Daycare Drop-Off

My son, Jacob, started daycare last week. He goes three days a week to a centre with play-based focus and a preschool curriculum. Which means … I don’t really know. What I do know is they have lots of toys and age-appropriate activities set out, they let the children follow their own interests, and they strive to teach them social skills. I like it there. They don’t use time-outs, they don’t have any screens to park the kids in front of, and they offer an environment that I couldn’t re-create at home.


(Why does there always have to be a but?)

In the week before Jacob started I visited with him a couple of times. One day we stayed for lunch, and that was high times. He was so excited about his school lunch. He carried his lunch bag into the building by himself, in the manner of a parent carrying their new baby. Carefully. Proudly. When it was finally time to eat that school lunch he could barely contain himself.

On Jacob’s first real day at school I explained that I would leave him there, and he was OK. He didn’t even look at me when I said good-bye. I decided to pick him up right after lunch so that he wouldn’t have to stay for nap time. I suspected that nap time would be the hardest part of the day for my non-napper, so I wanted to get a good first day under his belt before we went any further.

On Jacob’s second real day at school I decided to be there for nap time. One of the teachers suggested it. He was a little bit sad at drop-off, but before I even left the building he was off playing again. When I showed up at nap time, things were different. Jacob was sad. Jacob didn’t want to have a rest. Jacob wanted to go home. “Come on Mama, let’s go! I don’t like it the nap time!” I settle him on his cot, and laid down beside him. He needed to get up to pee. He needed to get up to have a drink. He needed to get up to visit his friend. He needed to get up to go home.

On Jacob’s third real day at school things didn’t go so well. When I gave him a hug at drop-off, he clung to me for dear life. I’ve read all of the tips and I know that prolonging the separation does no good, so I remained calm as the teacher pried my screaming child off of me. I said good-bye calmly, and managed to make it to my car before I broke down crying. It just all felt so … wrong.

By the time that I picked Jacob up that afternoon, he appeared to have turned a corner. He was cheerful, and asked to stay to finish his snack. His teacher told me he only cried for a couple of minutes and she was with him, and I believe her. On his fourth day, yesterday, he cried when I left, but he didn’t cling to me. At pick-up he said that he had fun at school, but not at nap time.

Let me tell you, if anything’s going to crack your cheery-faced decision that daycare is the right choice for your child, it’s having to walk away from them while they cry out for you. While every instinct is telling you to turn around and grab your child and run far, far away, you have to hold it together. It sucks.

But why? Why do I have to hold it together? I know plenty of other people who don’t put their not-quite-three-year-olds in daycare, it’s not like it’s required.

The truth is that I need to make some money to help keep my family afloat. And trying to squeeze in time after my kids go to sleep is just not working. Trying to work while they’re awake is even less feasible, especially if I don’t want to park them in front of the TV all day. So I trust that I’ve made the right choice in selecting a childcare setting, and I trust that my kid is ready for this (even if he doesn’t like it), and hope with every fibre of my being that it will all be OK. Because when I’m sitting in that car, crying and feeling like the worst mother in the world, I really need to believe that it will all be OK.

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  1. Hi Amber. I have blogged quite a bit about my son’s daycare (in fact, I blogged about it today!). He is in a preschool curriculum-based center that sounds a lot like your son’s. His first week (or maybe even 2 weeks–it’s a blur now) was terrible. Each day got worse, not better. I agonized over the decision (or lack thereof, really) to have him there. But I think it was into the third week when things turned around. Now he loves it there. He gets to sing songs, socialize, play, nap really really well, see little babies that he simply adores, etc. And he loves getting hugs from all the pretty teachers!

    Everyone told me that first week or two that this would happen, but I didn’t believe them. It was the hardest thing in the world for me to turn my back to my crying child and keep on walking. It broke me a few times, and I drove to work hysterical. But here we are now, a few months later, doing great and dare I say even loving daycare! I know you guys will get there, too. You’re doing a good thing for your family–helping earn much needed money and having your son in a daycare where he will thrive soon enough!

  2. It is hard but keep your eye on the long term goal of confident child with growing independence, family comfort, and personal development.

    I first started ‘leaving’ my WeeGuy when he was only about 6 months old – he used to scream for me as I left him in childcare so I could go exercise … yes, exercise at the gym. How flippin’ frivolous is that??? but within a few weeks he scarcely gave me a second glance and I had some valuable head space time. He learned that mummy always comes back so it was easier to leave him in day long childcare when the time came too. I learned that I’m a better mum when I have some time out for myself. He learned the value of playing with other kids of varying ages and built up his social skills somewhat.

