How do I decide when it will be right? (If you need to make decisions now for next year, this may help!)
“Should I send my 18 month old out this year or not? I have a newborn at home and can’t decide. What’s best at this age, when they don’t have to be sent out?”
Spoiler alert: I don’t think there’s one right answer. In fact, my takeaway is:
- You never have to or “should” send your child to someone “professional” or “more experienced.” You are already the best person to take care of your own kid.
- You can (or maybe need to whether you like it or not) extend your own village and outsource care to another loving and capable adult.
Ugh, not much of an answer, I know. Well, the truth is that it just boils down to what works for your unique family, right now. Because the answer is so nuanced, this is going to be a bit long. (Disclaimer: My own 20 month old is leaving the house for the first time and I’m excited! I’ll explain why at the end.) Let’s first bust some myths.
Myth 1: Your child NEEDS more stimulation / socialization.
It’s not true that at 18 months, your kid magically gets too old for what you can provide and suddenly needs a teacher and classmates.
The truth is that life is learning. The absorbent mind of a child under 3 will learn automatically from the environment – free play at the park, going on errands with you, helping you around the house.
And socialization happens in the world as well, especially within the family setting (or 2:30 at the park). A toddler doesn’t “need” classmates and in fact doesn’t actually play together with them – at that age, they do parallel play.
They don’t either “need to learn” how to share, take turns, participate in circle time, put toys away, etc. These are all developmental skills that 1) will be learned in time, 2) come up in real life too so can be practiced at home.
Myth 2: Your child will be behind if he doesn’t go to playgroup now.
You can’t be behind in life. If you’re providing quality care for your own kid, they’re learning life skills just by living real life with you.
Myth 3: Kids belong at home for as long as possible, and your child’s attachment will be damaged if he’s sent to a playgroup.
First of all… attachment doesn’t work quite like that, especially at 18 months when it’s actually pretty established already. We can’t definitively say that one single thing will damage attachment, and the child’s personality also plays a role here.
Also, remember that the teacher will become a new attachment figure, which is perfectly fine if you trust the teacher and feel confident leaving your child in her care.
So do kids belong at home? Yes, but… not if mom is tapped out, resentful, not managing or just not loving it. Not just for the sake of “being home as long as possible” – you don’t win brownie points for that. It’s not the location that matters. It’s the quality of the relationship.
Myth 4: A break from your kid will make you a better mother.
Who’s telling this to you? Is it someone objective and loving saying that they see you drowning and they want you to have time to fill your own cup first? Or is it a message from society that a career is more important than being a stay at home mom… or that you can’t possibly find fulfillment in childcare…? There’s no shame if you do need some space. And there’s nothing wrong if you don’t.
Myth 5: It’s easier to have a toddler at home if you live in the city / suburbs.
I’ve actually done both, so I can tell you that each has its pros and cons and that ultimately it comes down to you. You can live in a one-bedroom apartment and plan walks, destinations, and rainy day activities. You can live in a big house with a backyard and still have to go to the library to see other people. Any environment can be maximized.
Myth 6: The decision you make now reflects on who you are as a mother.
You’re not a better or worse mother because you are or aren’t keeping your kid home. Look, I sent my first baby out at 8 weeks and my second at 14 months. I wouldn’t do that now, but that was my capacity or ability then.
Whatever you decide now is just… a moment in time. Whatever your current circumstances are. This is when we have to believe that “kids will turn out fine” as in, our loving home buffers up our kids for the outside world.
So, what does a toddler actually need?
- A consistent daily routine. Which doesn’t mean you can’t switch things up (“outing” can be different each day), but there should be a general order that he can look forward to (so, the outing is always before nap)
- Orderliness within the environment, for example one spot to return a toy to or find his shoes
- Opportunities for real life activities like household tasks. Did you know that the Montessori classroom is actually modeled after the home?
- More challenges as he becomes more capable – remember, this year he turns 2! You don’t have to get all Pinterest-y, but “preschool activities” like playdough or puzzles help develop the hand muscles and fine motor skills, and things like musical instruments expand his little world
- Lots of time to play outdoors – in all safe weather conditions
So… are you going to take your toddler on outings? Will you let him choose the apples at the grocery and put them in the cart, use spoons and cups in the bathtub, help transfer your laundry and mix and pour in the kitchen? Will you let him use crayons, stickers, paints and playdough? Will you be able to chase him in the park?
It doesn’t really take anything special – just some perspective and patience. If you can’t see yourself involving your child in your daily routine or offering activities from time to time, then maybe a playgroup is the better option. Not because YOU can’t and a different professional can. Just because you may not be set up for it in a way that a classroom with toys and teachers is.
Other things to consider:
- If you have a newborn right now, consider that the easy part has already passed. (Sorry!!) Newborns are easy to transport, especially if they sleep the whole day. In another few months, they’ll be more active and take two naps – morning and afternoon. The single nap of a toddler usually falls smack in the middle of these two. You might have to adjust times or make sure a child sleeps in the stroller, so you don’t end up nap-trapped.
- Expect to get zero done if you have two kids at home. Like on a good day, maybe you can put up supper or fold a load of laundry. This will not be the year for a side hustle, a spotlessly clean home, or accomplishing anything other than childcare. You’ll need super low expectations, a lot of conviction in this being your full time job, and probably some household help.
- How many other kids are at home? It’s different to entertain one toddler (a baby doesn’t count) versus say, three children under age 4. That’s like a small class, so it might be more hectic but they’ll also all play (or fight!) with each other.
- Logistical considerations: how far away is it, how long is the day, what is the care like, what will napping or feeding look like?
- Financial considerations – I didn’t address this at all because the question didn’t, and I recognize that everyone has different reasons for wanting or needing a playgroup. Obviously, some parents need childcare so they can work. Some parents may choose to work, even if the salary basically only covers childcare, just to be able to get out of the house. Some parents might decide that staying home with the kids is a priority (or more financially prudent), and rearrange finances to make that happen.
Why we’re going to playgroup
Just to illustrate, here are some reasons or considerations that I’m sending my 20-month-old to playgroup and why I’m looking forward to it:
- He’s been home with me until now.
- My other kids are in school, which means it’s just him at home – so it’s both harder and more time consuming to “entertain” only him.
- I’m feeling a little done with running after him and I recognize that I’m slacking in offering opportunities that I want him to have but don’t want to provide (for example, he should be drawing and using stickers).
- His personality and capabilities (independence, ability to communicate) make him a good fit for a program outside the house.
- I trust and am confident in the playgroup where he’s going.
- I’m just ready to work on this as a business – I’m excited to have time to make more of my ideas and projects come to life!
- In an alternate reality, maybe I’d homeschool all 3 of my children. But that’s not what my life looks like right now. I accept the limitations of my lifestyle and of the decisions or sacrifices I am/am not willing to make.
I hope this helps either make a decision or affirm a current one. Whatever you decide, you should feel confident about it. That means making a decision that factors in your level of knowledge (I hope this helps with that!) and current bandwidth, finances, logistics, etc. You can only ever do what your resources allow for. That’s what “doing your best” is. And if you’re feeling guilt around a decision, it’s an inner “check engine” light that maybe your actions are not aligned with your principles or beliefs. (Unless someone else is guilting you – then you need better company.