Attachment and daycare
May 16, 2012 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Attachment and daycare: how do people do it?

Before having baby mooselini I have given little or no thought to the effect of caregiver discontinuity when it comes to emotional development of my child. Now, however, with me returning to work when my daughter will be 6 months in a few weeks, I am faced with lots of unhappy thoughts when it comes to giving her to a full-time daycare.

Will she be able to develop and grow emotionally just as she would if I were to stay home with her indefinitely? Will she still bond with me in the few hours I will have with her in the evenings? Will she still recognize me as her mother even though a strange woman will be addressing her needs while I am away? My google-fu has led me to a number of studies that suggest my absence during her pre-verbal years will stunt her development as a human being with ill effects showing up years later. That's enough for any parent to go bonkers, not just an overprotective mother of one. So, dear mefites, how did you deal with this? Do your babies still love you? Give this mama some hope.

Much appreciated.
posted by mooselini to Human Relations (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of daycare will your baby be in? I had an in-home caregiver who was the same everyday, so it really was just like having a third parent for my son. If you're talking about a big center with high turnover that's one thing, but a consistent caregiver every day, even if it's not you, should be fine since your baby will form an attachment with her.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:56 PM on May 16, 2012

PS: I work full time and my son (now 17 months) only sees me evenings and weekends. He still knows I'm his mama and is glad to see me when I come home. Please don't worry!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:58 PM on May 16, 2012

My eldest was in daycare from about six months on (and for a few years i worked seven days a week at two jobs), my middle child had intermittent babysitters and my youngest has been home with her father since birth and has never seen a babysitter. There is no difference in my bond/attachment with any of them, and I believe their father feels the same way. Looking back over the past decade I could have actually spent less time with them (and more time recharging my batteries) with positive effect.
posted by saucysault at 3:07 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a mother of an almost 7 month old, so I can't speak to long-term developmental stunting (which sounds like hooey to me, given how many kids went to daycare and grew up to be well-adjusted adults - I'd have to wonder who conducted those studies).

My son has been in daycare sine he was 3 months old. I spend about an hour with him in the morning, and as his bedtime has shifted to the early evening, about an hour and a half after work. So in total, not a ton of time during the week. I see absolutely no sign that he's becoming attached to any of his teachers more than to me. He's happy to see me when I pick him up, goes with me happily and readily, and is quite attached to me when we're together. He's happy to be held by a teacher, but when I come into the room his arms go out to me.

While he's in daycare he has access to lots of activities that keep him stimulated - even just having other baby faces to look at is a good thing. In fact, one of his teachers was telling me she managed to get him to do tummy time for 20 minutes (an absolutely unheard of amount of time when I try with him at home) because she put him and another baby on the floor together and they would try hard to keep their heads up so they could look at each other.

If your baby hasn't reached the stage of developing stranger anxiety yet, leaving him at daycare will be a lot easier. My son isn't there yet, and when I leave he doesn't fuss or cry. That made the first days of leaving him a lot easier for me.

When I bring him home for the day, I prioritize spending time with him over everything else. I feed him, bathe him, play with him, and he is so happy during that time. If I absolutely have to start dinner prep while he is still awake I put him in his highchair in the kitchen. I talk to him and let him smell the herbs and spices and whatever ingredients seem like they would smell good.

She will know you're her mommy, and she'll show you she loves you and prefers you, I am sure of it!
posted by DrGirlfriend at 3:09 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Both my parents worked full-time and my brother and I attended daycare from 2 months-3rd grade. I never felt any sort of lack of connection with my parents. Getting picked up at the end of the day was always exciting.

I know that to this day my mother feels bad that she wasn't able to spend more time with us (maybe unavoidable), but we never felt at all neglected or abandoned. Daycare was where our friends were, not where our parent-substitutes were.

Try not to worry too much, good luck!
posted by desertface at 3:19 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

My kids both went to daycare; my youngest started at four months.

