Learning new skills every day!

I know I’m being completely, utterly and totally melodramatic, but that’s how I feel after dropping Oliver off at daycare.

Because I’m not back to work and he doesn’t have to be there. Because he’s the youngest in the group — by several months. Because separation anxiety has hit him full-tilt, and he’s usually screaming and reaching for me as I make my exit. Because he’s always crying again by the time I arrive to pick him up. I am told that he plays and naps quite happily in between those bouts of crying, but I only ever get to see the tears.

Why put him into daycare when we don’t need to?

Like many other cities, Vancouver has a critical shortage of daycare spaces at the toddler (18 months) level. The organization that manages most of the downtown daycare spaces prioritizes their wait lists for toddler and preschool programs in such a way that the kids who have been enrolled for the longest have the highest priority. Because most women go back to work after a year, the majority of the infants start around 11 months of age. We are hoping that having started Oliver at five-and-a-half months old will help us secure a toddler space when we need it.

We also felt that having him in daycare part-time (two days per week) would give me an opportunity to run errands, hit the gym, pick up some part-time work, and generally have a bit of time to myself. So far, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. The daycare that Oliver attends is located clear across downtown from our home — a minimum 10 minute drive each way, or 30 minute (brisk) walk. The morning drop-off takes a half hour, and because he categorically refuses to take a bottle, I have to return two and a half hours later to feed him. Driving back to the daycare, feeding him, and then returning home takes nearly an hour, so I bring him home at that point. An hour and a half of travel for two and a half hours of daycare is hardly a worthwhile tradeoff.

Happy to be back at home practicing his standing.

The good news is that a space recently came available in a location closer to our home, so come April, the commute to daycare will only involve a two-minute walk — no car or stroller needed. I am hoping that once he’s settled into the new place, I can start to lengthen his days. When he needs to be fed, I can simply walk over there, feed him, then walk back home. Of course, this is me being optimistic that eventually he’ll start to enjoy himself enough that I’ll feel comfortable leaving him for longer periods of time.

Although I feel awful leaving Oliver at daycare, I know that he is — or at least will eventually be — benefitting from the experience. He is receiving so much more stimulation than I could possibly provide on my own. He has opportunities to play with different toys and sensory objects, and to move and explore in a completely child-friendly environment. He is fascinated by the other (older) children, and will learn new skills by observing them. He will learn to follow rules and routines, to cooperate and share, to help with self-care, and to play independently for brief periods of time. The staff are incredibly caring, dedicated and competent. I can’t say enough good things about them.

But all of that is small consolation when I watch the tears roll down his face as I wave goodbye.

What strategies have you used to cope with baby (and parent!) separation anxiety?  I am especially curious to hear from moms who went back to work when their children were less than a year old.

35 responses to “THE WORST MOM IN THE WORLD

  1. I personally think the right day care is GREAT for babies. I went back to work after three months and have really seen my son thrive. He loves to play with the other babies and has even made some “friends.” I love his day care and am very comfortable with the caretakers and I think that makes all the difference. Plus it’s a wonderful feeling to see him smile and crawl over to me when I come pick him up.

    • Did he ever go through a separation anxiety phase, or did you manage to avoid that because of the age at which he started? It really is heartbreaking to see Oliver cry when I leave. I feel like he thinks I am abandoning him (which I guess in a sense, I am, albeit temporarily).

