Am I a fool for thinking we can take a summer break from daycare?

There is an occasional faint light at the end of the tunnel of the academic year, and with that light come a lot of planning for the summer. I'm trying not to place unrealistic productivity expectations on the summer, but I also know that it is unrealistic to think that I will have the summer "off."

As I start to make my summer plans, I'm realizing that I'm going to be out of town for ~5 weeks this summer, and that Minnow will be coming along with me. That fact, combined with really wanting to see Minnow more than just breakfast, dinner, bedtime and weekends has got me wondering whether we could swing a summer "break" from daycare. It doesn't hurt that we'd save >$2000 on daycare costs if we took two months off.

But, are there downsides to letting our enrollment lapse for a few months? Yes, and the question is whether those negatives out-weigh the positives. I'll lay it all out below and maybe you can provide some advice...

Upside: More time with Minnow, more time at the local pool, more time at the park, more time having fun during the 3 weeks we'll be in town without daycare.
Flipside: We might lose our spot at our daycare, and with a new teacher in Minnow's room, we are back to liking it a lot.

Upside: $2000 savings that could be used to help pay off the Prius, go to college savings, etc.
Flipside: We'll have to pay an enrollment fee again at daycare and may have to pay an enrollment fee at a backup daycare as "insurance" in case we lose our spot.

Upside: I could still work part-time while Minnow is napping, during the evenings, and while Fish is home in the mornings.
Flipside: Honestly, I might not get that much work done "part-time."

Upside: If I don't have daycare, maybe I'll feel less guilty about taking some flexible time and some time off, rather than putting in 9-5 days as I do now.
Flipside: If I don't get work done during that time, I will be falling even further behind my child-less colleagues against whom I am evaluated.

Upside: Three of the five weeks we are out of town I *will* be working (writing a paper with my post-doc advisor, doing field work, attending a workshop) and Minnow will be staying with ScienceGrandma or friends. So it's not like I'm taking the summer off.
Flipside: If I don't get reappointed, will it be because I didn't work hard enough during the summer?

I swear I want to lead a "balanced" life - this is one way to force me to do so.

I'm strongly leaning toward taking Minnow out of daycare for June and July. What do you think? Am I fool for wanting to take a summer break from daycare?

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Some daycares allow a limited summer plan where you can go to a half-day program or something like 2 days a week. I don't know if you have this option.

Does your daycare accept either part-time enrollment, or will they take a partial payment to "hold" Minnow's spot for the summer? We always have the option of part-time care at our center (anywhere from 1/2 day per week to full time, which is 10 1/2 hours per day), and when re-enrollment comes up in the spring we have the option of paying a "holding fee" ($200, I think) that will guarantee a spot for fall even if the child withdraws and pays no tuition for the summer. Part-time might be nice for you, because then you could take, say, 2 days per week for academic work when you're in town, thus ensuring some kind of productivity...and a clear mind and conscience when you spend the other 5 days each week exploring the world with Minnow. We're keeping our 10 month-old son in for 2 days per week over the summer (although we only do 3 days during the school year) so that I can get some research and course prep done, and so that he won't have to readjust to his "school" when I start teaching again in the fall.

I spent about 25 years as a Canadian public daycare child caregiver. Our 'summer off' policies were quite generous, which is irrelevant to your situation, of course.

Addressing Minnow's needs: even kids that really liked daycare, and particularly our very fun summer program (lots of beaches and field trips and outdoors) liked to have some time off away from the routines - maybe not all summer, but a few weeks.

Adressing your needs: if you do keep Minnow out of daycare all summer, perhaps there's another caregiver besides ScienceGramma that can help with occasional care, even a few days here and there?

I really sympathise: I've watched countless parents agonize over this very dilemma.

We've kept our son in daycare over the summer, because he would lose his spot if we didn't. I usually would work shorter days, though, and last summer we were able to have him stay home an extra day per week.

I've found that summer doesn't really count as time off. Lots of things end up filling all those days that I thought I would have free. Field work, conferences, writing proposals, lab work, writing, advising research students... I still don't accomplish as much as I should, but I don't know what I would do if I tried to fit it all into my teaching months.

