A Hard Day as a Parent: The First Day of Daycare
Updated: May 31
Originally posted on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/drmattzakreski )
**original post alert**
Wow, it's been a minute since I've done one of these. This community has grown so much between now and then. Thank you for everyone who takes a little time out of their day to engage with this page. I hope that you find it helpful.
Today, I did a really hard thing. And I feel all sorts of different ways about it. I took my children back to daycare. And I kept on a brave face until I got home... and bawled in the shower.
Important back story. I have two wonderful children, ages 3 and 11 months. My wife and I are both psychologists (check out her page at Dr Julia Parents as well).
So when #COVID19 hit, we were shocked and scared like everyone else. My wife was very pregnant at the time, so we were forced to be even more cautious. I remember sitting up late with my wife talking about how we were going to manage having a child (soon to be two!) in the middle of a global pandemic, especially since daycares were closing.
I decided that I would take on as much of the childcare responsibility as I could in this pandemic world. There are many reasons for this. My wife has a salaried, 9-5 job that covers our insurance, so her working less was not an option. I make my own hours, which allows me more flexibility. Also, I had to rush right back to work after our first kid was born, so there was still some residual guilt there.
I loved getting to spend lots of time with my daughter. And when my son was born, I loved getting to spend lots of time with him too. I felt like I was finally pulling my weight as a parent and a partner.
But as Covid dragged on, the arrangement became less and less sustainable. Neither of our kids are great sleepers, which meant trying to juggle them and work on our careers was all but impossible. Neither of us could afford to not work (and with Covid, family help and daycare were very complex choices), but trying to "do it all" was draining our happiness, relationship, and mental health.
There is nothing sadder than wanting to be the best parent you can be and feeling like you're failing all the time, in all aspects of your life. The more energy you give to one thing, something else fails. Your day's survival depends on everything going perfectly (which it won't), getting a few breaks (not likely), and being able to constantly multitask (impossible). And if you survive, you have exhaustion and stress to look forward to.
Finally, a ray of hope! The vaccines rolled out and many people got them (seriously, if you haven't gotten your vaccine yet, do it). Daycare started to feel again like it was a viable option. My wife interviewed several people and we found someone that we really liked.
Yay! All is well, right? (nope).
Here comes the guilt. And the shame. And the fear. My brain is giving me all sorts of mean questions:
Who abandons their kids? (that's not what's happening).
Who can't handle their kids? (We can, and we do, under normal circumstances... and these were not normal circumstances).
Who puts their kids in danger? (That's a risk, but we did our research and preparation).
What if your kids freak out when you leave them? (that'll suck)
What if your kids don't freak out when you leave them? (that will somehow also suck)
The fact is that being a parent is so difficult that you could lose your mind, and that's before a global pandemic upended social norms and daycare and public health policies. All we can do is the best that we can do, and make the best choices that we can with the information that we have. And it won't be perfect.
I'll say it again: It will not be perfect.
Parenting is an exercise in repeated failure. It is also an exercise in anxiety management; we will never be right because we never know what will happen. Lastly, parenting is emotional. Our hearts live outside of our bodies for every kid that we have (or every kid that we let into our lives). Our kids will give us thousands of opportunities to fail, feel, and freak out... all we can do is to check it and keep going.
Let yourself feel those feelings, friends. Parenting will make you laugh, scream, cry, curse, and roll your eyes (within the first ten minutes). We don't want to feel all those feelings because they aren't comfortable and they push against the idea of "perfect parenting" that we see on social media.
We made a hard decision today as parents. I struggled with it. I will probably keep struggling with it. And that makes me human.
It also makes me a good parent.
I can I live with that.