There are many heart-in-throat experiences when it comes to parenting, but the one that’s really high on the teeth-grinding list has to be choosing a daycare.
Many of us have meandered through endless daycares as we make our choice, firing a near million questions as we sceptically eye-ball the centre, the facilities and its carers.
Our baby might not have mastered rolling or know the difference between cat and dog, but we want to know the centre’s curriculum, its values, a nutritional breakdown of each meal and how many times the French teacher comes per week.
We are on high alert and justifiably so. When the daycare door swings shut, with our cherub-faced baby on one side and us on the other, all we have is trust. Trust that the centre and its carers will give our child the best possible care.
As a parent to a 16-month-old and a seasoned daycare attendee since he was eight-months-old, I thought I had the whole interrogation process down.
Luckily for us both, he completely relished in daycare and at his first centre, he’d sometimes cry when I picked him up. He was loving life with his buddies, the outdoor slide was magnificent and I’ll never make cheesy scrolls as good as the in-house cook.
But last week, my son started at a new centre. We moved over the Christmas period to an area that doesn’t have that many options. And while the new digs weren’t like his $140-a-day slick Sydney CBD centre, I felt I had asked all the questions and they’d been reasonably answered.
I soon learnt that I’d missed one question and it’s perhaps the most important any parent could ask - are you going to hug my child when he’s upset?
On his trial morning, I returned to find my son in a zombified state, all puffy-eyed and dejected. His carer informed me, with a chuckle, “He has quite a set of lungs on him, does’t he?”
The comment was disturbing enough, but then she added, “He needs to realise that I won’t hug him when he’s crying. That gives him positive reinforcement.”
Like many parents faced with an awful situation that involves our beloved children, our expectation of our reaction is very different to our actual behaviour. I’d have expected an expletive-ridden bombshell explode from deep inside me.
Instead I scampered out of there as if my feet were on fire, mumbling something about being in a rush and embracing my blotchy-faced tot so fiercely that he had to come up for air as I strapped him into his car sea. We hot wheeled out of there faster than you can say, “The inhumanity!”
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But the thing with being a mum is that we’re such Debbie doubters. Deep down I knew that wasn’t right, but the carer in question has been doing this for almost two decades, so self-doubt wiggled its way in.
And like most mothers faced with confusion, I turned to my trusty friend Facebook and asked the many working mammas out there if they had faced something similar.
Depressingly, endless mums had similar experiences, and had been told that the “no hugging policy” was being used as a self-soothing technique or out of fear that physical contact could be misconstrued.
Unsurprisingly, we were all flipping furious - at the centre, at the carer and really, at ourselves. None of us had asked the most obvious question.
We had assumed there was an unspoken agreement between two humans that compassion would be shown for small, helpless children, especially on their first day in a strange setting away from their parents.
My son is in a new daycare, one with an abundance of hugs and cheesy scrolls, but I’ll never forget his face that awful day. But most of all, I’ll never forget to ask the most important question when it comes to his care ever again.