To the momma in tears at daycare….
I saw you momma. I was helping my oldest one out of the van when I saw you. You had just pushed open the school doors, your hand was over your mouth…tears flowed out of your sad, reddened eyes. You headed straight for your car. I saw you. I saw you with that so familiar, that so unmistakable look in your eyes, the one where you are questioning absolutely everything. The one where you’re not sure if you researched enough, if it was really the right time, should he go half day or full day, is it really the right school, the right teacher? If you were ready yourself? Was all of this the right choice? Or was it all a complete mistake?
Oh the self-doubt we mommas have. I saw everything in you wanted to turn around. Run not walk right back in through those big glass doors, right into that cheerful classroom, grab your little one and pull him into the tightest hug ever. Never ever letting go. I know you did, I know I’ve wanted to do the same. And in that moment as we crossed paths for just a few seconds, I wanted to run not walk back to you and tell you that it would be fine. I wanted to promise you that every single feeling you’re feeling, that it was all normal. That there are mommas all over the world who had to do what you did. Even in the Netherlands when they drop their kids off at somewhere like Teddy Kids kinderopvang they are going through the same thing you were. I wanted to tell you that everything would be ok. That you were strong no matter how weak you felt in this moment. That no matter how many times you do this, that it’s never easy especially in the very beginning. That there would be set backs too, just when you thought everything was finally ok. And that the self-doubt would fade in and out and that is ok too. Because we mommas…well, we always will feel constant guilt and doubt. We’ll always wonder if we’re doing what’s right, what’s best.
Maybe all you needed was that look of reassurance from one still uneasy at times daycare veteran to one totally scared, completely anxious daycare newbie. That plus a sincere hug. I so wish I could have given at least that to you.
I knew you would be long gone by the time I got back to the parking lot. But I wanted to tell you that no child was crying when I walked into the school. Not one. After I walked my older one into his classroom, I peeked into my younger son’s class as I always do. Same class as your son. And I can promise you there were no tears. Just that joyful laughter from toddlers that can make anyone’s heart happy. All the kids were sitting in a circle by now. The music teacher was doing her thing and the children – all of them – were clapping along and happy to participate. Even your shy little guy. Music just has that effect, right? Your son was sitting on the lead teacher’s lap…he was timid yet secure. He was content. In that moment, he was ok. I can’t tell you that he won’t have his moments throughout the day. That he won’t cry for you…after all, he’s trying to adjust to a new classroom, new teachers, new friends. Can you imagine how hard that is at that age…it’s hard for us at our age. But in that moment, just minutes after you left, he was OK. And that made my heart happy for you. I wanted to run and tell you, but I knew you’d be gone.
If…no, when I see you again, I will tell you. I’ll also tell you that it does get easier and then harder and then back to easy. I’ll tell you just a few weeks of starting daycare, my then 18 months old was well-adjusted to his new life at school. But after a week long vacation just a few months into it, he was back to square one. Rough drop offs, hunger strikes, horrible tantrums…which meant tears for him and tears for mommy too. I literally cried all the way to work. I questioned everything. It felt like forever but lasted only for a few days. A few long days. And then it was back to OK again. Back to happy again. I will also tell you that my older one who transitioned to the preschool room a little after turning 3 this past November, he’s just now becoming really comfortable with drop off’s and it’s almost July. But he is OK too. And I have my moments when he has is. Just like you did, momma. It’s ok to have those moments. Remember, there are ups and there are downs all along the journey.
I’ll tell you again: it gets better. Taking them to the drop in daycare gets better. He will be happy when you get to school. He will even show excitement. He will be taken care of. He will be loved. He will blossom. He will adapt. You will adapt. Just watch and see. The pick up’s will be so awesome, you just wait. It will be the absolute highlight of your day. He will run straight into your arms – you may have to hold back those tears of relief. Trust me, trust in all of this. Trust that you made the right choice because of all the things that led you here. Trust your intuition too, if you feel that this isn’t the right choice.
I haven’t seen you again since that day, but I know we will cross paths soon. I hope I see you in better spirits. I hope to have a quick chat. And I hope that you’re already feeling more OK.
That same evening, I quickly jotted down a few things that helped me when we started daycare. I thought it would be helpful for all mommas who are new to daycare or are thinking about it for their little ones.
1. Keep it happy. Keep it positive.
What this means is to keep your tone and outlook about daycare really upbeat and positive. We all feed off each other’s energies. If you keep your attitude happy and excited, this will transfer to your little one. Be positive about school and the teachers. I’ve become friends with the teachers in both my kids’ classes. My boys see this and I think it really helps, especially with drop offs in the morning. Alternatively, anxiety transfers too…so be careful. It is a stressful period of adjustment for not only your little one but for you too. There’s a lot of separation anxiety for everyone. But try not to share any of those feelings with or in front of kids. This can set the tone for a lot of added anxiety and negativity. If he feels you are unsure or doubtful, then he’s bound to feel the same thing. And at the end of the day, kids just want to feel secure. Once they are secure and have built trust, then they can truly be happy about being left without you for the day.
2. Don’t linger. Keep goodbyes short and sweet.
Establish a simple, quick routine for drop offs that you stick to every single day. Make your goodbyes quick and don’t linger. Staying back and lingering only makes it worse. The routine I’ve set for my youngest is to hand off to one of his go to teachers with a very happy goodbye. This includes a super loving ‘I love you’ and a few fun waves. And then I walk straight out the door, never turning back.
3. But don’t leave without saying goodbye.
Early on when we started my older one Jai in daycare, I wanted to just disappear from the room once he was ok so we didn’t have to go through the entire crying ordeal all over again. It hurt me so much to see him in tears, he was literally wailing. But I was told to never leave without saying goodbye. If you disappear without that closure, then they are even worse off because of trauma when they realize you’re gone and just vanished. Instead, always let your little one know that you’re leaving and that “Mommy will be back later”. That “Mommy always comes back”. With my older son who’s three, we have turned drop off into our own secret goodbye that’s only between us. One of his teachers suggested making our goodbye unique so he’s excited to be doing something that only mommy and Jai do since drop off’s were becoming a little harder. It worked like magic. We do three high fives and one kiss goodbye…I let him choose the numbers for each and then I leave. He says bye Mommy and I wave bye and we are good to go.