From the very second we were released from the hospital with our firstborn, a few things became painfully clear: (1) we’re grossly under-qualified and (2) we’re the best parents for the job. We were thrown in without experience and with suspect qualifications. There’s no one checking our work.
And yet, every day we muddle through. Somehow our children grow (so fast), learn (so much), talk (so loudly), and outsmart us.
And then, it’s time to let go.
Preparing Myself For Child Care (For My Children)
Some families must deal with releasing their children into another’s care extremely early. Others wait a year, or two, or twenty (please, god, no).
For us, our firstborn was six months old. We found an option—recommended by a friend, affordable, convenient. We met a nice person, made a schedule, prepared the unending paraphernalia of modern parenting (how can a tiny human require so much sustenance and equipment?). And then, one Monday, we dropped off our daughter, entrusting our 1-year-old to someone who still felt like a stranger. We drove away and thought: what are we doing???
There can never be enough research, certification, background checks, or site visits to alleviate this primal instinct (fear). My child—who has depended on my partner and me for pretty much everything—is now in someone else’s care. Even if you delay this release until adulthood, eventually the child graduates into their own care, and you’re tasked with letting go all the same.
Nothing can prepare you for this.
And that’s 100% okay.
Support For Finding Child Care
For the practical work of finding child care, there are practical solutions and supports. Wherever you’re located, there’s almost certainly an array of regional parenting Facebook groups to choose from, several curated how-to lists, and at least one excellent online child care platform (ahem).
But the emotional work is left to you, your partner (if you have one who happens to be emotionally available), and maybe your therapist. Surrendering control isn’t exactly something us humans come by naturally. And that’s without factoring in a few million years of biological instincts.
Doing the Work of Letting (Your Child) Go
So, how do I do the work of releasing my child into someone else’s care?
- Remember you’re not in control
- Remind yourself that #1 is okay
- Admit that you (and your child) need other people
- Appreciate the time you have together
I’m Not in Control
It helps me to start by remembering I’m not in control–not really. No amount of protective padding, parental passcoding, and general sheltering can keep my child fully insulated from the dings and dangers of the outside world. What better reinforcement for this uncomfortable truth than a global pandemic, a raging viral variant, and an effective vaccine that is, as of yet, unavailable for my young children? Yes, if I had any delusions about my protective power previously, the past 1-2 years have thoroughly shattered them.
This isn’t a piece about COVID, in the same way that everything you’ve read and every conversation you’ve had for the past 18 months has sort of been about COVID.
The school year has started in districts and campuses all across America. School looks different this year. Again. for the third year in a row. And, especially for those with children under the age of 12, it’s fraught with anxiety and complications.
But isn’t it always?
If it weren’t for COVID, what would you be stressing and fretting about for your children?
Releasing Control is Okay
Secondly, I remind myself that not being fully in control is okay—and, overall, better for my children (and me). Remembering my initial feelings of inadequacy as a parent? It’s good to embrace my capabilities, but it’s also good for me to remember my limitations. I’m well acquainted with many of my deficiencies (and more so every year). I hope my children grow up to be better than me, in every way possible. If I fully control their environment and experiences, how can that happen?
Having grown up in suburban middle-America, I’ve seen the allure of childhoods carried out behind carefully shut garage doors and within neatly fenced-in yards. I see the appeal as a parent, but I also know this appearance of control is a mirage.
I’m Not Enough (No One Is)
Whether protective isolation would emotionally stunt my child is uncertain—there are too many other factors at play. But it stands to reason that my children would never truly learn a language I don’t speak, understand a background I don’t share, or empathize fully with a perspective I don’t possess.
Yes, as hard as it is to admit sometimes, I’m not enough for my children. That’s okay—they’re not enough for me either. We need more than just each other to grow and thrive. Releasing my children into another’s care—ultimately, this helps us both.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
The first day of releasing my daughter into child care indeed felt like a rite of passage. With my child in child care, I had to deal with the stress and uncertainty of trusting someone else. But the real transition was just beginning—in a good way. Turns out, the emotional work of finding child care isn’t just one of surrender or loss. There’s a beautiful part of releasing my child, giving them more space to fall—and space to surprise me, to show me how well they can stand and adjust on their own after all. Part of being the best parent for my child is giving them freedoms, and giving them opportunities to learn from others.
And, on a practical, personal level, I also had more space: freedom to pursue other things, exercise parts of myself, and return—if not refreshed—with a reservoir of affection. When my kids are away, I miss them. And I’ve realized that I LOVE to miss them.
Luke Chitwood is a writer, non-profit professional, and education advocate based in Chicago. A beginner-level husband and father, you can find him wrangling words and images, in perpetual pursuit of his next cup of coffee.