She doesn’t want me. She doesn’t need me. She doesn’t love me. The thoughts flew through my mind as I texted close friends, the screen blurry through my tears. I was full of anger, resentment, guilt, and shame as I walked down my street, trying to understand what had just happened.
Back in 2014, we were lucky enough to be ex-pats in Shanghai, which meant we got to hire a nanny to care for our daughter when I went back to work. I trusted the nanny with all aspects of caring for our baby, but I never expected what would happen that afternoon. I had returned home from work just as my baby girl, Nina, was getting ready for a bottle. She was crying and fussing despite my attempts to get her settled. When the nanny came back into the room, Nina looked at her, smiled, and calmed immediately. I was so flabbergasted and heartbroken I didn’t know what to do. Hence the SOS text to my friends.
I was angry that my baby seemed to prefer the nanny. The nanny got more waking hours with my daughter than I did, and I was resentful. I felt guilty about not rushing home sooner. I felt ashamed for choosing to work. My friends were a blessing, and their advice brought me back from the brink of desperation. They shared some beautiful insights.
Babies don’t take sides or hold grudges. They live in the moment and react to what helps them feel safe and loved. Babies learn to love by being loved . . . by many people. Quality over quantity counts every time. That was my first experience witnessing someone outside our family care for and love my daughter. While the sting of the moment has never gone away, I learned that sharing the caregiving is indeed a beautiful way to help my baby feel loved and connected to many people in her life.
Fast forward a few years when we had come back to the US, had another baby, and I was working again and needing childcare for our toddler and infant. This is what I want to say to the amazing daycare teachers that took care of my children when I wasn’t there.
I knew from the moment I walked down the hall that this daycare was the place for our family. The tenderness in your voices and joy in your smiles was evident from the start. I felt calmer in your presence, which I could tell wasn’t an accident. Your gift is how you open your hearts to so many children in your care. Your infinite patience and unwavering energy are a kind of magic embodied by only a few special souls.
The first day I left my daughter in your care, I wept, overcome with worry, guilt, and doubt. It took weeks of reassuring myself and seeing evidence in her demeanor to feel more confident, grateful, and even excited to drop her off each morning. After a few months, I could tell that she lived her best toddler life in your classroom. She enjoyed experiences she would never have received at home and being loved by a whole team of teachers that connected with her in different ways.
When our son came along, I was prepared for the initial transition to daycare and those familiar waves of guilt, sadness, and worry. I would probably be concerned about myself if I didn’t have any of those emotions; they were a reminder of how much I love my sweet baby. Even though I was stressed, tired, and sometimes totally scattered, I was mostly relieved that my vulnerable baby was in excellent hands.
Mothers aren’t meant to do mothering alone or to do it nonstop. Mothers are meant to have a village, a community, a group to share the load and love. A long time ago, those villages were part of everyday life, but we value independence more than community in modern times. If the best way to create my care-sharing village was through daycare, so be it.
You not only provided a loving, nurturing, stimulating environment for my kids, but you gave me the freedom to be out living my best life (which at the time, ironically, was teaching young children!). I got to be a better mom when I was with my own children because I was fulfilling my dreams and desires with your continuous care and support.
A highlight of my days was coming in to pick up my son, playing with him a little bit, and getting the daily rundown from you. I loved exchanging notes about what you saw in the classroom and what I saw at home. I chuckled as I watched him interact with his friends. And I was amazed at the skill you had in caring for multiple children, simultaneously offering each one exactly what they needed. You taught me so much about not sweating the small stuff and enjoying the truly precious moments.
And back to those toddler teachers. I bow down. You know how to console a crying child, laugh along with a silly child, and stay close to a shy child, all while changing diapers, dodging play dough, and singing a song! The flexibility you showed while we went through potty training was absolutely remarkable. Your acceptance of my children’s quirks and habits and sometimes annoying phases mattered more than any lesson you taught or skill you modeled. How you let my children be themselves undoubtedly laid the foundation for who they are today.
It was a bittersweet farewell by the time we moved on to other schools. I was so proud of who my children had become (at the ripe old ages of 4 and 1.5!). They were resilient, confident, caring, and loving, and I am forever grateful for their experience in your classrooms. I was excited to see how my children would flourish with new teachers and new friends because now I had proof that my husband and I weren’t the only ones who could love them and care for them. And that’s exactly what made the farewell so sad. It’s hard to say goodbye to the incredible people who helped raise my kids. That’s another special strength you have: letting go after growing such a strong bond and making space in your heart for another child coming into your care.
My kids cherish their photo albums from your classrooms. They love to remember the projects they did, the friends in their class, or the celebrations they enjoyed. They, too, want to remember the people they loved so dearly, who snuggled them when they were sad, laughed with them every day, and were very much part of our family.
Thank you, daycare, for being loving caretakers to my sweet children when I could not be there.