Finding quality childcare can be one of the most stressful tasks for working parents. Like many, we decided group care best fit the needs of our family. Leaving your child with others is never easy, but here’s a few tips I’ve learned from having two children in daycare that might make the transition easier:
1) Label Everything, But Expect to Come Home with Someone Else’s Sippy Cup
I’ve burned through more Sharpies in the last five years than all my life prior. I finally invested in dishwasher-proof labels with my second child, which, in my humble opinion, are worth their weight in platinum. Even after you’ve carefully labelled each lid, cup, shirt and shoe, you will probably end up with someone else’s stuff at some point. Maybe the teacher put something in the wrong cubby. Maybe you grabbed the wrong cup from the fridge (Seriously, does every four-year old have a Frozen-Themed Thermos?) It happens. Just bring it back, preferably washed.
2) Have A Drop-Off Plan
I’m a drop-and-dash parent. You might be a stay-and-play parent. Find what works best for you and your little one and then stick to it. It’s all about routine. For this reason, Mondays tend to be especially hard. Experiment with who does drop off and pickup. Some children separate easily from one parent but cling to the other.
3) Stock Up On Sick Days
One of the advantages of group care is peer interaction. Children learn to share and play well with others. They also incubate every germ on the planet. Our daycare is obsessive about cleaning and teaching children good hygiene. Even so, kids will get sick. You will get sick. They will get sick again. You can do your part by keeping your sick child home. If your kid has a fever, don’t give them a fever reducer so you can squeeze in a morning at the office. If your son threw up the night before, but managed to keep down breakfast, don’t even THINK about taking him in. If you do, prepare to be hated by everyone. EVERYONE.
4) Make Room on the Fridge
It started with adorable handprint animals and evolved to intricate drawings of Mommy, complete with a green-line vagina (um, yeah). Each day brings a new masterpiece. You simply can’t keep everything. Take a picture if you must, but at some point, some have to go into the recycling bin. Otherwise, your house with fill from floor to ceiling with crayon drawings before your child’s second birthday.
5) Prepare to Be Pleasantly Surprised
One day, my daughter grabbed the spoon from my hand and started feeding herself. “They must have taught her at daycare,” my husband said as she maneuvered the utensil with expert precision. Most group care programs stress age-appropriate independence, so don’t be surprised if your kid masters a skill before you even consider teaching it.
6) Expect Some Guilt
What kind of mother doesn’t teach her child how to use a spoon? The same who missed her daughter’s first steps, first pee in a potty, and other firsts she didn’t even know she missed. No matter how well your child does in group care, you will probably feel guilty at some point. You will miss things, big and little. Instead of focusing on the guilt, celebrate the first time you see your child’s accomplishments. She will be eager to show off to you, regardless if it’s the first or tenth time she’s put on her coat solo.
7) Know the Rules
Group care runs on rules. Some procedural rules, like labeling individual diapers, may seem ridiculous, but they are essential for maintaining a standard of care. Rules such as flu shot requirements and door codes are intended to keep everyone in the environment safe. Learn the rules, follow them, and teach them to anyone helping with drop-off or pick-up duty.
8) Manage Your Expectations
While group care has its advantages, it does not provide the same individualized care as a parent or nanny. Your son may not get the color bib he wants every time. Honestly, that’s a good thing. As a parent of a child in group care, you shouldn’t expect the class to conform to his whims and wishes. And, on occasion, you might find he has his shoes on the wrong foot at pickup. This will likely irritate you. I pay them HOW MUCH, and they can’t check how he puts his shoes on after nap!!! Chances are, they do check, and corrected the problem for him nine days out of ten. And, let’s be honest, he’ll probably leave the house with his shoes on the wrong foot on your watch too.
9) But Don’t Lower Your Standards
If something doesn’t seem right, question it. Ask friends with children in other centers. Do research online. If your daycare isn’t conforming to state standards, such as teacher-to-child ratios, don’t just remove your child. Report the daycare to the proper authorities.
10) Sobbing Is Totally Normal
This one applies to you as well as your child. I sobbed in the parking lot after the guided tour, in the infant room when I dropped off my oldest for her first day, on a coworker’s shoulder later that morning, and at pickup for a week. When it came time to take my youngest, I thought I’d make it through tear free. I knew the lead teacher well and had complete faith in her abilities. I liked her even more after she held me while I bawled my eyes out. I can’t say this enough: Crying is completely normal. It will get better. There will be days when your child will cry. There may even be days when you get teary-eyed at how easily he or she flees your arms to join friends. When your son or daughter barely gives you a wave as you walk out the door, take comfort knowing your kid is thriving in group care.