Choosing childcare for your little one can be challenging and frightening. If you were to ask me years ago if I would consider leaving my child under the care of someone other than me or immediate family, my answer would have been a definite ‘No’. But “never say never”, right? What I have realized over the years is that childcare may be necessary, and there are pros and cons to everything. More importantly, I learned that there are many options to choose from, and what may work in one circumstance may not work for another. Also, trust your mommy instinct. It’s right most of the time!
Since I started med school with a 6 month old and will graduate with a 4.5 year old, I will share with you what I think was appropriate for each age and the mistakes we have made and experienced along the way. So hop on aboard as I share with you our experience with a variety of different childcare options!
- Family caregiver:
When I started school, H was 6 months old and my husband was out of the country. I had just moved to a new city 5.5 hours away from where we lived. And on top of that, like most schools, my first block was Anatomy. This consisted of going to class in the morning, and dissecting cadavers for hours in the lab afterwards. When the dissection was over, there was barely enough time in the evening to prepare for the next day’s dissection and quiz. There were many days we stayed till 10pm down in the lab, drenched in “cadaver juice”, trying to locate the artery, vein and nerve. There were many days that I needed additional time for studying, outside of the normal lab hours. It was very time consuming, draining and exhausting.
The solution was to have my mom stay with me.
Having my mom around made leaving H for hours much easier. There is no one in the world I could trust more than her. It also created a special bond between H and his grandma. She gave him the care and attention he needed at that age. It was reassuring to know that he was in the best hands, with someone who truly loved him. Having a family caregiver also meant flexibility. Mom was with H fulltime, round the clock. She was there when I had to leave early in the morning and was there when I came home late at night. She was there when unexpected events came up, and she was there to take H to his doctor’s appointments and checkups.
Having family also meant fewer expenses. Mom’s stay saved us the cost of daycare, which went towards furnishing the new apartment and paying for school.
In my opinion, this approach works best for younger children, from birth to about 1 year of age. This is a critical time when kiddos need more one-on-one individual care. Infants will build a special bond with their grandparents and that will be beneficial to both. It is also helpful if you are a single parent, or when your spouse is in another city, or in my case, a different country. Of course, this may not be a feasible option for everyone, but if it is, try it!
The best part of my day was coming home to H and my mom, knowing he was safe and happy. And of course, coming home to the smell of my mom’s wonderful cooking after hours of inhaling the everlasting formaldehyde smell.
2. Family Caregiver, revised:
Mom stayed with H and I for about 2 months till my husband came to the US. We had to start looking for childcare right away because we were both in school, full-time. However, I was hesitant to put H in daycare and I stalled as much as I could. To make things work, hubby took evening courses while I went to my classes in the morning. We would alternate, taking care of H whenever we finished our classes. It was difficult, but we managed. However, the load became unbearable.
That’s when we revised the family caregiver plan. H was still at the age that required full attention and care, so we decided that he would stay with my parents for a few months till exams were over. You may be thinking, what? She did what? How could she do that?
You see, when you are faced with a difficult situation, the only option is to make it work. You just do. It’s sort of a survival instinct; you just keep going. I remember crying uncontrollably the day we dropped him off. I cried during the entire car ride home. For me, the hardest emotion to overcome was the burden of guilt. I felt guilty for robbing H from his time with his mom. I felt shame- how can a mother put her school work over her child? “THIS IS NOT NORMAL”, I remember thinking.
The hardest battle to win is a battle with yourself.
I remember calling a friend of mine and sobbing on the phone. She reassured me that it would be okay, that one of her classmates had just done the same. I spoke with another friend of mine. She told me that she was raised by her grandmother while her own mother was in residency. “And look at me, I turned out fine”, she said.
That’s when I calmed down. I realized that this was only a temporary solution. And when I found out that many people have done this before me, that feeling of shame finally subsided. Most importantly, I realized that this “normalcy” I was going after, was definitely not the road I was headed on. I had to redefine “normal” and be totally ok with it.
Leaving your child with a trusted family member for an extended period of time is difficult emotionally, but has many advantages. It can be used for extremely difficult situations. Hubby and I used this method only a handful of times, mostly around important exam dates. This was usually around certain block exam during the first two years of med school, and around both board exams, USMLE 1 and 2. I was grateful that H was in good hands, eating healthy foods, going on play dates with kiddos his age, and being around my parents.
I also reminded myself that what I did was not out of selfishness. In fact, it was the opposite. I would not have been able to provide him with the essentials, had he stayed with us during those stressful times. It was far better for him to be with my parents, than with me while I was studying from sunset to sunrise, and even later…