Derek Jackson (child psychologist) answers:
There is no easy answer to this question because so many a variables are at work and one size
does not fit all.
The first consideration is the age of the child. Your child is 18 months old, and as a general rule I would say he is better off at home with mom. You should not feel under any pressure to place your child in any group until he is at least three years. Having said that, we need to look at your individual circumstances too. Do you need to work to supplement the family income? Financial
problems may cause stress in the family, which in turn will affect the emotional stability of the child. I really admire young parents’ willingness to work hard to supply their children with the good things in life.
Secondly, do you enjoy being at home? If you do and can afford to be a stay at home, and the child is under the age of three, I can think of no better situation. If you don’t enjoy staying at home though, you shouldn’t have any guilt feelings about going back to work.
So what am I saying? Up until three years, there is no place like home, taking into account the circumstances outlined above. During these three years you should try to create opportunities
for your child to socialise with other children of the same age by way of visits to friends and family. Also there are many groups where children meet together with their mothers in a stimulating
environment. As the child approaches three, you may consider a play group for one or a few days a week. A formal preschool should be an appropriate placement when your child turns four.
Some mothers have no choice but to go back to work long before the child is three. While we are blessed in South Africa in having many wonderful nannies at such a reasonable cost I would prefer that the child whose parents both work be placed in a crèche that is professionally run rather than being left with the nanny at home, especially if the nanny has housework to do as well. When you return from work at the end of the day you can check whether the dishes have been washed, but you cannot check whether the children have been adequately cared for by the nanny.