My husband and I were both working full-time jobs prior to welcoming our daughter into the world. And I had always thought that I would never be able to survive as a stay-at-home mom (I always liked working, being in the office, and seeing my coworkers everyday), so it was clear that we needed to find child care for our daughter when my 8-weeks of (unpaid) maternity leave expired.
Finding the right child care is a completely stressful, nerve-wracking experience (even before you give birth) but, you wouldn’t believe how high the stress level rockets once you are holding your precious child in your arms, and you imagine handing them over to a stranger (especially if you are a first-time parent).
We started our search early – we had heard the rumblings about impossibly long wait-lists – and so we started touring daycare facilities in our area when I was just a few months pregnant.
The one thing no one told us, that would have made a world of difference is…if you are even thinking about having kids (if you can swing it) you should grab a spot on a waiting list (if you land a spot before you’re ready, or before your child has even been born, most places allow you to defer and remain on the list). I remember getting off of the phone, or walking out of daycare facilities, and looking at my husband in disbelief. With the wait-lists as long as they were, there was no other practical explanation than that people were putting themselves on lists well before they were even pregnant! We even got a call back from a place where we had an upcoming tour scheduled – they informed us that their wait-list was currently two years out! They were calling because they didn’t want us to waste our time with the tour.
We had decided that we liked the daycare (school-like) option over having a nanny or other similar in-home child care. And after several tours we had our favorite facilities selected and our names on just about every wait-list there was (you can never be too prepared when it comes to child care)!
We knew that we might not have a spot in one of our top daycare choices when it came time for me to venture back to work, and so we made sure to have a fall-back facility (one we had toured, that was not our favorite, but that we were guaranteed to have a spot when we needed it). The plus-side of this facility was that it was literally a one-minute walk across the street from my office!
So, we felt prepared. We had our names on several different wait-lists and we had our fall-back option. And then…our beautiful baby girl arrived and I started to question everything (I know this is totally normal). How could I leave this amazing, yet fragile, little miracle with anyone else? You see horror stories about child care facilities in the news on such a frequent basis – children being neglected, left-behind and locked in closed facilities, sexually abused, physically abused…the list goes on. It’s terrifying as a new parent who is preparing to return to work. You want (more than anything) to find the perfect place with the perfect caregivers, to leave your child. If they can’t be with you, you want the very next best thing.
Needless to say, I knew that I wasn’t going to be ready to part with my baby after just 8-weeks at home, and so I stretched my leave to 12-weeks. But nothing can prepare you for the first day you have to walk away from your child and leave them in someone else’s hands. I was heartbroken. And yes, I cried. I had some reassurance knowing that she was just right across the street and I could visit whenever I wanted (which I did during lunch everyday). Leaving my baby was one thing, but I was also hit with another surprise that first day…the infant room staff that we had met during our tour (the ones we were comfortable with) were gone…all of them. STRIKE ONE. I’m a firm believer that there is something wrong with your business if you have a high employee turnover. My feelings of doubt about this facility grew, but all of the other facilities were still full. I didn’t know what to do.
My doubt and anxiety doubled when a few days later, my husband decided that he would pick our daughter up, after getting off of work early. Keep in mind, that none of the staff in the infant room had met my husband (or even seen a photo of him, for that matter). When I got home, I asked my husband how it went…did they ask for his ID? He shook his head from side to side, and I proceeded to freak out. STRIKE TWO. It took awhile for my husband to come to terms with why I was so upset, and to understand that this was a serious error on their part. I could not believe that they let a person, whom they had never met, walk in and pick up an infant, and walk right out without questioning anything. In my mind, this meant that just any Joe Schmo could walk in and take my daughter. I had a conversation with the director of the facility the very next morning – she agreed that a serious error was made and assured me that it would never happen again.
