On a July summer morning, I was woken up by my almost 9-month-old licking my face. After the usual morning snuggles, I felt butterflies in my stomach. It was a huge day for us. Today would be the first day my baby boy starts day care.
I returned to work when my son was about 6.5 months. We were in India to spend time with family for a few months. With the massive support of both parents and in-laws, we were able to manage taking care of my son at home alongside working from home from India. Once we returned to our home abroad, we had to think of alternate arrangements.
After a fair amount of deliberation, my husband and I agreed that sending my son to day care would be the best solution for us as a family. My son would start 3 days a week and gradually build up to 4 days a week (with me having every Friday off, we were covered with a good plan). When near and dear heard the plan we had in mind, here were some comments we heard (some from a place of genuine concern, some with the intent of solely triggering):
- Isn’t the baby too young to start day care?
- Why can’t you both take care of baby along with working? Surely you can manage!
- Why can’t baby’s grandparents come there and take care of him full time?
- What if baby doesn’t like it at day care?
- (Most brutal) Why have a baby if you plan to leave him at day care? Is work more important?
Let me address these one by one.
On 1), where we live, babies start day care as early as 2 months. The decision regarding when to send a baby to day care rests solely with parents/other guardians if applicable. Some parents may have to return to work early depending on duration of maternity/paternity leave in their countries. Some may not have other options available such as nannies or au pairs, or even if available, decide that they may not be suitable for their family. The best time for a baby to start day care depends also on the temperament of the baby. As they grow older and become more aware of surroundings, it MAY be hard for them to adapt.
On 2), I was bit shocked to hear such comments from my own generation. Managing work and baby together at home is no walk in the park. This means both parents must schedule meetings around nap times and mealtimes. My husband and I agreed that while this may be possible in the short term, repeatedly doing this may result in either of us burning out. Our work also doesn’t allow this level of flexibility (more so as I cram all my workload in 4 days, rather than 5). This doesn’t help anyone! Sending my son to day care would allow us to work peacefully knowing the baby is well looked after and when he returns to us in the evening, he will have our full attention and energy to play and thrive!
On 3), why must we automatically place such a huge responsibility on grandparents? Don’t they deserve rest? In our eyes, our expectations from grandparents were to engage, play and interact with baby. Till about 6 months, when our baby was not so mobile, our parents helped with meals, bath time and what not! Once our baby started crawling, walking, and running, it was a challenge for the grandparents to keep up the energy, so we ensured that as parents, we completely take care of meals, diapering and bath time. This guaranteed that the only thing grandparents had to do was play and enjoy their time with their grandson. They did help hugely with cooking and house chores, but we were pretty sure that taking care of an active baby 24*7 all the time while we were away at work would leave them drained.
On 4), if we allowed our world to be rules by the “what ifs”, would be ever get anywhere? Before our son was born, there a different set of what-ifs thrown at us since our parents were not able to travel to be with us during delivery and the newborn days, thanks to the pandemic:
- What if you both can’t take care of baby alone?
- What if you both become very tired and can’t rest?
- What if you don’t know how to handle a baby?
These are some questions we paid little attention to and moved on, eventually managing the newborn days as well on our own being well-informed and prepared. If the baby does not like or adapt well to day care, we would have to find the root cause and address it. We were sure we would cross that bridge when we get there!
On 5), can we stop judging mothers for their choices? Be it whether to breastfeed or formula feed, use a disposable diaper or cloth diaper, hire a nanny or send to day care, wean traditionally or follow baby-led weaning, quit work or work after baby – the list is endless. A mother continuing to pursue her dreams after having a baby doesn’t make her any less of a mother. Working after having a baby is an act of constantly shifting priorities. If my baby is sick one day, I am going to be with him 100% and offer all my care and support. If an urgent and important business meeting requires my presence, I may pick up my baby from day care a bit later. Constantly shifting attention between personal and professional life is no mean feat. Mothers need support, more than opinions from others! A little kindness goes a long way.
Back to the day in July – my husband and I rushed to get everything ready while our son played in his corner. We reached day care and I swallowed a huge lump in my throat. This would be the first time I trust strangers with my baby (albeit very well trained and caring ones, namely the day care staff). Looks like this was going be harder for me than my baby! The day care staff gently took our baby. He didn’t cry (he was not yet aware he would be spending the day there). I fought back tears and quickly walked out, knowing he was OK. The day care would send us updates through their app. Back home, we learnt he was doing alright – playing and drinking milk. Of course, he searched for us now and then but did well for his first day! As the months flew, there were days where he had separation anxiety and would cry the minute we reached the day care doorstep. Over time, this got better and now he really enjoys his time at day care, as they have tons of engaging activities for him. He now knows we will come for him in the evening and this reunion is the best part of our day, every day!