childcare and the time for separation

We are in the midst of big changes around here: we are moving house/city/jobs in a few months, as my partner has a new job. This is a huge move in all senses. For us, it implies selling and buying a house, thinking about childcare and eventually schools, since I am gathering that where you live – i.e how many metres away you are from the schools you like – is crucial for this. I also need to find a job. Making all this things align seems daunting at this moment – i.e. how do you know what childcare you want and where you want it, when you don’t know what job you will have (and if!), and also when we don’t know where we are going to live? But as the reality of waiting lists and catchment areas welcomes us in its madness, it seems we need to make these decisions way too early. So that is where we are at.

But here is the thing. One of the things that makes me anxious is the thought of sending r. to a nursery/playgroup and/or Montessori school (you can see I am very clear on what to do!). At the moment, she is cared for by an amazing nanny. However, as r. will almost be three, I think she will benefit from learning in a different environment, with different people, and where she can start to socialise a bit more, even though she has some of these things now too, so that is why we are considering a different form of childcare. 

The anxiety comes from many angles, not only because I am not sure what I will need, and want, or from the fact that I cannot explore much as I don’t live there (though as we did live there before and we have family I have had some valuable help), and that two year waiting lists ban us from many good places, but mainly from feeling that I cannot manage this process as I would like to, that is, gently.

A disclaimer first: I will tell here my personal story, and what feels right and wrong here for me. The point is: this is not meant to make judgements on the way parents manage this process at all.

Ok, so here it goes. When r. was 10 months old, I hired a nanny for a few hours per week so I could work on my PhD, for a couple of months. This mainly worked for me, as I had to start because of funding and university deadlines. Then we went to Argentina for three months, where my mum took care of r. a lot while I worked, and which also worked really well. We had arranged for a nursery place for when we got back, which, in all honesty, I was dreading a bit, not because I did not want to work but because I was not sure about how it would work sending her to a more ‘institutional’ type of care.

A few days after we came back, we went to start the settling-in period, which was, I was assured (because I asked many times!), slow, gradual and flexible, depending on our needs. This did not end up being the case, or what they counted as slow and gradual did not feel like that to me.  

Let’s see: the first day we stayed for an hour, and we left. The second day we stayed for 15 minutes, and I was asked to leave for 5-10 minutes.  This might sound like nothing, but I did not want to leave her yet. I had never left her before with people she did not know, in an unknown place, and we had just had a huge change: we moved countries, time-zones, we went from family intensive to being by ourselves, and I thought this was a bit too much. I preferred to do a few more sessions before I actually left. They put their foot down. They said that in their experience is better not to make this a long drawn out process, that it disturbs the other children, etc, etc. Feeling pressured, and with heartache, I left the room. And what happened? Ana cried her eyes out, as I did, outside. She eventually calmed down, but when she saw me again, she wanted to breastfeed, she would not leave me, and I could not move an inch without her being wary and teary. I cried, and I explained that it is not that I did not believe that this would work as they said, she will forcefully adapt, because children do.

But I did not like the method, and I did not understand what the rush was, I was not asking to camp there forever, but to spend a few more days before I started to leave her for short periods of time. R.’s anxiety did not stop then, and travelled to our house, where she would not let me go to the toilet, cook, or have two hands for a weeks (I bought two slings to cope!). For me, it felt like a cry it out method for sleeping, it probably works, but I cannot stomach it, and I believe that somehow this type of ‘shortcuts’ have some effects. R’s behaviour could have coincided with other things, but the experience at the nursery, at a time with so many other changes, probably had to do with it. In any case, it just did not go well with me. And I did not like to feel under pressure to do something that did not feel right at all.

The staff at the nursery tried to reassure me, invoked hormones and other mums’ attachment issues, and told me to come the next day, to do it again. After much crying, and thinking, and not sleeping, I decided that I would not do it their way; that I would stay for few days. It did not feel like much to ask and it would make me more comfortable with the whole process. The next day, I told them I wanted to stay for few more days, but they did not agree. They told me that they also did some thinking that afternoon, due to my reaction, but that they wanted to stick to this process. So much for the flexible, slow and gradual approach. I refused. So in the end, they let me stay for the next two days. The tension was palpable. I was certainly classed as the ‘crazy mum’, I even overheard one of the staff whisper to r.’s key worker ‘is that her?’

In the end, I realised that if such as simple, common-sense request (for me), was seen as extraordinary, and frankly, crazy, then I could not trust that we would agree or be able to reach agreements on other issues. After thinking it through during the weekend, and having good talks with friends and family, I realised I did not want to send her there, and more importantly, I did not have to do it. To be honest, even as I am writing, it sounds as if I am exaggerating, but the emotions it brought up were (and still are) so strong that I cannot and don’t want to dismiss them, as childcare business seem to do almost in a condescending way.

