, children need to feel an attachment to the adults who care for them. Avoid situations in which your child will be asked to change day-care personnel more than once per year. Ideally, younger children benefit from even longer relationships. Emotional attachment to another adult caretaker is a key process for your child's emotional health. The relationship between your child and his or her day-care provider is an important one, but rest assured that quality daycare is no substitute for the value of your primary parent-child bond.

Part Three: 4 Qualities to Look for in a Caregiver

Part Four: 5 Easy Ways to Stay Connected

Choosing a Caregiver: 4 Things You Need to Know

1. There should be a good "match" between the child's temperament and needs and the caregiver's ability to meet them.

2. Look for a small ratio of caregivers to children. For preschool-age children, it's ideal to have no more than four children to one caretaker.

3. It is ideal to look for a relationship with the potential for a continuous, strong and positive relationship between caregiver and child.

4. Ask if the staff has been trained in health, safety (CPR) and child development.

Some additional tips?

  • Take time to observe your child's interactions with a caregiver.
  • Periodically, drop in unannounced to see how your child is experiencing the day-care situation.
  • Develop open and regular communication with your child's caregiver.
  • Evaluate your child's ability to feel safe, be appropriately challenged, play and learn on an ongoing basis.

Insuring quality in the parent-child relationship Every child needs to know there is at least one person who is looking out for their best interests. The quality of the parent-child relationship depends on your children's belief and trust in your capacity to care for, protect and have their best interests at heart. Staying connected to your child's daily life in a predictable manner is the key to developing your child's sense of value.

Part Four: 5 Easy Ways to Stay Connected


5 Easy Ways to Stay Connected

1. Check in with your caregiver about your child's daily activities. This will help keep you abreast of your child's development and allows you to anticipate your child's needs. Preparing cupcakes for the birthday of your daughter's best friend or purchasing a good-bye gift for one of your son's daycare buddy, who is moving out-of-town, are opportunities to be a part of your child's life experience, even when you are not physically present.

2. Know your child's schedule and tell your child where you will be and what you are doing. Children feel connected to their parents when they know what you do each day. Schedule a visit to the office and share interesting and appropriate work stories with your child.

3. On the weekends, plan one-on-one activities and family outings. Movies, sports events, simple gardening and other activities can strengthen family bonds.

4. Establish daily routines that promote sharing. Talk with your child at dinnertime and tuck them into bed every night. Save 15 to 25 minutes per day to relate one-on-one with your child. You may be surprised how relaxed you feel when you end your day connecting with your child.

5. Occasionally, make a point of taking off from work in order to attend an important function or activity which involves your child. Your son or daughter will feel the importance of coming first in these instances, and will remember special events.

Research studies show that low self-esteem in children is correlated with low parental contact at home. Your children will do well if you show interest in them, whether you work outside the home or not.

Clearly, you are doing a fine job of staying connected with your children and balancing your job, too. Do not allow cultural myths to undermine your family happiness or shadow you with false foreboding. Work toward acknowledging your success, while eliminating the guilt. All too often, moms accept blame for the things that go awry, but give themselves little credit for all that goes well.

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