Children don't get confused about who their parents are. They like their daycare teachers. They love us.
posted by escabeche at 3:23 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

My mom had to go back to work when I was six weeks old. I never had any confusion over which of these women caring for me was my mom.

Will she be able to develop and grow emotionally just as she would if I were to stay home with her indefinitely?

Well, she won't develop in exactly the same way, because the circumstances wouldn't be the same. This is not the same as developing and growing in a worse way.
posted by rtha at 3:28 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

My kids were in daycare early, and there was never any question of bonding or anything like that. Heck, my daughter is six now and during a conversation last night (in which she couldn't remember something that had happened three years ago, despite her equal-age brother explaining it at length) said "well, come ON, I was THREE. I can't remember that." They don't remember their first two caregivers, despite the time they spent with 'em back then.

In short: don't worry, they won't replace you, though I totally understand feeling like they would.
posted by davejay at 3:30 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in daycare from four months old, in a few people's homes and in centers. I was in daycare five days plus two weekends a week until junior high. I'm a lawyer, happily married, I like my mom.

I preferred daycare in someone's house to a center, mostly because I'm an introvert and didn't want to deal with that many people. I have some fond (and some not fond) memories of some of my day cares, but a lot more memories of my mom.

Your daughter is going to grow up with a successful working mom as a role model. That's a pretty awesome tradeoff for some reduced time with her.
posted by freshwater at 4:03 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

My daughter went to daycare at 6 weeks. She was a little tiny thing...probably still under 7 pounds. It was really hard to go back to work. And it would have been difficult no matter when I went back. However, she is now over 2 years old and is amazing and totally, totally knows who I am!

When I talk about daycare with my other mom friends, I emphasize how thankful I am to have her in daycare. Her caregivers are professionals. They know what they are doing. They know about milestones and warning signs and so many things I do not know about.

Also...the socializing! Having other little friends is so great. And learning how to follow direction, respect teachers, wait for turns, etc really really helps your child when they go to school.

So, in short, your child will very much know you are mommy.

PS. This is a very sensitive topic and you will find many many people spouting opinions and judgement. You need to do what is right for you and your family. Your baby needs a happy mommy. For some of us, including me, that means I should be working. Also, kiddos need stuff, some of which costs money.
posted by fyrebelley at 4:16 PM on May 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

I've been there too, and it is wrenching leaving your little one for the first time. Let me just say that 3 years in, I couldn't be happier with our lives. My son is in a small, in-home daycare where he is cared for by a mother and her two adult daughters. Their extended family is often at the home as well and are just as wonderful and caring as his primary caregivers. My son has really gained extra family that loves him to pieces and the feeling is quite mutual. The kids that started with him are still there, though they are all getting ready for preschool over the next year now. He's already learned a bunch of important preacademic skills (letters, numbers, a bit of Spanish) and most of all he knows how to happily play and cooperate with his peers, how to manage conflicts when they arise and how to be a good friend. He's thriving, and at this point I know that it's the best thing for both of us. We have wonderful time playing every evening, cuddles, etc. As one of my good friends said when I was agonizing over this myself said "You are his Mama, and he knows that. Nothing changes that."

I actually work in a field focused on child development, so have read quite a bit of literature on this, even before I had a kiddo. Just as there are alarmist studies that say your child will be permanently damaged by being in daycare, there are just as many well designed studies that say children in daycare do as well or better than their peers. The key is the quality of the care they receive while they are there. Factors like how stable the staff is, what the ratio of child to adults is, how much language do the caregivers use with your child. This study is a nice one talking about the benefits of good quality care. There are others if you'd like me to dig around more.

Ultimately, you will know a good place when you see it. Visit a bunch, ask your friends, drop in unannounced. This will be ok, but give both of yourselves a little time to adjust. Take gentle care of yourself.
posted by goggie at 4:36 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two more datapoints for happy, well-adjusted, bright and all-around wonderful kids who spent their pre-school years in day care. We were lucky to find a good one - some might be surprised that it is a national chain - but they had good management and very little turnover. My children had the same teachers even though they were seven years apart. These ladies were invaluable partners in our parenting - they knew when the kids were starting to get sick, when they were ready to be potty-trained and what foods they really loved (or hated). My kids loved them, but I always knew they loved me more.

