As my husband and I walked into the first of our several day care centre tours, a stomach-wrenching twist forced me to stop for a moment and take notice of my surroundings. Hundreds of scenarios went whipping through my mind: If this place is dirty, I’m walking out! Will Luca like it here? What will that first day of daycare feel like? Will he make friends? What if he gets hurt? Will other kids tease him for having two dads? Maybe we should revisit me being a stay-at-home dad! Let’s turn this stroller around, I’m not ready yet!
I was fortunate enough to take parental leave with our son and I’m still cherishing each and every day we have together. The date of my return to work has been poking its ugly head recently and so we needed to start the emotionally-charged, guilt-ridden, complicated conversation that is child care. I’m sure all parents can relate to this one. The best advice I got was to NOT take any advice and go with what works best for our family – and to trust our instincts. Easier said than done when those same instincts are screaming for ME to continue to be the one to care for my son.
After many late-night conversations in bed, we narrowed the decision down to home daycare vs. a daycare centre. My initial preference was for home care. I thought it would be nice for Luca to be in a warm home environment, to have a small group of other kids to play with, and to develop a warm connection with one loving caregiver. But how does one find this perfect caregiver? If I knew someone personally or had a trusted friend with a glowing review of someone else, I could MAYBE bring myself to trust this person… but I didn’t have such luck. I was navigating into the world of home childcare blindly. The thought of countless interviews, home tours and reference checks seemed overwhelming. And even if home care providers were at their best behaviour during an interview, nothing is stopping them from putting kids in front of a TV for hours, feeding them another helping of Kraft dinner and chips, while having their third smoke of the day with some random visitor in another room!* Another compelling argument was illness. If the person were sick, I would be completely out of childcare options. The final argument that led me to shelf the idea of home childcare was that not many home care providers wanted to take kids part-time.
I never thought that my decision to go back to work part-time would have any negative effects! For me, returning to work part-time was perfect. I would have one hand in my career advancement while still being able to spend alternate days with my ever-growing son. Our family would have access to health benefits and I could still go to playgroups and swimming lessons. Luca would have the best of both worlds: the structure and social atmosphere of childcare and the special moments with daddy at home or out and about.
Our hand was forced to move on to a daycare centre – which happened to be my husband’s first choice all along. My fears about daycare centres were completely unfounded. I thought my son would be lost in the sea of crying children but learned that the government regulated standard ratio is 1 adult to 3 infants. The staff is highly trained in curriculum, first aid and CPR. The more research I did, the more appealing this option was becoming. Designated nutritionists ensure that food follows healthy guidelines and parents are given the menu for the month in advance. Toys and surfaces in all rooms are disinfected daily. Parents are encouraged to be involved and communication sheets are filled out daily. I learned that “play-based learning” is guided by my child’s curiosity and interests, which are observed and recorded weekly. Kids are kept engaged in activities both indoors and outdoors that help with their social, emotional and physical development. And the most compelling argument for us was that all daycare centres in Ontario are regulated by the Ministry of Education using a specific (and quite lengthy) set of provincial standards. The results of each unannounced inspection are posted online for all to view.
It seemed like the right choice for our family and at the end of the day, I could bring myself to feel that Luca would be well taken care of. There was no need to freak out and yet there I was frozen by the stroller on-ramp at the front door of the first daycare centre we were about to tour.
“Let’s just hear what they have to say” were the gentle words from my husband that snapped me back to the present. A few minutes into the infant room tour, a staff member followed by a couple of happy children invited Luca to play with them while the adults chatted in another corner of the room. As I tried to pay attention to the details of their illness policy, I noticed Luca splashing his hands at the water centre wearing a huge smile (and much of the water!). The weight of the world felt just a tiny bit lighter that moment and I knew we were on the right path.
*Please note that my irrational fears of home daycares are completely unfounded and should not be taken personally by home daycare providers. There are MANY very capable and professional home daycare providers out there and I have the utmost respect for them.