When the time came to enroll my son in childcare, I thought choosing a childcare was going to the hard part. Boy was I wrong! It turns out that first day of care was going to be one of the toughest moments of my new mama life.
I’m here to tell you that it’s ok if there are tears (from you and your child) and that it will get easier, and you may even love the decision once you have both transitioned.
I also have some tips along the way for you mama. As well as a kick-ass checklist you can use when choosing a childcare.
Mum Guilt & Milestones
I grew up with a stay-at-home mum and only ever attended kindergarten at 4 years old. This was for socializing before starting school so I was skeptical about sending Jax to childcare at 1 year old. Alan had a different experience growing up, he and his brother had been enrolled at an early age as his parents were both employed. He just saw it as a normal part of the parenting process and found it hard to sympathise with my feelings on the matter.
Jax had just turned 12 months when we decided to bite the bullet and enroll him in childcare. At this point he was hitting all his milestones but had not mastered the art of walking just yet.
I had huge mum guilt when I enrolled him, knowing that there was every possibility that I was going to miss his first steps.
I cried about this and tried to get through the guilt by telling myself it wasn’t a big deal. But, for me it was a huge deal!
I had been with him during every single one of his other milestones. Rolling, crawling, talking, I was there.
For me, walking was a big one.
I spent the weeks leading up to his first day trying to coax him into walking. Holding his hands and standing him up. Trying to force something that he was not ready to do just yet.
Then, the weekend before he was due to start on Monday… He stands up on the coffee table, turns around and walks 5 wobbly steps towards me.
I grabbed him, hugged him and fell onto the floor in hysterical excitement, tears rolling down my cheeks. I thanked him for waiting for me and praised him.
Experiencing this milestone was one part of the mum guilt squashed. But there was no end to my anxiety over the next 72 hours as I prepared for his first day.
I over compensated by buying him a new ‘childcare wardrobe’ and painstakingly writing his name on every label in sight. I got him a new backpack and sippy cup too.
In hindsight I thought that if we were super prepared then it would be easier. That the first day of childcare would be a breeze and it would cement that I was doing the right thing in sending him.
The First Day of Childcare – the day of
I barely slept a wink the night before. Jax was the same. He woke at 5am unsettled so we brought him back to our bed to sleep.
I was so wired, nervous and anxious that I lay there awake. I think Jax could sense my worry because he lay awake next to me also.
By 5:30am I couldn’t take anymore and I got up to start the day. I had anxiety about getting to work on time as well as the new routine of having to get myself and Jax ready to go out.
Up until this point, my mother-in-law had arrived to baby-sit around 8am to feed Jax breakfast, which gave me an hour to get myself ready and to work on time.
Alan is out the door at 7:30am most mornings so it would be up to me to get through the morning routine, all on my own.
Of course, we had ample time having gotten up so early. In the vacant space of the morning I shed my first tears. I watched as Jax played with his toys, not knowing that I was about to dump him with strangers before chasing a career.
The First Drop off
We arrived at the centre and spoke with the Centre Director to get familiar with the check-in/check-out process.
Walking into the toddler room Jax was happy as he had spent a few orientation sessions there already and was familiar with the room and the educators.
One of the staff came to say hi and Jax gripped on with his little arms and legs. I peeled him off my body and handed him over. He started crying hysterically as I made a dash for the exit.
I avoided eye-contact with anyone as I hurried to my car, where I took a few deep breaths and started the engine.
As I got onto the highway headed towards work, I broke down. I cried the whole 32 minute drive.
Mum’s First Day at Work
I was in a highly fragile state all morning. One of my co-workers asked me where Jax was today and all but broke down as I mumbled the words ‘child care’
I employed my team to keep me busy all day so I could switch off my mind and my guilt.
I called the center 3 times to check in on him that day, which I think is pretty good. Each call they explained that he was doing OK, except he had gone on a hunger strike and was refusing to eat anything.
‘What have I done?’ I thought.
My poor baby was so stressed out by his new surroundings that he couldn’t even eat. I was crushed and quickly started panning in my head the apology meal I was going to cook for him when I got home. Because he would be starving.
Note: The hunger strike thing apparently is totally normal. It lasted 2 days at care and then he was back to his normal hungry self. Reports on pick-up to this day are usually that he ate very well and had seconds at all his meals.
The First Pick Up
I dropped by home to collect Alan who had left work early. He wanted to have a look at the center I had chosen for our son, having not been able to attend any of the orientations.
We also thought it would be a nice moment for Jax (thinking he had been abandoned) to be picked up by both of us.
We walked in and through to the toddler room where we spotted Jaxon. He was cuddled up to one of the educators, looking miserable.
As soon as he saw us he burst into tears, reaching out for me. I grabbed him and before I knew it, I was crying as well, which was totally unexpected.
The educator explained how he had come around and had a snack with the other kids in the afternoon as he was starving.
He had two naps which was great as I was quite worried about the sleeping arrangements in place. Jax was used to quiet and cuddles to go to sleep, not a room filled with tired, screaming children!
We brought him home and he ate a huge dinner. He was restless for a few nights and then his routine resumed.
Day two was a bit better. We woke up at a more respectable 7am and went through our new morning routine of breakfast and getting ready.
On drop off I held myself together as I heard Jax scream for me all the way to my car. I didn’t cry this time so I ticked that off as progress.
This went on for about 6 weeks. I would either pass him to a staff member or try and put him down next to some toys. Sometimes he would be great and engage with the toys for a moment, then as soon as I went to walk out the door he would howl.
“Does this get any easier?’ I asked the manager as I walked into reception, Jax screaming from the toddler room. ‘it will, don’t worry’ she replied.
A Few Months Later
It has been weeks since Jax cried on drop off and a couple months since he cried on pick up. Now he smiles at the staff when we arrive and watches me walk out the door with little bother. We are working up to waving goodbye as I leave.
Pick up is a pleasure with him no longer crying and reaching out for me. He continues to play and tries to show me the toys he has. He is a much happier and confident little boy.
Not only has the drop off/ pick up improved but he has picked up a heap of new skills since starting childcare. They include (but are not limited to):
- Walking confidently – choosing walking over crawling
- Standing up without assistance of a table or prop
- Understanding routine (pushing his highchair to the table at dinner time, brining his shoes to me before we go outside etc.)
- Saying some simple words
- Using a spoon to eat confidently
- Less use of his pacifier
- Pointing to words in a book as we read
- Less faux-tantrums when he is not getting what he wants
- Happily leaving my arms to be held by someone else – despite if he knows the person well or not
These developmental milestones may have happened in due course, however they have definitely been expedited by Jax playing and interacting with other adults and children. Being stimulated all day as well as having a solid routine that he observes other children following as well.
Overall, we are extremely impressed with the way that the childcare center has helped Jax (and us) transition though this difficult experience of trust.
The guilt and anxiety that I was feeling as a first time mother have dissolved and I am so happy that we made the decision to enroll him in care.
This is a far-cry from my opinion on the matter before we had this experience.
To anyone that is having second thoughts or reservations I recommend you download my Choosing a Childcare Checklist which is FREE!
This will help you narrow down the kind of center that will work for your family.
I also encourage you to attend as many orientations as you see fit.
And lastly, don’t feel bad if it takes a little adjusting for both baby and yourself. Its ok to feel over-protective. You are a great mama for caring so much for your baby and only wanting the best for them. It will get easier and one day you will never look back.
Have you just enrolled your child in care? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below!