My youngest daughter is almost 2 years old, and she’s never been to daycare.
Until last week.
We’ve always had a bit of a hodge-podge childcare setup for Bailey.
When I went back to my corporate job after maternity leave, I stretched my vacation hours as long as possible to give me what amounted to a part-time schedule for several months. Since she was still sleeping six hours during the day, my husband Ty had one afternoon a week where he worked from home. I had one full day a week where I worked from home. Then we used babysitters and relied on friends to fill the gaps.
All that made the working mom guilt almost nonexistent.
And sure, sometimes it was stressful to balance the work schedules and meeting requests for me and Ty, plus the school and work commitments of 2-3 babysitters. But I am so incredibly grateful that we’ve been able to keep Bailey in a home environment with lots of one-on-one quality time.
Why the Change?
In my latest adventure of quitting my desk job so I can work from home as a full-time blogger, I’ve been with Bailey pretty much 24-7.
And it’s been absolutely wonderful. Lots of baby board books and LEGOs and cuddles.
She takes a 2-hour nap everyday, so I work then.
But as it turns out, trying to launch a new career that will support my family is hard to make happen in 10-12 hours a week.
On top of writing for this blog, I’m writing an e-book and compiling an e-course – plus freelancing to make ends meet in the meantime.
As a recovering perfectionist, it’s always been hard for me to admit when I have too much on my plate. Hard to say no. But I can’t lie to myself any longer.
I simply cannot get it all done just by working during nap time. And yet, I feel guilty that I can’t make it work while being home with Bailey full-time.
After talking things over with Ty for weeks, we decided to try a drop-in daycare for one morning once or twice a week.
At First, I Wasn’t Worried
Bailey is super outgoing and fiercely independent.
She’s the kind of kid who walks right up to another kid she’s never met and gives them a big hug.
Ty and I are both pretty reserved when meeting new people, so her sunflower baby personality sometimes catches us by surprise. We thought daycare would be a breeze for Bailey.
Baby Sunflower: “She wakes up happy, her rhythms are fairly predictable, she adapts to change without undue protest, she’s open to new experiences but not impulsively so, she’s moderate in both her positive and negative expressions of emotions, and she’s fun to be around.”
Find out your baby’s personality type in this book: Baby Hearts: A Guide to Giving Your Child an Emotional Head Start.
A couple days before we planned to drop her off, we explained what would happen. She would go to school, just like her big sister Abby, and Mommy would leave and go work for a little bit then come back to pick her up.
For two days, we majorly hyped up the idea of going to school.
“Do you want to go to school and play with other kids?” or “Do you want to make some new friends?” or “Are you excited to go to school just like Abby?”
“Yeah!” she would yell, every time.
She’s got this, I thought.
And Then It Happened
On the morning we’d be dropping Bailey off, absolutely EVERYTHING was exciting to her.
Picking out her clothes for school, packing her lunch, stocking the diaper bag. Even brushing her teeth wasn’t a battle on that morning.
After we parked, I got her out of the car and plopped her on my hip. She was so amped up, her little legs kicked the entire walk from the car to the front door.
And then we were inside.
I saw three other kids already there, all older than Bailey. But she’s always been drawn to older kids, probably thanks to having a big sister five years older than her.
Still, I wasn’t worried.
I handed over the paperwork at the front desk and signed in.
Then I glanced down at Bailey and saw she was sucking her thumb.
It’s too early for her to be tired, I thought.
I walked to the play area where another girl was building a tower.
“Look, Bailey! They have so many LEGOs!”
Bending over, I tried to set her down.
She didn’t let go.
A teacher noticed what was happening and came over to get Bailey engaged in playing.
She was having NONE of it.
I tried getting her involved in a craft they had set up. Nope.
I tried showing her the reading nook. No interest.
I tried getting her to climb the indoor jungle gym. No luck.
A Turning Point
The teacher tried to take Bailey from me, and she absolutely lost it.
She screamed “Mama! Mama! Mama!” She wrapped her arms and legs so tight around me, I could have let go and she wouldn’t have moved an inch.
Buckets and buckets of tears poured down her cheeks.
“Mama will be back soon,” I said, kissing her on the cheek. “I promise.”
My voice cracked.
I let the teacher peel Bailey off me, and I turned to walk away.
Her screams got louder, and I glanced back.
The entire top half of her t-shirt was now wet. Her arms were stretched out to me as far as she could reach. She was frantic.
I hurried. Before I lost it too.
Working Mom Guilt Strikes Again
The second I sat in the driver’s seat, my composure vanished and a flood of questions rushed through my mind.
What was I doing to the poor girl? Was this really necessary? By working from home the last few months, had I set her up for failure?
I glanced at my face in the rearview mirror. Realizing I looked a lot like Bailey had a couple minutes earlier, I took a few deep breaths to try to get a handle on my emotions.
It didn’t work.
The mom guilt pushed me further and further down.
I knew I should have given her more time to warm up. We should have had a practice visit where I didn’t leave.
Sure, she’s independent and adventurous, but it was stupid of me to think she didn’t need time to get used to the idea.
Above all, here’s what I couldn’t stop asking myself: Was working from home bad for my child?
Even though I still felt horrible, I calmed myself enough to get back on the road.
But I couldn’t shake the image of Bailey reaching for me, her face red and wet. Screaming my name.
Every time that popped into my head, a fresh wave of guilt crashed over me.
I raised an arm to drag my sleeve across my eyes, and it was already soaked.
Then I Remembered
When I was working at a desk job 4-5 days a week, I left Bailey with a babysitter.
And that screaming for me, the uncontrollable crying?
That happened when I left for work then, too.
So what happened at the daycare was nothing new.
Yes, my child is independent and adventurous. She just has a hard time when Mom leaves for work.
For toddlers and preschoolers, separation anxiety is perfectly normal.
“Virtually every parent who has left a toddler with a caregiver has experienced the crumpled face, the arms velcro-locked around your knees, the wail that rips through your heart.
It’s the normal response of a securely attached toddler who protests what she perceives as a life-threatening separation from her mother. Your toddler will learn, over time, that you do return when you leave, but she is not yet capable of understanding this fully.”
I’m not making it harder on her by working from home most of the time.
And I can feel good about the fact that the vast majority of the time, she gets to be at home with someone she trusts and loves.
Will I continue with my plan of using drop-in daycare to get my work done?
I’m not sure yet.
But it might be time to practice saying no a little more often.
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I’m a mom of four, a recovering perfectionist, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. Parenting is hard enough without all the guilt we heap on top of ourselves. So let’s stop trying to be perfect parents and just be real ones. Sound good? Join my mailing list and as a bonus, you’ll get 25+ incredibly helpful cheat sheets that will ease your parenting struggles.