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Too Young for Childcare?

Phasing In

The first days of relinquishing the care of their infants to others are the hardest on parents. New mothers, in particular, are likely to be weepy and worried and to need lots of support. "It was really hard for me," says Perlowski. "I cried. It took me two weeks to realize I wasn’t harming him. I felt so guilty."

High-quality providers acknowledge these feelings by encouraging parents to visit during the adjustment period, ranging from a day to several weeks. Before Gail Stern left 10-week-old Nikolai at his center, for instance, his caregivers had not only watched how she held him but also asked her to mimic his hunger cry so that they could distinguish it from other needs. "Their whole philosophy is to help the parent," she says.

The relationship between childcare providers and parents is a delicate one and requires nurturing. Barely initiated into the mysteries of their new baby, first-time parents may lack the confidence to speak with authority about their child’s needs. "Caregivers have the larger responsibility in reaching out to parents," says Jay Fagan, an assistant professor at Temple University. Frequent telephone contact helps ease the transition. "I remember one mother who, in the first week, called five times, the second twice, the third not at all. It takes time to develop confidence," says Deborah Eaton, president of the National Association for Family Child Care. Infants need time to get used to the separation, too. For a young baby who has been cared for primarily by one adult since birth, the switch to out-of-home care is dramatic. And for an older infant, who has had time to develop a strong attachment to her parents, anxiety may dominate the phasing-in period. "I almost wish I had started Teddy at a much younger age," says Anne Cardwell of Vallejo, CA, whose son began childcare at 6 months. "He had a hard time, but his caregiver really worked to ease the transition." When Cardwell left the center each morning, the provider would lift her baby up over the Dutch doors, Cardwell says, "so he could see me say good-bye."

For other parents who hand their babies over to someone else, jealousy often rears its ugly head. "It’s absolutely normal to feel competitive with your childcare provider," Galinsky says. "But as a parent, you have your children forever; you don’t have to worry. No study I’ve ever heard of has concluded that children are more attached to their providers than to their parents. So you can afford to be generous."