Debbie Granick is a parent/childbirth educator and freelance writer. She received a Masters in Social Work and a Masters in Public Health, specializing in Maternal and Child Health, from the University of North Carolina. Her previous work includes counseling adolescents and their families in a substance abuse prevention program, teaching tobacco education and reproductive health in a school setting, and consulting with local child care staff on toddler discipline strategies.

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Preschool Choices

Dear Debbie,

How many days/week should my daughter go to preschool? I don’t work full-time. So she could stay home with me. But she loves school, too. What is best for my child? I’m driving myself insane with this decision!

Okay. Answer these questions.

• Is your home environment safe and loving and does it offer reasonably stimulating toys, activities, social interactions, and outings? Is your child happy being at home?

• Is your preschool safe and accredited? Does it offer age-appropriate programs and activities? Is your child happy there?

If the answer to BOTH questions is “yes” then you’re asking yourself the wrong question. Stop obsessing on what’s right for your child and ask: what is right for me?

Children who watch soap operas at home all day and lack appropriate stimulation are, without question, better off in preschool. However, assuming that your home-life includes an ample supply of play-doh and markers, a sink to play in, some toys, cars, dolls, a few playdates, and some interesting errands to run, you’re not hurting your child having her home with you. And assuming your preschool option is a good one, she’s fine there as well.

So. That leaves you with the harder question. How many days per week do you want your child in preschool? Many women feel guilty making this decision, especially the women who are blessed (and cursed) with options.

Do you feel guilty because you don’t love sitting on the floor playing all morning? Reality check. Most other mommies don’t love it either. Stop comparing yourself to that one super-mommy who says “oh, sure I can talk, we’ll just pause our game of Candyland for a minute…” when you call. Most real-world mommies are quite happy during the hours that they’re kids are at school

I still have a kid’s make-your-own-plate set in my art area. It’s a “simple” craft project necessitating that I sit at my kitchen table with my toddler and draw, mold, decorate, glue, etc. It’s been there for so long, waiting for mommy-inspiration, I don’t even know who it was for. (My oldest child is nine. Yikes.) It’s just not my thing and no amount of guilt or positive self-talk is going to change that. In my book, anything involving glue and permanent markers belongs at preschool!

Are you craving more time to pursue your goals? A crabby mommy who is bitter that she doesn’t have a single second to exercise or shower, much less pursue a part-time career isn’t doing anyone any favors. A happy mommy makes for a happy kid (unless it’s cocaine, spontaneous year-long world tours, or a perpetual state of incoherence that makes you happy). If you have a little time in the mornings to do what makes you tick, you will, without question, have more enthusiasm for your little one when he hops in the car in the afternoon.

It’s tempting to take the easy way out. To try and find research or a professional who will tell you how many hours of preschool your child needs. But no one is going to say that. Only you can decide. The bright side is that you have incredible options—for which you should be thankful. The tough part is that you have to make the decision based on what YOU want. Good luck.

“Dear Debbie” is a column dedicated to answering your questions about how to better handle the everyday struggles of life with children. She’ll tackle anything—from tantrums and potty training to dealing with playground politics and post partum depression.

Send your questions to: mag@todaysmama.com

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