• Wed, Oct 2 - 11:01 am ET

Putting My Almost 3-Year-Old In Daycare Is The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done

daycaregraduationMy child will soon be three years old and he has yet to set foot in a daycare.

My husband and I are both “freelancers.” He’s an actor/performer and I am a writer/photographer. I work from home and he travels back and forth to New York for his jobs. Our schedule is so flexible that we have managed to make it to my son’s third birthday without outsourcing any of his care. I’m beginning to think this is a problem. I need to get my child in daycare. He’s three years old and doesn’t have a single friend.

After three years of spending almost every hour of every day with my child I’m starting to have anxiety thinking about being separated from him. Have I intentionally not explored my options because I find it too hard to let go? I think so.

The daycare dilemma used to be an easy thing to ignore. For one thing, we lived in New York for the first two-and-a-half years of his life and never could have afforded it. It was easy to brush off my discomfort with daycare by saying, Oh well. We don’t have an extra $1200 a month. Frankly, I was always a little relieved that we didn’t have the money for it, because I just wasn’t ready to turn his care over to strangers. Now we live in a place where there are a lot more affordable options.

We moved when I was seven months pregnant and I started freelancing full time. As luck would have it, we ended up renting a house directly across the street from my family. Not only was I working full time from home, we had a family that could help when we needed it. This was awesome in many ways – but again it allowed me to neglect the necessity to have him around more kids.

We do a weekly Gymboree playgroup where he gets to interact with other children and spend lots of time at the park. But he’s getting older now and I know that’s not enough. When I was younger, there were tons of kids and relatives around but he doesn’t have that luxury. I’ve moved to a place where I have no friends. I am the only person in my family who has young children. There just aren’t a lot of kids around him. Luckily, it hasn’t affected him too much yet; he’s really social and loves other children. He’s learned how to share and he isn’t a bully. But since he’s going to be three in a month, he needs to be around more kids now, doesn’t he?

I also feel like I need to get him out of the house for my own sanity. Am I becoming one of those mothers that is too overprotective of her child? I don’t want to be that mother; that mother drives me crazy. All of you parents that have waited as long as I have to get your child into daycare – how did you deal with loosening up the cord a little? How do you release your child into the world and feel okay about it?

I’ve started looking into local daycare more seriously because I want to do the best for my child. I want him to be independent and I want to be able to trust the natural order of things which involves eventually letting him walk out into the world without me. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that internally, this is the hardest thing I have ever done.

Before I had kids, people warned me there would be less time for myself. They warned me that I wouldn’t sleep. They told me breastfeeding was hard and recommended every product you could imagine to make my new life as a mother a little easier. They told me about the unbelievable love I would have for my child. But they never mentioned that it would be linked with a deep feeling of helplessness and fear. I source news for a living! I am acutely aware of how fucked up this world is. I have to let my kid out there? Without me? How am I supposed to do that?

I’ve avoided daycare for so long because it’s inextricably linked to the thing I find the most difficult about parenting – letting go. That’s why I’m beginning to think that it is so important to get him in one.

(photo: moominmolly)

You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
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  • http://www.whatwouldshethink.com/ Rachelle

    I. Feel. You.

    My 10mo started daycare 3 weeks ago since I’m going back to the grind next week and I wanted enough time to deal with potential meltdowns by just running down the street in under 5 minutes to get her.

    I was so excited about her getting to spend time with other kids, play, learn, eat well balanced meals and start developing her own life that I completely shocked myself when, walking home after dropping her off the first day, I starting bawling behind my sunglasses. My husband still has issues with trusting other humans with his daughter.

    It’s by no means easy, but in the short month she’s been there, I’ve seen such great changes in her (like whereas strangers engaging her used to make her uncomfortable and cry, she now engages them back).

    Trust your son, trust yourself. xx

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

      Thanks Rachelle!

