It’s Not All Mary Poppins


A couple of years ago, children started with me at five or six months old. Now they start at a year. Although I firmly believe the year-long mat. leaves are much better for the family, for me it was easier with six-month-olds. (I cannot speak through direct experience to caring for four- or six-WEEK-old babies (except my own!) but my educated guess would that it would be still more straightforward. More hands-on, yes, but straightforward. These children don’t know where their bodies end and the rest of the world begins. They’re not likely to make strange…)

Six-month-olds, bless them, tend to coo when a new person holds them, and reward the smiling stranger with radiant smiles of their own. Year-old children tend to cling to momma’s thigh, view the smiling stranger with a frown of suspicion and wail when momma leaves. This makes my working environment a little stressful for the adjustment period, indeed. Fretful clinginess is the norm, to be juggled with the normal needs of three or four or five other tots. (The others are generally quite concerned and solicitious, but New Baby doesn’t generally appreciate their attention!) However, awkward and labour-intensive as it is for me, it is the parents who truly suffer.

The parents. Oh, the poor parents. Their tot suffers in their own way, it’s true, but it’s the parents who agonise. The parents, who remember the tear-filled wails at drop-off all day long. The parents, who worry throughout the day, staring at that picture of baby on their desk, hearing the cries echo in their ears through their working hours, who yearn to sooth and reassure – and can’t. Who know that, were it not for their decision (even when it really wasn’t much of a choice), baby would be safe in their arms, not wailing at a stranger’s house. Baby has his/her moments of anxiety at the door, then gets a lovely cuddle, feels better, maybe a has snack and a bottle, goes out to play in the park, swings on the swing, listens to a story, gets fed some more. Whenever the newness of the situation hits them anew? More snuggles, more cuddles, more lovin’.

Meantime, who’s loving mom and dad? Who’s telling them it’ll be okay? Who’s rubbing their backs and giving them their binkie? Who’s taking away the guilt, the guilt, the nasty “I-should-be-with-my-baby, how-can-I-abandon-him/her-like-this, what’s-more-important-than-my-baby” guilt?

One of the things that can ease the transition to daycare is a weaning-in process. It may surprise you to learn that I do not think a weaning-in process is necessary for most children. After over ten years in this business, it is my firm conviction that the weaning-in is only secondarily about acclimatizing the child to the daycare. Primarily it is to reassure the parents.

In my experience, it takes a six-month-old child three weeks of full-time attendance to make the adjustment to care. Year-old children may take a week or two longer. Children who come three or fewer days per week take longer still. At the end of those first few weeks, the tears at the door should be finished (parents who unconsciously encourage tears can be the subject of another post) and the child should be having happy days at daycare. It takes this long whether there was a gentle two-week weaning-in process, or whether it was done cold turkey, after a single initial baby-caregiver meeting. It really doesn’t seem to make a great deal of difference. To the child.

It can make a huge difference to the parents. Parents want to see the child with the other children, they want to watch the provider interact with their child, they want to see their child gain familiarity with the new environment. Bottom line: mom and dad want to get a sense that their child is gaining comfort in the new place. They want a sense that their child doesn’t feel abandoned to strangers.

Weaning-in, then, is mostly for mom and dad’s benefit. And you know what? This is not a bad reason. This is not a second-rate, inferior reason. This does not make it something insignificant and dispensible, needy or selfish. If you want it, you should do it. (Conversely, if you don’t want/need, or simply can’t manage it, you can feel reassured that you will not be guaranteeing ever more layers of trauma to your tot by starting cold turkey.)

If you opt for weaning-in, there are a few things you need to know. Having a parent around can make the daycare provider’s job more difficult. The extra adult changes the dynamic. It can make some children more self-conscious and clingy to the daycare lady, some may be more prone to act out and show off to the new audience, other will be less attentive to the daycare lady – why listen to boring old her when there’s this NEW person in town???

Thus, no matter how experienced your caregiver, you may be making her a little self-conscious, and you are certainly adding a layer of complexity to her day. So, if she asks you to follow certain guidelines when you are with her, please do.

(Do not, as one mother did to me, directly contradict the caregiver’s instructions. “Come get your hats on, guys.” “Oh, they don’t need hats: it’s not that cold out there!” Well, thank you for your input…)

Also, you need to recognize that group care is different than individual care. Not better, not worse, just different. The daycare lady may respond to the children differently than you. There are different patterns of interactions, different dynamics that need to be monitored and maintained when there are five or six children in a room, as opposed to just one.