Keep the childcare. Really, the only benefit in taking Minnow out of daycare for 2 months is saving money. A huge factor I realize (the car payment vs childcare debate still rages in our household), but the security of knowing you have good care for Minnow is worth the price. Just because you have full time care doesn't mean you can't pick her up early some days to go for a walk, or take a Friday off to go to the park with her. Plus, with a less hectic summer schedule for you, you will probably have more family time in the evenings and weekends anyway.

Thanks for the comments...keep them coming. To answer a few questions: Our daycare doesn't have a part-time option and neither do any of the other quality daycares in this area. (Why? It's a mystery.) I'm also pretty sure they don't do a holding fee or something of the sort that will guarantee my re-entry. They are for-profit, so they may be less altruistic than a not-for-profit.

My finals are over by mid-May and the fall semester kicks off in late August. I am planning to keep Minnow in full-time daycare for the month of May and start her again around August 1.

I'm part of a neighborhood babysitting co-op which would allow me to get some occasional afternoon work hours, in exchange for watching someone else's kids some other time.

I'm of the mind that if Minnow likes her daycare and you think it's good for her to be there (socialization, early learning, whatever) then it is okay to keep her there some of the time. Husband and I are both teachers, but we keep our 3-yr-old in daycare for 2 days/wk in the summer (9-3ish) just so he stays kind of in the groove of it - otherwise I would dread the readjustment of the fall.

Our daycare is for profit and is fine with this arrangement - 5 days/wk during the year, 2 in the summer - because it frees up spots in the center for the school-aged kids who go full-time in the summer - lets them shift staff if needed. I doubt it would help to mention that if your area of the country has different policies though...

In the end, you will make the right decision, whatever it may be. Mommy instincts are powerful things :) Good luck!

No money is worth losing a spot in a day care center you trust. Think of the hours of work you'd need spend finding a new place and getting you and her comfortable there.

It does make sense that they don't like holding a spot. Most day care centers have a small profit margin for salaries and need full or almost full capacity at all times to break even. If 2 of 6 kids in a room don't bring in income during the summer should they also let a teacher go for 2 months? That said, it would be good to get a clear answer from the center what the will and will not hold for you and how much holding a spot might cost.

In the end, $2000 - the enrollment fees is probably peanuts compared to the very possible risk of losing the spot. It is also rare for openings for children aged 1-2 since most centers have similar sized rooms for the 3-12 month kids and the promotions fill most of the older slots.

Just my 2 cents as someone who was frantically searching for a new day care center after a move last Summer.

Our daycare, when I had children young enough to be in daycare, had a 2 week vacation policy which we typically used over the summer so that gave us two weeks off without fees. Typically we also took another week at our own expense. That is, we paid but didn't send a child. Other than that I started later and left early and had shorter days but in the pre-tenure days (which we were also the daycare days) I tended to be pretty busy in the summers. I tried to work hard year around, as if I had a "normal" job, taking 3 or 4 weeks vacation a year and not working an insane number of hours each week. That required balancing work through the year and working summers. But I think we were all round happier for it. Depends what works for you. But I echo the comments of those who say, if you've got a spot in a good daycare, don't risk losing it. All the best with this decision.

We luckily have a half time option at our daycare. But if we didn't, I'd just pay the full fee, and have her go about half time for a month or two. I figure the daycare cost is the daycare cost, I budget for it, and then I work with her providers to let them know what our schedule is going to be.

For instance, she is full-time now, but she doesn't go completely full hours - the center is open at 6:30am and closes at 6, but we drop her off around 8:30 and pick her up around 4:30 most days, and she leaves at 2 on Fridays and sometimes Tuesdays. So I'm not using nearly the hours that I'm officially paying for now anyway.

So, yeah, it sucks to pay for full time and use it half time or less, but I just decided that I would pay what I have to pay and not worry about whether I'm getting the most "value" or not.

By the way, I found the first couple of summers were really really important for catching up on research that couldn't get done during the year with my teaching load (I have a 3/2 load). Now, I can't run experiments in the summer because I need a participant pool, but there were plenty of other research activities I could get done. And it would have sucked to have no flexibility in terms of child care during those months, I think (I didn't have my child until just before the summer of my 3rd year, so I'd already been reappointed).

