Monday, January 2, 2012

The Daycare Meltdown

My Monkey is nearly 1 year old. I returned to work at around 8 weeks postpartum, but I know many women that wait until 1 year or longer if they are able. I have many friends that are looking at getting back in the workforce. For many of us, this means that our babies will be with another provider, whether that be a babysitter, nanny, family member, in-home daycare, or daycare center.

This means that the inevitable will happen: You will go to pick up your child and your poor baby will be a cranky, emotional mess as soon as you get there. It will break your heart. It will make you think they are sad to be leaving their provider instead of being happy to see you. Because, really, WHY would a child who is happy to see Mommy be crying?

I experienced this with my older children. They would scream, cry, throw fits, and be cranky for what seemed like the rest of the evening after work. It didn't seem to matter what I did, Sassy or Diva (sometimes both!) would collapse in a puddle of emotions, usually before we even made it to the car. I'd comment that they must be tired, to which my provider would say, "No, she took a great nap today." Or I'd comment that she must not be feeling well and my provider would say, "She's been happy all day and hasn't acted sick." Gee, thanks for making it feel like it is ME that is causing her this emotional pain, right?

During my pregnancy with Monkey and after his birth, I did a lot of research into breastfeeding, both online and reading books. The one book that I bought is Nursing Mother, Working Mother. I figured that this would be a good fit for me, full of tips to help me successful weave breastfeeding with my job. It was in this book that I found this gem of a passage:

Babies often become fussy and sensitive the moment their mothers arrive at daycare after work. The provider may interject at this moment that the baby "hasn't cried all day," unintentionally implying that she is in tears because her mother has come. In a way, the implication is correct. Babies often wait until they are with their mothers to express all the frustrations and other feelings that have built up during the day. They know they are with the one person who can meet all their needs, and therefore they feel free to express them. School-age children do the same thing. If your reunions after work are marked by fussiness and crying, it's because your baby has saved a day's worth of her expressions of need for the person who really matters-you.
That's right. Your child IS crying because you are picking him up from daycare. But it is NOT because he is sad to see you. NOT because he was happier playing with the providers or other children. It is because your child has an entire day's worth of emotions that he has been saving up and waiting to express them to the person who matters most in their life: Mom and Dad.

Think about this from an adult perspective. You go to work today. Your day includes many frustrations. Your boss is constantly asking about when a big project will be done. One of your co-workers is pushing off their duties on other people, including you. One of your clients makes irrational demands that you cannot fulfill. And you realized you left your lunch at home, causing you to order in.

Would you spend your entire day voicing these frustrations to your boss, co-workers, and clients? No. You would wait until you could voice them to someone that you share an emotional attachment with. That could be a spouse, partner, parent, friend...whoever you voice your frustrations to on a regular basis. When that person asks "How was your day?", you will likely start by voicing all the things that went WRONG with your day.

Is it any wonder that our children do the same? The only difference is that they do not have the verbal skills to explain the frustrations they experienced in their day, so they express it with tears.

So whether you are picking up the kids from the grandparents, a babysitter, or a daycare, understand that they have bottled up all their frustrations during the day and have waited to let them out for when you return. YOU are the person they vent to. YOU are the person that comforts them and makes them feel better. YOU are the person who lets them work through those emotions and puts a smile back on their face.

I know it doesn't always seem like that when your toddler has collapsed in a puddle of tears on the floor and you have to pick them up, dead weight, and carry them to the car. But it is the truth. Just keep reminding yourself about it as you comfort your poor frustrated baby.

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