My neighbour and I recently started our three-year-olds at occasional care together. I don’t why, but starting Birdy in daycare was a really big deal for me. I was sooo anxious about it I nearly cancelled the whole thing. I suppose you could say I had a bit of separation anxiety.
We were supposed to go down to the daycare centre for a trial the day before Birdy started. In my mind, I secretly hoped that smiling saint-like pre-school teachers would greet us by name at the gate, emanating peace and light and blessed assurance; that Birdy would be instantly drawn into some amazing creative activity and that all my anxieties about leaving my daughter with a total stranger would melt away.
Errr… maybe not. We stayed for about an hour, and the whole time not one staff member spoke to Birdy or tried to engage her in any activity. I think they took the attitude that we were just there to observe. But by the time we left, I was beside myself, thinking, ‘how can I leave my child with people she’s never even met?’ It’s not that I thought Birdy wasn’t ready for daycare. It was more that I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to forfeit the luxury of knowing my daughter spends all day every day with somebody who cares deeply about her. Fortunately, my husband convinced me to give it another chance or two.
So the next day I dropped Birdy off with fear and trembling, reminding myself that I was only leaving her for a few hours. Even if she didn’t have close, personal attention for those hours, she would still have her little friend with her. This time the staff were far more attentive and although there were a few tears, overall she coped fairly well. The second week the goodbyes were far more traumatic as the teacher wrestled my thrashing, weeping child off me so I could get out the gate. However, I couldn’t leave her like that. I had to keep going back in and giving her more kisses and cuddles until she was ready to let me go.
Now, five weeks later, I’m so glad I stuck it out. I’ve seen Birdy growing in confidence and in her social skills. I’ve seen her joining in more with other children, showing more maturity and listening to instructions – all skills that will be useful for starting school. Last week, she was actually excited when we arrived, and when I picked her up she was having so much fun she didn’t want to leave.
I think I can safely say that Birdy has settled in at daycare. I actually feel quite proud of her for how well she’s coped. I’m sure it helped that she started at the same time as her little friend. So far, we’re still only doing one half-day a week. We’ll probably add another half-day when Mummy gets used to the idea.
Do you remember how you felt when your child started daycare or pre-school for the first time? Was it a big deal for you? How did your child cope? Do you think there is a ‘right’ age to start? Was there anything you did that helped your child to settle in? Or if your child didn’t settle well, how did you deal with that?
As the end of the year approaches, I’ve started to think about what I’m going to do with Birdy next year. She’s turning three in January so I was hoping she’d get offered a place in pre-school, but around here places in pre-school seem to be harder to find than a car park at Bondi. But I’ve noticed that as she gets older she’s looking for the company of other kids a lot more. In fact, she often puts on her little Wiggles backpack and tells me she’s ready for pre-school.
So far we haven’t needed to use any formal daycare. We’ve been using a nanny one morning a week, which has been perfect while she’s little. I liked the idea of Birdy having that one-on-one attention and forming a long-term relationship with her babysitter. It’s been so good for her to have another adult take an interest in her. A nanny also gives us great flexibility. There’s been a number of times when we’ve had a wedding to go to, or one of us has ended up in hospital and in those situations it’s been wonderful to have a babysitter that Birdy already knows. But the disadvantage of a nanny is that your kids aren’t making friends with other kids their own age. Not to mention it’s expensive, because there’s no rebate.
One of the things that irritates me about the Australian government’s childcare rebate system is that it totally favours institutional care, without there being any evidence (as far as I’m aware) that this is the best type of care for children and their parents. This encourages parents to place their kids into long daycare, rather than using a nanny or family member to care for their kids. It’s also an example of how the government doesn’t value women’s unpaid work. I think it’d be great if grandmothers and aunties who provide regular childcare while the child’s parents are working (like I do for my sister and she does for me) could have their contribution acknowledged through some form of government payment, rebate or tax deduction. Then many more grandparents and aunties would be enabled to look after their grandkids, nephews and nieces one or two days a week, as an alternative to part-time work. I say this because as our population ages, many of the nations’ grandparents are continuing in paid employment right into their 60s and 70s.
I don’t think any one type of childcare is better than another. Whatever you choose, every type of childcare has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s just a matter of working out what best suits your particular situation and each particular child. If you use family members for childcare, it’s wonderful for them to have that time together, but then you have to be prepared to make other arrangements when they get sick or go on holidays. If you use family daycare, then they’re in a home environment with one carer, but there may not be as much accountability because no other adult is present while the kids are there. On the other hand, if you go with a long-daycare centre, then your child will have access to lots of stimulating facilities and kids their own age, but they might not get quite as much personal attention. So there’s a lot to consider and we’re still weighing it all up. But if we got offered a place in pre-school next year then that would solve all my problems!
What kind of childcare do you use? Are you happy with the quality of care your kids receive? How have your children responded to it? What are the advantages and disadvantages of that type of care? What would you do differently if you could? Are the government rebates for childcare adequate in Australia?
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