My brother-in-law and his wife had a baby several months ago, and now that their maternity/paternity leaves are up, they're facing that dubious milestone most working parents are all too familiar with: the First Day of Daycare Drop-Off. And thus will begin a new chapter in their lives, one I hope goes smoothly for them.
I had, by and large, a completely positive experience with the daycare we used for our boys. The people there were amazing and wonderful and kind, and both my kids absolutely thrived in that environment.
Still, I didn't want to have to use a daycare. I never did. Jesus, if I could have figured out a different solution back then, I would have.
I remember what the routine used to be like when my first son was a baby: get up at Riley's rooster-crow hour to feed him, play with him for a while, get myself ready for work, get Riley ready for the day, drive him and his bottles and toys and extra outfits to the center, make sure he's all settled and run off while he's in a good mood, drive to work, work all day, drive back through epic Seattle traffic with plenty of time to spare before the center closes because if you do not show up by 6:30 to get your kid, they call Child Protective Services oh my GOD, get Riley and his empty bottles and toys and laundry back in the car, drive the rest of the way home in thick traffic while desperately singing the phrase "merrily merrily merrily merrily" over and over like a demented parrot in an attempt to soothe my crying child who is lulled to sleep while driving ONLY if the car is actually moving and not when it's stuck in a sea of red lights for eleventy bajillion hours, get him inside and feed him/put him down for naps/entertain him until his bedtime, turn on the dishwasher, and stagger to bed.
That was with ONE kid in daycare. Eventually, we had two.
Of course, my husband helped a lot and it wasn't always just me in charge of dropoff and pickup, but no matter what, it was never easy.
I never felt quite right when I walked out the door of the center, my arms strangely unencumbered by the carseat and this nagging feeling of having left something incredibly vital to my existence behind. When I drove on to work and entered an entirely separate world for the day, I was comforted knowing they were in good hands ... but it hurt, sometimes. It felt scary to be 20+ miles and god knows what kind of traffic situation away from them.
I didn't have a choice, though. I had to work, and we couldn't afford a nanny. What other option was there? We didn't have family nearby, we didn't have a dutiful and unusually trustworthy German Shepherd.
When my husband and I talked about having children, it was always a given that I'd go back to work. I had no concept of how hard it would be, nor could I have predicted the stress it would add to our lives—dropping off, picking up, sitting at work with one eye fixed nervously on the phone.
(Oh god, the phone calls. Once we had two children who seemed to have a knack for absorbing germs and passing them back and forth, I started getting calls at work on a near-weekly basis. If my husband and I weren't panicking over who could ditch work to run back for a barfing toddler, we were fighting over who was going to take the following day off because you KNOW the other kid was going to get it.)
As wonderful as our center was, every day our kids were there was difficult for us. I don't actually think it was difficult for them—the boys always seemed to enjoy it, and our oldest talks about his time there with great fondness—but I am so, so incredibly grateful to be working from home now. This lifestyle is not without its challenges, to be sure, but it has been a giant relief to move on from the daycare days.
My brother-in-law and his wife have had a lot of heartache about using childcare, and I hope they find it to be a loving and trustworthy place. I hope they figure out a good routine, and I hope their phone calls are few and far between.
I know it will be hard, though. It is for every parent. But I suspect that this is what parenthood is all about—compromises, imperfections, and doing the very best you can with what you've got.
Was daycare hard for your family? What advice would you give to new parents using it for the first time?
Image via Linda Sharps