Opinion: When Did Day Care Become a Bad Thing?

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summer camp

Do you scoff at summer camp? You obviously don't have four kids. Credit: Getty

In the five months I have spent as a mom of four kids, I've learned that I'm probably always going to be behind.

I'm regularly late on the payments for my daughter's ballet class. I've had to drain my own stash of juice boxes and animal crackers to cover snack duties at my son's preschool. And thank goodness for the gift closet, which has provided birthday party gifts more times than I'd like to admit.

The combination of home schooling, chasing after four little ones younger than 6 and running a business -- all with a husband who travels -- means I've had to compromise and prioritize. And, as someone with a type A personality, that feels pretty much like giving up.

However, I do need to sleep -- or at least try to sleep -- so I just have to accept that I can't do it all.

But that doesn't mean I don't still feel guilty. Or overwhelmed. Like when I get announcements for summer camp registration at the beginning of February. Heck, I'm still buying mittens and hats for my kids. And now I'm supposed to be thinking about camp?

Suddenly, I'm tucking my Supermom cape between my legs and worrying that I'm somehow depriving my children because I'm too busy just trying to keep my head above the water.

Then, I felt even worse when I asked another mom about the camp, which seemed like a fun, well-rounded day camp my two older kids might enjoy, and she described it as "day care." And not in a "Yay! Day care is such a great place for kids to learn and interact while their parents work or catch a break!" sort of way. But rather, it was a "Day care is where parents who are too wrapped up in their own lives to give a crap about their kids dump their children" tone.

And, as a way to somehow make the way she said it seem less judgmental, it was followed by "if you're into that sort of thing."

But these days, I could really care less what someone else thinks. Because I am so very much "into that sort of thing." And I bet if she had four kids, she probably would be, too.

Aside from the fact that I was just proud of myself for considering a summer camp within plenty of time to pay for early bird registration and not begging them to squeeze my kid in with a late fee, since when did a camp where your kids get to play in the dirt, swim in a lake and ride horses become a "bad" thing?

I guess I'm supposed to be able to do all that regular old stuff with them and leave the Chinese lessons, yoga classes and specialized math instruction to the experts.

Sounds like a really fun way to spend a summer.

As an alternative to summer camp, there's vacation Bible school -- no, that's not day care. Because it's free. And you're learning about Jesus.

Now, if you would have asked me several years ago when I was newish mom, toting around my lone toddler, I might have scoffed at the idea myself. But it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that more kids means less individual time with them. Much of my time with my kids is spent going from here to there and everywhere, all of us together, with all the kids pitching in to do more than their fair share.

It still stings to see my baby sitter taking the kids to the playground in the afternoons while I work. But then I remind myself that I'm with them for the entire morning, and will be with them for the entire night.

Adding parenting years under my belt and a few more little ones into the mix has made me understand the value of allowing kids to be kids. Perhaps the best parts of my own childhood were the days spent at regular old summer camp -- floating on a lake in an inner tube, roasting marshmallows over a fire and singing songs that annoyed the crap out of my parents.

So, call it what you want. Or turn your nose down upon it. But if there's anything I've learned, I can't do or be everything for my kids. It's not good for them. Or me.

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