Sending kids back to daycare in the midst of a pandemic isn’t a decision I take lightly. But for every parent, the question will come of when to send kids back as daycares and other care opens back up. It will be a complex calculus to weigh risks versus benefits for each parent, and the decision shouldn’t come lightly. Every parent needs to evaluate what makes most sense for them. For us, we believe it makes sense to get the back soon and feel the risks are controllable enough to be made up for by the benefits of getting them back. We’ll be sending our toddler back on July 1.
Our twin toddlers have been home since the second week of March when daycare shut down because of the COVID pandemic. In that time, we also welcomed our third child to the world which predictably changed the dynamic at home. For the first two weeks, while we were both off from work to care for him and they boys, things were fine since we had time to spread attention around to all of them. We started doing craft projects, were actively doing two virtual classes a day, gardening, and cooking together. Then I started working again and essentially left my wife with three kids to deal with for the majority of the waking day.
For us, the question of when to send them back really comes down to the balance of needing to balance my ability to work while my wife is on her leave, then swap over when she returns and I go on leave, and having the time and energy to give attention to all three boys throughout the day. Having them at home all too often results in problems when neither of us can focus on them between work demands and feeding / changing / walking the baby. I end up feeling guilty throughout the day when I can’t give them any attention due to meetings or work, and my wife ends up completely drained of energy and feeling like a parental failure because she can’t realistically focus on all three for hours at a time.
I love having the boys at home and know that I will miss them when they go back to school. Getting three months of extra time with them has been a blessing and something I won’t regret ever, especially when I look back on it years from now. I know I will wish that I would have had more time with them. However, in reality, I’m barely spending any time with them during the day when I’m working anyway since most of my days seem to be spent behind a closed office door so I can actually get things done. I’ll be sad when they go back and the house is quiet, but I’ll certainly be more productive and won’t actually be missing a real amount of time with them.
The main concern with sending them back to school concerns the risk of doing so. There is the risk that they will contract COVID, pass it on to us, and potentially others. There’s the risk of them somehow getting it outside of school and transmitting it to others. We’ve got to worry about all of these as we send them back.
We believe the risk largely extends just to us though. No one in this family is going anywhere outside of the house at all, so the risk of spreading it to the outside world is low. This means we need to continue staying home and only seeing friends and family virtually, but we’ve largely been doing that already, so it doesn’t mean a change for us. It means we won’t be seeing the boys’ grandparents in person again for a while as the risk of exposing them due to their higher risk factors, or potentially being exposed by them and having the boys spread to a larger population at daycare is just too high. It’s not quite that simple, but we’re essentially choosing daycare over a more regular visiting schedule with friends and family.
We also highly trust our daycare. Not only in general, but in terms of the risk mitigation they’ve laid out. They are mainly focusing on keeping adults out, and making sure kids who show any symptoms are immediately removed from contact with others. Teachers are tested regularly and any child with a temperature over 100.4 will be taken out. I’ve personally seen them regularly sanitizing the rooms and objects even before the pandemic, and trust that it will be ramped up.
Additionally, with lack of information all around so many aspects of the virus, it’s hard to know what to actually believe. Because of that, I’m mostly choosing to believe or at least accept that some of the risks are lower based on some findings. While there isn’t clear evidence either way, there are some indications that children while clearly less likely to experience the worst symptoms of the disease, may also be less likely to spread it as well. Additionally, some data from child care facilities that remained open the whole time for essential workers indicates that they did not see significant impact from the virus, further potentially lending credence to this. While it would be irresponsible to believe that there was no risk, it does seem like the risk might be low. It’s certainly lower than the risk of my commute on a public bus and on the packed streets of New York.
In the end though, it may come down to the fact that we need to admit that we can’t keep the risk at zero forever. At some point, we’re going to need to get our regular lives, or at least major portions of them back. While having the ability to go out to dinner, attend a sporting event, go in to work, or see larger groups of friends or family would be great, we can delay those risks and still get a major part of our lives back by sending them to school. The only way to truly stay at no risk is to keep everyone home forever, and we simply can’t do that with our jobs and lifestyles. This is by no means a call to “open it up”, but we need to find opportunities to safely begin returning control to our lives. Mental health also plays a huge role in it. The stress of trying to work, parent, teach, and keep a house together is often too much to handle and it wears on us.
I was surprised that when our daycare announced it would be opening the most common response in the parents’ group chat was vehement disagreement to open up and to send kids back. Nearly every parent in the group said there was no way they would send their kid back and implied that any who did were being unsafe. I see this as absolute unbridled parent shaming. Each parent should have the freedom to make the right decision for themselves and their family without the pressure of others judging them for that decision. I was incredibly proud of my wife for jumping in to the fray right in the middle and proudly stating that we’d be doing the best thing for our kids and us, and sending them back in the minute daycare opens. I don’t begrudge any of them for making the decision to keep them home, but that’s not a option for many, and for those who can technically afford either like us, it’s not right to pressure their decision just because their value judgement might be different.
So when the doors of our daycare open at 7am on July 1, we’ll be there with our boys. It doesn’t mean we love them any less, or that we are putting them or ourselves in harm’s way. All things considered, it’s the right decision for us in our situation, and we still aren’t entirely convinced of it. But we’re the ones who will make the decision, using the data we have available, the recommendations of the authorities who know more, and do everything in our power to mitigate any risks in our power. If that’s what it takes for us to get through what looks like countless more months of the pandemic, that’s what we’ll do.