Ria started day care last week, and things didn’t exactly go smoothly. She goes three full days a week, and I’m sure that’s three too many for her (and, indirectly, for us too when we see her cry). It’s odd really, this is likely one of the easiest things I’ll ever do as a father – to let her go and have her take her first step of independence from us, yet it seems like one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Every morning we drop her off, we have to leave her crying. She clings to my coat as if holding on for dear life, cries at the top of her lungs, as if asking “Daddin’, Mumma, why are you leaving me here? What did I do wrong? I’m sorry…”. It feels like a dagger through the heart each day, but it is something we must endure for her own good, and for ours.
My folks left for a two-month trip to India on New Year’s Day. Though Ria didn’t cry at all as they left (she probably had no idea what was going on), it’s been pretty hard on her since she spent most of her day with her grandparents. She’s especially close to my Mom, who has been with her just about every day of her life. That, coupled with our dropping her off in a new place with complete strangers for the whole day, has resulted in what appears to us to be a separation anxiety. She’s become very “clingy” for lack of a better word – wanting to be carried all the time and not put down. She constantly looks over her shoulder every few minutes while she plays, to make sure that we’re still there and that no one has abandoned her. I’m afraid that we may be instilling a new kind of fear in her – a fear of abandonment. I surely don’t want her feeling insecure for the rest of her life, but then I also fear that we’re doing what all new parents do the first time – possibly being over-dramatic? After all, surely all kids go through this, and everyone, on average, turns out fine, right?
We could have evaluated other options before choosing to put her in day care – maybe we could have alternated taking time off work to cover the eight-week period that my parents are gone for. Or maybe we could have hired an in-home baby sitter so that Ria is in a familiar environment, hopefully reducing her discomfort. However, we thought it important for Ria to get more social exposure to other kids. Ria is an only child and she has spent most of her 18 months of life with her family – her parents, grandparents, and uncle. Given our frequent moving lately, we haven’t been able to develop a strong social network, and so she has never really been around a lot of other adults or children. Thus, we wanted her to spend more time with other children – something that neither our taking time off work at staying home, or our hiring an in-home baby sitter would have accomplished. Yes, there is emotional trauma for her and us, and yes she is getting sicker more often due to the other children being around, but I figure it’s a small short-term price to pay for what we believe to be a long-term benefit. Besides, not only would an in-home baby sitter not give Ria exposure to other kids, it also wouldn’t allow her to develop an understanding of home versus school.
On the bright side, she is improving. Though every day is certainly different and she has good ones followed by bad ones, she is crying less with each subsequent drop off. She has gone from crying non-stop at the top of her lungs for 45 minutes after drop off and then crying on-and-off all day, to crying for about 10 minutes after drop off and then on-and-off for a fraction of the day. She has gone from crying and fighting diaper change time (she’s not used to being changed on a changing table), to quietly having her diaper changed and then going back to play. And, finally, she’s starting to progress from sitting by herself in a corner to playing with other kids. I wait very eagerly for that day when there is no crying at drop offs, no crying throughout the day, and excited engagement with the other children in all activities.
As for me – well I end up calling the day care 3-4 times a day to check in and see how she’s doing. I can’t wait until it’s time to head out and pick her up, and I speed through traffic just so I can get to her a few minutes earlier… As I think about it more, I don’t know who has more separation anxiety – her or us…