Keeping a Toddler in Daycare while on Maternity Leave

I am currently on maternity leave from my full time job outside of the home. I am a mother of two children under the age of two years old. My daughter will be two in April and my son is two months old.  This sounds like the beginning of a silly sitcom with the harried mother shaking her head as she balances one child on her hip while another child desperately clings on to her pant leg.  Well, I can honestly say that my life is no sitcom. It’s real and my family and I have had to make some hard decisions about childcare after my son was born in December.

My daughter is a happy and energetic toddler who loves talking and running around.  Sounds very typical of a soon-to-be two year old.  She also developed her high-pitched squeal at an early age. So if we mix a child who wants her mother’s constant attention with energy that won’t quit, we get a lot of squealing at our house.  She’s been in full time daycare for a year now at a center close to home.  She loves the center, the people that take care of her, and her friends. When I ask her who her best friend is, she names a girl.  This girl happens to be one of the daycare workers.  She’s just absolutely in love with this place!

My son is two and a half months old.  He also needs his mother’s constant attention and for good reason.  He is completely dependent on me for feeding, locomotion and security.  Of course I’m happy to provide these things to him.  Not only is it my job as his mother, but I’m more than willing to give him everything he needs to become a healthy, independent boy.  Plus, we’re pretty much in each other’s constant company since I’m nursing and I don’t find much time in my daily schedule to pump.  So we are two peas in a pod. 

Right now I find myself waking up every one to two hours each night to nurse or comfort my son.  This makes for a very tired mommy.  One or two nights of this constant waking I could take.  But I’m having trouble functioning at my best after ten weeks of this. I am beyond tired, unable to think straight, concentrate or remember things.  There are times that I find myself just staring ahead at nothing in particular and forgetting to blink.  When I hear the word ‘zombie’, I wonder if these aren’t monsters at all but really, really tired mommies.

So even though I’m home full time now with my son, my daughter still goes to her full time daycare.  My daughter is an energetic child who does not always understand that mommy cannot be available to her at the drop of a hat.  She loves to show me everything that interests her, like her stickers, books, toys, and dolls.  Sometimes I don’t have an opportunity to follow her around the house to visit these great treasures of hers.  That’s when I see the transformation from my sweet, happy princess into a tantrum throwing not-so-sweet-and-happy princess.  It’s not a pretty sight.  So for the sake of my sanity, her well-being and our family’s general happiness, she happily goes to daycare each morning when daddy drops her off.

My husband and I decided while I was still pregnant that keeping her in daycare would be a good idea for the first six weeks after the baby was born.  Our reasoning was that it took us six weeks with our daughter to establish good nursing and sleeping patterns.  We figured it would be the same for our son, so it would be best to be consistent for our daughter to get the love and attention that she’s use to getting at school while I had a chance to sleep in the day and bond with my newborn.  Unfortunately, although we’re bonding quite well and nursing has become second nature to us now, the sleeping continues to be a humongous problem.  It is interfering with my functioning in the daytime and therefore we’ve made the difficult decision to keep my daughter in her routine away from home.

I do suffer from guilt by sending off my eldest every morning and not spending time with her in the day, but with a newborn who still has no schedule and sleeps constantly every two hours in the day and night for up to two hours, I don’t have much quality time to spend with my daughter even if she were to stay home with me in the daytime. She loves the routine of going to the center, seeing her friends and being stimulated with wonderful activities in a caring environment.  She sleeps and eats extraordinarily well at daycare (will not eat nor sleep for naps at home).  She comes home with so many exciting stories to share with her parents and brother.  So, until I get more sleep, that’s where she’ll be Monday to Friday.  I look forward to the weekends where we all four get to be in each others company and enjoy our time together. I hate that I don’t have the energy or patience to care for both kids at the same time.  It’s taking its toll on us financially but we decided it’s worth the money since she enjoys it so much.  Instead of focusing on the negative guilt, I’m trying to focus on the positive, which is the quality alone time I have with my son.  This time together with him is so precious to me. I also know that this is temporary.  I know our plan is not for everyone but if works for us.  If there is anything I’ve learned about parenthood it is that you have to do what works best for you and your family.  So life with two under two is stressful.  After all is said and done, I’m thankful for my family and everything that comes with them.  The sleeplessness, tantrums, hugs, kisses, tears (happy and sad), I love you’s and everything in between that makes my life complete.  

