The Getting Of Daycare Guilt

Every Tuesday, Nicole McInnes gets the long day care blues.

I realised, as I hid my pain behind another animated farewell, that it wasn’t just guilt, it was plain and simple sadness.
So many people have told me that sending your child to long day care is good for them. The local GP, paediatricians and other mothers are quick to rattle off the benefits.

My 21 month old has been at day care for a year. If you ignore the endless viruses that plagued him during the first winter, he has thrived. He has carers who love him and new friends that he’s made all on his own, without the encouragement of a doting parent. His understanding of the world is constantly extended through early-learning frameworks, activities and influences from a diverse range of people. Add the growing amount of research that seems to suggest that quality care has a neutral-to-positive effect on children, and you have a pretty compelling argument for attending.

So with all this evidence in my mind, my question is: why do I feel so bad?

At first I thought this ‘bad’ feeling was guilt: guilt that I was not being a full-time mum; guilt that the action of leaving him might make him think we didn’t love him; guilt when he became sick. But I realised, as I hid my pain behind another animated farewell. It wasn’t just guilt, it was plain and simple sadness.

On Tuesdays I find myself a little more agitated. All because I know that the next day Max is going to day care to fend for himself for three whole days. I am bracing myself for the pain I will inevitably feel as I let him go. But who really benefits when you keep them at home? I know I would feel a lot less anxious if he were with me 100 per cent of the time. Nothing bad would happen if I were around. Ignoring the fact that this is simply not true, what sort of preparation would this experience be for what is quite a hostile society these days?

From one who never went to day care (and cried the one time she went to after-school care), I didn’t really learn that the world didn’t revolve around me until I was in my early twenties. And am I closer to my mother because she was always there for us? I don’t know. But a lot of my childhood memories have her frustrated, stressed out or busy doing chores.

In the end, is it my feelings I am trying to spare when my heart fills with dread on a Tuesday, rather than Max’s? Did my mother take the easy road for herself by staying at home and keeping me protected from the world? Did she ease her own anxieties while I never properly learned to trust my own judgement? Or am I just kidding myself? Are these just selfish justifications so that I can get a break and do something for myself while strangers care for him for nearly half the week?

I honestly don’t know if there is one right answer. So I oscillate back and forth, confused by my feelings and the conflicting arguments before me. One thing’s for sure: Max is a happy, confident and social child. I don’t want to jeopardise that by being a ‘selfless’ yet resentful mummy. So while he’s exhausted after a day at day care, the benefits to him and our family far outweigh the brain snaps his tiredness sometimes brings.

Letting him go may be one of the most loving and truly selfless things I could do, but I wish I didn’t have to. I wish I could teach him about the world from within a big cuddle. But I can’t, and so I sit here and miss him. TGIF.

Illustration by Dean Gorissen