Welcome to Our Small Hours Parenting Q & A! Being a parent means having questions. Many different situations arise during the course of parenting and you may not have all of the answers. That’s okay. None of us has all of the answers. My first hand experience as a parent and my time spent practicing family therapy* have given me some insight into the common and not-so-common questions of parenthood.
Q: I’ve just started working outside of the home after being a sahm for my three-year-old his whole life. It’s been two weeks and he cries every time I leave him. I have to work. Please don’t give me the “helpful” advice to quit work and continue to be a sahm. My mother thinks that’s what I should do, but it’s just not an option.
My heart breaks when I have to leave him. I want him to be happy like the other children at the daycare seem to be. What can I tell him to make him see daycare as a fun place that he’s excited to go to each morning?
A: Sweet mama, my heart hurts for you and you son. I know this isn’t easy. Having re-entered the workforce full time just a year ago after 11 years of mostly working from home and some part-time work, I understand this transition very well. And don’t worry, my advice to you isn’t to quit your job and return to being a sahm.
I want to encourage you to be confident in your belief that you are doing the right thing by returning to the workforce. With your son being upset at daycare and your mother suggesting you should continue to stay home, you may not feel that you are doing the right thing. This can affect your attitude and actions in the presence of your son and cause him to feel unsure, as well. This may be as simple as your subconscious feelings about returning to work affecting your son.
What does his care provider say about how long he cries after you leave? Is he miserable most of the day or does the crying stop once he’s been redirected to the activities of the day?
Here are some other things to consider:
- Your son has been home with you his whole life. Has he ever been in a daycare or preschool setting? If not, the busyness and distractions of a daycare setting might be unsettling to him.
- Does he have any sensory issues? This might also cause a daycare environment to be overwhelming.
If either of the above are true for your son, but you want to introduce him to a setting with other children more slowly, consider a part-time preschool/sitter or nanny scenario. He can get the education environment/socialization from the preschool, but he doesn’t have to spend all day there. Afterward he can come back to the comfort of his home.
- Does your son feel ignored in the daycare setting?
- Can he articulate what he’s sad about?
If your son is simply missing you and distraught at the idea of you being gone all day, there are a few things you can try:
- Read Llama, Llama Misses Mama with him. This tells a great story about a little llama whose mother left him at school while she went to work. He was sad, but in the end he realized that he could have fun at school and that Mama Llama always comes back. This helped my youngest when I took a part-time internship several years ago and had to be away from my boys.
- Give him a special, small token to put in his pocket, so that he can feel connected to you when you are gone. I used small plastic butterflies like these with my son. He kept one and I kept one. I still carry one in my work bag today and smile every time I come across it.
Give it time. If changing childcare settings isn’t an option or the book and token ideas don’t seem to help, keep in mind that your son has just had a major change to his routine and to his whole life in general. Keep reassuring him confidently, listen to what he has to say about why he’s sad at daycare and continue to show him that each day you always come back for him. In time, he will settle into his new routine.
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