  2. I’m going to go out on a limb here and share my heart. I have five children; the oldest will be 17 years old in 6 days. I returned to school within three months of having her and sent her off to be cared for by family. She thrived in all environments. Eventually I moved her on to a structured day-care/pre-school. Again, she thrived. I started her in school early because she showed interest and readiness. She thrived and excelled. Finally, when she was six olds in second grade it hit me…I’m part-time parenting-someone else is having my child for the prime hours of her day. I realized that I could never get back that precious time of my daughter’s first years of live, which is a crucial time in development for an infant.
    Four children later, I’ve come to realize just how precious the first years are for both you and the baby. I know it seems challenging at times but it’s all worth it. It in the whole scheme of things, it’s just a very small period in a child’s life that will be gone before you know it. It’s a season that will never come again.
    I know there are many challenges that families face and some tough decisions must be made. I encourage you not to discount what you have to offer your beautiful blessing. Don’t listen to what the world is telling you is “best for your child.” Instead, listen to your heart, “Consider bucking conventional wisdom in favour of following your instincts.” Sure being a stay at home mom will have its difficulties but many anxieties, such as commutes, coordinating a nursing schedule, etc… do not exist in the life of a SAHM. More importantly, no one can love your dear Oliver like you can!
    Here’s a website that will give you more food for thought.

    • Lena, thank you. This is certainly a perspective I have considered, especially as we approach the one year mark where, according to convention, I should be thinking about heading back to work and putting Oliver into full-time care. In theory, I like the idea of two days a week of daycare (even though it’s not yet working out as well as we’d hoped), but I feel really sad — even anxious — when I think about the prospect of having somebody else other than me (or J) get to spend all of the prime hours of the day with our son. You’re right: these are very precious and fleeting years.

  3. Two days a week will be awesome, once you can get that spot closer to your house. Just a thought on the not taking a bottle front – have you tried giving him breast milk in a cup? Also I have a friend who is on a similar schedule, but she works 2 days/week so she can’t go nurse in the middle of the day. Her son is also about 9 months, and he’s totally cool with just solid foods during those days. He drinks water and eats food, and then nurses when they’re together. And starting him early to secure a spot makes perfect sense to me, it is so hard to find quality child care, and if you get down to the wire you may get desperate and settle for something less ideal when you are in a crunch. We have paid our daycare provider for time that we weren’t using her just to keep the kids’ spots because in the long run it’s worth it.
    I felt so liberated going back to work after my first, but that was after he was 15 months. It’s a little harder for me now, with my second only 6 months old, so I totally feel you there.

    • We have been working on cup feeding with him, but he’s not really skilled enough to get a substantial amount of fluids in him yet. The daycare teachers didn’t feel comfortable that he was getting a decent feeding with the cup, so they asked us to try to work on getting him to take a bottle. A (very unsuccessful) week into bottle training, we realized how silly it was to try to teach him to “like” something that we’re just going to remove in a few months anyway. Better to focus our efforts on skills that will serve him in the long term, even if it’s slow going right now.

      I know that within a few months he will be more skilled with both the cup and with solid foods, so I may be able to skip that mid-day feed anyway. 🙂

  4. Oh, I am soon to know the same anguish! Daycare starts for us in April when I go back to work and that will also be inconveniently at the same time as separation anxiety rears its ugly head.

    I know it’s hard, but try to think of Oliver’s tears as evidence of what a special mom-son relationship the two of you have…how wonderful that he knows you and prefers you!

    I firmly believe that a mom who is engaged in her life and happy with her roles is a better mom. If that means going to work, exercising and having some time off, great. If that means staying at home. Great. It’s not the same for everyone. My husband is currently working and I am at home. When he is home with our son, he is completely present. Every minute is golden because there aren’t that many of them. In contrast, when I am home, my attention is divided between the baby, the dog, the housework, dinner, errands etc…and sometimes I am so tired and burned out that I just want to lie on the floor and read a book while the baby wiggles and chews on something and I’m tortured with guilt because i should be “stimulating” him and “enjoying every minute.” I dread going back to work because I feel like I’m going to somehow miss out..but I know that when I do I will be a better mother when I am with my son, a better wife and probably a better person.

    And then I’ll come home and enjoy every minute.

    • I hope you guys have a smooth transition. Are you going back to work full-time?

