Mothers who choose to stay at home with their children and are able to do so are often criticized for "wasting" their education and frequently find that their contribution is undervalued, particularly if they have a difficult time keeping the house spotless because they are immersed in activity. Mothers who choose to work outside of the home are often criticized for outsourcing the raising of their children for their own selfish pursuits.
Having done both and having had a multitude of conversations about this very topic, I felt as though I might like to explore this topic on my blog. Please leave comments and let me know where you stand. Particularly if I reference you and you either appreciate it or need to correct me.
First, on the stay-at-home side, it is really important for a child to be home with a parent for the first year. Children bond with their parents, but to be around them for most or all of the first year makes it that much stronger. Is it possible for everyone? Not at all. Fortunately, we were able to do that for The Boy, having him home with Daddy during the day (which was how he and later I got into parent-blogging in the first place). While I was the one nursing him in the afternoons and at night, and on the weekends, Daddy was the one with him during the day. He still bonded with me as his primary security person during his first year, but Daddy ranked WAY higher than most daddies tend to and now Daddy outranks everyone.
As for the wasted education, sure, a mother who puts her astrophysics career on hold for 5 years to have 2 kids and stay home with them until the younger one is in preschool is not doing the world of astrophysics any favors, and she unfortunately will take a hit career-wise, but her education is not going to waste. Children who stay at home with a parent who has an advanced degree are being supervised by an adult who generally has more education than a person who is working at the daycare center. This is not a slight at people who teach at daycare centers and preschools. In fact, the daycares are generally well-run by experts, and parents feel comfortable sending their kids there. More on that later. If you are a parent with good education and you are able to stay home with your child, and you choose to do so, you are choosing to provide your child with a well-education caregiver. Thanks to my friend Jo from Australia for feeding this part of the discussion.
My sister was concerned about this point, saying that certainly my children benefit, and my siblings and I did as well, from being home with Mom, because both my mother and I have advanced degrees in education. My mother responded that a well-educated person, no matter the subject, has a strong vocabulary and a certain level of discipline, not to mention the specific subject area knowledge. Nevermind the educator training--I'm a musician, and even though I can't teach my 2-year-old or my infant to play instruments yet, I can play for them, sing for them, and even when speaking I sometimes sing to them. Your passions as people affect your life as parents. And if they don't, they should.
My aunt said that I should never apologize for staying home and taking care of my children. No matter if I came by it as a result of my circumstances or if I came by it voluntarily. She is a mom with an advanced degree whose children greatly benefited from her presence.
EDIT: "With her degrees in astrophysics, she's reading Goodnight Moon and wiping behinds." Well, spin it around, and you have something more along the lines of "Her kids were raised by, and spent their days with, an astrophysicist."
Now, on the other hand, group childcare settings are great for encouraging skill development. Every time The Boy is around other kids, he tries to do the things that they do. Not that we'd always want our kids to do what other kids are doing, but I remember The Boy being around other kids when he was just learning to walk and he was trying to walk more as a result of seeing the other kids.
Working with my sister's thought about children benefiting from time around educators, child care professionals have dealt with children and their issues and frequently will have solutions to problems that parents might not otherwise have considered. Granted, parents who don't want to get involved in teaching their children, in whatever capacity they can, are shirking their duties. Plain and simple. Parents are to oversee the education of their children. Even though when children are older they take more responsibility and teachers are seen as the facilitators, at no point should a parent say "that's teacher stuff--I don't have that kind of training" or "I'm an astrophysicist, not a teacher." Particularly not when children are little. Anyhow...teachers learn to read stories and ask questions; parents should do the same for their children and encourage them.
Some parents find that being able to work outside of the home and then return to their children allows them to be better parents to their children. I felt that way when The Boy was little and I was working. I even said that I go to work to relax. And that schoolyear was pretty good overall.
It's interesting, that my opinion has swayed back and forth and while I see the benefits of both, I know that my place right now is with my boys. And my career is still waiting for me.