It’s Not All Mary Poppins

A mystery…

I had an interview a while back with a family who was looking for care because their previous arrangement had not worked out.

Now, if you’re me, that’s a red flag. Or at least an orange one. There are many innocuous reasons why daycare arrangements might not work out, of course. Maybe someone’s work hours changed such that they no longer meshed with the daycare’s hours. Maybe the daycare provider became ill, or had to move out of the area. Maybe another child at the daycare was over-the-top aggressive and the caregiver wouldn’t give them notice. All sorts of things.

Or maybe, maybe this client is hard on daycare providers. Maybe they have the outrageously aggressive child. Maybe they’re prima donnas whose expectations of caregivers are extreme and unreasonable.

Sometimes that’s really easy to pick up. The client I interviewed a few years back whose interview with me was a long litany of vitriolic bad-mouthing of all her previous interviews? Wouldn’t touch her with a ten-foot pole. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she’s chewed through half a dozen caregivers in the intervening years, utterly convinced of their unworthiness and her superiority.

But more often, it’s not. I always ask what happened with the last caregiver, but the answers don’t necessarily inform. “She wasn’t invested in the kids. She didn’t really connect with them.” What does that mean, really? More important, what hat does that mean to that parent?

I’ve seen uninterested, disengaged caregivers. I know they’re out there. It could be this parent has a valid concern. It could be their child was with someone who supervised only for physical safety, and otherwise ignored the children. It happens.

Or it could be I’m chatting with a complete helicopter parent, who doesn’t understand that not only is it not “neglectful’ to let your child play on their own and sort out small problems unassisted, but is actively good for them! The sort of parent who sneers when they see the nannies chatting together on the park bench, instead of scrambling about on the play structure with the children — the children who are perfectly happy playing with each other. Who imagines that a ‘good’ parent spends each one of the child’s waking minutes in close, enriching contact with their precious child.

It’s hard to determine what I’m looking at, when sitting in my living room.

In this case, though? None of the above.

Their child had been in a cooperative daycare, organized amongst five sets of parents, and including only the children of those parents. The little girl had just never settled in. Would cry the entire day. This went on for … well, I’m not sure how long. This parent’s tolerance of crying is extremely low (another cautionary flag), and I didn’t think to ask. If it was just a week, they moved too quickly. If it was a month, well, yes, time to look elsewhere.

I did explain that transitional tears are normal — though they very rarely continue all day long! I talked about how much crying, and how long, was within normal parameters.

“Maybe it’s because there were too many kids all the same age, all needing the same amount of care?” she mused. It could be. I gather there were 4 one-year-olds, all new to daycare, plus a couple older pre-school kids. (Which puts the enrollment over the legal limit for a home daycare in this province (5), I could have pointed out, but didn’t. Maybe a co-op daycare has different regulations? I don’t know.) I’m also surprised they could find a caregiver who was willing to take on that many one-year-olds, but then again, with the daily assistance of a parent, it could be do-able. Still, a handful, even so.

It was a few weeks later, talking with other caregivers, that I learned more about the previous daycare arrangement. From the other provider, I got a lot more details that I’d asked of my parents.

Five families had clubbed together to provide care for their children. That’s fine. However. They had not, as I had assumed, hired someone to care for the kids full-time, with each parent scheduled to assist on a rotating basis. I assumed it, because that’s how every co-op daycare I know works: full-time, professional, experienced staff, assisting (willing and motivated, but generally group-care-inexperienced) parents.

No. Each parent had signed on to care for all the children for a full day, in rotation. On their own. Solo. Ten parents, so each parent took one day off work every other week. The children would rotate with the adults, so that each parent would care for the kids in their own home.

I’m sure it looked good in theory.

With no paid staff, the costs would be non-existent. Any costs that did emerge would be split amongst five families. Ten heads for brain-storming problems, to offer support. Best, the children would be cared for by their parents! The kids would have the comfort of their mommy or daddy, in their own home, two days of ten.

But.

From the kids’ perspective?

A strange environment, 8 days of ten. A different environment every single day of the week. A strange adult, several days of ten. (Some of the families knew each other socially, but not everyone knew everybody.) For the one-year-olds, three other one-year-olds.

Lordy.

I can only imagine the chaos. Ten people, with ten different interaction styles, expectations, rules, standards, tolerances. A new one EVERY DAY!!! Six or seven kids, heads whirling with all the strangeness: strange playmates, strange caregivers, strange homes, new toys. Perpetual strangeness, every day of the week. Had they kept it to one location, that would have been better, but the steady rotation of staff would still have doomed it to failure.

I’ve found it takes a 1-year-old three to four full weeks to become fully comfortable in care. (Usually three, four for some kids, more if the child comes part-time.) Three to four full weeks when every day is the same. Predictable. Consistent. Same people, same place, same toys, same rules/regs/expectations. A full month.

So. When none of those things are the same, day to day?

Chaos. Unending chaos. Only the most socially hardy could survive. Thrive? I’m not sure any kid could thrive in that.

All of this, moreover, managed and supervised by a parent completely inexperienced in caring for groups of children. (Of course they were inexperienced. Anyone with a breath of experience would have seen immediately that this wonderful idea was a disaster in the making, and refused to have any part in it. My assumption that there’d be two adults working together every day, I now saw, was an assumption made by a woman with a ton of experience tending groups of children.)

Picture it: A room full of disoriented, unhappy, overwhelmed babies and toddlers, supervised by a disillusioned, confused, overwhelmed adult.

Oh, my.

So, no, I’m not surprised they ended up looking for alternate care.

I suspect the daycare tanked. How did I find out about this? Because the caregiver who told me the story had interviewed a different family from the same set-up, whose child “had just never adjusted to daycare”.

And they didn’t really know why…

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November 27, 2013 - Posted by | daycare, parents |

3 Comments »

  1. I’m just sitting here with my jaw swinging.

    See, this is why (following on with yesterday’s post) I *do* get my back up when people make assumptions about me, my education, and my motivations for caring for children – because so many people think it’s EASY, what we do. And that anyone can do it. And that all one needs is an adult and some cribs, and BAM! instant daycare.

    Boy oh boy.

    I figured you hadn’t commented because you disagreed. 😀

    A couple of years ago, a friend, then out of work and scrambling as to what to do next, suggested he might do what I do, clearly thinking it was easy to do. You know, just sit at home and wait for the babies to drop from heaven. I wasn’t insulted, though: I just thought he was an idiot.

    So I smiled and said, “What a great idea! Why don’t you come over and worked with me a couple of days, just to see what’s involved?” He never showed up (surprise, surprise), but if he had, you can be sure I was intending to work him into the fucking ground. Heh.

    Comment by Hannah | November 27, 2013 | Reply

  2. Wow….just wow!

    Comment by Tammy | November 27, 2013 | Reply

  3. Perhaps this is mean of me, but I cracked up. It reminds me of when I browse parenting forums and some (usually new) child care provider posts a message looking for help or advice and is roundly slammed by earnest mummies who accuse the caregiver of ignoring children in their care because they are not constantly holding them, hovering over them, etc. I think most parents have NO idea how group care works, and the tactics employed to make the day go smoothly. Child care, done correctly, is not easy, which may be why most providers in my state leave the field after a couple of years. I can imagine how eye opening the experience was for those parents.

    Comment by Kate | November 27, 2013 | Reply


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