The days went by and my despair about leaving my child at this particular facility grew. Since I spent my lunches visiting my daughter, I had more time to observe the women in the room. And I will be the first to admit that I don’t know how people can handle caring for a whole group of infants who are all screaming at the same time. But, I do know that there are some very special people out there that manage to do it with so much grace and love, and for those people I am thankful. The two women in my daughter’s room, however, did not fit this description. This was clearly just a job for them…it didn’t even seem like they particularly enjoyed being around kids. To top it off, my daughter was having a very hard time…she wouldn’t eat for them (granted, we were in the process of figuring out some milk issues that my daughter had since the very beginning of her life – I will share that story on a different day), but she would drink 4-6 ounces of milk for us at home. At daycare, she would drink 2 ounces, max. This was certainly concerning and confusing, and when they talked to us about it, they made it sound like there was something wrong with our daughter. To them, there was no other explanation as to why she wouldn’t eat – it had to be her fault. STRIKE THREE. My daughter was so unhappy at this place…I could see it in her eyes every time I dropped her off. I was beside myself with guilt. And I felt so stupid…like we should have known that this was not a great spot, when their wait-list wasn’t nearly as full as all of the others.
I frantically placed calls to all of the other facilities to see what our wait-list status was…hoping that there would miraculously be an open spot for us. No dice. I joined a Yahoo group for moms in my area and asked for help…I received several recommendations for local nannies, and heard lots of shared frustrations about the wait-list situation at the good facilities.
My husband and I met with a couple of nannies and sought out other options. Meanwhile, I was able to come to an agreement with my employer to work a 32-hour week (instead of 40), with two days a week working from home, with my daughter. This was totally doable at this stage, because infants do a lot of sleeping!
And then one day…my husband found an opening (starting the next month) at a child care facility not far from our home – a place that we had actually toured prior to our daughter’s birth, and for some reason, decided to fore-go the wait-list. But, we re-toured, focusing on the infant room and the infant caregivers. We fell in love with the three women in the infant room, snagged the spot, and breathed a sigh of relief.
Since the holidays were approaching and my office was closed between Christmas and New Year’s, I pulled our daughter out of her less-than-desirable daycare and we moved on!
As any parent would be, I was still nervous for my daughter’s first day at her new school. But all of my worries were put to rest when my husband and I went to pick her up – she had a wonderful day…she was smiling and happy, got to get messy with some paint, and she drank 6 ounces from every bottle!!! Our daughter blossomed at her new school and a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. We had finally found a place where our little nugget was happy and thriving, and that made my husband and I extremely elated.
Now, I’m not going to lie, there have been a few small bumps in the road as our daughter has moved in and out of other rooms with different teachers. There have been a few moments where I have questioned whether it is still the right place for her to continue her journey toward Kindergarten – but all I have to do is look at my smiling girl, listen to her talk animatedly about her school days, teachers and friends – and I know she’s still in a good place. For that, I am grateful.
Our daycare adventures also played a big role in my feelings toward being a working mom. After our daughter started her new school (in a required full-time spot for the infant room), I maintained my 32-hour work weeks and still worked from home two days each week – I would complete my work in the mornings on those days and pick our daughter up early from school, so that we could spend some quality time together! I loved being with my baby, and I realized that time would pass by so quickly, that she would be off to Kindergarten before I could even blink. So when the time came for her to move to the next room (where she could do a M,W,F schedule) I knew that I wanted to revise my schedule too. But I also understood that my baby no longer slept all day and working from home while she was home, was no longer an option. We were always busy doing activities and arts and crafts, or going on adventures to the park or to Target. I tried to arrange a part-time schedule with my employer, but ultimately we could not come to an agreement. And so, it was decision time on my part…and as I said in my bio (http://capturingparenthood.com/about/), I never thought I would be a stay-at-home mom, but this decision was the easiest one I’ve ever made. I left my job and my career, because I knew that the most important thing to me, at this point in time, was to be with my daughter while I had the opportunity.
I would like to point out, however, that my daughter still goes to school three days a week. My husband and I feel that it is important for her to be around other kids and other people – it provides her with different social interactions and learning opportunities. And it also allows me time to run errands, clean house, prep meals…and write a parenting blog…so that I can devote my Tuesdays and Thursdays solely to my daughter!
So if you’re out there trying to find the best child care option for your little munchkin…just know that you are not alone. It is incredibly stressful, for a multitude of reasons – heck, I just came across an article on Scary Mommy today, stating that a new study shows that child care has become more expensive then college tuition in 33 states (http://www.scarymommy.com/childcare-is-more-expensive-than-college/). Yikes!
My best advice on this topic…take deep breaths, trust your parental instincts (even if you are a new parent), and know that everything will work itself out.