When the time came to place my almost three year old and 18 mos. old in daycare, I couldn't imagine leaving them with "strangers." Then I got to thinking about the countless mothers who leave their children at daycare as infants. At 12 weeks, most women return to work and daycare is the only option. I've been lucky enough to delay this process, but soon came to find that no matter the age of a child the decision to place them in daycare is a BIG one!
Here's what worked for us during the daycare search and all the emotions that came with it:
- What's your budget/what's your schedule: first things first, decide whether you need full or part-time care and what you can realistically afford. Look at your personal finances beforehand to make sure you can afford a placement that is sustainable long-term and not detrimental to your finances.
- Warm Leads: I couldn't bring myself to just search online. I imagine this has to work for some, but everyone has a personal network and my first thought is to go there first. Naturally, I turned to mommies in the neighborhood. Ultimately a very close neighbor recommended a daycare care her son has attended for almost two years (he's been there since 3 mos. old) and that to me was a good sign.
- Licensed vs. Unlicensed: most daycares are licensed, so make sure you're provided with the appropriate information to look the daycare up in the licensing database before the child's 1st day. Licensing in a nutshell means the facility has been cleared to serve children, meets certain statewide standards and all individuals caring for the children have had their backgrounds screened/cleared.
- Visit: schedule a drop-in visit during actual operating hours. Before that visit make a list of your questions. It's important to ask every single thing that comes to mind. I even forgot a few key questions and ended up grilling my neighbor one too many times. Look around. Stay as long as you feel comfortable and watch how children interact with each other and their caregiver. Go with your gut and explain what works for your child(ren). With my children we discussed what they're like during the day, how they eat, sleep, etc. One key thing I wanted, was for my children to continue speaking Spanish all day as they did with their grandmother. So picking this home-daycare as opposed to a pre-school created this option. I loved watching the main caregiver speak only Spanish to the children even those that don't speak it at home. If this is not something you'd want, then you wouldn't pick this option, of course. But be sure to not settle and get what you really want.
- Emotionally prepare: there's almost always tears either from the child(ren) and/or the parent(s). So you've gone with your gut. You've identified a place you feel good about after the warm leads and visits, but nothing can prepare you for the emotions of actually leaving your child there. A friend told me to warn my daughter and not just leave her and I'm grateful for that advice. Since my toddlers are older I knew they'd understand being left behind, especially my very vocal (almost 3 going on 13 year old) daughter. I explained I'd be back at the end of the day. Internally, I felt sad to see her cautious & concerned face. It also didn't help to hear her repeat, "I go with you." Externally, I smiled and I assured her I'd return. I took my time that first day. I sat on the alphabet carpet and introduced my daughter to other girls her age hoping to make her more comfortable. My son was off and didn't seem to understand good-bye, but as my daughter understood she eventually said "good-bye mom." I closed the facility door and that's when my heart sank and the waterworks began. I know this is for the best. I know they'll be okay, but there's just something that leaves you feeling emotional.
I'm a positive person. I've done the research. I watched the current children at daycare lovingly interact with the caregivers and I know that this day-to-day structure and the age-appropriate social interactions are all great for my children, but I suppose it wouldn't make sense to not feel even a little sad. Children grow up and it's these transitions that remind us just how quickly the growing up is. Moral of the story, take your time searching, go with your gut and ask plenty of questions! You and your child will find a place to fit into, and in time, daycare will be a part of everyone's regular ol' routine.
Did you cry the 1st day of daycare drop-off? How did you know you'd found the right place? Share your tips below and help other HerMamas get through the daycare search and the emotions that come along with it!