Q. I have a 17-month-old daughter who is looked after by a childminder Monday to Friday as I work full- time. I would have preferred not to have to work full-time, but have no choice really due to a big mortgage and trying to pay the bills. The minder has two children of her own who are in primary school, so my daughter has the minder to herself in the mornings. My daughter is well cared for and seems to be very happy when she is there. However, when I go to collect her in the evening to bring her home she often does not seem excited to see me and can be reluctant to leave the “fun” at her childminder’s.
The other day, she tripped when I was there (nothing serious) but she looked to her minder to console her and not me – I felt terrible that she saw her as her “mammy” and not me. I was also a bit annoyed at the minder, because she took over the comforting of my daughter without giving me a chance to do it myself. I don’t know if I am over-reacting. I know I should feel happy that my daughter is well cared for, but I do feel jealous. I am finding it hard enough to be away from my daughter all day anyway, but this makes it harder. Will it affect how she bonds with me in the future?
A. For many parents, the decision to work full-time and let someone else mind their children is a difficult one, especially when the children are very young. This is particularly the case when the parent would prefer to be at home full-time and the decision to work is based largely on economic reasons. This can leave the parent with a lot of guilt at not being there and a sense of loss at missing out on spending time with their children.
Though this decision can be particularly hard if your child is not happy in her childcare arrangements, it also can be hard when she is happy as this can bring your sense of loss to the fore. I don’t think you are over-reacting – your feelings are totally understandable and show how much you want to be there for your daughter.
However, it is important to put things in perspective. You are right that it is best for your daughter that she is well cared for and close to her minder. From a child developmental perspective, a 17 month old benefits most from consistent, warm and largely one-to-one care from a person who knows her well. If this is what your daughter is getting from the child minder, then this is the best environment for her to be cared for while you are working.
To best serve your daughter’s needs at 17 months of age, you would hope that she becomes attached to her childminder, so she feels secure in her care. However, having a close relationship with her childminder, need not affect her relationship with you as her mother – your daughter can become specially attached to you and, in fact, the more secure and happy she is during the day, the easier it will be for you to bond with her during the time you have together.
It is perfectly normal that your daughter should seek to be comforted by the childminder when the two of you are there (and this does not usurp your role), though it does strike me that your childminder is not being sensitive to your feelings as your daughter’s mother. For example, a sensitive minder might take a step back in such a situation and support the mother being the comforting parent. In addition, the minder does have a role in preparing your daughter for going home, so she feels excited and prepared about this.
It might be worth having a conversation with the minder about these issues, though of course this is a delicate conversation to get right. You could say something like, “I am really glad that my daughter is so happy in your home, but because I don’t have as much time with her as I would like, I would appreciate it if you could prepare her for when I come to collect her.” The more you and the childminder can work together as a team, the better for your daughter.
Handovers from childcare when it’s time to go home can be tricky at the best of times and these are important to get right. It might be best not to have long goodbyes to the childminder and to keep the handover short. If you need to chat to your minder, perhaps you can do this later or on the phone.
If your daughter says she wants to stay, you can be positive and upbeat and say something like, “Let’s have more fun when we go home and we will see N in the morning”, and then move on.
The key to being a working parent is to make the most of the time to care for your daughter. It really helps to be organised and to have a good routine each day such as including a special playtime in the evening after you collect her, before starting a relaxing bedtime wind down and so on. Tune into your daughter to find out what routine works for her – for example, she may be tired when you collect her and first need a chill-out time before anything more energetic.
It also helps if you can negotiate a good work-life balance with your employer such as being able to do some work at home which can facilitate you to leave early to collect your daughter or to take an occasional half-day off midweek which allows you to spend relaxed time with her without the normal pressure of having to get everything done at the weekend.
Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times, April 2011. John writes in the Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.