      I had a really good short-term (9 months) work opportunity present itself when Oliver was only three months old. I agonized over taking it — after all, it was just temporary — and then when I thought about the reality: early mornings, pumping milk for Oliver during the day, trying to balance all of the household responsibilities in addition to a 40-hour work week, I realized I’d probably be in way over my head. Now that Oliver is a little bit older and we have a predictable routine, I think I could handle it, but he’s just so much fun that I would hate to be away from him all the time! 🙂

      • I’m going back to work full-time. The nature of my job is such that I would feel completely uncomfortable being out of it for any length of time. I’d wonder how safe I would be after a prolonged hiatus. Part-time isn’t an option, unfortunately…oh and there is no time to pump between operative cases either so I’ll have to go to a partial wean (boobs am and pm and weekends, sadly formula the rest of the time).

        I already feel completely overwhelmed being at home. I don’t know how my marriage reverted to the 1950s as soon as we had a kid and I’m fighting it tooth and nail.

        Honestly, I hate being a SAHM…but my kid is only 6 months and he’s not that much fun yet.

        I looked into nannies as well, but hubs and I didn’t feel it was the right choice for us. We don’t feel comfortable being someone’s employer…with no family around we don’t have a back up plan for when the nanny wants a sick day…and truthfully, we can’t afford the kind of nanny we would want. Seriously.

        At least the teachers at the daycare have good language skills and ECE training, there is organic locally-sourced catering and webcams so you can spy on them.

        • “I don’t know how my marriage reverted to the 1950s as soon as we had a kid.”

          Hahaha 🙂 We do tend to adopt much more traditional roles when children become part of the equation, don’t we?

          I can definitely see why, from a professional standpoint, you need to get back into work earlier. Come to think of it, all of my friends who work in any sort of medical field have gone back to work at least part-time very soon after giving birth.

          Being a SAHM is a lot more of a challenge than I ever envisioned it would be. It’s very easy to get bogged down with the never-ending household “to do” list and to go stir crazy playing the same games with the same toys. I make a point of getting out of the house at least once a day, whether for something as simple as a walk on the seawall, or to go to an organized mom and baby activity, and I find that keeps me sane and gives Oliver a much-needed change of scenery. Of course, it helps that at 7+ months he is now a lot more engaged with the world and seems to be enjoying and benefitting from our various activities.

    • I remember the first day I left Oliver at daycare (for two hours): I walked in on a somewhat chaotic scene of two kids crying, a bunch of kids toddling around, toys everywhere, someone flinging food… I felt like the daycare was some horrible institutional place that people dumped their kids because they had no other choice. Basically exactly like that website describes.

      However, over the course of the two months he has been there, my impressions have changed considerably. I probably see a lot more of the candid moments than most parents, since I spend time there feeding him, and I can honestly say that the staff are absolutely wonderful with the children. Even when I show up and Oliver is crying, he is always being held by somebody. I have never once seen a child left alone to cry.

  5. Two words: nanny share. Cheaper and more convenient. And no separation anxiety. My girl fell in love with the nanny so she just turns and waves goodbye the second she arrives in the morning!
    Sorry…bit more than two words 😉

    • A nanny share is a great idea! We’ve also been talking to a woman in our neighbourhood who is opening up a home-based daycare, where she will only have two children in addition to her own son. That could be a viable alternative to the institutional daycare setting.

  6. I’m in the process of getting an Au Pair. Its spendy but my son is worth it. And everyone who has had ones raves about them. Plus, how fun is it to host someone for a year while they take care of your child!

    • That would be awesome if we had an extra bedroom. I’ve also thought it would be really nice to sponsor someone under the Live-in Caregiver Program, to help them immigrate to Canada. If we ever manage to move to a house (instead of an apartment), we will seriously consider those options.