    PS: worst situation was childcare right beside the swimming pool where mums could hear their kids screaming for them. ugh. luckily mine was OK by then but oh the dilemma!
    pomomama’s last post … Midlife monday: random musingsMy Profile

  3. Oh Amber, xoxoxoxox.

    It took the Critter a month to adjust to the good-bye at his school, which he loves. He was fine once I left, but the good-bye was torture. What really, really, really helped: I had been talking him through his school day as we walked to school. I’d tell him all about what he would be doing at school, culminating with Daddy coming to pick him up to take him home. But I realized that I hadn’t been talking him through the good-bye! I started telling him that once we got to school, we would take off his coat, put his things away, and wash his hands, and then I would give him a BIG HUG and a BIG KISS and say “I love you, see you soon!” I’d repeat this sequence several times and then make sure actually to do as I had described (or follow my description as closely as possible). Soon enough, it was all a routine that he expected, and the good-bye was no problem.

    He’s at school now. Oh, how I miss him….
    Rachael’s last post … Not Just Getting ThroughMy Profile

  4. Oh, you aren’t a bad mommy. 🙂 I’ve had varying degrees of this with my little one. She started daycare at 6 weeks old and for the first few months never noticed when I came and went. Around six months, she started getting really clingy and would cry and cry when I left unless one of the daycare providers held her. So, we worked out a system where when I would drop her off, they’d hold her and take her over to play with the other kids (distracting her), I’d leave and she’d be ok. This has worked amazingly well since 6 months (she’s now 1 year old!).

    My problem lately has been when I leave her at lunchtime (I’m usually there to nurse her and then she takes a nap. Well, sometimes she naps). If she isn’t tired enough to fall asleep after nursing, she puts up the BIGGEST fight ever and I end up sitting there in the hallway at daycare crying while I listen to her shriek. The one woman at daycare assured me that she only cries for a minute or two, but I swear those were the longest minutes of my life.

    It’s so tough, but most days, she’s happy and carefree and waves and blows me kisses when I leave. Those are the days I know she’ll be ok. Days when she cries when I leave, that’s when I question whether working was such a good idea.
    Holly’s last post … First Year ReflectionsMy Profile

  5. I’ve been where you are and it gets better!!! It took about a month for our then 2.5 year old to get used to the Montessori school we sent him to while I was working. At the time I was 6 months pregnant with #2 and when my son wailed at drop off, I’d cry too!! Not just a tear either, but full out bawling in the car. Reading the No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution by Elizabeth Pantley made me feel better and gave me a few helpful tips. My son enjoyed school this year and bonded with his teachers and fellow students. He matured and developed socially and learned a lot! Plus he had fun! However, he randomly was sad and teary upon drop off throughout the year…I just accepted that he could be sad when he said goodbye to us and happy to be at school.! Good luck to you guys with the adjustment! Hang in there!

  6. Hey Amber. ((hugs))
    Both of my children (and me) went through this – both different personalities, and somewhat different circumstances (at the time my DD went to school at age 3, she’d only been with me, ever. when DS went to school at 19 months, he’d had a nanny & grandma)… but both times were hard.

    The thing is, in spite of all the guilt, school this school Adam & I chose for our children, is the right one. It’s the right choice for them (just as I’m sure the school & the resons for sending Jacob to school are the right ones for you all, right now) and now, 3 years later, I can’t imagine it any other way. They love it, it was the right decision.

    It doesn’t make those tears any easier to bear.

    But the tears, the process of separation and then reconnection, of learning a bit of self-reliance and self-navigation through uncertain waters, those are things that are BENEFICIAL to our children. I believe that, I’m not just saying it as a way of justifying my choices. Certainly, there are other choices I could have made, or could still make, but we live in the moment of NOW, and right now, if where you are is where you want to be, and you’re confident in your decisions, then that’s all that matters.

    Keep in mind that the attachment parenting we’ve practiced through infancy & toddlerhood gives our children that sense of ALRIGHTness inside. Even when you’re not there. Jacob will be okay.

    Next week will be easier for him, the following week might be harder, and then the next one it will be regular routine.

    more ((hugs))
    kelly @kellynaturally’s last post … English Muffin Pizza RecipeMy Profile

  7. It will be okay.
    Nicole’s last post … Odds and Ends and a Royal Zoo TripMy Profile

  8. You are a GREAT momma!! The best in the world for little Jacob.

    The things that have worked for us (Eden will be three in August and just started 2 days of school about a month ago) are play-acting school at home — the WHOLE ENTIRE THING — driving, dropping off, the school day, the pickup — EVERYTHING. OVER AND OVER. (Hee hee, you get my drift?) She has initiated the playing, though, not us, but I can tell it helps her. And we also talk through the day on our way there, and at night time we always talk about the day, to, and the things we liked and didn’t like.

