The Daycare Dilemma: Part 1

March 21, 2014

DaycareDilemma

I’m incredibly fortunate to have so many choices when it comes to childcare. Because of this my options ranged from stay-at-home to work-from-home to hiring a nanny to putting my baby in daycare. Each option has its pros and cons. And as I explored each one I found myself flooded with self-doubt and guilt.

Ultimately, I found myself leaning towards daycare. It seemed to be the most straightforward and financially sound solution for our family. So why did I feel so bad about it? I scoured the internet for pro-daycare articles but came up short. Everything made it seem like a necessary evil and ultimate compromise for women who would much rather stay-at-home.

So I called on Rebecca Egbert for help. I first met Rebecca when she took all three of our Braid ECourses and quickly realized we were kindred spirits. Rebecca is a former midwife and maternal health expert who launched her own business working as what I call a “momma coach” for successful women who need help transitioning into parenthood. (P.S. Yes, I have since hired Rebecca. I wish every new mama had one-on-one access to her – it’s the best decision I’ve made in a long time. But more on that later.)

Six weeks in to my maternity leave I sent Rebecca this email with the intention of sharing it with you all who may be struggling with the same issues. This is a long post so I’m going to share behind the cut (for those of you who aren’t interested in my baby-momma drama).

To: Rebecca Egbert
From: Kathleen
Subject: Daycare Dilemma

Dear Rebecca,

So starting off let me tell you a little bit about me. I waited until 31 to have my first baby. Prior to that I went on adventures with my husband such as trekking to Mt. Everest Base Camp and backpacking across Eastern Europe. After growing up as an award-winning graphic designer in the ad industry I launched my own successful business with my sister doing consulting, branding, and coaching with creative entrepreneurs. And then I had a baby – his name is Fox.

I’m 6 weeks into this new adventure and everything everyone said was true: it’s the hardest thing but the most rewarding. I’m lucky that my husband took 5 weeks of paternity leave with me. But I’m shocked at how many friends, family, acquaintances, and pediatricians ask me if I’ll be going back to work. (I try not to take offense that they’re not asking my husband the same.) I love my job. It lives in me. So yes, I’ll be going back to work. That said, I’ve been 100% mom for the past 6 weeks. I love my son something fierce, but I miss my work. My heart and my ego are at odds with each other and I’m confused as to how to make sense of all of it. I am privileged with the choice that many women don’t have. Our household income is such that I could stay at home. I also have a flexible situation that would allow me to work from home. That said, I know I’m a good mom and I know I’m a passionate business woman – but I know I can’t give both the attention they deserve at the same time.

So now I’m looking at daycare. When I tour the facilities I get a little sad – probably with the same questions and thoughts that are typical to any first time moms who turn to daycare for help. What if I drop Fox off and he thinks I’ve abandoned him? What if he starts crying and doesn’t understand why I’m not there to make it better? Is this the best choice for the long-term well-being of my kiddo? And then the big questions: is it worth it? Should I maybe sacrifice the career I’ve built from the ground up for my kid who means the world to me?

What do you think? I would love to hear your experience with working moms who send their kids to daycare. What kinds of issues do they have to balance and weigh?

Love,
Kathleen

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To: Kathleen
From: Rebecca Egbert
Subject: RE: Daycare Dilemma

Kathleen,

Here I go…Let me begin by telling you that I have spent my adult life “practicing” how to improve and empower the lives of women, mainly through women’s health and Midwifery. For a stint in my 20’s, I also lead backcountry wilderness expeditions for women and girls, and I was an educator. When I started my own Midwifery practice, and after my patients “graduated” from care, I would hear from them months down the line and their stories would be about struggle, relationship issues, and issues about how they walk in their new role. These calls would make me reel, as part of a system that really is doing a horse-shit job (on the large spectrum) of taking care of it’s women and moms. Over time, with an innovative, research-oriented, creative mind I thought, “It’s time to start a new ‘practice’ in the postpartum years. I have to do better for moms and their health.”

When I read your note, my verbal response was, “Well, yah…” It’s going to be really hard to give both your family and your career the same amount of time and dedication you gave prior to Fox’s birth. I don’t think it’s actually achievable until your kids are older, like teenage older. Nobody will tell you that though, unless you get them talking from a vulnerable place. The first years post-natal/postpartum are the ones we see, clinically, that kick a career passionate and driven woman’s ass the most. But, if you start taking care of yourself (emotional, mental, physical and soulfully) where the providers leave off early on in your postpartum years the stress, anxiety, and postpartum depression we’re seeing, especially in working moms, in this country will start to dissipate.