  7. If you trust the daycare provider then you won’t feel like you’re abandoning him. It sounds like you’ve already made some progress on that front, based on your comments on seeing how much they care for the kids. Our daughter is in a home daycare with a very loving, warm woman, who is obviously perfectly suited for the job (she has been doing it for umpteen years). It’s like a second family for her (our daughter, but actually the daycare provider too). Especially because we have no family locally, we have no qualms about leaving her there, kids need those kind of close ties and trusting environment, and she is completely happy and at ease and well-cared for. (In the Paleo days this would have been provided by extended family or tribe members or whatnot – I’m thinking it’s quite natural for babies to be cared for by trusted others for chunks of time.) Being with kids of other ages (first older, and now younger because the big kids left en masse this fall as they got too old for daycare) allows our daughter to learn different skills – first imitating the older ones, then being “special helper” and taking care of the younger ones (e.g., getting diapers, kleenex, setting up the chairs, etc.) In terms of timing, I went back to work when she was 7 months old but she was home with her Dad until around a year (I pumped at lunch at work till around 10-11 months when my milk supply dropped in concert with her eating way more food). Then she started part-time with her current daycare provider, and then at 16 months she got a full-time spot and her Dad managed to find a job (all interconnected of course). All this has worked out just fine for us and I wasn’t worried at all when she started daycare. Maybe because I got that angst out of my system when I started at work and left her home with her Dad, earlier on, so by the time we were into daycare I knew she would be fine without me.

    I also second the idea that a mom who has outside interests, whether it’s work or just time to herself, is one who can be more present with the child when they do have time together. You’re human, not some kind of robot mom; you’re entitled to a life outside of child rearing. I think sometimes the expectation is that mother will subsume and repress their entire selves in the service of their children, basically put their entire personality, feelings, and preferences on hold, and anything less is not acceptable and will ruin their child for life. There are very few things you can do that will ruin your child for life, and those are pretty obvious and easy to avoid. The bottom line is, our kids are fine without us for a few hours a day. Maybe it sounds harsh but it’s true. They are very adaptable and flexible!

    • We have seriously considered looking at home-based daycares. Although many of them are not licensed (a license is not required for smaller operations) and it would be much more important to thoroughly investigate the provider, I think there are a lot of advantages to the more intimate, family like environment, and to the stability of having the same caregiver(s) year after year. It sounds like you really lucked out and found the right place for your daughter!

  8. Carli, I feel your pain. About two weeks ago we decided to start Ben up with babysitting at his GG’s house 1 day a week for 4-5 hours in the hopes I can make some headway on the dissertation (and maybe squeeze in a yoga class or gym workout). But I know we’ll need to up the hours and possibly look into more communal daycare (e.g. more permanent) options soon, least of all by fall when I return full time to teaching and working on the diss and possibly entertaining the academic job market. It is going to be touch *possibly tougher for me than him, but I hope in time he finds his stride in the new routine. In the meantime, some of the parents have offered some helpful comments here, and I wish you and Oliver the best as you adjust to this challenging new step in your relationship.

    • I can imagine how difficult it must be to leave Ben for even a few hours — even with a trusted family member. The first time we left Oliver in the care of his grandmother (for less than two hours, at the age of four and a half months), I couldn’t relax enough to enjoy our time away because I kept wondering how he was doing without me.

  9. PS: “worst mom’s in the world,” if such a thing even exists, certainly don’t spend time blogging their concerns to a supportive community. Be patient; give yourself more credit; and realize you’re doing the best you can for Oliver – and, really, that’s all any of us can do as mothers.

  10. What is the point of To make working moms feel more like crap than many of us already do? To impugn, sans data, the credibility, compassion, and professionalism of the care providers so many of us rely on? I call some serious bullshit here, unreservedly.

    “Again, she thrived. I started her in school early because she showed interest and readiness. She thrived and excelled. Finally, when she was six olds in second grade it hit me…I’m part-time parenting-someone else is having my child for the prime hours of her day. ”

    So, Lena, your kid was thriving and excelling…isn’t that the point? And so did you take her OUT of school so you could “full-time parent” her? For her actual benefit, or for your own ego?