  9. Ouch, it’s hard at first, but Jacob will have so much fun with his new little friends!
    Lady M’s last post … Airport Bookstore in EvolutionMy Profile

  10. xoxo =(
    You’re an awesome momma!
    Melissa Vose’s last post … Placenta PlantMy Profile

  11. You do what you have to do. It always takes us a while as a adults to adjust to a new situation and kids are the same. I was very lucky that when I was a single Mom and had to use daycare that one of my sisters ran one. Every semester though when my work and school schedule changed we knew that there would be a week or two when he would be super clingy and cry when I left.
    Amy’s last post … Homemade Vanilla ExtractMy Profile

  12. Marianne says:

    I heard all this advice and more from family, friends and even our family doctor when my daughter Maya was having trouble with drop-offs at her daycare (a home daycare). She started going there at her first birthday and she always had some trouble when being dropped off. With all the advice from everyone we put it down to her just being a homebody and preferring to be with Mommy or Daddy at home. When she was older she would tell us she wanted to stay home with mommy and daddy. After a year and a half we needed to change care providers because our caregiver was pregnant and we agonized over how Maya would adjust to a new place. To our surprise, she was a bit quiet and shy the first morning but didn’t blink when Daddy left her. The next day she asked to go to Joanne’s and ran right into the house happily. Overnight she went from dreading daycare to looking forward to it. You can imagine the parental guilt! I feel horrible we didn’t make a change earlier. I don’t believe she was endangered or poorly cared for at the first place but in hindsight she just wasn’t loved. There also weren’t enough interesting activities as the 3 children in care there grew from infants to toddlers so she was bored and unhappy for a long time. It’s been a huge factor in our decision for me to take an extended leave for 4 or 5 years now that our second child is here. We should be able to avoid the need for daycare for our kids again until they are both school aged and able to tell us if they are happy or not.

    • I went through this with the second daycare centre my daughter was in. The infant and toddler centre she attended was great, but she aged out of it and we put her in a preschool-aged centre near our home. I was pregnant at the time, and needed to continue working for my maternity benefits. It just wasn’t a good fit for her, even though it was a fine place and I think she was safe and cared for and all that. When a space opened up at the centre Jacob’s attending now I agonized over whether or not to move her, but from the instant she started there she loved it.

      Watching Jacob, I’m fairly certain that he’s just going through an adjustment phase. Every day is a little better, so for now I think it’s just a matter of coming to understand new routines and so on, rather than not being a good fit. But man, do I know that guilt.

  13. When I returned to work I cried every day on my work into the office after dropping B off at daycare. I am sure people saw my ugly crying and laughed. I was just so sad about not being with him all day and that someone else got to spend that time with him. I think I have just come to accept it…but I still don’t like it. Even after a year I still cried this week when I left for work after being off all last week with him. ::sad face::
    Jen’s last post … Black Toilets Hide AllMy Profile

  14. I can tell you as a child care provider for 5 years that as soon as you finish walking down the stairs/get in your car/drive away Jacob is 90% likely to have stopped crying. It sounds as though he is feeling a bit better everyday and that will only get better. He will always have an off day here or there and do follow your instincts if you think his crying is more out of the ordinary than usual, but expect him to cry when you leave and to fuss when you pick him up. And if he does fuss and cry and whine when you pick him up then know that that too is completely normal. Lucky parents, they save up all their fussing just for you. It doesn’t mean he had a bad day but just that he missed you or is having trouble expressing his feelings about seeing you (good or bad). I didn’t often have to be on the other side of the fence since I offered day care so I could stay home, but I like to be able to reassure parents that it passes, they’re fine, and you’re a good mom.
    Melodie’s last post … My Health Scare (or Why I Had To Write A Post Today)My Profile

    • Thanks, Melodie.

      Hannah didn’t cry at drop-off or pick-up, but I well remember struggling to get her out of the house in the morning, and then struggling to get her out of daycare in the afternoons. Transitions are hard, I get that.

  15. Hope it gets better soon. It’s good that you know the place is right for him..just that it’s something he has to deal with. At least you’re not questioning *everything*. (cheezyhugs)

  16. He will be okay. And so will you. But have a good cry. It always helps me.
    Capital Mom’s last post … Monday Moments Theme: AlikeMy Profile

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  1. […] months have been very busy for me. I lost my childcare very suddenly. I started a new job. I got Jacob started in a new daycare. I attended a conference and wrote the Crafting my Life e-book. Since I can’t make more hours […]

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