When Mom Can’t Be Home—Making the Best of Second Choice

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“When Mom Can’t Be Home—Making the Best of Second Choice,” Ensign, Feb. 1990, 16

When Mom Can’t Be Home—

Making the Best of Second Choice

For many mothers, day care is not a choice—it’s a necessity. Due to divorce, death of a spouse, or economic hardship, mothers sometimes find it necessary to work outside the home. Who should care for their children? When first choice for day care—Mother—isn’t possible, who’s second? Can anyone adequately replace her? The answers aren’t simple. It is a matter requiring inspired guidance.

Day care, of course, can never substitute for parenting. But if a parent must work, day care can be a supplement to parental nurturing. Most of a child’s emotional and intellectual potential is formed during the early years. Therefore, in spite of a growing worldly trend, parental responsibility for a child’s development in these areas should not be relinquished to outside influences.

The same is true of spiritual development. The Lord has clearly stated: “I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.” (D&C 93:40.) “And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, …

“But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:14–15.)

Fulfillment of these commandments is challenging under ideal conditions; the challenge becomes even greater when parent-and-child time is limited. Latter-day Saints who, of necessity, must leave their children for a period of time should plan carefully in order to lessen the negative effects of nonparental child care. Every effort must be made to spend quality time with the children at home, and then study and wisely evaluate the supplemental care available in your area before deciding who will be the “second choice” to care for your children.

Examining Your Child Care Options

Remember that the needs of your child must come first. What is best and most convenient for you—location, convenience, expense—may not be the best for your child. “When I went back to work, I was so devastated from my divorce that I couldn’t think beyond my own needs,” recalled one sister. “I chose a child-care arrangement that made life easier for me, but I failed to give proper consideration to the needs of my child. I made a bad situation worse. But I’m wiser now.”

What, then, are your best choices? Consider your options and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

First, prayerfully consider your child’s age, needs, and any special circumstances. Very young children need a setting that parallels a home environment as closely as possible. An older child can help you know what situations he would feel most comfortable in. It also allows him to feel that, though he may not like the situation, he has some control or input regarding his circumstances.

Home care. Here, children are cared for in their own home by a relative or other responsible adult. They have the advantage of regular routines, familiar surroundings, their own toys, and neighborhood friends. Depending upon financial arrangement, however, home care may be expensive.

Home child center. In this arrangement, several children from different families are cared for in a home. The care-giver may be a neighbor, a relative, or the parent of one or more of the children.

One sister found the home child center to be the best arrangement for her. “Rebecca goes to a home just down the street—convenient for me and familiar to her. With only five children there, she receives a great deal of personal attention. Most important, the values and Word of Wisdom standards practiced in that home are similar to mine.”

Unfortunately, finding a home child center that is acceptable in every way may be difficult or even impossible. Full-time attentive care is often lacking as care-givers become concerned with everyday household tasks and other activities.

Child center. Facilities in a child center accommodate a larger number of children than can be cared for in a home.

An organized curriculum and structured program are the primary benefits. Continual opportunities are presented for intellectual, social/emotional, and physical development.

A widower recalls, “I had to place Jon in a child center when he was barely two years old. The arrangement had its drawbacks, but he received good training. When he entered kindergarten, his number and phonics skills were superior.”

However, because the structured environment of a child center more closely resembles a school than a home, it is less desirable for very young children or for children who spend many hours there. The adult-to-child ratio may be less favorable than with other forms of care, thus limiting the amount of individual attention given to each child. Further, this kind of care can be very expensive, and the location of the facility may be inconvenient.

Industry or university care. In some areas, day-care services are offered to employees of a business or to students enrolled in a university. Parents enjoy close proximity to their children and can spend breaks and lunch hours together. Care-givers are usually professionally trained and offer a structured curriculum. Sometimes the expense is borne by the employer. Disadvantages may be a low adult-to-child ratio and absence of after-school services for older children.

Neighborhood baby-sitting. Residents of some neighborhoods have worked out a system in which parents take turns in caring for each others’ children. These arrangements are difficult to organize and maintain, but when successful, they offer most of the advantages of home care or a home child center without great expense.

Alternate work schedules. When both parents work, they sometimes can alternate their work schedules so when one parent is away, the other is home caring for the children. Although this may complicate family schedules, the advantages of having children cared for at home by a parent are obvious. An added advantage is that fathers automatically become directly involved with their children in caring for their needs as well as nurturing them. The disadvantages are that husband and wife may be rarely together, and if all the children are young, extra effort and organization are required to fulfill outside responsibilities.

Selecting a Day-Care Provider

Investigate several providers and ask plenty of questions before choosing a center. “When I was visiting day-care centers,” related one sister, “I never made an appointment. You can expect a center to be in good shape if you’re expected. I found my unannounced visits to be most revealing.”

Quality of Care. Observe the ratio of care-givers to children. How do they treat the children? Do they show warmth and love? Do they provide social or educational training, or is baby-sitting the only service? Are volunteers used?

Curriculum. Are the values and standards in harmony with yours?

Personnel. What are the qualifications, background, and experience of the personnel? Do the staff members genuinely like children? Are they dedicated, mature, patient, and sensitive to the children’s needs?

Safety. Is the environment safe for the children? Is the playground equipment safe and in good repair? Walk through the center to observe safety measures and hazards.

Cleanliness. Check the kitchen, rest rooms, indoor playroom, and playground. How often is the facility thoroughly cleaned, and by whom? What measures are taken to prevent the spread of disease? For example, if you have a baby or toddler, find out how often the toys (which always find their way to a baby’s mouth) are washed and disinfected.

