Balancing work with family life is a challenge many families deal with at some stage or another. We have been juggling this reality in our house for just over a year now and it hasn't been easy.
Returning to work was not something I was comfortable with after the birth of my children but unfortunately we have been unable to make the budget stretch for me to be a full time, stay-at-home mum. So we made the decision for me to resume working as a teacher on a part time, casual basis and to enroll our children into daycare for three days a week.
We did our background checks on some local day care providers and finally settled on a center we felt would look after the needs of our children whilst my husband and I worked. We knew there would be a few changes in our daily lives but what we hadn't banked on was how hard this transition would be for our children and how much it would cost us in emotional turmoil.
The early days of daycare drop offs were uneventful and the children seemed accepting of this change in their lives. It was always a puzzle to me, however, when my children would break down in full sobbing tears the moment they set eyes on me at pick up at the end of the day. Initially I thought it was because they didn't want to leave but then I wondered if they were unhappy at their daycare. I was always reassured by their teachers that they had had a lovely day and whenever I arrived I would take a moment to observe them in play before announcing my presence. They always seemed settled and engaged.
As the months went on, these post-care tears diminished and in their place came post-care tantrums and extremely testing behaviors. It got to the point where just leaving the daycare center was a huge ordeal. I used to dread the drop offs but now the pickups were 10 times worse! As I gathered up the girls and their belongings I was met with opposition and defiance all the way to the car. Running through doors and shutting them behind themselves to block me from getting through and then screaming when I finally made it through. Climbing onto the rocking horse in the foyer and refusing to get off and then the other wanting to do the same. Screaming because I walked down the steps and not the ramp and then another tantrum after I back-tracked to the ramp but wouldn't do it a second time over. Climbing into the car and diving over into the boot before I could strap them in and flatly refusing to move back into the seat area. These were just a few of the hurdles I faced every single time I picked them up.
Making matters worse was the fact that I too was tired after working all day and the pressure was on to get the children home, bathed and fed so they could be put to bed at a reasonable hour before full blown overtiredness caused them to stay up well past the time their little bodies needed to close down for the evening. The girls sensed my anxiety and ensured that my patience was completely tested by digging their heels in at every opportunity.
I started using snacks and offers of treats as a form of coercion just to get them into their seats. This worked but was clearly not getting to the root of the problem because as soon as we arrived home, more testing behaviour ensued and by this stage it had kicked into a higher gear. Furthermore, it got to the point where they would demand a treat before getting in. I didn't want it to be this way, I didn't want to have to bribe my children into the car.
So, as I usually try to do when I am met with a challenge in my parenting journey, I spent some time trying to determine the underlying cause of the problem rather than trying to smooth it over with a band aid treatment.
I did some self-analysis and personal reflection. What I knew was that I had two children charged full of emotion, tired, hungry and vying for my attention. Cooperation was off the agenda and defiance and limit testing on. From all accounts, I was fairly confident that my children's time at care was enjoyable, emotionally supportive and had met all their basic needs.
The only thing they did not have during the day was me (or dad). We are our children's safe place. We are their rock. We have been since the day they were born. We have seen the best of them and the worst of them and our love for them has never wavered. They know this and are therefore comfortable in letting us in on the dark emotions that bubble up inside them.
When they are in the care of others, however, they have learned to suppress their emotions and save them up. They never tantrum for their carers. They don't show them the raw anger and frustrations that we have the privilege of witnessing on a regular basis. Our children trust us and so, when they are back in the safety of our arms at the end of their day in care, they slowly let it all out. All those genuine feelings they have so valiantly suppressed throughout the day need to be heard, validated and understood. It is a sign that we are doing something right as parents for them to trust us so implicitly that they let us experience the worst of them, confident in our love for them.
So, to help make day care pick ups less stressful for all of us my approach has changed in three ways.
1. Better preparation
To make the afternoons at home less rushed and chaotic, I have begun cooking the week's meals on a Sunday. This way I am not under so much pressure to get home and get things moving, giving me the time to slow right down and connect properly with the children at the point of pick up.
I usually make two large batches of something and have these on alternating nights for four nights. Friday nights is usually a whatever goes night or takeaway. The girls aren't in care on a Friday so my husband looks after them during the day and is there when I get home from work, giving me time to prepare dinner if needed.
2. Setting stronger limits
My children are sending me fairly clear messages that they want to release some negative emotions. Setting the limits they need in the afternoon is certainly difficult for all of us and results in some pretty ferocious meltdowns but it also gives them that much needed opportunity, in my loving presence, to be comforted and understood whilst they express the emotions they have saved up.
3. Acknowledging feelings
I have found it hugely helpful to talk to my children about their emotions if I can see they are heading over the edge or even after they have already gone over. I let them know how hard it can be being away from home and us all day. I tell them it is normal to feel sad/mad/frustrated and generally emotional when we come to collect them. I let them know that I want to help them and will be strong for them when they need me to be.
You may also enjoy reading:
Bonding With Our Children Through Conflict ~ Janet Lansbury (Janet Lansbury - Elevating Childcare)
How Do Children Learn to Regulate Their Emotion ~ Kenneth Barish, Ph. D (The Huffington Post)
Car Seat Tantrums - Handled With Respect ~ Janet Lansbury (Janet Lansbury - Elevating Childcare)