If you can stay at home with your child or children, or arrange a flexible schedule which allows you to take care of your kids, or co-operate with a friend to solve the baby-sitting problems, well and good. But what happens when both parents need to work on a regular basis due to financial and career reasons? The baby cannot stay home alone from 9 till 5. Eventually you are faced with either the need to find a permanent caregiver or to take your toddler to a daycare center or a nursery school. All of the above are quite expensive, so maybe you should first sit down together and calculate what is better for the family, for just one of you to work while the other takes care of the kids, or for both of you to work and to spend practically one of the salaries on baby-care. None of the solutions are perfect.
If you arrange something and decide to go back to work, what you face first are not job challenges; you coped before your maternity leave, you will cope afterwards. Separation anxiety is real. A friend told me about her first week with the nursery school. She took her baby to this new scary place when he was eighteen moths old. On day one it was for just one hour. He was perplexed but agreed to stay. She spent the whole hour shaking, pacing around the hallway right behind the door. Next day, she left him and went home, only to be called back at once because the nurse could not calm him down, he cried so hard. And so it went for a week. After two weeks he would still cry a lot and cling to her leg when she tried to leave, but leave she did. They made a decision with her husband and so they continued. When we talked about it I could see how tense and stressed-out she was. She also kept her cell clasped tightly in her hand. Rule number one is simple: I just listened, let her vent it out. She did not regret her decision and did not complain; she was satisfied with the place; all she needed to pour out were her emotions. That was a huge relief in itself. I offered a few opinions. First of all, talk to the child on your way to the place, say the same thing again and again. Daddy goes to work, and you go to that room to play with other children and with toys. Mommy brings you in and she takes you back home. My friend asked naively why she should say all this if he does not talk coherently, he has only just begun to say a few simple words. Do they understand what we say if they cannot speak yet? Yes, babies understand the gist, they hear our calm intonation, our smile, they focus on our reassurances and most of all on our love. She also asked me how many times they have to tell him all that, and I told her they should do it daily until (if ever) he stops crying and clinging to her. Some toddlers require our support and explanations for several years, others seem to accept the new situation quite fast. All the children usually get into the new schedule eventually. It is much harder on us because we are the ones who feel not only separation anxiety but guilt. A simple and effective way of making it easier on both the child and mother is of course sharing the nursery school or daycare drop off and pick up with the father. Fathers do not feel so much anxiety, they do not cry on those occasions, so the babies may feel calmer with them. Alternately it is easy to arrange the drop off time with some other parent, then both mothers can point at the other kid and say, “See, John’s/Jane’s mother also brings them in and then takes them back home! Isn’t it nice that you two can play together?”
It does not eliminate the heartbreak but it does make things easier for the child. They gradually get used to the new playground and may even be eager to go there.