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Friday, September 23, 2005
Expecting Too Much?
After ST was born in 2003, I stayed home with him for five months. It was a glorious time: I played with my adorable child, I studied a little for my last comprehensive exam, I did a little RA work on the side (toting adorable child to the library, nursing in the stacks), and I silently dreaded going back to school full-time and having to leave ST at daycare. I researched various daycares for several months, and finally decided to send him to an in-home daycare just a block away from our house. Overall, it has been a good decision.

I have become good friends with ST's carers, "Robin" and "Luann." Robin and Luann are mother and daughter, funny ladies who truly do love the children in their care. Robin (the daughter, about 35) is a driven, silly lady who keeps a very clean house and is a fairly strict disciplinarian. Luann (the mother, about 60) is a big softie who, despite numerous health issues, is quite active with the children. Robin has two daughters who are delightful; both girls help with the daycare during the summer months. We also know Robin's husband quite well, and have in fact done business with him on more than one occasion. Overall, they are a lovely family and we are lucky to have them in our lives. ST adores them all; sometimes, he insists on going to visit Robin and Luann on our walks around the neighborhood, and he asks about what they're doing every day, even if he's not going there.

ST is in daycare four days a week, from about 8:30am-4:30pm, which allows me time to work on the dissertation, attend meetings on campus, go to the library, etc. Robin and Luann have been very flexible with my schedule -- in the past two years I've switched from having ST in daycare two days a week, to three days, back to two days, and then to four days. Robin and Luann have never had a problem with this, and they've also been very supportive of my upcoming trip to Berlin, when ST will be in daycare five days a week (just for November). They have also been supportive of my parenting decisions -- they've willingly used cloth diapers on ST when I asked, dealt with breastfeeding issues with me, separation issues, etc. On the whole, I have very few complaints.

Lately, however, I've been sensing that 1.) Robin and Luann have accepted too many kids at the daycare, almost more than they can comfortably attend to; 2.) because of this, the kids aren't doing as much there as they used to. During the summer, Robin and Luann had only 5 kids there, total. One toddler under one year old and four older toddlers ranging in age from 2-4. Now they have eight kids there, two babies, a toddler under one, and five older toddlers. This is still a decent carer-child ratio, but to be honest Robin and Luann don't seem happy with the arrangement and neither am I. They are always busy with "administrative" issues instead of playing with the kids like they used to -- washing bottles, changing diapers, feeding babies, etc. As a result, I think the kids are watching far more TV than they used to, are playing as an organized group less often, are outside less regularly, and are a bit less well-disciplined. Last week, for example, when I asked what the kids did outside that day (it had been a gorgeous pre-fall day), Robin told me that they didn't go outside all day because "there were too many kids to keep track of." She said it in a funny, off-hand manner, but it really bothered me.

I know that having babies around is difficult. I know that it's hard to send the kids outside when you have to attend to the littlest ones. I understand that. But somehow, I don't think that my very outdoors-oriented toddler should be stuck inside all day because of it. And I don't think my toddler, who watches maybe 15 minutes of TV per day (if that), should have to resort to watching PBS cartoons because his carers are busy taking care of babies.

No, I can't prove that he watches a lot of TV, or that they don't do stuff during the day. I'm not there. But I do know that ST suddenly knows A LOT of characters from daytime PBS shows (I looked them up because I had no idea what ST was talking about!) and that he doesn't bring home as many crazy drawings and paintings as he used to. He also tells me when they don't go outside, and he doesn't like it.

My problem is this: how could I possibly broach this topic with Robin and Luann? I don't want to offend them, but yet I am paying for a service they provide. I am a friend and a customer*. How can I tell them that I'm concerned about television, and that I really think ST needs to be stimulated with activities like drawing, playing outside, playing games, dancing, singing, etc.? I don't want them to feel bad, but I hate feeling like I do today -- silently resentful, and very guilty for spending the day on the computer at home when I could be spending it with my delightful, smart little boy. Any advice?