I'll echo fyrebelley's very wise words: You need to do what is right for you and your family. Repeat as needed for the next 18 years. There's really no wrong way to do this; we're all just making it up as we go.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:41 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Here's some math for you:

Baby sleeps 12 hours at night, 2 at nap. I am going to eliminate the night hours, although personally we have had both our kids in cribs in our rooms and later in our beds so that was kind of together time. But let's go like this:

7*10 hrs=70 waking hours
Weekend hours=20 or 28% of the baby's waking time already
Assuming baby is in daycare 9 hours, but 2 are nap, this leaves you an additional 3 hrs a weekday or 15 hours, bringing you to an even 50%.

Plus holidays, nighttime teething, Fridays you squeak an hour out, etc.

Not only that but you already are bonded.

Don't worry so much. It is hard, I know. Met any kids lately who mistake their grade 3 teacher for dad? Oh whoops...I just noted we don't worry about dads bonding!

Plus, very soon the staff/nanny/etc. will not be strangers
posted by Zen_warrior at 4:41 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh man, it's so hard, isn't it? My 3-year-old was in full time daycare until this past fall. She's been at the same center since she was 3 months old. She never had any confusion over who I was and we had no issues bonding. Considering she is up my butt most of the time these days, I'd say she's just fine!

It is hard to leave your kid but it is also ultimately rewarding to see your child interact with other children and other adults who care for them. My daughter's caregivers have been just as excited about her milestones as we were. And she is still good friends with a few of the other kids who were there with her in the infant room.

Your kid will be fine and so will you. But be kind to yourself, because it definitely is hard at first.
posted by sutel at 4:41 PM on May 16, 2012

My little dude went to daycare (3 days a week instead of 5, but still) at around 3 months old. He is now 18 months and gets along amazingly well with both us and with everyone at daycare. I think it has less to do with "daycare will screw up your kid" and more to do with individual people/preferences/personalities. If you find a daycare giver you get along with, and you have a tolerant/well-behaved kid, you will have no issues. If you have a more needy child, and/or you are "settling" on daycare, you'll probably have problems. We got lucky that our daycare is relatively cheap for the area and has given us zero issues thus far.

We have friends who had their baby around the same time we did. Our kid gets along great with other kids due to plenty of socialization with other kids from a young age. Their kid, not so much (they always have one of them home with baby at all times and baby does not like to let them go at all).
posted by agress at 4:58 PM on May 16, 2012

I started day care when I was just a few weeks old - mom was the only provider, so back to work she went. She worked full-time throughout my childhood, cobbling together various types of day care through the years. I have never in my life been confused about which place was home, who my mom was, etc. And I have memories back to when I was about 18mo/2yrs old. My mom is awesome and I love her, in large part because she's her own person and takes pride in her career.

As a mom myself I've had both my kids in full-time day care starting around 3mo. They go to a biggish day care center - family-owned with low staff turnover, but it's not an in-home place. The kids love it, I love it. It's reliable, well-run, and staff have lots of training and support. In many ways day care staff (and other day care families we've come to know) are our extended family here.

With their support I nursed both kids through their first birthdays. We cloth diapered kid #2 because she broke out to disposables (and that was a first for them). Both kids are healthy, happy, and know they're loved. At the end of the day, picking up from the infant room, they were always glad to see me or Dad and always glad to go home. I don't know what studies you're reading, but from my own personal experience, I'd have to give those researchers a squinty eye and say "really?"

