Q. My maternity leave is about to end, and I've made plans to send my 3-month-old to daycare. I thought I would be prepared for this, but as the date draws closer, I can't help but feel that my infant will develop a closer attachment to her caregiver than to me. Is there a real reason to be concerned?
A. No! No one can take your place. Moms and dads are special to their children in ways that not a single person can ever replace. By nature, the emotional connection between parent and child is strong. As long as you build a loving bond with your child, by reading and responding to her cues and needs, you will always be number one for hugs and kisses, nose wipes, Band-aid application, and nighttime tuck-ins.
Even so, know that you are not alone in these worries. Many parents who share the care with childcare providers also share the fear of losing the prime place in their child's life. Although it's very common to experience uncomfortable, hard-to-deal-with feelings such as jealousy, competition, and guilt, it's important to be aware of these emotions, because acting on them without thinking can have unintended negative consequences. For example, these reactions can create distance between caregiver and parent or inadvertently place the child in a loyalty conflict where she feels she is betraying her parent when she cares for another adult.
Danger of Stepping In
I knew a mom who was limiting contact with her son's caregiver because she was upset over her son's close attachment to this provider. If Mom arrived and found her son playing with his caregiver, she would abruptly pick him up and leave, without giving him time to say goodbye and make the transition back to Mom. She also rarely stopped to chat with her son's caregiver. When she did, the interaction was strained.
This lack of communication had more than one significant downside: Not only did both adults miss out on sharing important information about the child, but the situation also ended up confusing and upsetting her son, who grew anxious when his mother dropped him off and picked him up.