*And please, don't tell me to never do business with friends. It's impossible NOT to become friends with people who love your child, and who you see nearly every day.
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 9/23/2005 10:37:00 AM  
3 Words of Wisdom:
  • At 8:34 PM, Blogger academic coach said…

    Well, I don't have advice. But I do think that you've made it through the time, developmentally, that means the most for your child to have consistent caregivers. That he's had the same loving out of home caregivers for two years is soooo important. Now that he's getting older, the amount of stimulation may be important. But now, at least, he can let you know verbally if things aren't going well.

  • At 2:57 PM, Blogger ABDmom said…

    This is hard. I feel about my sitter as you do--I'm her customer and her friend, a friendship that developed because she takes care of my child.

    I *do* think you have to say soemthing, though. The welfare of your child is at stake. I think you need to be very open with your concerns and simply state that while you love the care they gave your son in the past, you're a little concerned that there are too many kids in the house now, that ST isn't getting the activity and stimulation he needs (it's pretty clear to me that he's not).

    I think you should also tell them that ST misses the care he used to receive--he misses playing outside. If he is verbalizing that to you, then clearly it is bothering him. They need to be aware that this isn't coming just "from you"--your child is aware of the change as well.

    The TV thing, you might want to just leave it at, "He seems a lot more familiar with cartoon characters than he used to."

    I do understand how you feel. A few summers ago, when I was doing my fieldwork, my sitter had way too many kids there. In addition to the usual school-year crew of 3 preschoolers and the occasional fourth preschooler, there were her two kids (ages 7 & 10 at the time), a set of two year old twins, another 7 year old, another kid in the 7-10 range, and a 12 year old. I was considering other options when the sitter told me one of her neighbors had threatened to call Children's Servcies on her for watching too many kids. She then got rid of some of the kids.

    I'm not happy right now, because right now on Mondays,Wednesdays, and Fridays, she is watching a 4 week old and a 9 month old, in addition to a 2 year old, Pistola, two four year olds, and an occasional 3 year old. The 4 week old is what upsets me, because L has always said she won't watch 2 kids under 1 at once because it takes away too much of her attention (which it does). She had thought she wouldn't be watching the newborn until winter, but the mom (who is also the mom of one of the four year olds) went back to work a week after the baby was born. She is a self-employed lawyer and just took on 15 new cases (!).

    Sorry to ramble like this. I just want you to know that I understand how you feel, as I'm in a similar situation myself. I am sticking with L, mainly because they are still doing the outdoors things like they usually do. I don't think she's getting as much attention from L as she used to, but she is older and goes off voluntarily on her own now. She really enjoys playing with the older girls now, and L still does a good job of supervising as they play on the sun porch or whatever. If that changes, though, I will have to look into other options again. That adds another wrinkle that you face, too, though--how much longer are we even going to live here? Is it even worth switching sitters for 3-6 months, for example?

    Hang in there, and sorry for rambling.

  • At 9:22 AM, Blogger Prof. Me said…


    Of course, the day that I wrote this ST came home from daycare all jazzed up about a new song Robin and Luann had taught him and regaled me with tales of the rousing game of "Red Light, Green Light" they had played. Maybe I'm just paranoid? Maybe it's the guilt I feel for having him in daycare four days a week that is making me so concerned about his time away?

    I think Robin and Luann KNOW that I want him to be outside, and they definitely know that we don't watch TV here. I know that they will be outside today -- I asked directly. And when ST saw that the TV was on, he walked away and found two other friends playing with blocks. That made me feel better.

    ABD, thanks for relaying your experiences. What it all comes down to, I think, is the last thing you said: is it worth switching carers for what might be a short time? WHO KNOWS where we'll be next year, if anywhere. I was talking to T about my feelings, and he put it this way: if you complain and nothing changes at the daycare, you have to talk with your checkbook. Are we willing to do that? Would we really want to uproot ST from his friends and the carers he has known since he was five months old? Probably not.

    So, I guess I'll just remain vigilant, and find ways to vocalize my concerns without putting Luann and Robin on edge. And I'll make sure that ST pipes up when something bothers him which, trust me, will not be difficult for him to do!

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