How I Deal With My Toddlers Loving Day Care More Than Me

We never imagined they’d love it so much they'd never want to leave.
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Published March 19, 2018
toddler happily playing in red kid car
Image: Mindy Tingson

When they were just little bundled up infants, my twin boys would cry when I left them at day care. They would miss me so much I couldn’t even get out the door before the crying would start. These days, as two independent toddlers, they go running in the door and barely look back at me. It’s nice to know they love the day care and the teachers so much, but it makes me feel underappreciated. It’s taken some time to learn to deal with it.

My wife and I spent months touring what seemed like every day care in the region to find the perfect one for us. Like many other obsessive parents, we made a spreadsheet, took countless tours and read reviews online. We eventually decided on one that we loved from the start based on the facilities, teachers, curriculum and food. Little did we know they’d love it so much our twins would never want to leave.

The moment we pull into the parking lot each morning, the boys get excited. It’s a bit like when we visit our family with other dogs and our dog starts circling the back seat and trying to jump out the window. The boys start laughing, bouncing up and down and sometimes singing as we arrive. I can barely get them out of the car and into jackets fast enough; they just want to run inside. They don’t even look back at me as I drop off their bottles and supplies for the day. I try kissing them goodbye, but they are already busy walking around the room with toys. Daddy doesn’t get a second glance, a wave or even acknowledgement while leaving.

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It makes me feel like we picked the right school since they love it so much. Clearly they have a special relationship with the staff and teachers, and are entertained during the day. But when they spend more time focusing on finishing their snacks than acknowledging me at pickup, it’s pretty upsetting.

I’ve learned that in order to get any affection, I need to get my hug and/or kiss right when we get out of the car. Otherwise the boys make a beeline for the toy chest…or their teachers…or the milk. I’ve considered sticking around while they have their morning milk or start to play, but I’ve noticed that many of the children who have parents that hang around like this tend to have more difficulties with separation anxiety. The second these parents get up to leave, their kids start wailing. I decided I’d rather have children who may not be as affectionate with me as I’m leaving, but also don’t have a breakdown every time I do. I can always get my attention and affection at home.

Instead, I use the time I have while picking them up to interact with them. Usually when I arrive, they at least glance up at me from their snack, so I can get a reaction if I make a silly face or play a quick game of peekaboo near the door. As we get bundled up to leave, I take the chance to get a hug again and tell them I missed them. They often don’t want to leave right away; sometimes they want to show me something in the room, like how they jump on foam blocks. I like to encourage this show-and-tell, so I make sure to give them my attention and encourage them. Then comes the trip out to the car. This 50 foot walk can sometimes take 20 minutes as they wave goodbye to everyone and get distracted by everything. If they are in the midst of a breakdown, I get them out quickly so we can calm down in the car during our ride home.

I’ve come to terms with my children loving their day care. That love can feel like it exceeds their love for me, but there’s a difference between love and excitement. There’s plenty of room for love of the school and their parents, so it’s best to encourage both. The strong ties they have to their teachers and classmates will help develop social skills that will be crucial throughout their lives. I know they are in a great place during so many of their waking, formative hours and are getting the care and attention they need. I remind myself I’d rather have it this way than see them hesitant to go inside or demonstrate separation anxiety when I leave them. Maybe one of these days I’ll get an “I love you” back when I go.

Tyler Lund is the founder and lead contributor to Dad on the Run. Tyler is a software development manager, tech nerd, home-brewer, 3-time marathoner, and rescue dog owner. Tyler loves traveling to new and unique places a bit off the beaten path and sharing stories from these adventures. A foodie with a taste for the unique, Tyler enjoys trying anything new.

Published March 2018

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