Several months ago, I wrote a column that never ran about “daycare shaming” and victim blaming. I’d prepared it ahead of Mommyish’s two-month hiatus, and it never was never posted after the site’s relaunch. But since I wrote it, Donald Trump has been elected president, and his former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has implied that women who are mothers probably shouldn’t seek executive leadership positions in the White House. With so many families hoping that federal extended parental leave policies would pass in the next four years, Trump’s win signifies yet another hurdle in the fight for what young families deserve in the U.S. As a result of current policies, parents feel pressure to return to work quickly, because they can’t afford not to. And for many of those parents, daycare is the affordable and practical solution for their infant care needs.
One of the saddest bits of parenting news in my Facebook feed this year was the story of 3.5-month-old McKenna Felmly, who died on her first day of daycare after her mother returned to work back in April. As the details of this event were reported, and it became clear that the daycare provider was negligent and McKenna did not die of SIDS (which would’ve been equally terrible), daycare-shaming sanctimommies across the internet began to heed their siren call.
Part of the reason sanctimommies feel entitled to judge parents who put their babies in daycare is because historically, women stayed home. It was not expected for mothers to work; it wasn’t even a question for many decades that women would perform the childrearing duties while their husbands earned the money. But in the last 30 years, times have changed drastically (thanks to the women’s movement), and the issue isn’t just that so many babies go to daycare, but rather that so many parents don’t feel they have a choice. There’s a strange dichotomy between the idea that daycare is “bad” for babies because they can’t receive the one-on-one care they might’ve otherwise received versus the idea that daycare is an absolute necessity because the U.S. government doesn’t provide parents with sensible options. Maybe if we had the same amount of guaranteed parental leave as other countries (our neighbor, Canada, provides 17 weeks of maternity leave plus an additional 37 weeks of parental leave with job security), it would make a shred of sense for sanctimommies to toss out their self-important, dated judgments about putting babies in daycare when they’re only several weeks or months old. But as the policy stands now, many mothers are wracked with guilt as they return to work — because they have to — and what they need now more than ever is support from fellow parents. Instead, they get chastised.
Childcare costs have skyrocketed since the ’90s, and most everything else has, too. Food costs more. Higher education is becoming a cost-prohibitive luxury. Most families require the income of both parents to ensure everyone’s needs are met and their children’s futures are secure — but the sanctimommies who openly diss daycare appear to believe otherwise. Instead of looking at a tragic situation like the one baby McKenna’s parents have been dealing with since April (or the near-identical situation Karl Towndrow’s parents experienced in 2015) and expressing sorrow, they point their fingers at parents while patting themselves on the back. Instead of taking a stand against the government and demanding better family leave policies, sanctimommies pride themselves on never putting THEIR babies in daycare, willfully pitting themselves against other parents. Creating an “us vs. them” approach rather than fighting the status quo arm-in-arm is victim-blaming, and it’s grossly misguided.
Women shouldn’t have to choose between pursuing careers and raising kids. That was established a few waves of feminism ago. So, why do so many women still receive such harsh treatment from other women for putting their babies in daycare? How is it that in 2016, so many “traditional” parents who tout their family values don’t see the double standard in that form of judgment? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, but working mothers shouldn’t feel forced to give up their careers because they chose to have kids. Duh.
Here were some of the reasonable responses to McKenna’s death that were shared on Facebook:
Let’s check out some examples of how NOT to respond to a daycare tragedy on Facebook, with McKenna’s death serving as a (very sad) case study:
1. Kiss A Hiney
Extending prayers to a mourning family would probably mean a lot more if they weren’t delivered alongside a callous rant. What kind of person thinks it’s acceptable to A) point out that “both her kids are alive and well,” and B) name her child “Kimberlynn”? Amanda, you’re an asshole. And if you don’t believe me, just ask all the parents who have put their babies in daycare what they think. Believe it or not, some people adore their daycare providers, and their kids love them, too. But please do raise Kimberlynn at home. No daycare provider wants to deal with you anyway.
2. Practical Solutions
3. Not That She’s Judging
Ugh, haven’t we all met someone like Renekia? Someone who HAS to chime in every single fucking time there’s a news report that makes her feel better about herself and her parenting methods? It could be anything. She probably finds a way to brag every time there’s a toy recall (“That’s why my child never had that toy!”), or a car seat recall (“Only the best for my baby!”) or a food recall (“That’s why I make my baby’s food myself!”). Renekia, no one cares about why you did or didn’t put your children in daycare. Millions of babies go to daycare and don’t die. The few who have should be remembered with love, and their parents treated with compassion. This isn’t about you. It’s about people who can’t afford NOT to put their kids in daycare. If you can’t imagine such a thing, congratulations, you’re in the vast minority. Now STFU.
4. Building A Listicle
If “my baby could be neglected and left to die in her sleep” is only number TWO on Cheryl’s list, then what the hell is reason #1? And does she really think it’s helpful for other parents — i.e., other friends in her own newsfeed — when she and Corinne talk shit about daycare despite knowing that for some people, there isn’t much of a choice? Not everyone has a grandma who doubles as a responsible nanny. Not everyone has a spouse who can foot the bill for his or her whole family. And not everyone can afford to not go back to work after they’ve used up their allotted time frame for parental leave. I’m not sure if people like Cheryl and Corinne really “get” all of that.
5. Do Most Parents “Just Trust Anyone”?
Here’s a bone I have to pick with parents like Rosalie: Why do people imply or assume that parents haven’t done their research before leaving their babies in local daycare facilities or private homes? I seriously doubt that any parent who’s been nurturing a newborn around the clock for a month or three just up and decides to enroll their baby in the first daycare that comes up in a Google search. In the case of baby Karl, his mother has written that she researched, asked around for recommendations, and did everything she could to find a trusted daycare near her office so she could feel good about leaving her baby in someone else’s hands. Again, not everyone can afford a personal nanny, so parents do what they have to do to resume their working lives. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t asking questions, or pushing down anxiety for the sake of their jobs, or beating themselves up for having to separate from their babies sooner than they might have wanted. Saying you won’t put a baby in daycare because you don’t trust anyone is arguably valid, but attaching that sentiment to a story about someone else’s dead baby just makes you a self-absorbed idiot.
6. Not A Damn Chance
Just imagine me standing with my hands on my hips chirping “nope nope nope” and mocking Caitlin like the schoolyard bully I was apparently meant to be. These two sound like mean girls — the types who will adamantly state their anti-daycare position without giving their parent friends on Facebook a passing thought, but who will reverse that stance the second one of their friends says, “Um, MY baby is in daycare right now. Are you suggesting that I’m a bad mother and putting his life in danger by returning to work when I legally had to?” I have a feeling if that happened, Brooke would quickly backpedal and assure her friend that she seriously meant NO offense, like NONE, it’s just that SHE isn’t planning on putting HER child in daycare. But people can toooootally do whatever they want; she’s just saying that daycare isn’t right for HER family. That’s all!!! 🙂 🙂
PRO-TIP: Don’t disparage daycare as a concept (e.g. ALL daycares are awful, ALL daycare providers will neglect your child, ALL daycares will burn down, killing multiple children as the proprietor shops at Target and subsequently flees to Nigeria), because daycare actually works quite well for thousands of U.S. families. The issue is that both parents should have more options regarding when they return to work full-time. What happened to McKenna Felmly is the worst thing imaginable, but that doesn’t mean a personal nanny, babysitter, relative, or neighbor would have provided her care without incident. If you can’t say something nice (or comment on a child’s death without interjecting your own superiority), try not posting online at all. In 2017, every parent will still need a village.