That said, I got through my first year of work after Kid #1 by saying "this is what I'm doing this week. Next week it could change, I could quit and stay home." It's not easy. But there are consequences for the family as a whole either way you go, and kids are much more adaptable and resilient than they're given credit for. So are parents, for that matter. :)
posted by hms71 at 5:00 PM on May 16, 2012

Take a look at all the adults you are friends or acquaintances with, both the well-adjusted ones and the crazy ones. Ask a few whether they went to day care or not. Bask in the lack or correlation.

I say this as a dad whose boy started daycare 2 weeks ago, with me still heartbroken each morning when I drop him off. He'll be fine. Your kid will, too.
posted by anildash at 6:15 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

My daughter started full-time, 5 days a week in a licensed home based child care at 11 months. My experience was very much like goggie's. My daughter and the woman who took care of her developed a very deep and secure bond. Her husband was often home during the day, as he worked evenings, and her 3 kids were there after school. They really were like a second family for my daughter. My daughter was there 4 years and there was some changeover with the kids as some got old enough to go to school, and new babies came. But there were only 4-5 of them at a time, so they, too, developed close bonds. I'm still in touch with many of the parents even though we left the day care because we moved across the country. And my daughter still talks about her caregiver with love and warmth, even though she admits that she doesn't really remember her, now, five years later. As angst-ridden and tear-soaked as the search for child care and the fears about going back to work were, I literally never had a moment of fear or anxiety about my daughter's safety and well-being while in their care.

What I felt for myself on the other hand, was another matter. I suspect every new working mom feels feels that terror about abandonment when she goes back to work. I did the same math Zen_warrior did! But didn't end up feeling so great about the 50%. There were definitely low times when I thought of myself as the part time amateur parent in contrast to the loving nurturing presence of her caregiver. And I remember one of the other moms had to go out of town for work for three days and she was in fits. Her son was about a year old and she was convinced he wasn't even going to remember her when she got back, that he would pick the caregiver over her. It didn't happen, of course! But when she told me how she was feeling, and that she thought that if she weren't still breastfeeding him she could probably disappear and he wouldn't even notice, I admitted that I had felt the same way. But it's not true, it really isn't.

The way I see it, this anxiety is two-fold and paradoxical: you are afraid that your daughter will be with a caregiver who cannot give her as much love and attention as you, while at the same time you are afraid your daughter will be with a caregiver who is so loving and nurturing that she will forsake you for the new mommy, irrevocably.

To deal with the first fear, you have to do your homework, and that doesn't mean asking google for evidence that daycare is going to wreck your child for life. You look into your options for local care, you visit as many places as you need to find one that is a good fit, you call as many of the parents there as you can to get their reviews. I used the info sheets on this page (pdfs half way down). And then when I was back at work, I helped put some of the sheets on this page together.

As for the second fear, probably only time and hearing the anecdotes of others will help blunt that. So, let me add that my daughter is 9 now, and is lovely and outgoing and friendly, very comfortable in new situations, and easygoing about sleepovers or spending a few weeks with her grandparents without me. She is also stuck to me like glue when we are together. The bond is a tight one.

It's cold comfort, I'm sure, but this whole thing really will be much harder on you than it will be on her!
posted by looli at 6:16 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

My son, 16 months old, has been in daycare since he was three months old. There's no one in the world he loves more than his mother. Every day we are constantly amazed at how good of a job our daycare does at teaching him all sorts of cool things. Since neither my wife nor I are early childhood development experts, we believe that he's in as good as a place as he would be at home.

He's in a large daycare center that has seen some high turnover as of late, but luckily not in the room that my son is in. I believe that continuity of care is really important, so do check to see what the level of turnover is at the daycare that you're looking at.

You will cry. As one of my co-workers who is a mom said to me, "...[your wife] is going to cry. Not the good cry, either. The heaving sobs." She did. The first days sucked. But it got easier and we have grown to cherish his teachers.

His teacher in the infant room is now a good friend. There's no doubt that my son received lots of love. And I have no doubt that he knows who his mom is at the end of the day.
posted by photovox at 6:16 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Me and my brothers were all in in-home daycare or with nannies from infancy until we were old enough to watch ourselves, because my mother is a working professional.