Meals, Snacks. What meals or snacks are served? Where and by whom is the food purchased and prepared? Are the meals nutritious and well balanced? Are the children carefully supervised during mealtime and encouraged to eat?

Licensing. Each state in the United States and most foreign countries have licensing requirements that govern child-care services. Zoning and community requirements may also exist. Familiarize yourself with these regulations and then check to see if the programs you are considering comply. (See the chart accompanying this article.)

Cost. What is included in the cost of the program? Based on cost, how does the quality of care differ from program to program?

“As with most things, you get what you pay for in child care,” reported one mother. “Though my finances are limited, I didn’t choose the least expensive provider. Employee turnover is high in programs where the personnel are poorly paid. I am concerned about continuity as well as quality of care. Paying a little more helps assure both.”

Assisting Ward Members

Church leaders and members can help parents who need day care to make informed decisions. On a ward or stake basis, they can hold seminars to discuss day-care options, though no commercial endorsements should be made. As parents who need day care share experiences, they learn from one another.

Rather than judging parents who use day care, ward leaders and members can be more sensitive to their needs. “The guilt I felt at having to leave my child was tremendous,” one sister relates. “It took me months to adjust.”

Though members may be unable to assist with daily care, they may occasionally be able to watch children in the evening to give a single parent much-needed time for shopping, Church responsibilities, taking a class, or other obligations.

Making the Best of Second Choice

The day-care dilemma isn’t over once you select a provider. Then the major challenge is ensuring that your child continues to feel secure, valued, and loved. Where quantity time is limited, quality time is paramount.

Many preschool workers believe that the most important time of the day is the three or four minutes just after the parent picks up the child. “Some parents load their child in the back of the car without even saying hello,” observes a teacher. “Others hug and kiss their child, tell her that she was missed, and take time right there to look at her pictures and school papers. Those few minutes can do much to solidify their relationship and enhance the child’s emotional well-being.”

It is of primary importance, too, that parents pick their children up on time or notify the provider of a delay. Children become very upset and feel insecure when parents are late.

If at all possible, arrange to spend a day with your child at her day-care facility. Meet her friends and enjoy her activities. You’ll be able to show a greater interest in her world when you know what and whom she is talking about.

“Go the second mile when your child is asked to bring something from home,” advises a preschool teacher. “For example, we ask the children to take turns bringing a snack for the class. Some walk in with a package of crackers. Others bring homemade cookies that they have helped bake. Not only is the parent-and-child time in the kitchen valuable, but that little effort helps build the child’s self-esteem.”

Consistent, two-way communication with your child can’t be stressed enough. Take the time to talk about his experiences while you are apart. What happens during his day? What are his favorite and not-so-favorite times? Not only will the interaction strengthen your relationship, it will also alert you to any potential problems or abuses.

Just because your child’s physical needs are being met, do not assume that his emotional and spiritual needs are also being met. Regular family home evenings, family prayer, and scripture study are more important than ever. Don’t overlook opportunities to assure your child that he is an essential part of a family that loves and needs him.

“I don’t have enough hours in the day,” admits one sister. “Sometimes I’m tempted to skip home evening, bedtime stories, and prayers just to have a few minutes to put my house in order. But if I keep an eternal perspective, dusty furniture doesn’t bother me as much.”

“Right now my primary responsibility is to my children,” says another. “Working enables me to supply their physical requirements. Day-care assists with their educational needs. But I am directly responsible for their spiritual upbringing. With my Heavenly Father’s help, I can do it.”

Whether your need for outside help in caring for your children is temporary or long-term, remember that your Father in Heaven is deeply concerned with your well-being. Earnestly seek to know his will through prayer, scripture study, and an honest endeavor to live his commandments. As you do, you will be blessed with peace of mind and the knowledge that—although your situation is not ideal—a loving Father is aware of your circumstances and will sustain you.

Checklist of Factors to Consider When Making Child-Care Decisions

Quality of Care

How are the children treated? Do they receive nurturing, loving care? Are they given training and learning experiences?


Are the values and standards in harmony with those of the parents?


What is the background of the care-giver? How much experience does he or she have? How sensitive and responsive is the care-giver to children?


How safe is the neighborhood? The playground? The playground equipment? The facility itself?


Are disease-prevention measures in place for the kitchen, rest rooms, playroom, and playground?

Meals, Snacks

Are meals nutritious and supervised?


Does the care-giver have a current license if one is required?


What services are included in the fee?

Child-Care Options






Home Care

Child cared for at home by relative or other care-giver.

Special affection for the child; regular routine; familiar surroundings; neighborhood friends.

Often expensive.

None required.

Home Child Center

Several children from different families cared for in a home.

Usually nearby; value system may be similar to that of parent.

Value system may differ from parents’; individual attention may be lacking.

Required in most states, countries; parents often not aware of this.

Child Center

Group facility.

Planned curriculum and activities; trained care-givers.

Less individual care and nurturing; expensive; may be far from home.


Industry or University Care

Service offered to employees or students.

Parent is closer to child than in other settings; professional care-givers; structured program. Expense often paid by employer or employee benefit options.

Often low adult/child ratio; absence of after-school services.


Neighborhood Baby-sitting

Neighbors exchange baby-sitting for each other’s children.

Similar to home care, but without the expense.

Difficult to organize, maintain.

None required.

Alternate Work Schedules

Parents alternate work schedules so one is home with children.

Constant parental supervision and nurturing.

Difficult to schedule family activities; extra organization required.

None required.

Illustrated by Scott Snow