My childcare journey, and five things I’ve learned

Published by Matt Mason,

My childcare journey, and five things I’ve learned

Mum of 1, Helly Summerly, reflects on her childcare choices over the last 5 years – from nurseries to nannies – and the lessons she has learned at each step.

1. It does get easier to let go

My childcare journey began in December 2015. I can still remember the first time I was apart from my daughter. She was 9 days old. After an extended stay in the hospital, we ventured out one cold December night to test drive the new pram. After we’d finished shopping, my husband went on ahead to get her into the warm. I went to the Pharmacy to replenish my own shopping list of medication following a difficult birth.

Baby 9 days old
Our first trip out at 9 days old

We were only apart for about 10 minutes. But in those precious early days, they felt like some of the longest minutes of my life. I simply couldn’t imagine ever being away from her any longer. How would anyone else ever be able to look after her the way I could?

Fast forward 5 years and she happily trots into school every morning. With her blonde ponytail flying and a big beaming smile, she turns around to blow me a kiss. Although you can’t imagine ever being apart in the early days, you will learn to take separations in your stride. By taking your childcare choices one step at a time.

2. Do it at your own pace – and embrace the ‘me’ time

I was lucky enough not to have to rush straight back to a full-time job. From about 6 months old, I would only leave her with my husband or Mum. And then only to go to rehearsals or recording sessions. I still recall the bittersweet liberation of being on a tube one evening when she was about 8 months old. Without a baby or pram, I felt curiously empty-handed! Like many Mums, I still struggle with the guilt of being away to have time for myself. But taking time to recharge is so important – especially in those early days.

My other advice is to wait until you feel ready to find childcare or leave your baby. Even if those around you already seem to be fine with overnight stays away. Everyone is different. Of course, if you need to return to work it may be something you have to face before you’re ready. But even then, it’s ok to find it hard, and acknowledge that you need to take it at your own pace and take small steps to build up to the time apart.

3. Finding the right childcare solution

As she approached 18 months, I set up my baby music teaching business, and for the first time, we needed to really think about putting some formal childcare in place. It was one thing to be catching up on admin at naptime (or in front of CBeebies …) but that clearly wasn’t going to work when I needed to keep the attention of 15 other people’s babies in a live class.

A part-time nanny share seemed like the best solution for us so that my daughter could stay at home in her own surroundings.  And as I was only away teaching in the mornings a few days a week, I could pick and choose the hours we needed to make it financially viable. The arrangement suited our nanny perfectly as well as she already had an after-school job with another family, and was looking for some extra hours to fit around her own singing career.

We found each other online; in retrospect, I realise we struck very lucky, very quickly. She and my daughter bonded immediately which was a huge relief, and as fellow musicians, we also became firm friends and remain in touch today.

Toddler and Mother

4. Adapt, change, repeat

As my business grew and my daughter approached 2 years old, I found myself needing extra hours some afternoons. But still not ready for full-time care yet, I began supplementing our nanny arrangement with a childminder 1 day a week.

Location was a big factor as I had to drop her off and pick her up around my teaching hours. But the homely setting felt like a natural step from just being in our house, and it meant she started to socialise more regularly with 1-2 other little ones her age. I still had one day a week at home with her which was the highlight for us both.

As she approached 3, I was lured back to full-time employment, so we felt it was time to start looking for a nursery in preparation for school. Again, the location was a big factor. The minutes between 8am and 9am had to run like clockwork to manage drop off, settling, a mad dash across London at the mercy of the Piccadilly line, and then do it all again in reverse between 5pm and 6pm.

I remember those days being somewhat stressful, but the silver lining to it all was that she settled in remarkably quickly and seemed to thrive there with all the activities on offer. So thankfully I didn’t suffer too many of the gut-wrenching tearful farewells which continue to haunt you all morning. She also had one day every week with my husband which helped to keep the costs down and meant they could do extra activities like swimming together. Before I knew it, we were trying on school uniforms, and just like that Primary School was upon us.

5. Make your childcare work for you

Starting school has brought a whole new raft of childcare considerations. Not least of all starting school in the middle of a global pandemic (another blog post – or several – entirely!) As my employment situation has changed again, I’m back to boxing and coxing freelance work and singing around school hours and after-school activities. 3pm comes around remarkably quickly, and I log back in most evenings. But I love being able to drop her off and pick her up and honestly, I couldn’t be happier.

There may come a time when we need to think about a part-time nanny again to manage the after-school pick up so I can lengthen my working day, but for now, it’s been wonderful to be able to be there after such a disruptive time.

First day of school

Mama knows best (and re-union cuddles rock)

So, would I have done any of it differently? Pandemic aside, I honestly don’t think so. What has been key for us has been staying flexible, and adapting our childcare arrangements when our circumstances have changed. Although we all want to give our little ones as much consistency and continuity as possible, I also believe a bit of change is good. It helps to build resilience and adaptability, and prepare them for new challenges that come along (and let’s be honest, this generation has already faced more than most in their short little lives).

But most importantly, I’ve always tried to go with my gut instinct about what feels right. No one will ever be able to look after your child the way you do, but the separations do get easier. And being reunited – whether it’s been hours or just minutes apart – is still the best feeling in the world.

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