About the Author:

Randi has two little ones at home. When she’s not giving out hugs, kissing boo boos or trying to get her youngest to sleep, she enjoys reading, cross-stitching, learning how to sew, and spending time with her husband.  Randi is also a full time primary teacher with York Region.

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Randi Gasner Mayor

 

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10 responses to “Keeping a Toddler in Daycare while on Maternity Leave

  1. I was in the same situation (although my daughter was a tad over 2 when my son was born). But I kept my daughter home because I thought it was the right thing to do at the time. If I had it to do over, I would have kept her in daycare for the first 2 or 3 months after my son was born. She behaved the same as you describe your daughter behaving. It was really hard (even though my son was a champion sleeper from about 4 weeks old) and I wonder sometimes if I might have hurt my relationship with my daughter because I was so tired and “zombie-like” most of the time. She was definitely not stimulated very much being around her zombie mommy and sleeping baby brother all day. I think she would have had a better “quality of life” for those first few months of her brother’s life if we had kept her in daycare. She’s 4 now and her brother is 2 and they are both happy and seemingly well-adjusted, so I likely didn’t “ruin” her, but it seemed right what I did at the time. But I’m pretty sure I would have done it differently if given a second chance. It was nice to read your post and know that other mothers also face and struggle with such issues (and dealing with the guilt of their choices, whatever they are.)

  2. I’m in the same situation My son is almost 3 and my daughter is 1 month old. My husbandq and I decided that we are going to keep my son in full time daycare until the weather gets better in may and they we are moving him to 3 days a week. I think that it is really important for our toddler to have his time with his friends at daycare. We are fortunate that we have him in wee watch and his daycare is only 3 streets away from our house.

  3. Randi: as the mother of a 5 month old and a 3 year old I can say I totally get it!! I have kept my son in daycare fulltime and do not feel guilty about it. He loves the structure and activities of the routine day and I just can’t give that to him at home. As one of my good friends said to me, “You gave him your undivided attention his first year of life, now it’s time to do the same for his sister”. We are always made to feel guilty or that we should be doing more as mothers, don’t let this add to the guilt! It is a healthy and beneficial situation for all. Bravo!

  4. Enjoyed your article! I was in a similar situation after the birth of my second son (they were 22 months apart) We kept our oldest in daycare full time for about 5 months, then put him down to 4 days/week and a month later down to 3 days/week. This has allowed him to form such an incredibly close bond with his brother as their time together has grown while at the same time he has gotten the proper stimulation and social interaction that he needs. Although it makes things tougher financially I truly believe leaving an older sibling in daycare is, in most cases, best for everyone. I am so happy that my two boys are so close and hope that they will always remain very close brothers. My little guy sounds much like yours, and although he’s turning 1 this week is still up 2-3 times/night:( this doesn’t always make mommy the happiest but I try to focus on the sweet moments they have together and drink lots of coffee!

  5. thanks for this post. i’m due in september when my daughter will be 2 1/2. she’s in full-time daycare now, but we have been contemplating her staying home with me during my maternity leave to offset the cost of my unpaid leave. i’m having a lot of the same misgivings that you mentioned and i really think i’m leaning more towards leaving her in daycare and just picking her up earlier in the afternoon.

  6. After coming back from maternity leave twice, I totally get this!

  7. Very well written and it is certainly not a unique situation. My own children were all born very close together. My wife had a great deal of support from her parents and family. It made a big difference.

    As a father, I could have and should have done much more, but hindsight is 20/20.

    Although it is not easy now, keep in mind that this period of time will not last long and will, one day, become a memory. The stress will pass.

    Daycare is there to help parents in your situation and although I understand the guilt, it is better to feel a little guilt than it is to get too stressed out.

  8. Well written, Randi. I cannot relate. My children are more than ten years apart, however I do remember your own mother when your brother was born. She juggled everything and modeled a very good example for you to follow. Good luck with your wonderful family. NB

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  10. Hi Randi! I really enjoyed reading your honest words about one of the many tough choices moms have to make. My son just turned two and his sibling is due in June. Not only am I still struggling with being employed full time and away from my son all day, but now I’m struggling with the decision of leaving my son in daycare or not while i’m on maternity leave in June – for both financial and emotional reasons. Your article was really was comforting and insightful and I was wondering if you had any more suggestions now that it’s been a while since you wrote this and you have some more hindsight regarding your decision?

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