To the Day Care Provider Who Doesn’t Like Her Job

WordPress, the site that hosts this lovely blog, has a feature that shows you the search terms that people use to find your blog. It is meant to help us drive more traffic our way, but I just like to see what people are looking for when they find me. And sometimes I get emotionally involved.

People are looking for a lot of things on the internet. Here’s how they found my blog in the past week:

i dont want to wake up on my own anymore, new home daycare provider dont like my job, gymnastics mat sandwich

OK that last one is clearly my favorite, and I don’t even know what the hell it is. I might not want to know.

The first one made me really really sad. I’m sorry, person. I know I would hate that too. I hope that you find someone to wake up next to soon. But I think it’s match.com you’re looking for, I’m not sure why they gave you my blog. Except that I spend a lot of time complaining about waking up?

But today I’m here to talk to the new home day care provider. Honey, hang in there. I can tell you this: it gets better. (No disrespect or copying of a slogan intended!)

In fact, when I told Carol (one of my MANY mentors) that I was writing about this she said, “You can’t love it in the first year. No one does. It’s impossible.” And she’s been doing this for years now, and she is a total pro, and she loves her work. So you can make it.

My first years on this job were ridiculous. I had crazy kids, crazy families, I didn’t know WHAT I was doing. They ran my house like it was some kind of kid zoo. And they were running it, not me. It took me a long time to be able to be in charge. And if you have your own kids in care, fuggedaboudit! They will make your life worse than anyone else (my older son was three when we started and he was BY FAR my toughest customer).

I was once talking to a home visitor who said that year three is when everybody gets it. You turn the bend and suddenly you know exactly what you’re doing. If you can’t make it to year three, that’s OK. No job is worth making yourself crazy, but if you can make it, I think you’ll find the rewards are there. It is a steady job, there will always be people who need care, YOU ARE YOUR OWN BOSS, and when you do get the hang of it, it’s fun. Plus you can wear your pajamas to work.

I had another home visitor, Kathleen, who would tell me with all sincerity, “It’s the hardest job in the world.”

This made me feel better, proud, a little resentful of everyone else whose job was easier than mine, and a LOT less crazy.

Also I should tell you this. Like me, you probably have an official governing body with a bunch of rules you think you have to follow. You don’t. Well, not to the letter I mean. Obviously you have to follow the biggies: keep the kids safe, take care of them, feed them, nap, change, and clean them, nurture them. But don’t kill yourself over making sure you have art, music, drama, P.E., and the proper amount of intellectual stimulation every day. I remember driving myself crazy trying to make sure I hit all those daily requirements – and they are really, truly, impossible for any human being to achieve.

What you have to do is focus on the kids who are with you and what they need in the moment. You may have days where the best you can do is keep everyone sane, including yourself. If that means you pop in a movie and let them all fight for space on your lap, then so be it. When I get worried about this kind of stuff my husband says, “Did they all go home safe and happy at the end of the day? Then the rest is gravy.” (Yeah, he’s a keeper.)

Now here’s some actual advice for getting through the days until you make the choice of whether to keep this job or not. Hopefully it will help you have better days, and you won’t feel so bad about it:

1. Find a mentor. You need someone, or even many someones, to help you on a daily basis. You need to be able to call them and say, what do I do when they won’t put on their shoes or eat their lunch or when Susie won’t stop stealing Johnny’s toys and Janey bit someone!!?? If you have a local agency providing services for providers (most areas do), contact them and find some support.

2. Know that you are in charge. Think Mary Poppins. Be firm, clear, make it fun, and foster an atmosphere of respect for EVERYONE. I used to freak out when kids would fight. I learned from my first mentor, Pam, how to handle bad behavior: by talking for them. “She doesn’t want to be yelled at. Can you use your words to talk to her? Tell her what you want. Would you like a turn with that toy when she’s done? We don’t hit people. Look how sad she is because you hit her.”

Use natural consequences – instant but simple. If you can’t share the toy, it’s going to take a break (and be put away for a while – they’ll forget about it in minutes). If you hit, you need to go away from us. It doesn’t have to be a timeout chair because you’ll be chasing that child into the timeout chair and they’ll still have your attention. Play with the injured child and ignore the misbehaving one.

And don’t worry if they’re crying: kids cry!! We like to pretend that they don’t have to in this day and age, and it’s up to us to do a song and dance to keep them from crying. This is not reality. Seriously – I have earplugs for the bad days.

