I have three daughters, ages 9, 7 and 2.
I recently put my toddler, Phoebe, into day care. The emotions connected with this were mixed.
When my eldest daughter was around 2, I was working 50-60 hour work weeks. I can hardly remember what she was like back then. This has made me sad at times, and has made me feel I missed a key element in her developmental process.
The changes that can occur between the ages of 1 and 2 are fascinating to watch. The language development, the sense of humor, new abilities every day. I am Phoebe's mom. If I am not there guiding her and seeing these changes, then why am I her mother? I have a duty to be there for her and guide her through life.
However, I have found that taking care of a child all day and all night, and then all day again and then all week and then all month, is not something that makes me happy or makes me feel completely fulfilled. I love to work and to have, for myself, the interaction with others outside of the home.
I believe strongly that children need to be around other people and other children. I believe that having time outside of the home interacting with different people is not only healthy, but vital.
In my recent decision to go back to work full-time, I weighed all these factors. I decided to do a trial run of how Phoebe would do.
We started her in a small in-home day care. The director had been a nanny for 30 years. She watched five toddlers with her staff of three out of an old Victorian flat. They fed the kids, put them down for naps, let them play and pretty much represented the polar opposite of high-gloss fancy day care centers that have child development experts on their payroll.
Phoebe loved it. She thrived. She would get excited at drop-off at around 8 a.m., and be happy at the 4-5 p.m. pick-up. She ate, she napped, she played. Her language continued to develop; in fact, it advanced at a faster rate.
The first few days were hard on me. I missed her. Deep down I was feeling like my decision might be wrong.
On a few days I picked her up later than usual, and she seemed off. It stressed her that I was not there at the expected time.
The most surprising thing that happened, though, was the true and genuine love that developed between Phoebe and her caregivers. But a question arises on that for me. Am I ready for her to receive and give that type of love with people other than her family?
Is there a cap to how much love you can have, and if you spread it too thin, over too many people, will it somehow dry up?
Experience recently has shown me that this is not the case. Her capacity for love and affection has in fact tripled and diversified.
Now, upon going to bed, she insists on hugging and kissing each member of her family multiple times. She has said "I love you" more times than I can count.
Giving her more people to love has increased her ability to express it.
I still feel the pangs, the draw back into wanting to spend every moment with her. However, I'm finding my time with her now is more wholly devoted to our interaction, rather than thinking of all the other things I would like to or should be doing.
I am lucky to be in a position where I have a choice about childcare. Many parents do not have the luxury, and make heartbreaking sacrifices regarding the care of their families.
It is true that they are only this age for a short time. I have learned all too well that your loved ones can be ripped from you and leave a hole in your heart filled with regret and longing for the moments lost.
I have also learned that in those awful times, the ability to love can see you through.
If I can show my daughters that there are many people who care about them and whom they can love in return, at least one part of my job as their mother will be fulfilled.
This post was originally published on Our Urban Playground.
Photo credit: Jennifer Latch