When I announced my pregnancy at work, amidst the congratulations what I heard most from my coworkers was, “Do you need help finding child care?” And I hadn’t expected anything less, working for an agency celebrating 40 years of providing parents with free referrals and educating them about their choices when it comes to quality early childhood education. Of course when I admitted my hopes to be able to work from home, it became something of a running joke. How does someone who works for 4C for Children, who has all of the tools they need to select the best possible care environment for their child, choose not to use child care?
But really, much as I was never the cooing and gooing baby-type, I always hoped I would be able to be with my own children during their most formative years. Even at the cost of my own higher functions, I wanted to be present for the development of theirs. I think this is absolutely true of most every parent, and finding a balance financially, emotionally and mentally can be among the most challenging decisions a parent can face. And often before they know what they’re in for.
While many of my friends from our child birthing class and parenting forums online have returned to work, I’ve remained at home, trembling and tearful at the thought of leaving my daughter with “strangers.” I’ve never felt more sympathetic than I did only recently, when I finally mustered the courage to work out at our local YMCA and leave Miss E with Child Watch (whose employees are CPR and First Aid certified, and pass background checks, thank goodness). Twenty minutes after I hopped on the treadmill I hopped off, hurriedly stuffing my water bottle and headphones into her diaper bag and rushing to her rescue.
But she didn’t need rescued. She was right where I’d left her, sitting contentedly and just observing the playroom and the older children. The child care provider informed me that she was “very good… I’m not used to them being so good.” Handling stress better than her mother? Absolutely. When I called my husband in tears after I’d left, feeling really silly for being so upset, he told me I wasn’t being silly at all.
“You were inseparable for nine months. That’s a powerful bond,” he said.
Of course he’s right, and it explains my crazy a little. But Miss E is a separate person, and grows more into herself everyday. It’s a good time to start letting go a little, when I can be sure she’s safe and cared for.
And I realized that my friends aren’t leaving their children with strangers. They’re developing relationships with the teachers in their programs or the moms, dads and grandmas managing family child care homes. Their babies are, too. I spoke with the Family Life Director at the Y before leaving and promised her we’d be back. While 90 percent of that promise was driven by my desire to retake my conquered waistline, the other 10 percent was taking a little time for myself, and giving Miss E a little time in the company of compassionate caregivers. Because we’ll both be better once we know what we’re missing.