My mommy guilt is at an all-time high. It’s the daycare-related mommy guilt, and after nearly 12 years of being a parent, I’m convinced this is the worst kind.
It’s something I’ve never been faced with before. I stayed home with my other two, much older children. I had been so thrilled at the novelty of becoming a mother back then, I had no doubt about staying at home. Instead of considering a job out of the house, I’d provided daycare to a couple of other children at our house. It worked out perfectly. My children had instant playmates and I had an income without ever having to leave home.
But things are different all these years later. After I got the two older ones off to school, I found a job I really liked. As an adoption social worker serving kids in foster care, I find my job rewarding and meaningful. It’s the kind of job I’d keep, even if I won the lottery. My part- time hours there are a nice change of pace from running a busy household. There’s such a sense of accomplishment in completing tasks without a thousand interruptions.
And I like the income. When I have a paycheck, my family goes from living on a tight budget to having plenty of breathing room. Exciting weekend road trips and extra mini-vacations become possible. Suddenly, spending the day at the mall with my big girls, getting them a special new outfit or going for manicures, is something we can do. Surprising my husband with a great birthday present can be a surprise, not a charge he will wonder about on the joint credit card statement.
But the baby isn’t happy. For the first 14 months of her life, she was at home. This baby isn’t being raised by two parents, but by four. Her big sisters dote on her. The four of us “ooh” and “ahh” at her every tiny accomplishment. She rarely gets forced into a car seat and carted around on errands or carpools. With four capable and willing caretakers, there’s always someone to watch her. She has free run of the house: playing with her toys, watching her Barney episodes on DVR and flipping through her board books. Until I went back to work, that is.
Up until then, it was only an hour that I would ever put her in a daycare-like setting, at Brown’s Gym. Brown’s child care room takes children starting at age one. It was only a day or two after her first birthday that I brought her there, desperate for a decent workout and thinking she’d flourish in the company of other little people. I was wrong. She cried. I thought she would stop after a few minutes so off to my fitness class I went, looking forward to toning my muscles and increasing my bone density. An hour later I returned and she was still crying. In the arms of the babysitter she sat, eyes red, sniffing back sobs. I told myself it would get better with time.
I continued to take her once or twice a week, but I felt horrible. We’d walk through the gym and she’d be bright-eyed and smiling at everyone who looked in her direction. Until we entered the play room. The crying started before I put her down. The poor young woman who works there managed not to sigh or say “Oh, boy…here we go again,” as I made her job a whole lot harder for the impending 60 minutes. Other moms, hearing her cries, would offer to leave class to check on her, knowing if she caught a glimpse of me, any progress she’d made toward calming herself will be ruined. It was at those moments, when my fitness classmates would return to report her status, that I was reminded that it really does take a village to raise a child.
When I returned to work, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. While I’d been away for over a year, they’d opened a daycare on site! My husband can work from home two days a week and watch the baby, but I’m really needed at work three days, so she could come with me. The facility is beautiful, the kind of place that makes me wish I was a kid again. But the quiver in her lip when we entered those doors, followed by desperate cries for “ma- ma- ma!” made me wonder. And it didn’t get better, it got worse. Each week her sadness started quicker and persisted longer. Was it time to give up? I agonized over the decision.
So I rearranged my schedule. I made my 20 hours a week into two long days (when my husband could be home with the baby) and stopped taking her to daycare. Oddly, within a week, she started liking the gym playroom. There was a coveted Elmo toy the babysitter there pointed out, that she liked. It was like magic. We would arrive, the toy was handed to her, and she was happy for the hour it took me to workout.
Then my husband went out of town and I was forced to take her to the daycare at work. She didn’t cry, or fuss or long for me. In fact, she looked annoyed to see me when I showed up to take her home at the end of the day. She was ready to play, be independent, socialize. It was then it dawned on me, a lesson I had learned so many years ago but somehow had forgotten. Just when you think a phase is going to break you, it ends. So often we agonize over these issues and then, poof! They disappear, just like the developmental stage they represent.