We still have nice relationships with the sweet ladies who used to babysit us, but we love our mom dearly and we all truly enjoy spending time with her and respect her for the superwoman that she is.

Our babysitters were lovely ladies, but my mom was my Girl Scout leader, my homeschool teacher, the one who taught me how to cook, how to knit, how to drive, who square danced with me, the one who inspired me in my career, the one who shaped my opinions and came to political rallies with me while we waved our signs and shouted slogans, the one who cried if I didn't come home in time for curfew and she was worried about me, the one who would take care of my ferret during an entire semester abroad without complaining, she made me my favorite dinner for my birthday for about 15 years straight. She was always there for me when I needed her, always helped me out (and still does - she's been house hunting for me for the past 2 months).

There will never be another person in the world who could measure up to how I feel about my mom. I only hope that I can be half the mom to my kids that she was to me.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:03 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Coming at this from the other end, I'm a full time stay at home mom for my three year old daughter. I don't see any difference in the attachment between my daughter and me and that of my friends with kids in daycare. If anything, my daughter is a little more clingy at the playground and at gym classes, and has fewer "friend" relationships than her peers. Still, my daughter is a happy little girl and I'm not worrying about it too much, and I think you should not worry about the other side, either. Kids on both sides adjust and flourish, and as long as you keep your eyes open for issues I really think your family will be great. Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 7:18 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's all anecdote, but add me to the voices.

My daughter went to daycare just shy of three months. She's been there 40 hours a week since then, and she's 3 and a half now. The other day she told me "Mama, you're my best friend AND my Mama! that's how much I love you!" Pretty sure she thinks i'm number one.
posted by gaspode at 7:22 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another positive anecdote for you! My two sons are in a wonderful large in-home daycare together. My eldest is about to graduate out to kindergarten this year (sob!). Both started full time, 5 days a week at about 5 months old. They are both fully bonded to me, and run over to me, delighted, when I arrive to collect them. They are also bonded (in a different way) to the daycare ladies. They adore their teachers, and even have a favourite teacher, but they do not confuse them with a parent.

Since you are primarily focused on the baby stage right now, I will say that my kids daycare has one lady who is the baby carer. While they were in her room, they loved her so much. They bonded to her within a week or two of starting. I think of her as a grandmotherly figure, rather than a parent figure in their lives. Staff turnover is really the key thing in a good daycare, IMHO. Stability and a strong bond between carer and child is the important thing. If you can find a daycare that will provide that, you are golden. I am so happy to leave my boys in the care of our daycare every day, it really is like an extended family. But remember, its more like a grandparent/aunt/uncle type bond, you will never be left out in the cold. Your baby remembers your face and your smell, and will always choose you in preference.
posted by Joh at 8:03 PM on May 16, 2012

High-quality care has no negative impact on child development or attachment! I have worked with children for many hours a week, and it has always been obvious that their primary attachments are to their parent(s).
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:06 PM on May 16, 2012

You will not in any way be absent during her pre-verbal years. And I think there's lots of good things that happen when there are a few extra adults who bond with our kids. There is no village anymore and families are distant. We are expected to do everything ourselves. And judged when we can't bootstrap. It's a terrible trap. But, I digress.

My daughter has daycare 3 days per week and during those days I work from home. I could go full-time or be a SAHM anytime I want. And I feel just as guilty for being in this limbo world of part-time employment as moms on either side of the equation.

I often think about being a full time mom but one of the things which stops me short is how much she gets out of daycare. She's nearly 18 mo and she has a great relationship with her carers and special friends and they do crafts and songs and activities that are way more enriching than I can think up.

You will be her primary loving bond in this world. Don't worry about that. But do know that you can change things if they aren't working for your family. Some kids aren't happy in a daycare setting and you'll know it.

