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My Son is Starting Daycare and I'm Freaking Out About It

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

I finally made the tough decision to put my son in daycare two days a week, starting Feb. 1. This place doesn't call itself a "daycare" center—but rather an "educationally based child care center and pre-school" that starts as early as 6 weeks old and goes up to five years old—but for all intents and purposes we're putting our 17-month-old son in daycare. Our nanny agreed to stay on with us the other three days so at least we're not totally upending his life. Two days a week in daycare; three days a week at home with our nanny.

Sounds like a pretty balanced schedule, right? So why am I suddenly having a panic attack about this? I was thrilled when they told me they had an opening for a February 1st start date, so after a weekend of thinking about it, I signed him up, threw down a hefty deposit, and skipped out of the place feeling confident I was making the right decision. But now that the date is looming I'm having second thoughts. Here are just a few of the responses I've gotten from friends and co-workers.

"Wait, how old is he? He's going to 'school' already?" 

"We put my daughter in daycare when she was too young to communicate why she hated going...she cried and cried every time we dropped her off. It was a bad experience for us."

"He's going to be napping there?"


Why am I suddenly feeling so guilty about this? I know he'll love it...I loved it when I toured the place. I mean, loooved. He's a social little guy, he loves meeting new people, loves people in general... I honestly couldn't find a thing I didn't like about the place (believe me, I tried)—and the cool thing is, it happens to be eco-friendly, which is a bonus (it's a helluva lot more eco-friendly than we are). All the food they serve the kids is organic; they only use non-toxic products and toys; and, this part is a little strange to me, they only use cloth diapers on the kids while they're there. But whatever—that's their problem. I send him there in his Pampers and he comes home in his Pampers so if they want to deal with cloth diapers that's entirely their perogative.

I've written down the reservations I'm having, in the hopes that saying them out loud will help me get over them:

1. Their nap schedules are very different than ours: The kids go down at 12:15 and they wake up at 2:45, no matter what. Right now Preston goes down for his nap between 1-2 p.m. and sleeps till 4-5 p.m. (at least three full hours a day, if not four, which is probably too long). His bedtime is currently 8:30/9 p.m., but I suspect that will change once he starts taking earlier and shorter naps, which means if I don't get home before 6, I won't be getting much time with him at night. Maybe it will force me to leave the office earlier...

2. The toddlers sleep on cots instead of in cribs—the cots are basically on the floor though so I'm not overly concerned about it, but I'm sure there'll be a rough transitional period for him. I'm expecting that he won't nap very well in the beginning. He rolls around a lot in his sleep but maybe it'll make the transition to a big-boy bed even easier.

3. I'm a tad worried about him getting sick more often than he does now; I keep hearing stories that daycare kids get sick a lot, since they don't send them home unless they have temps over 101 and runny noses. Not something I'm particularly excited about.

4. My morning routine is about to drastically change, on Tuesdays and Thursdays when he goes to daycare. I'll have to get up earlier to get ready for work so that when he gets up (around 7:30 a.m., unless that changes too) I can feed him breakfast, get him dressed, and take him to daycare by "circle time" at 9:15, and then head into work myself. Hectic mornings aren't my specialty.

5. The daycare closes at 6 p.m. and they charge $5 for every minute you're not there past 6:05 p.m. So I'm going to have to leave work especially early on those days, in order to pick him up and get him home in enough time to spend some quality time with him and feed him dinner, before what will inevitably become an earlier bedtime. That just means better time management at work on my part so I can leave the office early—that's not a bad thing, it's just a hard thing.

Here's what I'm excited about that will hopefully outweigh the reservations I'm having:

1. I like the fact that he'll be around other kids his own age all day, in an organized, structured setting. Especially during the long, cold winter months that give all of us a bit of cabin fever.

2. I have a feeling he'll be walking within a month of being there (that's right, he's still not walking yet, he'll be the only one his age not walking).

3. He's an especially verbal and smart kid—his two favorite things to play with are books and letters—so I imagine his language skills and mastery of the alphabet will only improve, and at a faster rate. He already has about 7 letters of the alphabet down!

4. I absolutely LOVE this place. Love how structured and organized it is; love how stimulating and CLEAN the environment is; love the fact that there will be 3-4 teachers assigned to his group of 14 kids, and they will be the same teachers every day, till he moves into a different age group. I saw first-hand the individualized attention the kids get. And they set curriculums—curriculums for 17-month-olds!—that they'll go over with me each day.

5. While I don't love that the toddlers drink out of cups with no tops (Preston just got used to using sippy cups), I do love that they will help transition him from one stage to another. They'll help him learn to walk; they'll help potty train him when the time comes; maybe they'll even help him learn to like something other than chicken nuggets for lunch. Wouldn't that be something!

6. And it's literally TWO BLOCKS from my house. I can walk him there in the morning, leave the stroller there for the day, and walk him home. It could not be more convenient.

I'm really just grappling with the idea of sending him to "school" at such a young age. I keep telling myself that I can pull him out at any time if it's not working for us—but who am I kidding? Two days a week will turn into three days a week, and before I know it he'll be going to school full-time, and then in the blink of an eye he'll be going off to college.

The bottom line is, MY BABY IS GROWING UP TOO FAST. And I'm a little worried that we're putting him in "school" or daycare or whatever you want to call it too early, for full days, pushing him to grow up faster than he needs to. We made this decision because A) It was more economical than paying for a 50-hour-a-week nanny, and B) I want him to have more socialization with  kids his own age. And since I can't be home more during the week to take him on playdates and whatnot, this seemed like a good thing for him, especially now that Jay isn't able to be a part-time SAHD anymore. (His new restaurant just opened! More on that in another post.)

So that's why I'm beating myself up about it, just when I finally started shedding some of the mom guilt...

Do you have kids in daycare, either full- or part-time? How old are/were they when you enrolled them? Has your experience been a good one? Wait, maybe you shouldn't answer that... I'm a daycare kid myself (I also had au pairs and summer girls growing up), and my mom swears I loved daycare so much that I wanted her to drop me off there on weekends. All I remember is having to eat tuna-noodle casserole, which to this day totally disgusts me.

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