As I walked in the gate of my twins preschool the other morning I was wearing my own family daycare care shirt complete with logo. I like to present myself as a professional educator at all times but that's not the only reason I was wearing my work shirt. I was wearing it because I had exactly 15 minutes to drop my girls off, speak with their educators and get back home in time to greet the family day care children who would be arriving at our home soon.
I considered myself just one of the many harried working Mum's walking through the gate that morning. It didn't occur to me that by wearing my work shirt I would be judged by other parents for dropping my girls off to another early childhood service other than my own. As I watched my girls run excitedly over to greet their educator I held the gate open for another Mum coming out. I smiled at her and watched as her eyes dropped to read my shirt logo and then she said “wow, you run your own childcare but you bring your girls here…you must really want time away from them”. I was a bit taken aback as I had never met this woman but I managed to reply “No my girls love coming to see their friends and spend time away from Mummy's work and the daycare kids”.
I'm sharing this story because I am often asked why I send my children to other care providers when I could , or perhaps that is should be looking after them at home. Those who read this blog or my facebook page regularly will know I am very passionate about the activities and environment I provide for my family daycare children, my girls are lucky to have a wonderful backyard area to play in and no shortage of quality craft resources, toys and learning tools to keep them busy. But to them it is home, it's normal, it's even apparently boring at times!
What can I say…children will be children! But let's take a little peek into how they might see things compared to an adult's point of view.Having a family day care educator for a Mum can be a tough, and here's a few reasons why…
What it's like to be the child of a family daycare educator…
- You have to share your Mum who is usually very busy and can't spend a lot of one on one time with you
- You have to share your home and special spaces
- You have to share your toys
- You get upset when daycare children break your toys or rip your books
- You often have children in your home that are either too young or too old to play with in the way you want to or that are just plain annoying for some reason
- You don't get to go out of the house much during daycare hours (I don't drive daycare children around – some educators are different)
As you can see, when we put ourselves into the mind of the child there is often a different perspective to consider. My children are home with me a few days a week and they also attend preschool and another family day care educator ‘s home (who they have been going to since they were 18 months and absolutely adore). I'm not just doing this because I am some sort of slack Mum who doesn't want to look after own children, I'm doing it to support them to follow their own learning journey path, explore and embrace their individuality and uniqueness and gain confidence as they step away from me in the years before formal schooling starts.
And it is a tough gig trying to work while you have your own children demanding your attention. I work very hard at my job, it's demanding with very few breaks during the day and lots of after hours paperwork and prep to complete.I'm not just babysitting, I am providing a full program of learning activities and professional childcare for other parent's children. There is a lot of responsibility. And then there are my own children. Contrary to what many seem to think, having your own children in care with you can be really, really tough. They are usually demanding extra attention because I'm Mum and because they often don't understand why I need to sometimes put the other children's needs ahead of theirs in their own home.
What I'm trying to say is just because working with children is my job, it doesn't mean that makes it easy to work while also meeting the needs of my own children. Imagine taking your children to work with you everyday…can you see difficulties with that scenario? Yes it is a little different because my working environment is set up to accommodate them but it is still a workplace during care hours and often things need to be a little different to usual homelife which can make life seem difficult to a 4 year old (who in turn makes my life difficult to gain attention).
So a few days a week I choose to send them somewhere away from my workplace, somewhere they can form their own friendships and build connections with passionate educators like myself. Somewhere they don't have to share their Mum. A similar choice that many working parents must make to continue to enable them to earn their living and do their job well.
I don't just send my children anywhere…the 2 services I use were chosen after several inspections, discussions with the educators and whether I thought they could not only meet the needs of my girls but also support them to thrive and grow emotionally, physically, socially and cognitively. I don't believe that staying home with me everyday offers the same opportunities to my girls that other children in my care experience.There are many positives but there are also negatives and by sharing their care with others they are able to experience a little of both.
I'm Mum…not their educator. I'm not different to them, the rooms in this house aren't different to them, they love me and their home of course but they deserve the chance to explore on their own, make mistakes, solve problems, initiate new friendships, learn from others and develop their self help skills. And I deserve the right as their parent to choose the service I want my children to attend and why. I deserve the right to use the services that support each of my children's unique needs and skills, that works for our family, that I approve of as both an educator and a Mum. Choosing a daycare service for your child should not be a task to be taken lightly, there is much to consider and most parents do. It is the right of every parent to make an informed decision and be able to choose who they want to care for their children…no matter their circumstances or job title.