Remember, too, your baby’s caregiver has multiple children to care for; she may not be able to chat with you. (I once had a parent complain because she felt “ignored and snubbed” her during her visit. She didn’t think I had ignored her child, mark you, but that I had ignored herself – the mother. So, if it will make you feel “unwelcome” when the caregiver breaks off in the middle of a sentence to attend to the children, or fails to make eye contact with you because she’s busy scanning the sandbox, I think perhaps weaning-in isn’t the right strategy for you. Mm-kay?)

Finally, and most importantly, recognize that weaning-in does not guarantee no tears at drop-off when full-time care begins. When the child is spending full days with this new person, no matter how gradual the transition, they will feel the adjustment, and there may well be tears. What weaning-in does do is begin the transition, and, most importantly, it can give mom and dad the assurance they’re looking for.

You may not get a blankie and a snuggle, mom and dad, but it is going to be all right!

© 2006, Mary P

April 22, 2006 Posted by | daycare, Developmental stuff, parenting, parents | 12 Comments


There. A highly successful round of interviews done, and a new client signed up. Sometimes things click, you know? Last time I had a space open unexpectedly — with a months’ notice — it took me five months to fill it. By the end of that time, I’d eaten through the cushion, which, like the smart self-employed person I am, I keep stashed away against such eventualities, and was not liking the look of that wolf slavering on my doorstep…

(Though it is not now the case, when I started in this gig I was a single, sole-support mother. The daycare was not a “lucrative hobby”, as one friend (in)famously put it, nor was it, as it is in the case of some of my caregiver friends, the income stream that allows for luxuries like holidays and renos, it was my bread and butter.)

But this time! This time I had tonnes of applicants for the position. What a lovely position to be in… except that it meant that I had to turn people away.

That’s hard.

Well, mostly it is. Not always. And you know, for the sake of the mother, I felt really badly about saying no, and was greatly relieved when it turned out not to work for her — and when she found a spot in a local daycare centre within days of our interview. Phew.

There was the lovely, lovely couple with a cheery, well-managed little boy. I soooo wanted to offer them the spot — she was a former nanny, almost always a good, good thing, they were both eminently sensible, friendly, and fun — but they only wanted three days a week, and I really, really need full-time.

There was the nice pair with a sweet little girl — but active! lord, that child was gogogogogogogo — but they wanted to start Right NOW, and, even though some might argue I shouldn’t feel any qualms about doing to others as was being done to me, I do.

There was the Very Involved couple… After one lengthy phone call, pretty much an interview in itself, they came to my home for the in-home interview. As I do with all potential clients, I sent the contract home with them to peruse at their leisure. They phoned not one, but THREE times with questions about the contract, taking another two-ish hours of my time. And then, they wanted another interview AND a month-long weaning-in for their child, with a parent in attendance for about half that time. Can you say “High Maintenance”, boys and girls? They weren’t so hard to turn down…

And then there was the couple who:
– live right down the street
– wanted to start when I wanted them to start, and want full-time care
– soft-spoken (this matters to aural me: loud parents often engender loud children)
– had heard about me from other sources and reeeeally wanted the spot
– and I just liked them. Though first impressions do not always survive better acquaintance, it helps enormously when I like the parents. No matter how much I might looooove the child, if the parents are obnoxious, it can taint my whole work environment. Don’t ask me how, but it’s happened in the past. Toxic people are… toxic.

So. I have a lovely couple who want to start on June 15. Other mom is due in June sometime — I still don’t know the date — so now I need to talk to her.

Ugh. Not looking forward to that conversation. And yet, yes. Yes, I am. It will be good to have this thing DONE.


March 4, 2010 Posted by | daycare, parents | 12 Comments

Yes, yes, no: Picking a daycare family

I’m interviewing again.

778240_little_matheus_5In September, Timmy, Anna and Emily will be old enough to go to Junior Kindergarten. Imagine that! My babies are heading off to the Big World Out There! So teeny to be going. School starts TOO YOUNG. I will miss their little faces.

I have three spaces to fill. Three. Sixty percent of my income heading off to JK.

