Whether you work outside the home or are a career mom, your schedule is going to change dramatically when your child starts regular school. One of the first things you'll discover is that you suddenly have a whole new approach to childcare than anything you relied on in the past.
The Working Mom's Childcare Dilemma
If you are a working mother, your days will not change much when your child goes to school, but your childcare needs will. You will need adequate childcare for the days your child will have off from school—and you'll be amazed by how many obscure holidays there are, once your life revolves around a school calendar. Add in some snow days and you can see you'll need strong backup. Then there are the days when your child has a fever or a cold.
In addition, when your children are in school you can expect them to come home with more colds, viruses, and mysterious illnesses than you could ever have imagined. Schools are like germ factories, and little hands are perfect vehicles for their safe transportation. No matter how well you have taught your children to wash their hands, when children play in a group they are going to be exposed to germs. And when your child has a fever, the school is going to call you to take him home—so you need a contingency plan to handle such unscheduled childcare needs.
Latchkey programs provide childcare for a couple of hours before and after normal school hours, when many parents must be at work. They are structured programs that keep a child busy and under supervision until the parents can take over.
After-School Care Alternatives
Many public schools have latchkey programs that start as early as 6:00 A.M. and run as late as 6:00 P.M. to accommodate working parents' schedules. Although the word “latchkey” presses instant guilt buttons, many of the programs are a real lifesaver. These programs involve children in structured activities and supervise them when you can't. Also, community centers often have after-school programs that offer lessons and activities. If neither of these options works for you, you can hire an in-home, after-school baby-sitter. Your children need supervision after school: This is a time when they are most apt to get into trouble or feel lonely.
Even older children feel lonely. When my oldest child was old enough to stay in the house by herself, I gave her the opportunity to do so. I was surprised when she told me that she wished I could be home when she got home from school. I guess the image of Mommy and milk and cookies (store-bought, of course) waiting for them when they finish a hard day dies hard. If you can set up some transitional arrangement, it is really better than leaving even an older child to his or her own devices.