  • Angela

    For me it was just something I had to do so I didn’t have to beat myself up over whether I was making the right choice. At first it was nerve-wracking but seeing how much my son loved it there really helped the transition. Also I got to know his caregivers and they were great about communicating with me so it didn’t feel like he was being left with strangers. If you can I’d highly recommend easing him into it. I would take him with you to tour the facility and get acquainted and then start out by only leaving him for a couple hours at a time. Once he’s gotten more comfortable you can gradually increase it.

    This may not be your experience but I actually found that my apprehensions were actually far worse than the reality. Most of my fears turned out to be groundless and my son didn’t have any troubles adjusting at all. And I was surprised to find that I didn’t either. I’d practically forgotten what it’s like to have some space on my own just to think and recharge but once I started getting it again I wondered how I ever managed without it.

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

      I’m certain that my apprehensions are worse than the reality! Thanks for the advice :)

    • UKmummy

      I hope it goes well, whether you choose daycare or preschool, and that your son settles in well. Both my children stayed at home with me/husband (i went back to work and we both went parttime) until age 3 when they accept preschoolers in UK. (as opposed to a”nursery” which = daycare). They both loved it and their speech and social manners improved etc. – Yet, I still felt guilty for it! Mothers are born to feel guilt I think. Having space to yourself (and if you can arrange it, for just you and your partner) is invaluable to your relationship.
      Anyway, I just wanted to add, please be prepared for all the little bugs and sniffles and so on that comes with introducing a child to a group. All part of childhood! But you will get a cold or a D&V bug quite early on ;) …joy!

  • TngldBlue

    I’ve been there! My daughter started daycare at 2. It was so hard, the first week I did nothing but watch the webcam. Her first day one of the other kids pulled her hair and I could see her on the webcam crying and I called my mom positively sobbing because it was killing me not being there to comfort her (and to tell that little brat off). But we hung in there and she has thrived. I love that she has a little group of friends and comes home with all these stories and gets invited to birthday parties and has homework like “learn the letter A”. We started her with 2 days, then 3, and now she goes 5 days. And even though I still worry and fret while she’s gone because I’m her mom and that’s how it’s going to be, it’s been good for her and that makes it worth my inner agony!

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      Good lord I think a webcam would drive me crazy. You’d wanna fix every little thing.

  • historychick79

    C has been in daycare since 9wks old, but I feel that pain of ‘letting go’ right along with you. After the first week he was born and came home, he moved from our bedroom to his own crib (husband is a super-light sleeper and hears everything); I still remember crying because it felt like he was already taking a huge step. Now that he’s three, it feels like he reaches a new stage of independence several times a week (taking his shoes off himself, wanting to floss his teeth himself, playing on the daycare playground so intensely at the end of the day that he doesn’t want to come with me right away). I see how quickly the infant and toddler stages have already passed, and how kindergarden really is just about around the corner; and he’s going to be our only child so it all happens just once for us.
    The growth and change will happen regardless of daycare; if it didn’t happen now it will happen with kindergarden. Once you realize you fully trust your daycare provider, and see your child get comfortable with their new routine and classmates (and gain confidence!), it also brings you hope as you see your child develop into the person you know they will be some day. It’s all bittersweet, but exciting too.

  • Emily

    I don’t believe that a 3-year-old “needs” daycare, but I do believe that he can gain a lot from it. And I do think that YOU need him to go out for a bit.

    My kids did not go to daycare, but we are fortunate to live n a neighborhood with loads of kids, so we were frequently at playdates and playgrounds and going on outings. Some of the other moms have become my best friends. When they were a little older, they went to preschool a couple of mornings a week. We all loved it.

    Instead of daycare, why not look at a part-time preschool program? Beneficial for all.

    • LiteBrite

      Some daycares have programs that are just as good as preschool programs. My last daycare was pretty much preschool for our son for the last two years he was there. Daycares that are NAEYC-accredited will often have excellent educational advantages because their accreditation requirements are so much higher than state ones.