I know that there is a lot of value in keeping my toe in the career waters. For myself and my family. This isn't the make or break issue. Just know that all the moms out there have fretted and are fretting about the same things. You're not alone. You're also not screwing everything up!
posted by amanda at 8:59 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

It will be fine -- infant caregiving is a distributed thing in a wide variety of circumstances and it is nearly universal today. I don't know a single person who was the sole caregiver of an infant beyond three months.

I think it's actually sort of good for kids, provided they're in a solid, trustworthy environment. It shows them the world is safe in a larger way, gives them new experiences and new people and new sensory and social input. It's an adventure in a very safe, controlled, routine way.

I do think modern parenthood is to be wracked with guilt by one thing or another. On the whole, we're a very knowledgeable and evolved generation of parents. I know someone who told me his grandfather was tied to a stake in the yard like a dog while his mom did farm work. She had no other choice!

I think that overall, modern parents are good parents, and modern practices are good ones, and we are in no way producing a generation of stunted kids by sending them to day care.

Downside is who's going to write poetry, if everyone's so well-adjusted?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:35 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just another data point, our almost-2-year-old son has been in daycare since he was 10 weeks old, and he looooooves both his mommy and daddy. He's a very happy little dude (and I am way happier than I would be if I were home all day, I really love my job, and have a newfound appreciation for my commute where I can listen to music and read books and nap on the train!).

I had the same fears going back to work, and the first week or two really sucked, but I am very happy that this path works for us. He's learned so much at daycare from the teachers and the other kids, and they do way more creative fun things than I would be able to think up (or afford!) if I were home. Every morning when I drop my son off he gives me a hug and a "bye Mommy" and he reaches his arms up for a hug from his favorite teacher. It is so comforting to know that he has a good relationship with his caregivers and they seem to adore him. And that definitely has not affected how much he loves me, somehow he has always known when it is about time for me to come home (dad picks him up from daycare and gets an hour with him before I get home), and he starts watching the door for mommy.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 5:33 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is tough, no doubt about it. But this is without question harder on you than it is your baby. There are no developmental issues that will arise, what's important though is to make your time together in the evenings and on weekends really special.

What you will want to consider later on is the daycare's curriculum. Some daycare's are essentially glorified babysitting services while others (Montessori for example) focus on teaching.

We've been through many daycares and montessoris since my kids (3 and almost 6) were 3 and 6 months old. They are both bright, loving, intelligent, amazing little people who, I believe, have gotten so many benefits from the schools they have been in, especially where they are now.
posted by doorsfan at 6:48 AM on May 17, 2012

From a cultural point of view I can't think of any particular culture where children are raised by one woman in isolation completely bonded to that one woman only anyway. They have been raised by extended families, or women grouping together to help each other. While it the past it may have been aunts or grandparents that did the work now a days its child care.

Children thrive best when surrounded by people who care for them. Find a good facility with well trained staff if you are worried, or a smaller in home facility where your child can get more of a home like environment if that's what you'd prefer. You are and will always be her mother, she can and will love and care for other people but that doesn't make you any less her mother. Remember how you felt about your mum, that's how she feels about you and no one else can take your place. OK assuming you have a good relationship with your mother here, but you get my point.
posted by wwax at 7:50 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Will she be able to develop and grow emotionally just as she would if I were to stay home with her indefinitely?

I don't think any study can answer this for you, about your child. The studies on differences between populations may show a higher percentage of this or that issue for a sample set of children in full-time daycare vs. parental care, but that's not going to tell you how your daughter will deal with the specific care situation you've chosen.

That said, I also don't think the anecdotal experiences of commenters here can tell you how your child will handle her experiences. Having three children, I can tell you that even children who are genetically related will have very different responses to the same inputs. I've watched 3 different 18-month-olds of mine get knocked over by a wagging dog tail, and I still don't know beforehand whether they'll laugh or cry.

So, here's my advice: Watch your child. Observe closely how her affect and behavior change, or don't. See how she deals with the specific care situation you choose for her. And be willing to make adjustments based on what you see.