You see, I read the book Maxed Out the first week it came out. I was blown away by Katrina’s story, because she intensely describes the feelings she had when she’d drop her daughter Ruby off at daycare. She would drop her off, commute to work in the city and spend her day focusing on how Ruby was and not be able to clearly focus on her work. If Katrina would have come to my office and asked me if this was normal, I would have answered, “Yes, it is normal, and it’s your new normal but we can work with it if you do the work, and do it early.” My mom always told me a story about this NICU nurse who said to her, “Having a baby is like putting legs on your heart and spending the rest of your life chasing after it.” You will always wonder if you did enough, are enough, and love wholeheartedly. Your hardest work you will do as a mom is all about trust. Trusting you, trusting the transformation, trusting the container and boundaries you create for your little ones will help them grow to be successful adults. Trusting that your kids are making good choices, because of how you nurtured their growth. That trusting thing…it’s the hard work of motherhood.

Remember, this first decision of “which daycare do I choose” is just the beginning of a long list of decisions you’re going to help this little man make. Yes, it’s your responsibility right now to ensure he’s safe and loved. That overwhelming sense of responsibility is also your new normal, and it doesn’t go away. So, ask around…Ask all your momma friends and mentors who have gone here before, how they made their decisions and why.

I’m a daycare kid, my kids will be daycare kids, and I definitely appreciate the daycare world. Focusing on the theme of trust and I’m going to dip into some biology here…The area of the brain used for reasoning doesn’t start doing the work of “rationalization” until a child is older, like 5 or 6. So your question on whether or not Fox will feel abandoned, neurologically that part of his brain isn’t developed. What he knows about trust and love right now is based from these physiologic/neurologic truths: You and Jeremy’s heartbeats are like his world, that sound is trust and he knows your rhythm better than you. Every time you hold him close to you, after a big day of work and daycare, both of you will receive a shot of Oxytocin and trust will come back. He will “think” I am safe and in my momma’s (or daddy’s) arms. Your smell, oh my gawd, he loves your pheromones even more than Jeremy does (get used to it daddy’s). When you whiff him, you think you’ve gone to heaven. If you have given him love and a safe environment in these early weeks, he gets around you and butterflies run through his veins. He is in heaven – safety dance heaven. I’m serious. Trust, trust, trust. And your touch. The way you held him when you greeted him, the first words you whispered to him when he was born – he may kick your ass mentally 8 months from now – but those first minutes told him he made a good choice. Your touch will always reconnect the two of you and remind you that you’re both safe and loved. More trust is developed in your bond.

So, when you drop him off on his first day of daycare he may cry. It will most likely break your heart into a million pieces. However, if you’ve interviewed daycares and you have chosen a place that gives you a gut feeling that he is safe, well-cared for and you trust the staff, your worries will eventually dissolve. Trust, which is developed and nourished in our limbic brain (the seat of our emotional center), will help the fierce mother in you make a decision that feel both right for you and your whole family. Katrina’s daycare provider said to her one day after her massive breakdown/panic attack (and this part of the book made me sob for women), “Your children are your heart, let me take care of your heart.” The right environment will care for you as much as they care for your kid. If I was you, I’d look for that place and wouldn’t stop until you find it.

As far as sacrificing your career, that really has to be up to you. My question: Is it worth it to your health (mental, physical, spiritual, and intellectual) to sacrifice something you love and created prior to becoming a mom that totally fuels you, moves you and even rocks your world? Is it worth it to you and is it worth it to Fox, and your family’s health? That’s the life-long question and no answer is perfect, it’s work.

I want to start here, and I’m going to pass the torch to Maggie now. She has been my inspiration as a modern-day daycare dweller. Her kids LOVE their daycare and she trusts them, inside and out. She can help answer the questions I didn’t touch in our first exchange, specifically, “Is it worth it?”

Big Love!
Rebecca

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To: Kathleen
From: Maggie
Subject: RE: Daycare dilemma

Hi Kathleen,

I am finally sitting down at my computer while my littlest still naps and before my older one gets home from ski lessons. The ever-elusive 5 minutes uninterrupted.