So far I’ve met with three families, representing four children. (Emma is so excited about the possibility of “Twins, mom! So CUTE!”) I have another interview schedule early next week. By then I should be in a position to offer a position to an interested family. Or, if all goes well, two families!

Let’s recap:
1. Family one. LOVELY people. Soft-spoken, easy-going, sort of granola (as am I — “sort of” rather than “fervently”). Warm smiles, apparently respectful and affectionate marriage. Introverts, (as am I). Both of them interacted equally with the baby. I just got a good, good, good feeling about them. We “clicked”. I hope they felt the same way!

2. Family two. Nice enough people. Mother wants long, long weaning-in, assurances about the number of other same-age children I’ll be taking on, assurances that I will pick up her child when she cries. Mother came with checklist on a clipboard. I don’t recall if dad spoke during the interview.

3. Family 3. Only met the mother, in fact. Dad was home with the twins. LOVELY woman. Warm, ready laugh. Extrovert. Anxious about finding care, but sensible, balanced, relaxed. A slightly irreverent sense of humour when it comes to her kids, a thing I love to see.

My preferences are, in this order:

Family 1, Family 3, Family 2.

Family one is just a good fit. The parents and I are on the same page about any number of things, beyond child-rearing. This is what I look for. It just felt right, and I would have no hesitation at all in offering them the space.

Family 3 is lovely, but they’re my second choice. Not because of the twins, but because there’s a bit of a mystery surrounding how she came to me. She needs care SOON, as in, five or six weeks, and with year-long maternity leaves, people just don’t leave it that long.

I get the impression, based on something she didn’t quite say, that she had someone lined up and bailed on them. (Or, worse, she has someone lined up now and will bail on them if she finds something better.) While I totally understand why a parent would feel the need to do this, particularly a parent of twins, who has much more difficulty finding a spot, it makes me a smidge uneasy. If she’d do that to someone else, would she hesitate to do that to me? Obviously, if I decide to take her on/she decides to go with me, I’d have to ask the direct question.

They may not opt for me anyway. It was clear that my closing time is an issue. Nothing she said, but she sorta winced when I told her. So I may be excluded on that very pragmatic logistical basis.

And Family 2? I will not take on Family 2, even if the others don’t opt for me. Now, the mother seems to be a nice person. Our child-rearing styles are not too dissimilar.

By the end of the interview, though, there were just too many red flags.

She’s too Earnest. Now, almost all first-time parents are Earnest, so in and of itself that wouldn’t be sufficient to exclude her from consideration. However, she’s Earnest with a large side of Controlling.

Not because of the clipboard and checklist. I have a terrible memory. My home is rife with checklists. Checklists are my friends, and I’m not about to deny one to the sleep-deprived mother of a brain-sucking 5-month-old.


– The so-lengthy weaning-in, where she’d be in my home for part of the day for weeks on end? Not happening. It’s a huge imposition on my autonomy. Yes, I will wean in if the parents want, but for a week or two, not months.

– The expectation that she can tell me how to respond to her child — not that what she wants is unreasonable, but the point is it’s my decision to make on my time. (She can find out what my philosophy on these things is, looking for a good match to her own. She cannot dictate.)

– The request for assurances that I will limit the number of other year-old babies in my care? Well, I’d like to. Three year-old babies is a PILE of work. However, the reality is that I have three spaces opening simultaneously, and that most parents looking for care are bringing year-old babies.

In short, she wants too much control over my work environment.

She also doesn’t understand that the interview is a two-way evaluation, she of me, and me of her. Though she is continuing with other interviews, she requested that if anyone else expressed interest in this spot, I would let her know so that she could have it first. No recognition that the spot would have to be offered to her, that there are two equal parties to the decision. This is the woman who perceives her caregiver as her employee, not (as I am) an independent contractor. This perception of the balance of power matters enormously.

Moreover, she’s not the best communicator. (Not, that is, if you understand communicating as including listening). When I underlined that I could give no such assurances re: ages of children in care, it obviously didn’t ‘take’. In her re-capping of the interview, she listed that as something we’d agreed upon.

I didn’t correct her, because I’d already decided I wouldn’t take this family.

Most of these are things I would not have picked up on 15 years ago. Even if I had, I’d not have seen the significance of them. But now I know that it’s these emotive, relational things that make the caregiver-parent relationship live or die. I can predict with some assurance that within six months, this mother and I would be driving each other nuts.

