6 emotional stages of enrolling your child in childcare

To daycare or not to daycare? This has been the dilemma I have faced over the past few months. My struggle is not unique. Hundreds of thousands of parents in Australia wrestle with the question of whether to place their child in daycare. But I have never been through this, until now. And the internal struggle is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Here are six (highly) emotional stages of enrolling your child in childcare, particularly relevant to the first-timer.

1. The denial stage

Much like the first stage of grief, the initial decision usually involves a fair amount of denial. You may know that childcare is the best or only option, but you are reluctant to take the step. If you are a virgin childcare user, the decision seems monumental. You are conflicted about the decision and feel like an emotional train wreck. Angst and reason are at war in your head. It’s messy in there! 


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2. The research stage

Reason eventually prevails and you decide to look at daycare seriously. You’ve been able to dull the “bad mum” voice in your head (though not mute it altogether) and so you begin your research to help inform your decision. Bad move. Research often prompts more angst than ever before. You foolishly read studies that claim putting your child in daycare will turn them into a narcissistic, aggressive, socially volatile human being incapable of any success in life. Epic error. You refine your Google search to include keywords such as “benefits”. Better.

3. The “I can’t do this” stage

Naturally, once you’ve cerebrally downloaded a study like that, it’s hard to delete it. You try to file it under: “It’s only one stupid study”, but it appears in every tab of your brain. The only reasonable thing to do is to visit a childcare centre. You choose the one with the fanciest name and the fanciest philosophy (preferably in Swedish or Italian because surely they guarantee successful outcomes). As the manager takes you on a tour of the centre, you feel physically ill. It is noisy, crowded and you’ve never seen so many snotty noses. The gourmet meals and learning for life dogma is lost on you. You accept the enrolment forms, drive home and toss them straight into the recycle bin!

4. The “I can do this” stage

The “I can’t do it” stage may be short-lived (you retrieve the enrolment forms from the bin that night) or may last several weeks. I have lost track of the number of enrolment forms I have binned over the years. Usually, it comes down to a matter of necessity. You have to go back to work, study or you simply need a break from your child for your mental health. All perfectly good reasons. So you visit more childcare centres, realising that not all childcare centres are made equal (I fled a few in horror) before settling on one. OK, I admit it; I may have enrolled my child in the fancy pants one.

Listen to mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue talk about avoiding childcare lurgies:

5. The guilt stage

You buy your child a flashy new backpack, tell her she’s going to “playgroup” or some term you’ve come up with to sweeten the deal, and you take her for orientation. After a couple of sessions, it’s time for her first day. Nothing can prepare you for this moment. Perhaps your child cries and flails and begs you not to leave, or maybe she gives you a solemn wave as she chokes back tears. You feel a gut-wrenching ache in your stomach and you walk back to your car and cry (hot, ugly tears are perfectly reasonable). You do everything in your power not to run back into the centre like a crazy person and pluck your baby from the horrible place. All rational thought is lost at this point!

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So Indi had her first long day at childcare today. The drop off was, once again, awful. She gripped me so tightly when we walked into the centre. And when it was time to leave she screamed and looked at me as if to say “why are you doing this to me?” The educator basically had to prise her from my arms and Ieft with a big lump in my throat, feeling totally crappy. But when I called the centre later on they said the tears had stopped immediately and she was having a lovely time. I have to day I was a little surprised. But what really shocked me was when they reported that she had eaten lunch. Willingly. Like, eaten and enjoyed it. And guess what it was… a Mexican rice dish. With flavour. And brown rice. What the actual??? I can’t even get her to eat white rice. Or anything remotely nutritious! And my child (or should I say the imposter) actually slept. On a mat. In a new environment. For NINETY minutes!!!! Who even is she???? When we got home I took her for a ride on her new pink globber scooter {gifted}, feeling so happy and relieved. She ate, slept and played there, which is more than she does on my watch. What does that say? 🤔☺️💗

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6. The acceptance stage

The guilt-ridden, abandonment, bad-mum stage does not last. Acceptance is the final stage of the grieving process. It can take a couple of months or more for your child to become fully comfortable with her surroundings and develop a routine. I am only one month into my childcare journey and my child is still having trouble separating from me. Conversely, she is fine when my husband drops her off. Go figure. She hasn’t fully adjusted yet but I think we are both reaching a place of acceptance.

Postscript: Shortly after finishing this piece I called daycare to check on my daughter. Yes, I am one of THOSE mums. My jaw dropped to the floor when I heard: “Oh she’s having a wonderful day. She ate three serves of Moroccan couscous for lunch and slept for two hours.” So, perhaps there is a 7th stage to this story: The IMPOSTER stage.

Michaela Fox is a writer, blogger and mother of three. She muses on the ups and downs of motherhood on her blog Not Another Slippery Dip, and believes in ‘good-enough’ parenting. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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