      However, they are often more expensive than regular daycare, so there is that tradeoff.

    • Mamama

      I agree with above. I don’t think a child needs daycare for socialization purposes. I hear you on being only one with kids (I’m right there in your same boat) but how much of an effort have you put forth to socializE him? Have you looked into local meet up groups in your community. Checked out programs at local library (usually free too!). It is tough to move out of your comfort zone and meet other people and also maybe tolerate people only for sake of your child. But I wouldn’t put him in day care for that sole reason alone. I think there’s more you can do. And this is coming from a shy person.

    • Andrea

      I was gonna suggest the same thing! It sounds like as a free lancer, you don’t “need” full time daycare, but could use a few hrs a day to work without being distracted.

      There should be several preschool programs in suburbian FLA! They are fairly affordable (less than any day care anyways) and he gets to have the best of both worlds! He can be with his friends in the mornings and his mom in the afternoons. He’ll make new friends, you will get some time off to do what you need to do and the it won’t break the bank!

  • NicknamesAreDull

    I started my daughter at daycare when she was about 2 1/2. For us, she was starting to show signs of stress from PCSing, and we wanted her to have something stable while we unpacked and got used to a new state/area. I started out slowly and took her on Monday and Tuesday, then added Wednesday when she started to adjust and I thought she’d like more time there. She really, really enjoyed the program and that made it a lot easier for me to let go. I also had a ton of stuff to do, and it was a lot easier to get that done. She did the M-W daycare until she was school-age.

    • LiteBrite

      We started daycare twice a week about three months after C was born. I was nervous at first – I mean, you hear so many horror stories that it’s hard not to be nervous – but we were very fortunate to find a good one right off the bat. They were always very open and honest and even helped us with things like pacifier-weaning (they were anti-pacifier there). We were sad to leave, but were fortunate to find another excellent daycare onsite at C’s school. He likes it so much that my husband started picking him up later because C was getting pissed off that we were picking him up so early and he didn’t get to play outside with his friends.

      But of course the key is to find a good one, which is half the battle right there. Sadly you often don’t know how “good” a place is until you actually have your kid in there.

  • Himani

    I agree with Emily! If you aren’t ready for him to go to daycare, try to find a Pre-K prep program. My son went to one at our local YMCA and he loved it. It was for a few hours a day, with 10 other kids. He loved it and I feel it really helped BOTH of us prepare for Pre-K.

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

      We actually just looked into joining our neighborhood Y. They give two hours of free daycare a day with your membership, which is pretty amazing!

    • Toaster

      I did this and it’s awesome! We started when my son was 1. He got a chance to hang out with other kids and learn how to survive without me and I got some much-needed time to myself. He freaked out when I left the first couple of times but then he was all “Bye mom, there’s toys!”

  • Portia Mount

    Your feelings are totally natural. I started my son in the Montessori toddler program at 20 months. He went for half day and I nearly died with worry about how he would fair. But he did better than great. He did amazing. The teachers were super caring and attentive and while he did cry at the drop off the first few weeks (BTW, get ready for that because that can be a soul destroyer. The experienced teachers will tell you that that is a natural part of learning to “separate” and that your child will learn to trust the staff and be comforted by them over time) eventually his Dad or I could drop him off and he would happily play with his new friends. You will be amazed at how his language skills accelerate and the first time he comes home to show off some cool new thing he has learned. Separation anxiety on YOUR and his part is totally natural. He’s going to do great and you’ll be just fine too, Maria. Just wait and see.

  • Bethany Ramos

    My husband and I are both full-time freelancers, just like you. We had to put our 16-month-old in half-day daycare, where he’s been for a few months, just to get any kind of work done at home. It’s also really hard for me to let go, but I personally think it’s the best of both worlds.