We made and re-made calculations and decided to hire a nanny. And with her, we did it slowly. For a few days r., the nanny and I spend a few hours together, doing our usual routine and getting to know one another. The third day, r. was ok to go for a little walk with the nanny, not ecstatic, or happy, complaining even, but ok, no mad crying involved. The next day she was happier to go to the park with her, again no desperate crying.

My point is that with a little bit of time, she was ok, and I was ok, which is also important. I know children are all different, but having some time to get to know the place, and the people, cannot hurt, on the contrary it creates trust and confidence for all involved. I haven’t yet digged up much on this in terms of academic work, but probably the attachment ‘science’, and all the new studies on cortisol and stress levels on children would probably have a say on this (If anyone knows, could you please comment below or send me an email? Thanks!).

This idea is not common in many of the nurseries I visited, and in view of my limited experience. Even the Montessori schools I visited, where the whole idea is that the process of learning is child-led and child-centred, seem to have this policy of only visiting the place once, and then the second day leaving them.

However, in Argentina, this is not the case at all. On the contrary, most kindergartens (from 2 – 2½ years old) have almost a month of settling-in period, where children go at first with their parents –as much as they need to- then start to go for one hour, and then slowly increase their time. This brings other problems, not because of the process itself as most people working in childcare settings there seem to agree that this is the best way for children to be confident and happy in the place; but because working parents –well, who am I kidding, women – find it really hard to cope because they need to juggle work, settling-in, and find alternative forms of childcare while this is happening as well.

In my view, the problem here lies in the way in which ‘society’ at large, and workplaces are not designed for the flexibility that this type of processes need. That is, it has not caught up really with the fact that women are part of the workforce, or more accurately, as Natalia’s post also shows, it has not accomodated to the fact that most parents work, and that things need to change to accomodate for this, in different, flexible and creative ways, instead of women (mainly) and children always needing to accomodate and to take the brunt. 

Could we think of ways in which to make time and space for this, both in childcare settings and at the workplace? I am thinking of long settling -in periods for those children and parents who need it, ways for parents of being more involved in the education of children (if they want to), real flexible hours at work, time off for parents when their children need to start nursery/playgroup/school, and maybe it should be mandatory that this be divided between the parents and not let this be a woman’s problem… can there be time and space for more inclusive workspaces, more gentle chilcare?

One can only dream.

I am curious to know more about this issue from you: what was/is your experience with this? Have you felt this way too? What do you think?


6 responses to “childcare and the time for separation

  1. Pingback: Settling in at nursery: The way it’s done in Germany | attached mummy

  2. I can really relate to the nursery issues. It brought up such strong feelings that I wrote about it on my own blog:
    (It’s very new, so there’s not a whole lot there yet, but I plan to add to it regularly.)

    I would think (hope!) that a Montessori nursery would be slightly more gentle than this. Part of the problem with an on-campus nursery might be that all new children start at the same time, whereas if they started at different points throughout the year, it might be easier to organise settling-in in a different way.

  3. Thanks attached mummy, Your post resonated weith loads of my friends experiences too. It’s really interesting to see how it is done in different places. Germany sounds a lot like Argentina in that sense, though in Argentina, all children start at once, which I think should make it easier, in the sense that they are all doing the same thing, and then all parents go and children are left to really start their ‘stay’. I just don’t think there is much theory behind what they do here, what it would be interesting to see what a childcare provider says. Thanks again for your comment and post! Lucila

  4. In my view, the problem here lies in the way in which ‘society’ at large, and workplaces are not designed for the flexibility that this type of processes need. That is, it has not caught up really with the fact that women are part of the workforce …

    I believe that — at least here in the U.S. — another big part of the problem is that we just don’t want to give room to the expression of negative feelings. We don’t even want to give space for it to small children. I wrote about this topic a while ago, here.

    At our son’s Montessori school, the process of introducing children to the school is much gentler and more gradual than what you describe here. But it’s a week-long process. The month-long process in Argentina sounds about right to me. That’s exactly how long it took our son to adjust to his new school.

  5. I agree with you. Especially the case of brushing off mother’s and children’s feelings in terms of separation. I felt and still feel that it is so infuriatingly condescending….and also very worrying. Feelings are always telling, and for that it is important to give them space, and time. I am reminded here of the book ‘How to talk so kids will listen…’ byFaber and Mazlish. The very first exercise is about giving space to feelings. And in this case, it really is a matter of making time for them, to creat trust and confidence, both for the child and mother. I really don’t like what feels to me like a pavlovian approach…
    I am seriously considering not sending her to a Montessori school, even though I know she will probably thrive there, just because of this. A week sounds lovely compared to an hour!

  6. Pingback: Is childcare a love market? | maternalselves

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