Care and Feeding

My Baby Weeps Inconsolably When I Pick Her Up From Day Care

Does she love her teachers more? It’s absolutely killing me.

Photo illustration of a woman carrying a visibly upset baby.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by kirillica/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 1-year-old daughter is in full-time day care during the week. I do both drop-off and pickup. In the mornings, she is totally fine when I drop her off. She has wonderful teachers she loves, and she gets along well with the other babies. It’s during pickup that I have the problem. Most days, as soon as she sees me, her face crumples and she starts wailing. What’s worse is when I reach for her, she’ll cling to her teacher. When we leave the day care she’ll struggle in my arms during the walk to the car, sob while I put her in her car seat, and sometimes even continue crying during the short drive home. Her teachers kindly tell me that she just struggles with transitions, which I would buy—except morning drop-offs go off without a hitch.

I promise you that she has a loving, calm home and family. When she melts down at the sight of me, I try to stay neutral and focus on comforting her. So what’s going on here? I’m trying not to take it personally, but it really does seem like she prefers her caregivers to me.

—This Is Killing Me

Dear TIKM,

I promise you, I swear to you, a 1-year-old just has EMOTIONS. They don’t know what they are. You put their birthday cake in front of them and they burst into tears.

Your daughter sees you after hours apart, she swells with feeling, and she has no idea what to do with it. I recommend not doing a ton of comforting at the time because the comforting reinforces the behavior. Just kiss her, and put her in the car seat, and love on her once you’re home.

She adores you. It’s overwhelming! She’s not freaking out in the morning because she doesn’t care as much about day care—it’s fine—but it’s not Mommy came back for me.

I really, really hope you believe me because I am completely confident in my answer and your daughter’s great, unwieldy love for you.

Dear Care and Feeding,

We recently turned my 2-year-old daughter’s crib into a daybed since she was climbing out of her crib at night. After the change, she completely regressed in her sleep and went from us putting her down awake and her sleeping through the night to her screaming at bedtime and getting up multiple times. We finally had to lock her in her room to keep her from walking out after bedtime. She hated that (obviously), but she did learn that the door was locked and that if she cried we didn’t come in to get her until the morning.

We don’t lock the door anymore, and she is now pretty much back to the sleep schedule she had before the change. When she wakes up now in the morning, though, she cries until one of us gets her. Is there any way to make her understand that the door is unlocked in the morning so she can come to our room and wake us up?

‚Just Come on In!

Dear JCoI,

Time. Vocabulary. Just keep talking to her about it and it will click. It sounds like sleep training was rough for her (reminder: it will make zero difference in her life in the long run), and she just regresses to crying for you.

Eventually, you will miss this, because although being woken up by crying is not the greatest, getting woken up because a toddler jumps on your genitals is an experience … all its own.

In the meantime, prop the door open with a shoe. If she can see that she can leave freely, you may have a very different situation on your hands. I would wait until she’s asleep, and then slide that shoe in, so she doesn’t come hang out during adult evening time. But when it comes to a 2-year-old, a visual is worth a thousand words.

• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I volunteer once a week providing child care for kids between the ages of 6 months and 4 years old. I have, well, a very large chest, and I’ve noticed that some of the kids seem fascinated by my boobs and like to touch or press on them. Like, I get it! Boobs are soft and squishy and when I’m holding a 2-year-old, they’re right there. It’s not that I’m necessarily uncomfortable about this (I fully understand that they’re just little kids who are still learning about boundaries), but I don’t know if I should address this at all.

At what age is it appropriate for me to use this as an opportunity to teach kids there are parts of other people’s bodies that aren’t theirs to touch? What words do I use?

—No More Squishing

Dear NMS,

I get a lot of letters about this, usually from mothers looking to begin the process of drawing boob boundaries post-weaning, but my answer to you can be even clearer: Move their hands and say, “That’s private.”

Kids usually organically acquire a concept of “modesty” or privacy around the age of 5. Suddenly you are not welcome in the bathroom, etc. Before that, breasts are just elbows that feel fun to play with. Redirecting will not scar them, and “that’s a private place” is both true and a good way to begin covering personal boundaries.

Feel free, as well, to ask their parents if there’s specific language they use at home that you can reinforce when the behavior occurs with you. Be careful not to be like “Your son/daughter is a handsy creeper”; it’s easy to say, “A bunch of my younger kids are working on this right now, so how would you like me to handle it? It’s such a common developmental phase.”

May your breasts soon be squished only by those you consent to squish them.

Dear Care and Feeding,

We live in a drought-impaired area; my in-laws reside in one of the wettest places in North America. Although we have official water-use restrictions, my in-laws ignore them when they visit: taking 40-minute showers, running the dishwasher (which came with the house but which we don’t use) multiple times daily, brushing their teeth with the water running, etc. But their biggest complaint is our lack of lawn: They openly hate on our xeriscaping and food garden.

The problem is how the kids react to them. I got an earful from my mother-in-law after our 11-year-old politely explained what she’d learned at school about the importance of water conservation in a desert community. Her grandmother was insulted and reprimanded my daughter sternly. She was concerned about how the kids “won’t grow up normally with these crazy restrictions” and without a lawn to play on. To that end, my father-in-law attempted to secretly have a lawn installed because “kids needs lawns.” Our 8-year-old son has bought into it and is now begging for a lawn so he can be like “normal kids.” The thing is, few if any people in our area have lawns, and certainly no kids at his school do, so it’s hardly normal.

So, how do we handle this? What do I say to my daughter about her conversation with her grandmother? To my ears, she was being kind, even saying things like, “I understand that it rains all the time where you live, but … ” However, her grandmother took it as being stubborn and argumentative. Now the two seem distant, and my in-laws clearly favor my son. And what do I say to my son about the lawn which, frankly, is the last thing on God’s not-so-green earth that is going to happen?

—The Lawn Is a Unicorn

Dear TLIaU,

Your father-in-law plotting to install a lawn contrary to your express wishes is giving me life today. I am very sorry. They’re being total dicks. It sounds like your daughter is being respectful and is genuinely confused your mother-in-law doesn’t grasp that different climates require different water restrictions.

(Lawns are horrible, but that’s my personal bias. We have rock landscaping and it rules.)

Look, your son is 8. His grandparents could have pulled this same shit about how “every boy needs a dog.” You tell the grandparents to shut up about the lawn, you tell your son it ain’t happening and you’re done discussing it, you enjoy being part of the solution.

I would be extremely surprised if your weird in-laws decide to permanently estrange themselves from your granddaughter over this, but odder things have happened. Should you invite them again, however, tell your daughter that she’s spoken her piece about the lawn and other water issues, and this time we’re pretending it’s just not a topic.

Did … did he think you would come home from work … to a lawn? Amazing.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

My neighbors have two children, ages 4 years and 9 months, and the older child is profoundly disabled. Because the older son needs round-the-clock care, the younger daughter is constantly left alone. The parents have baby-proofed the living room and leave her alone there all day long. When dad gets home, the parents take turns sleeping in shifts so the daughter still doesn’t get a lot of attention. I would have called the authorities for neglect a long time ago if I didn’t know the special circumstances of the family, or how upset they also are over not being able to give their baby the attention she needs. What can I do?