Parenting Paradox: When You (And Your Child) Love Daycare, But It's Still Hard To Leave Them

by Laura Gaddis
skynesher / iStock

Her skeptical eyes watched the new teacher carefully. Unsure of this new face, Evelyn seemed interested and weary all at once. My gut flipped and flopped as I waited for her reaction to explode into soul-crushing tears. My husband Jason walked her around the room, showing her the toys, tables, and play areas. Hoping to alleviate her trepidation, we kept our faces bright and our tones cheery. Our efforts did little, however, for our own insecurities. Inside, the nerves ate away at my practical beliefs, leaving behind a trail of doubts that she would be okay.

When Evelyn was only 6 months old, we first left her in the care of others. At her first daycare, we did not know what to expect. We did not understand they would love our child almost as much as we do. We did not realize she would adore learning, be giddy with joy seeing her little friends, relish doing foot paintings, and become a social butterfly. We did not yet understand that staying home with us was not in her best interest. She craved more stimulation and experiences than we could possibly provide; we were boring and holding her back. It was our responsibility to provide the most optimal opportunities for her well-being despite our own unfounded (yet completely rationalized) fears.

After a couple weeks, we got used to her new daytime routine. Her teachers were always welcoming in the mornings, and we often ended the day with an armful of pictures, projects, and crayon scribbles. We had come to relish our time at work or our time to grocery shop kid-free, and Evelyn always cheerfully sat down to begin her day of adventures. Excited to see us every afternoon, huge smiles and big hugs abounded as we left together. Eager to start our evenings, we’d sing songs on the car ride home.

Now we start this journey anew. For the last month, Evelyn and I have spent nearly every day together. Transition is hard; as much as I yearned to be the constantly engaged mother Evelyn deserves, she rightfully struggled to find me as riveting as her schoolmates. Yet leaving her at this new school stung nearly as much as the first time.

Will these teachers understand her gross motor delays? Will they help her when she needs it but allow her to remain independent? Will they understand her mumbled speech? Will they find her silliness as endearing as we do? Will they protect her from the other kids who can run and walk and do all the things she cannot? Most importantly, will they nurture her?

We gave her kisses as I whispered, “Have a good day. Be nice to others. Remember to share.” She nodded, all knowingly. As Jason and I walked toward the door, a whimpering cry escaped her lips. By the time we reached the hallway, her attention was back to the toy bus in front of her. She was back in her element — back in the place where she thrives as a tiny human. We, too, will find our groove. I will come to trust these new strangers with our daughter. I will be reminded that Evelyn is not as fragile and helpless as I fear. I will learn to accept (although never be comfortable with) the notion that she needs to learn how to be herself by herself. Our family of three will get back to our optimal functioning.

I realize conquering today’s anxiety is not the end. My worries about her being happy when away from me, the distress we feel walking away from her as she longingly wonders where we went, and concerns about her general well-being have securely attached themselves to me for life.

From the moment she was born, this new outward concern hijacked my previously ego-centered world. Instead of focusing solely on my happiness, my internal rhetoric has become about her. Will she be happy, have fun, and still be glad to see me after I “abandoned” her? I always knew parents had a love for their children unlike any other human relationship, but until I became a mother myself, I really had no idea.

The older she gets, more moments of parental insecurities are sure to arise. Surely the older I get, the more I can place trust in my judgment as well as trust in Evelyn’s abilities.

When we arrived at the end of the day to pick Evelyn up, we carefully cracked the door to the playground. Peeking back at us were Evelyn’s sparkly blue eyes, wide toothy smile, and an enthusiastic”hi!” Her greeting relieved a bit of my apprehension. She seemed calm and at ease which was far better than I had imagined. Picking her up off the ground, we dusted the wood chips that clung to her socks as if begging her to stay and play just five more minutes.

“Did you have a good day, Sweetie?” I asked.

Her nodding head and sweet “goodbyes” to the staff said it all. She was content. She was ready to return tomorrow. Harvesting a bit of my own confidence, we said goodbye to her new friends and headed home where we all belonged. After surviving day one, preparing myself for another morning would certainly be a little easier.