Let me start with the fact that parenting, regardless of if you work inside or outside the home is so hard. From the moment you have this new member of your family I feel like you are in a constant state of comparison, questioning and guilt, with the joy of watching someone grow up thrown in to make it all worth it.
I grew up in a home with a stay-at-home mom, and really didn’t know any other kind of life. I assumed that I too would be a stay-at-home mom. I loved my childhood, the long summers, snacks from mom when I came home from school and all the toys we had in our playroom. However, I wasn’t too long into my first maternity leave with my daughter that I realized that being a stay-at-home was, simply, not for me. I needed to be out of the home, to be forced to interact with other adults to be the best I could be as a mother and a wife. It helped me to really appreciate the time I had with my little one.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t been thinking too far in advance when I went on that leave and suddenly had to scramble to find a day care center for my daughter. This was no small feat when living in Washington DC. Daycare is a competitive thing, and my partner and I had to do a lot of thinking on what we wanted out of a center. As we got ourselves on a number of waitlists, we compiled our own list of things we needed in terms of care.
Daycare Center vs. Home-Based vs. Nanny: we knew we wanted a center and not a home-based or nanny care. For us it was important to have that level of professionalism, and multiple people watching to make sure that our daughter was being cared for. Selfishly, I wanted to be the center of my daughter’s world, and a nanny just didn’t work in that view.
Location: Knowing that there would be days when I could get a call about a fever, or (I have an active imagination) some catastrophic event in the city, we knew that we wanted to be within a physical distance of our daughter, so we could get to her even without a vehicle. We picked a center that is a mile away from where I work. It eases my mind to know that I can always physically get to my daughter, even the roads are closed.
Diversity: We knew we wanted our daughter to experience a diverse classroom. It was important to us that she would have opportunities to see many cultures in a variety of roles. We were fortunate to find a place that has a very diverse classroom, with teachers from all over the world. Most of the teachers at our school speak English as a second language, and many of the children in our daughter’s class are in the same boat. As a bonus, the center is connected to a nursing home, which allows for intergenerational activities as well!
Cost: In DC especially, it is hard to find a reasonably priced daycare. One place we visited (that had a two year waitlist) was over $26,000 a year for one child! That was well outside of our price range. We had to search for some time to find, essentially, a second tier of centers. We looked for centers that met our needs, but were not as “pretty” or “flashy” as the more expensive centers.
Curriculum: What parent doesn’t want their child to be some kind of super genius? We knew that in looking at centers we needed to find a balance. Keep in mind here that our daughter was three months old when she went to the center. We believe that learning is important, but for us, the socialization and interaction were much more important. We wanted to find a center that presented a well thought out curriculum that encouraged free play and self-directed learning.
With all that said, daycare with my first was overwhelming. I have this distinct memory when she was about two and a half months old, of sitting on the couch in our apartment sobbing that she would suddenly have to go without a pacifier (because our center didn’t allow them). I was terrified at how overwhelming that would be for my baby, and how I wouldn’t be there to comfort her.
Fast forward three and a half years, we joyfully welcomed our son into our family! He was two and a half years old at family day, and I was incredibly blessed to be home with him for three full months before he started daycare. We had fallen in love with our center as our daughter moved through the classrooms, and there was no doubt that our son would be going there too.
This was, however, a whole new ballgame for us as our son would be jumping into a much older classroom. We had new things to worry about, from attachment, to him feeling isolated in the classroom because of his developmental delays. Once again, I was overwhelmed and questioned everything. Why had I taken this beautiful child from all he had known in China just to put him back in a similar group environment here in the States?
Once again, my husband and I found ourselves making a list of things to do, and think about to make this transition as smooth as possible for everyone.
Making the Director/Teachers Aware: We were only back from China about three weeks, and we decided to bring our son in with us to meet the teachers he would be with, and the director of the center. We wanted them to see where our son was at, right away. Our hope was that they could start mentally preparing for supporting him. Our son was non-verbal, and not able to walk at that point (he was 2.5). Whenever he saw a person of authority, or was in any kind of office he started to cry and sweat profusely. We were honest with them about what we were going to do to prepare him, and listened to their professional recommendations on where our son should be in the center.
Introducing our son to the center: Our daughter returned to daycare two weeks after we came back from China. We were still paying for the care so we wouldn’t lose our spot, and she was ready to go back to see her friends. This also allowed me to have special one on one time with our son while she was at school. The unexpected bonus of this was that almost as soon as he got home, going to school was part of our son’s daily routine. By the time he finally got to stay at daycare, he was itching to be there with his big sister and all the kids who were playing there.
(I can’t recommend enough starting to visit the center early. It is helpful to the teachers too to have your child be comfortable there. Make it part of your daily routine to go and stay there for 30-45 minutes each day. Then, when you finally return to work, the changes don’t feel as huge.)
Getting Support: More so than with our daughter, we ask for a lot of updates on our son and how he is doing in the classroom. Each day, we ask about his communication, how he is interacting with other children, and what we can practice at home. We also have an IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan) teacher that comes into the school twice a month. That teacher provides us with additional feedback. We feel that being intentional about asking these questions is so very important, as it provides insight on how our son is doing without us there, and gives us insight on our attachment relationship.
Exploring all of our resources: We made the decision to utilize an IFSP to get additional support for our son in school. There are other resources available at the center, which is fully prepared for children with special needs (unexpected bonus for us!) including speech therapy, physical therapy and other occupational resources. We have been hesitant to use some of the extra resources, in an effort to not have our son feel too ostracized in the center, but it is helpful to know that they are there. As we get closer to kindergarten with our son, we will begin to explore our needs with those resources more seriously.
Celebrating Adoption: Having our daughter out of daycare for a month while we were in China did not go unnoticed by the other children in the class. We were the first international adoption in our center, and we wanted to make the most of sharing that experience. Each year we send in books, foods and activities that celebrate China’s special holidays. They have started an annual family unit that explores diversity in families at the center as well, and we have been able to provide a number of books about adoption for reading as well. We are so thrilled to share this experience, and know that it is something special for our son to be proud of!
In the end, putting both of our children in daycare has been a positive experience for us. We were blessed to find a center that was open to working with us, and that we listened to with open ears. We respect their professional opinions, and have found ways to develop a strong partnership with them.
The most important part of daycare is you as a parent being as comfortable as possible with your decision, and forgiving yourself for all the guilt you might be experiencing about not being with your kids all the time. Celebrate the little moments, and enjoy the time you have together.
– guest post by Amy