    I went back to work when my daughter was 7 months old. We have a fabulous nanny who I am tremendously thankful to have part of our parenting team. My daughter has learned so much from her, as have I, and I have no doubt that they genuinely love each other. Full-time parenting means making sure your kids are properly cared for full time– not that you are the only one doing it.

    Yes, infancy is special. Early childhood is special. The elementary school years, middle school, high school, college….etc– it’s all special. We keep building our relationships with our kids throughout our mutual lives.

    Also special? Mom’s sanity. Celebrating the fact that women have contributions to make to the world other than their procreative ones. The differences women make in their workplaces– special too. Carli, do what you have to do and rock on— it sounds like you are a totally loving, thoughtful, smart mama and your little guy is thriving.

    • Guilt-inducing website aside, Lena’s point of view bears considering: if there was no financial necessity to return to work (and, I would add, if a woman wasn’t particularly in love with her career), would the children be better off in daycare, or being cared for by their mother?

      • There are no absolutes here. Some moms will get better and better at interacting with their kids the more time they spend doing it; for others, they hit a point of diminishing returns well before the full-time-SAHM-mom mark. I fully admit I’m in the latter category. And of course it depends on the child, and the daycare/caregiver. But I think there is real value in kids learning from a young age that there are warm, loving, fun people besides their own parents, and I think there is real value for parents, and particularly moms, in recognizing that other adults– and yes, even those to whom we are not related by blood– can have wonderful impacts on our children, even our little ones. (Of course no one can love your dear Oliver like you can– that’s the point. Other caregivers will love him differently, and how terrific for this child to experience different ways of expressing love!)

        As for the “no financial necessity” thing– not to be doom and gloom here, but that’s just not a realistic premise for most families. Our family would be able to meet our current needs just fine if I didn’t work, but we would not be able to save for our kids’ college educations (we have one child now but #2 is due in a few months), our retirement, provide for extra activities, or maintain an amount of savings that will insulate us should disaster strike. I think a lot of families are in a similar boat. Other families don’t consider those things necessities. That’s fine– to each their own.

        As for being in love with one’s career– you don’t have to be in love with your career for it to be a worthwhile use of time. I think that’s an unfair standard– that is, only those women who are in their dream job should consider working when they could be at home with the kids? We don’t impose this standard on men.

        I don’t think there’s a lot of point in trying to determine what’s “better” for kids– kids are too different, families are too different, and circumstances for all of us change continuously. And what are the metrics for “better” anyway? The timeframe for measurement?

        The simplest equation anyone ever conveyed to me was “happy mommy = happy baby.” If staying at home makes you happy, go for it! If working makes you happy, go for it! If a mix of the two works best, great! And if you have no choice in the matter, best of luck and hang in there! But enough with the sanctimony already.

        • Very eloquently put!

          I especially like your notion of “happy mom = happy baby.” It’s a nice reminder that motherhood does not have to equal martyrdom.

  11. Being cared by their mother! A very young child doesn´t need to learn to integrate into a group of other kids – she or he needs someone who responds to his or her needs right away. Learning social behaviour far away from their families isn´t a natural milestone in the development of a baby or a young toddler. I always find the situation of daycare kids heartbreaking. There are so many moments in the first years they need the feeling that they needn´t “share” the person who cares for them with 6 other kids. My daughter will enter kindergarten when she is 3 years old in summer. We have been spending a lot of time with other children she could play with. Having me in the “background” has given her a high level of security. She has started to talk at a very young age and since then, asks question constantly. No one who has to respond to a lot of other children could fullfill those needs. I cannot understand how a mother could spend hours on pondering whether to give her kid beef heart or chicken liver as first food and then drop him at daycare without necessity. Mothering is not only about feeding a kid but about attachement! Sorry, English isn´t my mother toungue, I apologize for flaws in grammar and spelling.

