Should You Send Your Child to Preschool?

Weighing the pros and cons

For the first three years of my child’s life, I didn’t have to pay for childcare. My work-from-home job gave me some flexibility, and I had a family member nearby who helped look after my daughter. I also organized a childcare swap with a colleague, where we each had two child-free days a week to work.

The arrangement was convenient and free, and I gleefully tallied the money I would save by the time my daughter entered kindergarten.

Then my colleague moved, and my family member began working. This happened just as my career was ramping up, requiring me to work more hours than ever. As my perfect childcare solution came crashing down, I realized I needed to decide whether or not to send my daughter to preschool.

While I had my own set of emotional responses to deal with (wasn’t I just deciding how to handle maternity leave?), I also had to weigh the more pragmatic benefits and drawbacks for my family.

Here are the five questions that helped me decide what to do:

Can We Afford It?

The first and most pressing issue we had to address was whether we could afford preschool. Last year, a report by the Economic Policy Institute found that in 23 states the cost of preschool is higher than the cost of in-state college tuition. In New Hampshire, where I live, preschool for a 4-year-old costs $9,457 a year on average, the report says, which is more than my husband and I pay for our mortgage each year.

Luckily, we were able to find a school that we loved where the tuition was much cheaper, partially because we live in a rural area where the cost of living is generally a bit lower.

Since I’m self-employed, I knew that dedicated kid-free time each week would enable me to work more efficiently, which would help offset the cost of my daughter’s preschool. On the other hand, I also had to consider how sick days and school vacations would affect my productivity.

We ultimately decided that we could afford the preschool payment, although I was still hesitant to shell out a large sum of money. That led me to my next question…

How Will My Career Be Affected?

As I considered whether we could afford preschool, I also had to think about whether we could afford not to put our daughter into school. Forgoing school would mean scaling back on my work hours, since my husband has a set schedule outside of the home.

As a self-employed freelance writer, I’ve worked hard to build rapport with a variety of clients and to keep up with the trends in my field. These efforts have helped my business flourish since my daughter was born.

Research has shown that mothers experience setbacks in their careers when they have children. I opted for a career path that allowed me the flexibility to mother, but I worried that if I stepped away from work, I would lose the momentum I had built and even jeopardize my long-term success. I have also enjoyed the challenge of growing a business and pushing myself to new boundaries in my career. I knew I didn’t want to give that up.

Is She Ready?

Initially, I thought this was the easiest question. My daughter is social and clever, and she frequently talks about going to school. I had no doubt that as an only child she would enjoy more social interaction with her peers.

However, the school that we chose required that kids come five days a week. (Half-days were an option, but not a three-day program). Suddenly, I questioned whether I was asking too much of my child. Will she benefit from that level of interaction, or will we all just end up exhausted?

How Will It Affect Our Quality of Life?

This question can be boiled down to my real desire: Will preschool help me find the elusive work-life balance?

I often butt heads with my dramatic daughter, and I thought that having time away from each other might help us better enjoy the time we do have together. (Anyone who says otherwise has never parented). I fantasized about having a day cleanly divided into time for my job and time for parenting.

Yet I also realized that preschool would add to my daily workload, disrupting my morning gym routine and requiring a 40-minute round-trip for drop off and pick up. I feared having my daughter in a weekday program would take away from family time, since my husband often works weekends and is off during the week. Then, I considered that perhaps more time with my spouse might not be a bad thing.

What’s Our Commitment?

As with any new stage in life, having my daughter start preschool was a scary prospect. Ultimately, I relied on my gut reaction, buffered with the important perspective-giving question: What happens if we change our minds?

If my daughter hates preschool — or we hate having her there — we can always pull her out. The worst that happens is we lose our deposit, and I would have to readjust my work schedule.

On the other hand, I think it’s more likely that preschool will challenge my child in a good way and give me more freedom in my career.

After all that debate, we just put down our deposit. She starts in the fall.