Remember that you are also in charge when it comes to the parents. It took me a VERY long time to be able to say, “This is how we do it in my program. If that won’t work for you, I’ll help you find another program.” It’s nothing personal and it is not your failure. You have to be in charge of your day or everyone – kids and parents alike – will walk all over you. I really really really really wish I’d learned that lesson a long time ago.

3. Praise and thank the kids for good work. Keep it light, keep it moving, don’t yell. Make it inviting: “Come on! Time for snack!” You don’t have to be a cheerleader, but just use a fun tone. (Rather than, get-your-butt-to-the-table-now-because-I-told-you-three-times-already-that-it’s-snacktime!! Keep that on the inside.) Have rules and stick to them like glue. Dole it all out calmly. “We don’t play in the cabinets. Let’s play over here with the toys.” Expect to repeat yourself a hundred times a day.

I didn’t do any of those things in my first year. I yelled, I punished, I got SO mad at the kids for not listening! Well guess what – little kids aren’t good listeners. And yelling doesn’t work. You just have to accept that, and guide them all day. When you are able to make this shift it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

4. Be consistent and trustworthy with your kids. My twins trust me 100%. We play games where I can see the concerned look on their face – they’re not sure if I’m going to tickle them or turn them upside down or fly them up in the air or make a scary noise – but they go along with it because they know I am going to protect them no matter what. They also know that even if I get mad and my voice is loud, my love is still there. Say “I’m sorry” if you lose it, explain why you lost it, and they’ll get it.

5. Have a routine. This is KEY, you NEED a routine. Write it on a piece of paper if you have to and go look at it when you’re floundering. Have a circle time even if they seem too little. It doesn’t have to be a SITTING circle, it can be singing and dancing and MAYBE sitting to read a book if they’re into it. If not, let the kids who want to sit do it, and let the others wander around and play. Circle time is not required. (Maybe I should make that into a t-shirt.)

Once you start doing things daily, the kids will know what to expect and they will follow right along with the routine. They will be happy to get out their mats or put away their dishes or line up at the door. Really, I’m not exaggerating! Predictability makes them feel safe, that’s why nursery rhymes and simple songs work so well. When they know what’s coming, they’re secure and happy.

6. Prepare activities that are educational but EASY (play-doh, blocks, sand & water, chalk and bubbles, puppets, puzzles). It doesn’t have to be fancy to be “curriculum.” If you’re into art projects and your kids can do them, then go for it. My kids eat paint, so I’m not a big project kinda gal. Or just sit down and read. Play with the toys. Pam used to say that five minutes on the floor with them equals ten minutes away for you (and that’s when you’ll be making snack).

Know that the little issues or problems of the families that you are working with will come into your home through their kids. You may not know the details, but you will see it in their behavior. All you can do is deal with them while they’re with you, and be aware that in some cases you may be the one stable and trustworthy thing in their lives. They need you, no matter how difficult they make your job.

And that is not to say that you are their savior: you can only do so much. I’ve had to terminate people over the years and it SUCKS – it is the worst part of the job. But when it gets so bad that you are suffering, it’s time to let it go.

On the flip side, when you find a nice family it’s delightful. I have a group of kids right now who are so easy, because I finally figured out how to pick and choose. It’s up to you who you have to work with, and it may take a couple of years to find a good clientele, but you will learn to see the signs during your interviews.

Remember the most important thing is you have to put yourself and your family first. You need clients and your business, but it might not be worth if you’re all suffering. Over the years my husband has given me many suggestions on how to make my job easier (including taking fewer clients even though the money would be less) because he pays the price if I’m not happy. And then your kids pay the price too, which is unacceptable.

And also – find somebody safe to rant to – another provider, a friend, a therapist – whoever. Because when Dad comes home the last thing he wants to hear is that your job sucked all day and all the reasons why. Dave would ask, “Why are we all putting up with this if you hate it so much?”

I hope I’m not too late to speak to you. I hope you figure out what’s best for you and maybe you can hang in there to get to the rewards. It’s a tough job, there’s no way around that. But if you can stick it out for a while, you can go to bed every night feeling good about a hard day’s work. Knowing you’ve done a service rather than sat in front of a computer all day. AND your life will be filled with the unconditional love of children. What could be better than that?

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2 thoughts on “To the Day Care Provider Who Doesn’t Like Her Job

  1. As a mental health professional, I must say you are fully ready to be licensed in mental health- this is such a hard hitting, nurturing, intelligent post! You probably really helped someone today. Great work.

  2. Very nicely put, Amy. As I say on a daily basis, I could not do your job. You’ve learned how to do it, do it well and keep all of those little ones healthy, safe and happy (as happy as they can be at times). You are an inspiration!

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