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2015, June: Dealing with Daycare

I went back to work 14 weeks after giving birth and Declan went into daycare four days a week. I was fortunate that my employer was able to give me that much time off, even if it was unpaid. We are a very small organization and the loss of one full-time staff member means everyone else has to add even more work to their already-full plates. I am also lucky that they have agreed to let me come back four days a week.

I went back to work for two reasons. One, we need my salary. We can survive on Christian's pay alone, but I don't want to just survive. With my pay we can afford to do far more for Declan and can minimize the struggle. Two, it's better for all of us for me to be working. I always suspected I might not be a very good stay-at-home mum, and I'm not. Being back at work has made me happier, more patient, and overall just a better person to be in Declan's life. In an ideal world, I would be working 2 or 3 days a week instead of 4 for the same pay, but until that magical job opportunity comes along, I think we have a pretty good compromise.

I have had a lot of issues with daycare, however. The first place we picked we initially thought was wonderful. It is a commercial daycare with a relatively small number of children in each age group. It's in the school district where we live, so Declan would grow up with friends that he would then go to school with. The manager I spoke to was great. After we started, though, I wasn't happy. The manager had changed and I didn't like the new one as much. Three staff members rotated through the baby & 'wobbler' room each day and it was very difficult to communicate Declan's needs consistently to all of them (I had particular trouble with the middle-of-the-day woman, since we didn't see her at pick up or drop off). I was never completely comfortable with their attitude. They made me feel like I was inconveniencing them when I had questions or wanted to make changes to how they were handling Declan. Christian didn't feel the same way and thought I was imagining it, but the feeling wouldn't go away. They also had a TV in every room and the kids seemed to spend a lot of time plonked in front of the screen. Even the little ones.

I looked at several other places, both commercial and home daycares, and couldn't find any that I liked more or even as much, so we stuck it out.

Until today, when I found the older kids (2 and up, at least 15 of them, maybe more) unattended for over ten minutes. Some of the 1-year-olds were in there, too, being 'watched' by the older kids. There was only one staff member in charge of all of them and she was nowhere to be seen. When I then tried to talk to them again about Declan's schedule, I got indifference. We are officially done.

I immediately went to visit one more daycare I hadn't tried yet and (thankfully!) it seems wonderful. It is how I imagined daycare to be. Close to my office, very small number of kids, great toys and activities, no TVs, a curriculum for every age (including babies), a great ratio of kids-to-staff (not just the minimum required by the state), and staff that seem to care about the kids and my comfort level. So Declan is moving. I'm still going to struggle leaving him there every morning, I'm sure, but I feel really good about this place and hopefully things will be a little easier.

Here are some questions I now know to ask when picking a daycare:
  1. What is your child to staff ratio?
  2. How many staff members will be taking care of my child?
  3. Do you ever combine different age groups (for example at the beginning or end of the day)?
  4. What enrichment activities do you do? Do the children ever watch TV? What toys/activities do you have for my child's age?
  5. Can you accommodate my child's feeding/sleeping schedule?
  6. Can I call and/or visit during the day?
  7. What records do you keep of my child's schedule, activities, and mood?
What else would you add? Leaving your kid in the care of strangers is incredibly difficult. At the end of the day - as many of my friends have said - trust your gut.

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