So Mr S is almost 11 months and it’s time for me to go back to work, which has meant settling him into childcare.
And I have to be honest and say it is just about the hardest thing I have ever done. There have been tears – from me, from Schmoo, from The Chef. My first week at work involved 2 full, long days of childcare, where I know S didn’t sleep very well, was unsettled and confused and tearful. But my god, babies are resilient, adaptable little things, and I’m writing this feeling such an overwhelming surge of relief, just one week in, because I want to report (as support for other working mums out there) that he suddenly seems really, deliriously, happy.
After meeting nannies, visiting nurseries, and checking out childminders, we decided on a childminder at home with up to 6 other under 3s (with an assistant). This is because we liked the home setting – with a cot in a bedroom for S, lovely home-cooked meals and a familiar, home-from-home atmosphere. We also thought 4 or 5 other little buddies would be perfect for S as he’s a confident, sociable little boy who loves interacting with others, especially with elder children.
But you never know, do you. And last week I felt racked with misery and guilt, as he bawled with tears as I left him and did the same when I picked him up. Other mums and even the childminder said he’d stop as soon as I left, and I tried to hide my upset, but I couldn’t stop my own tears from falling. How could I do this to him? Was I RUINING him? He’d done so well so far, was it all going to gowrong? How could I be so selfish, picking my financial and professional life over this little boy, so so very little?
So I did what every guilt-ridden working mum would do. I googled “psychological effects on 1 year olds of childcare” and spent my next day off stuck to my iPhone, bursting into regular tears. I read studies – Norwegian, British and American – I even read studies of those studies. I read about increased levels of stress and cortisol, of insecure maternal attachments and increased aggression. To be honest, unless the studies had shown that children under 3 who entered childcare were positively affected in EVERY way, I would have found something to feel bad about. But there were mitigating factors of any downsides – positive family support that could ease any stress that unfamiliarity could cause, benefits of high quality childcare which I knew we’d carefully chosen, and the likelihood of increased sociability and cognitive development. So there was stuff we could do to help, and positives too.
The childminder was wonderful – reassuring, caring, texting me photos and updates, sending me his daily reports and being sympathetic to my worries. She also has the most incredible activity list and meal plans, and I think in my heart of hearts, while I was crippled by his tears at being left, I also knew one day soon he was likely to start loving being with the other little kids, doing finger puppets and hand paintings and reading stories. I just didn’t know if that day would be days, weeks or even months away.
So I thought about cortisol – about the stress that S might feel at being left in an unfamiliar environment after so long at home with mummy. And so, like the organised working mummy I am, and after reading every single blog post and forum I could find, I came up with the following Project Settle Baby In plan:
1. Lessen S’s stress by not being stressed or upset ourselves. Not doing too much on days at home or weekends, letting him sleep and relax. Not hugging him to death (too much). Being super positive about this new situation to him.
2. Making drop offs short, affectionate, happy and sweet.
3. Talking to S regularly about “Auntie L” his childminder, walking him to her house to get him used to the journey, talking about what a nice time he would have there with her and his new friends.
4. Giving the childminder one of his favourite toys (sunglasses – go figure), and a bunny rabbit that I’d slept with for a week to cover in my scent. Adding that to his own sleeping bag and comforter in his cot for naps.
5. Asking the childminder for photos of her and his new buddies to keep at home to show him that they are part of our life now.
So after being utterly miserable for a week, when he seemed unsettled and upset and teary, we started this week positive and hopeful. And I don’t know if it was Project Settle In, or that babies are just incredibly adaptable and that they settle in quickly, or maybe he was just ill or teething or going through a developmental clingy phase last week, but today – only day 3 of full day childcare – things started brilliantly with the fact that apparently he only cried very briefly on drop-off, and then a friend of mine texted to say she’d seen him in the park with his new buddies looking happy, and then when The Chef picked S up, he was told he’d been laughing his head off, had been charming and sweet. The childminder has since said he was relaxed and chirpy all day, and that the other kids love him.
I cannot tell you how happy, how relieved I am. As another mum told me, babies can’t hide how they feel – if they are sad, you’d know about it. And my goodness what a happy baby boy I came home to today – laughing and cuddly and affectionate. My mum said this would make him love me even more and, having worried last week that he might hate me for deserting him, I actually think we both love our time together even more than we did before.
Obviously he might get tired and unsettled and ill again, and it might take him longer to deal with more days away from mummy, but I can now trust my initial instinct – which was that this is his new stage of development, and that he will love the new interaction and stimulation of organised games and buddies to play with. And looking at the childminder’s activity list – the trips and creativity and planned games, and I compare it to me at home, stacking the dishwasher and trudging round the park on a particularly unimaginative day, and I’m so excited to see how he develops and grows. On my day off, we will do our music class and then have a chilled out afternoon on the swings or in the park, our quality time in this brave new world.
But we shall see in the weeks ahead. Watch this space….