As well as the common question about why I send my own children to care when I am ‘home all day anyway', I am often asked why I wanted to do family day care instead of long daycare if I'm not doing it to be at home with my own girls. I'm often a bit lost for words when this question comes as there are so many things in that one statement that I want to address. So let me share a few with you now…
Why I choose to be a family day care educator…
- I've worked in long day care in many different roles and I don't want to do it again. I don't like the path many long day care centres have been travelling the last few years. I don't like the way many treat staff or children and it's just not a role I can feel passionate about anymore. There are wonderful centres filled with passionate staff but they are difficult to find, especially in the regional areas. I am picky and I do have high standards…but these are my children and it is my right to expect quality care for them and also my right to work somewhere that fits in with my own philosophy and values.
- I love the ethos and philosophy of family day care – I love that I can open my home and provide care in such a flexible way to a small group of children.
- I enjoy using another set of skills to run and maintain a successful small business and challenge myself to offer something unique
- I like being my own boss – yes there are still regulations to adhere to and Coordination units to collaborate with but essentially I decide how my days will run.
- I like being able to incorporate my passion for gardening and sustainability into my home and therefore my workplace
- I love being able to spend more time (not the entire time) with my girls and know that I have the flexibility if I need it to take time off if they are ill without having to explain the need to be with my children to management
- I love being able to focus on each child individually and support them as they travel their learning journey. Smaller groups allow me to do this well.
- I love the connections I am able to make with the families that use my service because I am not overwhelmed with large numbers
- I love how being a family daycare educator allows me the freedom to really tailor my program to the children in my care and this is able to be reflected in my home environment.
- I love that I am a professional in my field but I am always still learning and growing…at my own pace.
What I don't like about the role of a family day care educator…
- I don't like is people expressing their disapproval over the fact that a few days a week, for a few hours I don't look after my own children.
- I don't appreciate the question “Isn't that why you chose to work as a family day care educator…to spend more time with your own children?” It's a bonus but it wasn't my sole reason, I'm not sure many professionals chose their job role based entirely on how much time they can spend with their children.
- I don't like the assumption from my own Australian government and many others that I am just a ‘Mum at home looking after the kids”. It's a hard job, you must be qualified and you must be professional, I'm not a stay at home Mum or babysitter thank you. I'm also not a homeschooling Mum as I have other people's children I am responsible for each day (and too be honest I fear I don't have the patience to homeschool, I take my hat of to those of you who do!).
- I don't like that I am now not allowed to choose to send my girls to another family day care educator (for their enjoyment not mine – see list above!) because I myself work as an educator and it will be assumed that I am trying to collect money from child care benefits and therefore somehow pull a scam.
- I don't like that I am not seen as a ‘real educator' in the eyes of many in our society (especially the Australian Government). We have to meet the same regulations and requirements as other child care services and be qualified so I'm not sure why this is and why we can't beat this stigma.
- I don't like that a few coordination units and educators who have done the wrong thing have now tarnished us all with the same brush…the unfairness of it is appalling.
- Most of all I dislike that I am expected to ‘look after' my own children without being paid and which lowers my ratio and income, cannot send them to another family day care educator (which is my preference as a parent) and yet my colleagues in long day care centres are often offered discounts on their child care fees if they enrol their own children in the centre they work at. Seems odd and awfully unfair to me.
I hope that I have been able to offer some insight into what is an issue for many family day care educators here in Australia at the moment and also answered the question that I get asked so many times and frankly for some reason really frustrates me.
I love my children, regular readers of this blog and my facebook page know that they are happy and enjoy their time when at home with me but I can assure you that they also love the time they spend away from me during the week. The important thing is that I know they are safe, supported, learning and having fun and it should be my right as a parent to decide how that will be achieved. Not the government or another judgemental person who thinks they know my family or our circumstances.
I urge you next time you feel inclined to perhaps judge another Mother for her parenting decisions to take a breath and keep your opinion to yourself. How about we just offer each other a smile and a thank you for opening the gate as we pass each other by…..