Zoe has been going to a new day care provider for a couple weeks now. Her name is Inoka and we love her. I fervently hope we will continue to love her until it’s time for Zoe to go to full-time preschool. Inoka is the third day care provider Zoe has stayed with since starting in day care two days a week in January 2008, when she was nine months old. I have agonized, hemmed, hawed, fretted, and generally freaked out every time we’ve had to make a decision about child care.

Twice before we found providers who seemed great, but then their circumstances or Zoe’s needs changed. One provider had to leave the country for a few months, and also seemed to question my parenting abilities, which I didn’t appreciate. Another provider moved the kids to a smaller room and ended up with several babies to care for which left little attention to devote to Zoe. So we moved on. The third time around I interviewed several providers, armed with a checklist and greater confidence in my ability to advocate for my child’s needs. At least I’ve learned something throughout this process.

The whole concept of asking a stranger to help raise your child is complex. When I was growing up, my mom stayed home with us. She did work part-time when we were in school, but she was ALWAYS there when we were home. The only time I ever remember her not being home when I came home from elementary school was when she was in the hospital giving birth to my sister. So I always assumed I would be a stay-at-home mom too. I had friends whose moms worked, and they all turned out fine, but I liked the way our family worked and wanted to perpetuate that.

It turns out that it’s not so easy. Very few of my friends are stay-at-home moms. I know MANY work-from-home moms, like myself, but they are still working and generally still need someone else to help care for their children. It turns out that most of us need to work in order to pay the mortgage, and staying at home full-time is not an economic option for our families. I have made a few friends, primarily through Zoe’s preschool, who are stay-at-home moms. I have to remind myself not to be envious of their situations.

Truthfully, I enjoy running my own business and I love my work. (Most of the time). I also love my daughter and love spending time with her. But I think if I were with her on my own for her 12 waking hours every day I would go insane. Of course, if that’s how it worked in our family, I would do it. But I think it’s best for everyone’s mental health that I work some and take care of Zoe some.

For Zoe’s part, she adores spending two days each week with my parents–mostly my mom. And I think she enjoys spending two days each week with a day care provider and some kids her own age. Inoka is the first day care provider I’ve met who actually follows a curriculum. Zoe comes home with art projects, traced letters and shapes, and coloring pages. They sing songs. They play games. It’s good stuff. It’s more like preschool than her preschool was this year.

On Tuesday afternoon it wasn’t raining so I walked to Inoka’s house with an empty stroller to pick up Zoe. On the way home Zoe looked up and back at me and said with a big smile, “I missed you SO MUCH!” Which is always nice to hear. If she weren’t with someone else all day, how else would she miss me?