If there is any way you can afford it, it might be best to continue paying, even if you don't send her. I know $2k is a fortune (I should know, I'm a grad student), but if you're taking the chance to lose the spot, that's a big risk. Childcare you're happy with is very hard to find. You get to spend time with Minnow after all, and you don't lose your spot. And something might come up where you really need Minnow taken care of for a day or so. It's good to know that in those cases you'll still be able to bring her in. Unless of course, there are great daycare centers in every corner in your town, and you're sure you'll find a fantastic spot for her come August...

To be blunt, you are being unrealistic. Keep the daycare if you like it... or find a better one if you don't, regardless of cost, if you find you don't need it that would be great (money isn't everything), if you find you need it, it will be there. As others said, the first summers are IMPORTANT. You lag behind now, start looking for another job where research is not as important. That is what I decided to do when I realized that my family committments (despite being male, I would fathom I have at least as many if not more than most females, due to two family members with disabilities, one of whom includes my wife) were overwhelming my ability to run a lab at the level needed for R01 support. Balance isn't just about day to day, it is pacing your future years as well.

By anonymous (not verified) on 30 Mar 2008 #permalink

Just popped in because I saw this post title. (Nice blog, by the way!) Hope opinions of a total stranger aren't too rude.

It seems like the best choice for sanity and productivity is to keep the daycare, but not use it all the time. That completely negates any of the money benefit, but does give you a lot more flexibility. You could take a day or a couple of days or a week here and there basically on your own whim, and still have care for the other times, and not go through the sweating of 'what if she doesn't make it back in' in the fall. I've tried working from home around naps and such - bless those people who can do it, but I'm not one of them. I need large blocks of time to get in the zone and get things done.

I'm dealing now with the "what are we going to do for summer" issue for the first time, as this is the first year without something already set up for my kids, so I feel your pain. :(

I agree with Joy and anonymous: those first couple of summers are crucial in terms of getting research done, because you're just too overwhelmed to get anything meaningful done during that first (and possibly second) year. And, oddly, those first few summers counted for "face time" too: even if the senior people were not around as much, they seemed to know which of the junior people were coming in on a regular basis. Which shouldn't count for anything as long as you're getting work done, but weirdly, at my institution I suspect it does probably matter. So if it were me, I'd probably keep the full time daycare, and take an occasional day "off" to spend time with the kid, but plan on working mostly full time this summer. It's much easier to pay for it and not use it than not have it and wish you did.

Good luck with your decision---it's certainly not an easy one!

I think I'd keep Minnow enrolled in daycare and plan on working half days for those three weeks. And of course it sucks to pay for something you're not using fully, especially when money is tight, but if you really like the daycare it's just not worth losing your slot.

Thanks for all of your comments. I've just got to say that I think it sucks that I can't take three weeks to work part-time at home (admittedly on top of 2 weeks visiting family) during the summer. Monthlong vacations are pretty standard from what I hear about Europe.

As anonymous said: "Balance isn't just about day to day, it is pacing your future years as well." But I just can't help thinking that Minnow is only young once.

If it were my choice, I'd hate to pay the $2K and not use it all, but that's what I'd do. I pay to keep Minnow's spot in dc. During the three weeks that you are in town, I'd send her part-time (either shorter days or, what works better for me and my work style, 2 or 3x week). That way you are STILL enjoying a lot of summer (and when you are not at work, truely be NOT at work -- go to the park and the zoo and just PLAY), but you can still get work done more productively than if you had Minnow home with you everyday.

Minnow is only this age once. So don't work full-time this summer. But I'd continue to work a bit. Again, when mine was Minnow's age I worked 4 days a week and that 5th day was pure play for both of us. It was great -- I got to enjoy all the toddlerhood of her (and I got one great vacation day a week) and I still worked.

Take her out of daycare for the whole summer. Minnow is only one once. Use your husband's at home time for your work. Leave in the EARLY morning or just hide in your home office. You won't regret time with your child...time flies too fast and then the kids are gone and you have your career and memories.

By beenthere (not verified) on 02 Apr 2008 #permalink