My anecdote: My brother and his wife are both full-time professionals. When their first child was four months old, he started in a center-based daycare for about 9 hours/day. They knew after only a couple of weeks that it wasn't right for him, and the thing they mentioned as indicating his distress was that he was happy to see his mother at the end of the day, but when she tried to put him in his car seat, he flipped out. He screamed in an uncontrollable, panicked way the entire way home. She could not bear to hear it. She somehow knew that it wasn't just adjustment, or a particularly clingy phase; there was something especially distressed about him at the end of the day in the group setting, where when his mother came to hold him, he couldn't let her put him down again.

She didn't quit work; she didn't reduce her hours. What she did was hire a nanny. Her salary barely covered the nanny's. With gas costs, work wardrobe, etc., they would have come out ahead if she'd quit. (Now, several years and salary increases later, they could comfortably afford a nanny, but don't need one because the kids are in school all day! It's a relatively short period when they really need that super-expensive childcare.) Their son was so much happier in that setting. His mom didn't need to be there herself, but he clearly needed the home setting, with the single, unchanging caregiver, and not to be surrounded by other kids for 9 hours per day. The nanny would take him to playspaces, libraries, etc., for a couple of hours a day, and that was fine, but he was just a baby who needed more adult time than other-infant time.

As it turned out, a few years later, he was diagnosed as being on the high-functioning part of the autism spectrum. Even at four months old, he was genuinely stressed and overwhelmed by the presence of a large group of other children, with distressing (to him) sensory inputs like noise and the touch of strangers, and the relative lack of one-on-one adult contact. Autistic children can't just roll with it and adjust; instead, they'll curl up and go inward. Socialization was and still is just not a possibility for him when he was/is overwhelmed like that; for him, socialization has had to be a gradual, adult-mediated process, with a lot of preparation and recovery time for him.

He's doing great now, in mainstream classrooms in a suburban public school for several years, and so obviously now spends most of his days with peers, rather than adults. But given the ways in which autistic children differ from neurotypical kids, putting this particular child into a group-care setting from Day 120 might well have been detrimental to his social and emotional development, by overwhelming him and making him turn inward. He loves his former nanny still (and she's babysat for my own children and I often joke with my husband that maybe I should have gone back to work and hired her to take care of the kids, because she's better at this than me).

Anyway, that's not to suggest your current choice is "wrong" for your child or to make you hire a nanny! My point is just that I think my brother and his wife are excellent parents who carefully chose a high-quality group care situation ... and when they realized it was making their child miserable (not just adjustment difficulty, but what they recognized as true distress), they changed the plan, even though it meant basically going down to one income (but still building my sister-in-law's work experience, so that now they have much more money than they would have had she quit work).

I think it's not possible or helpful to work at predicting how your daughter will react, by looking at studies on the internet or collecting anecdotes of unrelated children who love daycare. Rather, you've just got to wait until you get there, watch carefully, and let your child's unique temperament help you determine what's the best way to raise her.
posted by palliser at 8:39 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Will she still bond with me in the few hours I will have with her in the evenings?
Yes. I know it seems like she won't, but she will. And they don't get confused about who their parents are - again, it seems like it would happen but it doesn't.

Also: Nobody warned me about this beforehand, but be prepared that you might start feeling extremely selfish regarding your time with her. When my son was in daycare (starting at 11 weeks old) I hoarded time with him like nobody's business - I was really uncomfortable with the idea of someone (even my husband!) taking him off my hands for a few hours on the weekends, because that was my only big chunk of time with him. I was also weird about getting a babysitter for an occasional evening out, because as much as I wanted to go to dinner, I'd be missing the only 1.5 hours of the day I got to see him awake.

Obviously, not everyone will feel this way, but it happened to me and I got the impression people thought I was nuts for not taking them up on babysitting offers. (Hell, I thought I was nuts sometimes.) But I really missed my time with him during the day and protecting the time I did get with him was helpful to me and kept me feeling more-or-less okay about the whole daycare thing.
posted by meggan at 2:23 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

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