    Are there any half-day programs around you? It gets my son out of our hair for a few consistent hours every morning, and he honestly loves it and runs in the door when he gets there. I don’t know if he necessarily has friends at this age, but I do know that he gets really bored around the house whenever he’s sick. It’s pretty easy to see that the social interaction is good for him. You may start feeling the same way after a few weeks of daycare, after you rip the Band-Aid off. Good luck!

  • MBMichele

    Thanks for writing this. It describes my fears about my daughter going into daycare. I started working again so she started daycare for the first time about two weeks ago at 2.5. I was a police reporter for 10 years, so I know how unsafe the world can be. The thought of her on her own terrifies me. It’s not easy, and we’re both still adjusting. She cries every morning when I drop her off and clings to me. It takes all of my strength not to snatch her up and run out. It amazes me how much I miss her, and how sad I am to only see her for a few hours a day now (I was a freelancer for the last 13 months, so she was with me 24/7). I know she’s in good hands, so that helps when I reach parts of the day when the separation feels unbearable. Mothers who have been through it tell me it will get easier, and I hope it will. Good luck in your search for a wonderful place to care for your son.

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

      Oh God – the clinging and crying would drive me crazy. Thanks for the words of encouragement :)

    • CrushLily

      My son has been attending day care since he was 6 months old and he’s now almost 2 and a half. He used to cry when I left, but his carer assured me that with some simple distractions within a minute or two he was fine. If you have concerns about the child’s distress, I’m sure you can arrange to observe them unseen to see how quickly they do calm down.
      On the plus side, I get THE BEST cuddles at drop-off and pick-up. It won’t be long before he won’t want Mum cuddles, so I cherish them!

  • Momma425

    I don’t necessarily believe a 3 year old “needs” daycare. When I was a child I did a cooperative preschool program with my stay at home mom. It was very inexpensive compared to a drop off preschool, and it was the best of both worlds because mom was there half the time. You might want to look into that and see if anything similar is available in your area.
    If you do end up sending him to daycare- I have been there. I stayed at home with my daughter until she was three, and then started working full time so I had no other choice. It took about a month to adjust. That month was HELL- she made me feel SO guilty (crying everyday when I dropped her off, pulling on my leg, refusing to nap there). It was awful. BUT there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is her second year of daycare, and she is very social, and loves her teacher and all of her friends. A few weeks ago, I kept her home because she had the stomach flu. Her biggest complaint wasn’t the vomiting all day- it was that she missed all of her friends!
    Letting go is a hard- but necessary- evil.

  • Sarah

    I was recently in a very similar situation, I’ve been a SAHM since he was born! My son turned three in July and I was worried about him not having much social interaction. Yesterday he had his first day of “preschool” and its only two days a week three hours at a time. We’ve only had one day granted but I see it being a wonderful experience for both of us! It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be in my own head but I did have a sense of relief when I picked him up and he cant wait to go back! Plus, going to the bank or grocery store is going to get easier with one less little one, good luck!

  • Veronika

    Its understandable, as a mother you never want to intrust your child with someone else

  • WinWin

    I think letting go is tough at any age! My son started daycare when he was about 8 months old. It has been more than 3 years now and I still hurt a little when I see him walk off every morning. I feel a little better when I see him light up and enjoy being among his friends.
    Also, my biggest consolation is that even though I have to leave him in a day care so I could work everyday, he has leaned so much more than I could have ever managed – everything from potty training to eating independently to reading/writing. I am sure there are a lot of talented SAHM who manage to teach their kids all this on their own, but the day care has been a tremendous help for me.

  • rotimom

    I haven’t read the comments, so somebody might have already said this. Have you considered putting him into preschool instead of daycare? It is cheaper, more educational and he wouldn’t spend all day, every day there. He would be among other kids and would learn a lot.

  • Simone

    I cannot WAIT for a place to be available at my chosen daycare. My one year old is easily bored and I am over being at home. Plus, the one I’ve picked is consistently rated at ‘exceeding national standards’ AND once when I visited, all the staff were having Ugg Boots Day for no apparent reason.