    • Hi Marion,

      That’s a really interesting point you make about how we tend to get caught up with the small details and less important decisions (such as what to feed as a first food), while not giving due consideration to the big decisions such as daycare!

      I have a question: is it typical where you are for a child to start kindergarten at age 3, or is your daughter starting earlier? Here in Canada, most children do not start until age 5, although some start at age 4 if they have a late birthday.

  12. Three years is the typical age to start kindergarten in Germany. Kids whose birthday is in autumn/winter might start later. I think three is the perfect age as they have the verbal skills to tell about their experiences at home, they actually play and interact with other kids (that starts a little earlier) and they are able to accept to wait a little when they have a need that cannot be fulfilled right away. I have a close frined whose sister works at daycare (for the kids younger than 2 years old) and she describes the situation that the very young usually cry desperately for the first days, than they resign and eventually start to cope. Lesson learned (as a one year old lacks the intellectual capacity to interpret it differently): I can cry as much as I can, until I am too exhausted to continue, mommy (or daddy) will not come back although I need them so much, I can give up. So much as to the parents who claim their one year old are “happy” to go do da care, they lie to themselves, kids have just resigned and deal with the first deep disappointment in their lives,,,Sorry, if I am too passionate about this…:-)

  13. Hi, I’m going to be in a comparable situation. My son will start daycare at 6 and a half months in Zurich though I am not working yet (hope to be able to soon), in part because it’s so hard to get spots for babies below 18 months here. The youngest in his group will be 5 months older than him. He’ll be going in the mornings 5 days a week, with me attending the first two weeks to help with the transition and make him understand that the new adults are friends. My son refuses the bottle too, so I have been and will continue to be on call continually, at least for a while. We’re just starting him on solids because he seems to want to (grabs at whatever we’re eating all the time). Though I’m wracked with guilt about putting him in daycare when I don’t HAVE to, we still think it’s good for him for the activities and social aspect. We just moved from the US a month and a half ago, where he interacted very happily with a LOT of people – I suspect he misses that very much here because he’s so thrilled to see not-parent people who talk to him. Unfortunately, we don’t know too many folks here yet, so really daycare seems to be the most logical way to introduce him to a circle of friends of various ages. I’m anxious about how he will take it though. Any tips about how to prepare him, and myself, for the upcoming change?

    • Oh dear, I’m not sure that I’d be the best person to ask about that! It took us more than five months before Oliver started to enjoy being at daycare, and I was very close to giving up altogether and just hiring a part-time nanny. I think a lot will depend on whether or not your son has entered the ‘separation anxiety’ phase by the time he starts daycare. Unfortunately, for Oliver, separation anxiety hit right about the same time he began to attend daycare, and it’s only starting to abate now, at almost a year old. On the other hand, I have seen some younger babies in his current daycare who adjusted extremely well, right from the beginning. The child’s temperament definitely plays a big role.

      One tip I read in numerous places is to make sure to always say a proper goodbye to your child before you leave him, even if it makes him upset. As difficult as it was for me (Oliver screamed and cried and reached for me), I did this every single time. Even though it might seem easier to sneak out the door while your child is distracted, in the long run this can cause problems with trust. Oliver is finally starting to understand the concept that if I haven’t said goodbye to him, I’m not going anywhere.

      How nice that you get to attend for the first two weeks to help with the transition! For us, parents only attend the first morning, and then start leaving the child for gradually longer periods.

  14. Haven’t read any of the comments but just wanted to say I’ve done very similar! We moved to Luxembourg a year ago and I took over running a Rainbow Girls unit which meant that when my daughter learnt to walk the best solution we could find was a local creche. She’s now fine but initially it was hard and I still feel bad that she doesn’t ‘need’ to be there!

    • Thanks 🙂

      It’s been a year and a half since we first put Oliver into daycare, and now he loves it and looks forward to it now. Overall I think it has been good for him, but those early days still were difficult.

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