So, no.

But either of the others? Yup! We’ll see.

January 14, 2009 Posted by | daycare, parents | , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Hello, goodbye

Malli and Nigel are graduating Mary’s house in September, on to greater educational adventures. I’m often asked how I feel when kids move on, and every time I wonder what response the questioner expects or desires to see: Mourning? Indifference? Agony? Wistfulness? Tears? Hopefulness? Like a piece of my life has crumbled away, never to return?

In truth, the answer is … all of the above, none of the above. Well, all except that last one. I’m quite sure that has never, ever happened.

Once in a while, a child leaves and my heart gives a little lift. My job becomes easier, my home a happier place, my job satisfaction goes up, up, up when that child heads out my door for the last time. That doesn’t happen often, but I’d be lying if I said it never did. Sometimes it’s the thought that I’ll be seeing a particular parent for the very last time that causes the lift to my spirits. That happens somewhat more often than with the children…

However, I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, in this as in most aspects of my life. I like change. I find new things inspiring and energizing. When a child moves on, I’m pleased to see them take their next step on their way, and excited for their newest venture. I will miss things along the way, but by then the next child will have arrived, with his/her needs, challenges, and laughter, and I will be too busy to spend any time pining. Such is my nature, and it certainly makes the job easier!

(And yes, I’m much the same way with my own children. I did not cry when my eldest left home; I consider my second child’s current hunt for an apartment with some pragmatic maternal worries, but no tearing pangs of abandonment. We’ll see how I do when my third, my ‘baby’, leaves the nest, but so far, so good!)

I am usually delighted to have a visit from a ‘graduate’, to see how much they’ve grown and developed in the intervening months/years.

So, Malli and Nigel are moving on, taking two sets of huge blue eyes, and, from one or the other, an impish sense of humour, a predilection for long, fanciful story-telling, a tendency to break unexpectedly out into dance … and an increasing urge to boss and/or tattle with them. Now that stuff is someone else’s problem! (See? It’s not all bad…)

And as they leave, Aiden and Noah arrive. Aiden is Emily’s baby brother, who’s been coming for two hours a week for some months now. A free service, this, for I view it as much a favour to myself as to his mother — our year-long maternity leave is a great thing for families, but has the tots being dropped into daycare well after separation anxiety has reared its troublesome head, which can make the first three weeks much more difficult than they were ten years ago, back when maternity leaves were only six months long.

So Aiden has been coming to see me, and a good thing, too! His first visit with me was not one I’ll soon forget: the boy has a scream that could shatter glass. It certainly came near to shattering my eardrums. Now, however, he transfers easily into my arms, and smiles bye-bye at mummy. It’s still likely that he’ll cry for some of his first days with me: eight hours is much longer than two — but at least he now recognizes me as someone who can provide comfort. It makes all the difference.

That leaves Noah as my total newbie. Noah, who signed up six months ago. I’d offered the opportunity of a weaning-in time (though, as I’ve discussed, I see this as primarily for the parents’ benefit, not the child’s), but since there was no further mention of it, I’d thought it wasn’t going to happen.

Wrong. An email this week informed me that Noah’s mother would like to have him attend on Thursday and Friday, for an hour or so. She believes it will help his transition … two and a half weeks from now, when he starts full-time. (The time gap because I will be taking those weeks off.)

It won’t make a smidge of difference, of course. Two hours spent with mommy while in the company of a stranger and some strange kids, then, two-plus weeks later, he’ll meet the stranger and her kids again, only this time mommy will leave. For eight or nine hours. For a 12-month-old, there is no relationship between these events at all, at all.

But, shhhh. We won’t tell mommy that. She’s leaving her baby with a stranger! Yes, we’ve met, we conversed at length. I made a good impression. She’s talked to my references, and they told her all manner of great things. She’s seen my home, she’s met my family. She’s signed a well-written, professional contract. She feels she’s made a good decision (and I agree!) but really? I’m still a stranger.

Her baby needs the transition? Perhaps. Mommy needs the reassurance? Definitely. Reassurance that she’s done all she can for her baby, that the other children in my care are happy, that I am what she thought when we met six months ago… and what does it cost me to provide it? Two hours of my time. I think I can manage that.

August 12, 2008 Posted by | daycare, parents | , , | 10 Comments