Question: Is there a certain age where it is better for a mom to go back to work? I have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old and I am trying to get a full-time job. I have worked part-time for most of the past six years. I have a great daycare center set up for my kids that is education oriented. I guess I just want to have feedback on this issue. My six-year-old would be in school all day whether I worked full-time or not, but my 4-year-old could be in either full or half day. Is it better for children to be in an all-day setting when they are school aged, or are there benefits to this situation for my younger child also?
Answer: The right age to go back to work is when you are ready! Each family makes choices and trade-offs. You will want to choose the arrangement that meets your needs and your personality while still addressing your children’s needs and personalities. Then, you can create a family life that is original and satisfying. Whatever you choose must also be fluid enough to accommodate different contingencies, from sick children to work emergencies.
Sometimes choices work for everyone in the family:
Does your 4 year old enjoy the full-day program?
- Is he busy and engaged?
- Is he developing new friendships?
- Is he interested in developing independent relationships with the teachers?
- Does the full day program give you more flexibility at work?
- Does it allow you to run errands and manage your commitments better? Then, you can guiltlessly go with a full day program.
Sometimes choices meet some needs but not all:
- Does your 4 year old seem stressed or overstimulated by the full-day program?
- Do you want to have individual time with your 4 year old?
- Do you want to keep your 4 year old in unstructured settings as long as possible?
- Is there additional ease in the family with the full-time salary? Then, you can find ways to balance or compensate the needs that are not being met.
You can talk to the teacher and the director about pacing the day to meet your child’s needs. You can invent school rituals to support his emotional uncertainty (sending a photo to reassure him when he misses you or sitting in the rocking chair with his favorite book). You can sign up for full-day but plan an early pick-up one day a week for special outings. You can build “family time” in the evening schedule that rejuvenates everyone.
With caring, attentive adults, children will learn and thrive. There are no set formulas – just a trial and error process of learning more and more about yourself and about what your children need.
Mom working is a partnership among every member in the family. Keep the big picture in mind. Enlist everyone’s participation making it work. Children learn valuable lessons about their parent’s contribution to the world through a parent’s work identity. If you are excited about returning to work, your child will share your excitement.
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.