Guidance for Working Families

written by Carol Castanon, NTNC Parent Consultant and Mary Biggs, Director Basic Trust (www.basictrust.org)

Many families experience primary caregivers going back to work. Let’s look more closely at what this means for adults, babies, tots and young children. There is a transition waiting in the wings for these families. Adults and children will have an emotional experience attached to this transition/separation, and rightly so. This transition expands the circle of caring hands for your family. For both child and parent, this might mean a new and profoundly important relationship.

Many families share caregiving as part of their co-parenting. And while this means that your baby has her/his beloved parent, it also means that baby adjusts to the plan, tempo, and temperament of more than one. For this family, ritual and continuity can be equally important. Some babies are more flexible than others. Continuity might look different depending on the needs of a particular babe.

Parents often ask what they ought to be looking for in caregivers. They wonder how childcare, or care in the presence of another, will feel to their little ones and perhaps for themselves as well. While a working parent household is absolutely and perfectly fine, it is absolutely and perfectly sensible to have an emotional experience connected to this real life work.

If you are a two parent household, then spend quality time talking about the tasks connected to waking, eating, cleaning, dressing, driving, walking, entering, leaving, transitioning, playing, shopping etc. This conversation is useful because it helps families prepare and plan the organizational management around family. Plan, and then possibly prepare to make changes as different days present different opportunities for needs and flexibility. Even the single parent can create a clear plan for now and next before and after work. This plan is important for children too, as a plan that becomes a ritual is a plan that a child can predict. Predictable routines can be very empowering for children. As you build a partnership with your child, or nurture cooperation, there is an inner map of now and next. This does not mean that a child will always be happy about their plan. Part of saying goodbye for the day will include the emotional landscape of separation. One can love work, co-parent care, kinship care, daycare or nannies, and be sad about goodbyes. Both can be true…

Whether you have in-home or at center childcare think about continuity for children. How do these very important helpers provide continuity from home with parent to parent at work? What’s the same or different? Are the differences something that feels right, or do you prefer there to be more commonality in foods, schedules, ways of communicating. For the young child, continuity might create a sense of security. For the parent, continuity might create a sense of trust.

Choosing who and how your child is cared for is really important. You can spend time observing, getting to know, and asking questions before you make a childcare decision. Regardless of childcare in-home or at a daycare/childcare center there is a new relationship that is profoundly important to you and your child. You might inquire:

How do you support bonding and attachment between children and caregivers?

How do you support a child during separation?

How do you talk about feelings?

What happens if a child cries for a long time?

What does child centered play mean to you?

How do you facilitate problem solving between children?

What are the meals and how are they served?

Are babies held when they have their bottles?

Tell me about naps.

If you choose a daycare center for your child you might inquire about staff continuity from one part of the day to another, or day to day, or year to year. How long does the staff usually stay at the Center, or is there much turnover? What happens when there are staff absences or primary helper illnesses or vacations? Are children all together or is this daycare big enough to have different rooms for different age groups? How are these kinds of transitions supported?

What does communication look like from childcare/caregiver to home/parent? Communication is so important. This works both ways. When there is something that is out of the ordinary, or there are big feelings, or friends absent, or traveling work trips or any other variety of experiences in a child’s life which are impactful it is very useful to tell one other. The story can also simply be a telling of the morning, afternoon, or day. This, too, creates continuity. It is a kind of experiential storytelling. It helps bridge all the experiences and feelings with a parent and child’s important people. This can even be a telling ritual between home parent and work parent.

Finally, make a time to visit and observe before you make a choice in caregivers/centers. What are caregivers saying yes to or no to? Are they on the floor at eye level with children? If this is a Center you might make note of noise level and visual stimulation. Is it too loud or not stimulating enough? How do the adults support child centered play? And how do adults show their affection and pleasure as caregivers to the children/child?

You may have other inquiries too. Don’t be shy about asking. Your decision to bring in family helpers is important. Trust your instincts to observe and wonder!