Daycare dilemma: Should I stay or should I go?

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These days, it's an age-old question: Should I go back to work or stay home with my baby? Many women, and many women I know personally, face this very conundrum even before they get pregnant. Many of us have very different ideas of how things will be with baby until the reality sets in.

A question that was easily answered with a simple yes or no becomes a very complicated situation from the moment you hold your newborn in your arms, or the first time he smiles, the way she only wants to be held by mamma.

I always thought I would go back to work. I always thought I wanted to go back to work. I enjoy what I do for a living and it provides me with money and security. Money = freedom, at least in the land of New York City. I remember the salad days in NYC when I had little to my name. I racked up an impressive amount of credit debt and spent practically all my paycheck on rent, utilities and my credit card bills. I had some nice underwear and enough makeup to last a lifetime but barely enough to pay my creditors.

My husband was in the same boat. Not with the underwear and makeup, but saddled with credit debt of his own. Luckily the two of us were able to persevere and pay off our debt. All of it. We also started saving as much as possible so we'd have a nest egg with which to buy a house. We both got good, solid jobs, promotions and generous increases to fund that nest egg.

Then I got pregnant. I mean, I was trying to get pregnant, so it was no surprise. Neither was the cost of diapers. Neither was the cost of daycare. I investigated all these things well before I made the decision to have a child. I figured I would take my leave from work and then pop Mr. Pickles (aka my bouncing baby boy) into daycare and trot on back to work, where I was due increased responsibility and additional pay.

Then he was in my arms for that first moment of life on the outside. It was then I knew I'd made the right decision to take all my leave--even the unpaid FMLA portion. Then he smiled at me, and I thought to myself, how could I ever, ever leave him? Then he cried and could only be comforted by me, and I felt like he should be the happiest he could be; if that meant being with me then so be it,. After all, he had the rest of his life to worry about being unhappy. If I could make him happy now simply by being with him, then why leave him?

Money. The simple, plain truth is money. And what irritates me is that everything, in NYC at least, seems to revolve around or come down to money. We need money to pay the rent and our utilities. We need two incomes to pay for a mortgage on an apartment--at least in these parts. We need money for daycare and his college education and our retirement and a car.

Yep, in addition to the new digs we've decided it may be high time to get an auto. The cost of the car is no big deal, but insurance in NYC is outrageous.

Ah, the list goes on and on and on. We are not showy people. We don't spend a lot of money on status symbols. We don't eat out at fancy restaurants all the time. In fact, we hardly eat out at all right now with a little one. We don't have tons of clothes or fabulous electronics. We save a lot. We do eat out occasionally and we do enjoy buying presents for each other and the kiddo, but not often.

The reality is that for now, anyway, we can live off of one income. It will be hard, but it is doable. After all, we got out of debt by sucking it up for a year and living with only the essentials. It worked.

The choice to stay at home would work for the present, but what about the future? If I quit my job would I be employable when I'm ready to return to work? I would like to stay with my son until he is at least one year old, but that could change too. When his first birthday arrives I might feel the way I do now.

Just FYI, I've already been informed that working from home is out of the question, as is a part-time arrangement.

If I don't work I save the money and heartache of daycare, but I'll be digging into our nest egg. We also won't be able to get that car yet. More importantly, we won't be able to buy an apartment either. All the things we've been putting off for so long will have to be put off a bit more.

In a way my dilemma is a luxurious problem. I have a job. I have an apartment. I have a spouse who is an equal partner in our relationship and who supports me in whatever I choose to do. I am lucky enough to have a son in the first place to make me question how what I do now will affect me in the future.

Sometimes, writing about these kinds of issues helps me step away from them and get a fresh perspective. It also helps me clarify what I want, or what I think I want, and why. A large part of me, for example, thinks that the whole daycare issue is my issue, not my son's. In fact I know it is. He would probably be just fine at daycare. I visited a nice one the other day where I am sure he would do well.

I, on the other hand, could not bear the thought of leaving him there. And they were such nice people, really, they were. But I just couldn't do it. Perhaps I will feel differently when he is more than three months old. Perhaps when he is six months old, or, as I mentioned, a year.

My pals with a slightly older child said they made the decision to keep their daughter out of daycare because they didn't want to miss any of her "firsts." That hit home with me. That first smile pretty much melted me like butter. The first time my son looked at me coming in the room and lit up with excitement was, aside from his birth, the most wonderful moment in my life.

It's too bad they don't pay us to be mommies. That would be the best scenario. Unfortunately, being a good mommy doesn't necessarily pay the rent. I'm working on that though--as soon as I find a way for motherhood to pay the rent and the bills, etc. I will be sure to let you all know!

How did you cope with going back to work? Or did you decide to stay at home? How about part-time employment? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.