First of all, thanks for including me in such an eloquent and lyrical conversation about the real challenges you are facing as a new mom. Both you and Rebecca have perfectly summarized what I consider to be the most difficult double bind of becoming a mom while still being passionate about your career. I know this conflict first hand. I have lived with it, fought with it, cried with it and tried to pretend that it doesn’t exist. Some days it clobbers me. Other days I feel like I am “Leaning In” just perfectly. I could probably write for days about the myriad of ways that I have bumped up against this bind and come away with a new perspective. My experience is definitely a work in progress. Though I am only 5 years in with my oldest, I am beginning to believe that parenting itself will always be a work in progress. As you are probably already discovering, the second that you think you have figured something out, it all changes.

and the baby wakes… to be continued.

So, that was Sunday, and I am finally sitting down to pick up where I left off, and it is Wednesday. Really? I just dropped off my kids at daycare and am sitting down at my computer. I am a daycare believer. For our family, it has worked. That said, the one thing I am absolutely certain about is that there is no right way to do anything when it comes to your choices as a parent (the obvious things like feeding your baby mountain dew in a bottle aside). I am lucky enough to have an amazing older sister that has 3 boys. She is a fantastic mom and a priceless resource, so I definitely turned to her, as well as other moms, as well as books, as well as internet…. But what I have found is that you really need to listen to your deep intuition to determine what is right for your family. For me, I needed to keep working from a financial perspective, but I also have learned that I really need to keep my mind engaged in something. I am truly and fundamentally a much better mom when I am doing the things that make me my best self. Even if that means a little less time with the kiddos. My core tenet is quality over quantity. I have learned this the hard way, as I worked full time from home with my first child at home with me while running my own business. Total recipe for disaster. I found that I didn’t do anything I wanted to do very well. My work suffered. My mood suffered. My health suffered. My relationship suffered. And ultimately, my family suffered. When I finally got over the unfounded guilt I had associated with daycare and dropped my little one off so that I could work, the fog lifted. It was amazing how dramatically my overzealous multitasking had affected my life. The ability to focus on one thing at a time is a gift that we all should continue to use as a point of relativity in our lives. What I found was that my little one thrived at daycare and learned so much as a social creature. (Not going to lie…I read Bringing Up Bebe, and repeatedly told myself that all-day daycare is the norm provided by the government in France.) The transition was hard. But I can honestly say that it was hardest for me. And that was because my heart was out there in the world being cared for by someone else. I don’t think that it was really that hard for my babe. It has been his normal, and he hasn’t known any different.

When I had my second one in 2012, we already knew that he would be going to daycare at 6 weeks. I struggled with postpartum depression with number 2, and it took some time to get back on my feet. The fact that I had the support of a daycare I was comfortable with was a gift. Having worked through the struggle of being a working mom with 2 little ones, I can truly say that the most important shift for me was to abandon the old mindset that I had collected somewhere along the way that I had to put myself last in order to be a good mom. Not sure why our mom culture has so ardently attached to the martyr concept, but I think it is a total disservice. Because I spent time away from my little ones for work, I felt guilty spending any free moment doing anything for myself. I bumped up against the double bind every time I considered going to the gym or having a girls night. What a massive relief it was when my mindset shifted, and I began to believe that taking care of myself should be priority number one. I began to thrive in so many ways. And I now constantly remind myself that the most significant way that I can parent is to live in a way that I would want my children to live. To live with intention. They learn more from our example than anything else, and I don’t want my little ones to think they should sacrifice any part of themselves for any reason. I believe you can have it all as a working mom….it just looks really different than any of us thought.

So…to come full circle, you just have to listen to your gut about what is best for you and your family. Your babe is a magical and resilient little being, and he will thrive if you are thriving. If that means you need to dive back into the work you love, then do it. He will be there with open arms at the end of your day, and he will know that it is ok to follow your dreams. And most importantly, he will always know he is loved. Because you will tell him every day.

Hope there is a morsel of something helpful in all this. If anything, know that you are not alone and always feel free to reach out with any questions. There is a tribe growing….

xo
Maggie

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Wow. Receiving this generous support from these women was a game-changer. I can’t thank Rebecca and Maggie enough. Also, big shout-out to my sister and business partner who was been super supportive offline as well. I’m going to share more details in a couple weeks on Fox’s first few weeks at daycare and how it’s going (spoiler alert: so far, so good).

In the meantime, I want to hear from you. Have you struggled with the daycare decision? What has worked for you and your family? I know this can be a touchy subject, but like Maggie said in her letter – there is no single right way to parent – so let’s keep the conversation constructive, supportive, and respectful. I will not tolerate nor approve hateful or negative comments.

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