Q&A: Attachment parenting to daycare transition

Adriana writes:

"I am currently a stay-at-home mom to my almost 11-month old son. I was blessed with a year off in between finishing up one long-term workassignment and beginning another this September. By way of instinct, I ended up caring for my son using many "attachment parenting" approaches  (co-sleeping, baby-wearing, etc.). No surprises, attachment parenting works in creating attachment! So now, with only the brief summer months standing in between being full-time at home with J and leaving him in daycare (7 hours a day, 5 days a week), my heart is literally breaking as I fearfully anticipate the unknown. I love the daycare we have chosen. It's a formal/institutional setting, but it seemed like a warm, loving, and incredibly well-run place where the children were joyful and the staff both professional and kind. Nonetheless, as attached as J and I are to each other, I'm scared of him losing trust in me as I abandon him daily (sob, this one is the worst... perhaps I'm being over-dramatic but that's how it feels), of missing his growing-up moments, of his being fearful and lost in this new situation, of our entire routine changing... AND of somehow hurting him in the long run. I've been a pretty laid-back mom so far, but this has gotten me into an absolute tizzy. 

J also tends towards a more inhibited, cautious, and sensitive personality type right from the beginning which has made me feel even more over-protective of him (what if he has a hard time adjusting socially or spends his day miserable because he doesn't want to be there). As you can see, I'm stuck in a cycle of anxiety-producing what-ifs! Finally, I come from a cultural and family background where daycare is not the norm. My family is providing no reassurances due to their own reservations (ie not "believing" in daycare or nannies). My mom stayed home with us when my brother and I were babies, and when life circumstances no longer made that possible, she and my dad organized their schedules so that at least one of them was home with us, even though this was incredibly difficult and meant someone working a night shift to make it possible. As a child, I never once had a babysitter (besides my grandmother) and was never in a daycare situation. So I have no personal experience on which to reassure myself that all will be okay.

I'm definitely excited to go back to work and have been wishing for the best of both worlds. So my question is, how do I ease this transition for the both of us? My wish is that both J and I have happy, fulfilling days when apart as well as together, that he'll flourish in daycare and have fun, and then also be happy to be at home. It's possible, right? J will be 13.5 months when starting daycare. I would love to hear different people's experiences, especially those who practiced attachment parenting."

Bad news first: I think the first couple of weeks might be rough for you. But mostly because there's a sleep regression/developmental spurt that happens right around 13 months. In some kids it's barely noticeable, but in others it hits like a Mac truck. So it's possible that your son will be going through that and that everything going on will be rough, including the transition to daycare.

Now, the good news: Since your son is so securely attached, he's got a great base to be secure enough to adjust to daycare. Assuming the daycare is a safe place with a consistent routine and consistent, loving caregivers, he will be fine once he's past that developmental leap.

If possible, both of you will be eased into the process if you could do a week of half-days before you start full-time. It'll get your son used to the routine of drop-off and pick-up, and knowing that the people there are nice and the other kids are fun, and that you always come get him at the end of the day. And it'll get *you* used to getting everything packed up and ready to go in the morning (do NOT underestimate the stress of that) and letting your sweet little thing go for a few hours with the caregivers before you have to add being present mentally at work into the mix.

It will, of course, work out. Maybe not in the first day or even the first month. But if you trust the caregivers, your son will adjust and probably even love it. (If you don't trust the caregivers, look for a different situation. Trust your instincts. You know when something's wrong, and don't feel guilty about acting in your instincts.) Good caregivers will want to know as much as you can tell them about your child, so if they know from the first day that your son is cautious, they'll be happy to know that and work with it.

I think one of the best surprises you're going to get from this experience is having other smart adults who know a lot about little kids give you feedback about your son. They'll also become good partners in helping you troubleshoot things that come up as he grows.

Now, the lack of support from your family is a completely different issue. (Aside: I love when people say they don't "believe" in things like daycare or extended nursing or anything else that exists independent of our belief in it. It's like saying you don't "believe" in gravity. Um, OK.) You already know this, but unless they're willing to come and care for him all day for you, they don't get a say. But the flip side is that your choice to use daycare might be making them question their own choices (or lack of choice, as the case may be). So I'd try to avoid confrontation about it, and just let your happy, healthy son be the proof that daycare is fine, just as babysitters are fine, just as all-day momcare or all-day dadcare or all-day grandparentcare or whatever configuration of daycare we come up with is fine. As long as it works for you and your son, it works. And if it doesn't work any more, you change it.

Readers? Who's gone through the SAHparent-to-daycare transition? What do you have to help? Either actual tips, or moral support?