Is It Wrong to Call Daycare “School”?

Photo: ThinkstockI had a controversial conversation with an older mother recently and it’s still kind of bothering me. I was chatting with her and another mom at a kid party and she told us that when her kids were young, she worked some nights but was always around when the kids were home (and awake). She admitted that she was lucky her schedule allowed this. We agreed. I didn’t think she was being holier than thou but then she told us how she recently started working in a daycare…and how sad she thinks it is that some kids are there all day long. And what really breaks her heart is that they call it school. “It’s not school, it’s daycare!” she declared. “School? Puh-lease!”

The other woman talking with us works out of the house but her husband watches their daughter during the day. I think the offending mom assumed that because I have an unconventional job (i.e., I write magazine articles—and blog posts—from home while wearing sweats) that I also don’t require childcare. She thought she was talking to likeminded moms. But she was not. I have three kids—6, 4 and 11 weeks—and the older two both did stints at daycare. And, yes, they called it school. Instead of mentioning this, I just kind of nodded and moved on. I’m not very confrontational, particularly with other moms and the choices they make, and I generally like this person. But I kind of wish I’d said something on behalf of those parents whose kids she’s watching all day long.

After I had my first, I commuted an hour each way to my job at Glamour (we moved out of NYC during my maternity leave). My husband worked from home and we had a sitter come to the house. After six months, I left the magazine and became a freelance writer. I worked from home but as anyone who does this can tell you, it’s tough to accomplish much when there are little people underfoot. So I had a sitter most days. My mom helped, too. Then when my son was 18-months-old we sent him to a daycare facility up the street from our house. He went three days a week but eventually, if I had a particularly heavy workload, we would up it to four or five. We didn’t have much guilt about it. But maybe any subconscious pangs were assuaged by calling it school instead of daycare. Or maybe it just seemed like school since he packed a little backpack and brought home fun art projects every day. Or maybe it was just cute to call it that. Who knows? I really didn’t think it was a big deal. My daughter started part-time at 16 months. Again, no guilt. They both loved it and we all loved the “teachers.” And I got a lot of work done while they were out of the house. Work I love and both have to and want to do.

I’m not going to chime in on the stay-at-home versus working mom debate (I’ve always avoided going down that rabbit hole because I’m a little of both, which means I can relate to both but don’t fully know what it’s like to be either). I feel incredibly lucky that my career is flexible and that I get to be home and spend what I think is the perfect amount of time with my kids (i.e., not every single second of every single day — sorry, I know that will ruffle some feathers). But I know that not everyone has a balance they love. As parents, we all make choices and compromises and sacrifices and few situations are ever completely ideal. I’m sure those parents don’t want their kids to be at a daycare all day long and if it makes them feel better to refer to it as school, so what? Also, it IS kind of like school, no? My kids learned their ABCs and their 123s and many, many glitter-and-pasting skills while at daycare. I have absolutely no regrets. And I will be sending my third there at some point for sure.

Do your kids go to daycare? Do you call it school? Why or why not?