Forging a Family
Note: this post speaks to the Canadian maternity leave, which is, in most cases, a full year. Additionally, many families can choose to split the leave between both parents. I am not talking about those unfortunate folk who are allowed a paltry and inhumane six or so weeks off. If that was/is your unfortunate situation, you have my sincere sympathy, and you may skip this post! (Grammar note: Lacking a neutral person in this language, I am choosing to use the grammatically incorrect "they/their" instead of the cumbersome "he/she - his/her", or the dated pseudo-generic "he/his". Grammatically suspect though it may be, it seems the best available option.)
A child has been in daycare with me for a year or two, when the family tells me they are expecting baby number two in a few months. At one time, I would immediately assume I would thus have a space to fill, but I know better now. Most of my clients will keep child number one in daycare throughout their entire year of maternity leave. This always makes me sad. There are good reasons to keep your child in care: parents want to keep the space open for their child. Good childcare (the kind I provide!) is hard to come by. The family and I have a long-term relationship we don't want to curtail. If the child is old enough - generally 18 months and over - and social, they will miss their friends. And a break for the at-home parent is also a good thing. These are all good reasons to continue with childcare. So, yes, send the child: a couple of days a week. It makes sense. But all day, every day? When there's a parent home? It seems such a wasted opportunity! This is a time to forge that family bond, to build the foundation of the team that will carry your children till their adolescent independence. To teach your older child to share you, to give them opportunity to learn to be compassionate and nurturing, to experience the joy of seeing your children become friends. So often I hear parents regretting the fact that their child - their young child, five, six, or seven years old - would far rather spend time with his/her friends than his family. Can this truly come as a surprise, when the child has never known it any other way? Parents regret that their offspring don't get along better, when siblings have never spent whole days over weeks and months together, creating and developing their relationship. Very often, after the initial honeymoon phase, the "old baby" sees the new baby as an interloper. The prince or princess has competition, may even feel like they've been completely deposed, and it's tough! It takes time for the family to weather the transition and become a greater whole. It takes time, time together, living it out. And many of us have a whole year. It is such a privilege, and it should be treasured! Why do they send them? The reason I hear most often is not the concern about keeping the space, or maintaining the child's friendships, which have some merit to me, but that "it's just so hard with two". They say this to me. They say this to me as I stand in the writhing midst of a half-dozen little bodies. It never ceases to astonish me. It is hard with two. Probably double the work of one. But you live, you learn, you adjust, and a Family is created. It's hard, it's messy, it's noisy, it's chaotic, it's fun, it's rewarding, it's stimulating: it's a family. I wish more would try it!