As I mounted the steps of the fabulous new childcare building, a division of the exciting community hub built by the local council in our area, my gut churned. It was part food poisoning from the previous night’s dinner, and part familiar dread at settling a child into care. Again.
All my children have attended childcare for one day a week from the age of one. I chose a council-run centre because I liked the feel of the place and the fact it was non-profit. The Italian cook who produced the most amazing-smelling food may have also swayed my decision. The staff had been there almost as long as the idea of childcare existed and were all like lovable aunts who adored children. Clearly not there for the money!
Each of my children has responded hesitantly to childcare. As expected. Taken to a building they don’t know with a group of unfamiliar children and adults, and then their parent left. Too young to have a concept that we would return. Naturally, they eventually acclimatised and learned to enjoy the experience of different toys and stimulus and have made some great little friends over the years.
Despite my retrospective wisdom that their time at childcare improves each week, with the crying lessening, and the resistance waning, I was apprehensive about enrolling my daughter. She has grown up in a house quite different from her brothers. Only recently, both my husband and I have structured work so we complete tasks from home. As a result she has had not one, but two parents, almost constantly present. When one parent leaves to attend a meeting or client appointment, she has the other parent there. In addition, she has three older brothers, so is very used to being surrounded by family. Throw in a tendency to be a clingy baby - until her first birthday she released a smile to few and far between, even holding her grandparents with a reserved look of suspicion.
As we entered the new room, she was clambering to get out of my arms and play with all the wonderful toys. Yay! We sat with her on the floor as she explored and climbed, banged and tapped, showing her brothers all the magnificent discoveries she had made. Then it was time to leave. We made a quick getaway whilst she was happy and distracted, knowing that once she realised we were gone there would be tears.
I called two hours later to see how she was doing and was told that they were just about to ring me. She was not coping. She’d had a short sleep and then woke to the realisation that she was still in THIS PLACE with THESE PEOPLE who are not parents or my brothers. So she screamed. For an hour. They tried all manner of tricks – offering food and drink, but she chose a hunger strike and stiff-board tantrum, they brought her three year old brother down to play with her but this caused him distress when he saw her so upset. They tried distraction – reading books, walks outside to see the trees and birds, sandpit, noisy toys, swings. In the end she even refused to be held. When I went to collect her, she was lying on her tummy on a mat on the floor with one of the carers next to her. I thought she was asleep apart from her little body rhythmically convulsing in sobs. They said she seemed calmer when she had some personal space so they just stayed next to her and let her lie on the floor.
Oh the guilt. The horrendous motherly guilt at traumatising my child with a two hour experience that still left her sobbing an hour after I picked her up. It was like she had given up on ever seeing us again. Or maybe that is a complete overdramatisation.
From a parent’s perspective, it is not a cruel and unusual arrangement. I work one day a week, two of my children attend childcare while I do that, the other two are at school. The hours are not too long, and the six other days of the week they are with one or both of their parents. But when I saw her lying on the floor sobbing, I thought what have I done? Is it really worth this? Will it get better? Should I persist or abandon and find another solution?
I will try again next week and hopefully with baby steps, she will eventually get used to the idea of being left with the carers who will become familiar. At only one day a week, the process will be long and drawn out so I’m not sure how long she or I will last. I look forward to the day where she runs in with her brother and waves an enthusiastic goodbye at the window.
Did your children have trouble settling into childcare? How did you/they overcome this?
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