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Parenting

How Daycare Made Me a Better Mom

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After dropping our daughter off for her first day of daycare, I felt guilty for not feeling guilty. I’d anticipated tears on both our ends, but she went straight from my husband’s arms to her teacher’s without a second thought or care in the world. And just like that I was free to go about my day. This was not how I saw this playing out— so much so that I’d preemptively planned a coffee date on the way home from daycare to distract myself from feeling all the feels.

When we got home, I was able to indulge in one of my favorite self-care routines: listening and dancing to music while showering, a ritual I’d put on the backburner for six months just in case Violet cried or woke up from a nap.  

Afterward, I pulled out my laptop and got to work writing my first book, something I’d been sneaking in between naps and the occasional trip to the coffee shop after making sure I’d pumped enough milk to ensure she’d be happily fed while I was gone.

I felt relieved. I felt relaxed. I felt free. Most importantly, I felt more like myself— something that had been missing since I’d given birth back in October. I had uninterrupted time to focus on myself and my work: two things I knew would make me a better mom. I finally had the opportunity to substantially pour into myself so that I could authentically and substantially pour into those around me, especially my daughter.

In the days and weeks leading up to our daughter starting daycare, however, I was a wreck. For starters, we’d gotten a late start. I’d talked to friends and read the posts in the mommy groups— I knew that my husband and I should’ve registered for the waitlists while our daughter was still in utero, but an interstate move in the middle of my pregnancy complicated matters.

Because we didn’t know where we would ultimately be living, we had to put our daycare search on pause while we prioritized finding a home. Our goal was to be in our new place by the time the baby was scheduled to arrive in early November, but then a scheduled C-section at 37 weeks plus a preposterous housing market accelerated our plans. Ultimately, we weren’t able to find a home within budget in one of our desired neighborhoods in time, so we hunkered down at my in-laws to prepare for the baby.

Three months later, however, we had a change of heart and decided to leave Ohio and move back to Chicago, which meant we were virtually touring homes and daycares at the same time. While I coordinated FaceTime showings with our real estate agent, my husband got to work on a spreadsheet detailing all of the daycares within a five-mile radius of our new home. To say we had a lot going on would be a vast understatement.

My mother-in-law helped us tremendously, watching the baby while I did a 30-minute Peloton ride most mornings. But once my husband returned to the office after parental leave, primary caregiving fell to me and left me with little to no time to write, work or simply think coherent thoughts most days. I was struggling and yet I was petrified at the thought of having someone else watch our daughter. Thanks a lot, postpartum anxiety.

I texted Anna Maltby, one of my trusted writer mom friends, as much and she instantly put my worries at ease. She assured me the lead-up to daycare was worse than the dreaded first drop-off and that both me and Violet would benefit tremendously. She would have the opportunity to play and socialize with other kids and learn from teachers who were much better equipped to aid her development than I was. And I would get precious time to myself, plus peace of mind knowing that she’s thriving.

“I think the guilt comes from feeling like you’re depriving her of something important (time with you). But what it really is is that you’re giving her an enormous gift of fun and learning and stimulation,” Anna texted me. “Plus you get to take care of yourself and do the things you need to do, so the time you spend together can be even more special and plugged in. You are a better mom when you get to live a full life. Daycare makes that happen.

And she was right.

To be fair, I cried when we picked up the enrollment packet shortly after we moved back. I forgot what the director was telling us while I held Violet, but when she saw my eyes tearing up behind my mask, she rested her hand on my shoulder and assured me they would take good care of her. And I believed her. 

That first day of daycare I was glued to the center’s app where you can see pictures and get updates throughout the day. The second picture Violet’s teacher sent was of her asleep in her arms. It was at that moment my anxiety subsided and I knew our daughter was in good hands, both literally and figuratively.

Two months in, I still light up when I get a notification from the daycare app. I love seeing what she’s learning, what she’s reading and what she’s eating. She’s making friends, too— a little social butterfly, just like her mama (even if she looks just like her dad). I see Violet’s teachers as partners in her education and I love that they make it a point to read her books featuring other Black children with natural hair.

When her favorite teacher sent her a video of Violet deciding which book she wanted to read next, I tried the same thing at home. As it turns out, our girl loves to make her own choices— an independent baby, I stan.

Knowing she’s being taken care of so well gives me peace of mind so I’m able to accomplish what I need to do to be a full version of myself— writer, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. And whereas I was losing my sanity in the weeks leading up to daycare, now I’m much more patient and calm when I pick her up at the end of the day.

I guess it’s true what they say, absence does make the heart grow fonder.

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.
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The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

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Meet the Author

L'Oreal Thompson Payton

L’Oreal Thompson Payton is Chicago-based self-help author, motivational speaker and lifestyle journalist whose byline has appeared in publications such as Bitch, Bustle, SELF, Shondaland, and Well + Good among others.

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