Finding childcare that fits with your gentle parenting

When Talitha was born I said I wouldn’t use paid childcare. My mother made sacrifices to stay home with us and I grew up knowing the value of a mother’s continued presence in a child’s early life.

However, when Talitha neared a year, I was surprised that a part of me longed to do other work too and that this felt like a good thing. Maybe it was the fact that I was by then getting a bit more sleep – who knows? Me earning a bit extra would certainly help too, even if it wasn’t a full salary.

Deciding to choose a substitute carer for my toddler was a difficult decision to make. I wanted to do it all and seriously struggled with the fact that I couldn’t. So, we were very careful when searching for someone.

I thought I’d share what we considered in the process of finding gentle and responsive childcare.

Go with your gut
The further I go on this parenting journey, the more I learn to trust my instincts. If it doesn’t feel right then something may well be off. Even if it’s not, remaining uncomfortable about your childcare situation just is not worth it. Equally, when it feels right, it’s freeing. Listen to yourself and make as confident decisions as you can for your child.

Think “attachment”
You want your child to form a secure attachment with their carer. If we lived in a more connected society, our children might spend time cared for by other adults in our communities whom researchers refer to as “alloparents” in an arrangement that’s healthy for all involved. It was important to us to find someone whom we felt could be such a figure in our very young daughter’s life. We looked for someone who shared our ideals and values – someone we could very happily encourage Talitha to love.

Look for respect
Gentle parenting essentially means parenting with respect. A childcare provider who is competent but controlling just doesn’t fit in this picture. We felt that making sure Talitha’s needs were met meant finding someone who respected her. So, we carefully observed the way childminders we spoke to talked about children and talked to our child.

Seek easy transition
Our priority in finding childcare for Talitha was finding the arrangement that would least upset her. We really wanted the transition to be as easy on her as possible. Knowing what to expect is really important to her so finding someone who could provide a consistent routine and generally had a plan for how things were going to go down was important to us.

I may have ended up taking a different route to the one I planned but having taken care to find a gentle childminder, our arrangement feels like a positive parenting choice rather than an awkward compromise. Hopefully, you’ll find the same if you need it.

Attachment childcare: pursuing gentle separation

Last year we decided that I would return to work on a part-time basis. We need the money and part of me wants paid work. We’ve also figured out since then that we can live on less and that part of me just wants to be with Talitha. Talk about inner conflict.

The only way we could ease this was by deciding that it would only be very part-time. We also put a lot of thought into figuring out who would get to spend the day with our sweet girl.

We knew that we wanted Talitha to be in a home environment and to develop a healthy attachment with her carer. Though there are lots of attractive options in Bristol, nursery felt so busy to us for someone so little. And with so many kids and grown ups in the room, it was hard to get our heads around what family philosophies and beliefs about childhood would be at play.

So, we knew we needed a childminder – someone gentle, creative and who genuinely loves children. A friend recommended hers. Talitha has been with Lu at Kiddiewinkles for a few weeks now and, well, it’s more than working out. It’s such a relief.

While I was getting her dressed today, I told Talitha: “You’re going to play with Lu today.” She smiled brightly, saying and signing: “Friend! Share!” She’s always happy to go and bubbling with chat when she gets back.

I feel like this is a good time for her to make this transition. Not that it’s a necessary one to make, mind, but since we’ve decided to give me a day, I’m thankful that she’s at an age where she’s able to deal with our separation so well.

Reflecting on it, I think there have been a few key things that have made this a gentle separation for us.

  • We’ve waited until we feel she’s old enough to cope well with it.
  • We found someone who we feel totally comfortable with.
  • I try to get everything ready the night before so I can fully focus on her in the morning before she goes.
  • I explain to her what’s happening before she leaves the house and Laurence explains again when he drops her off. Neither of us make a big deal of it.
  • She asks for the breast as soon as she gets back so, of course, I give it.
  • We bedshare. It feels like we’re catching up while we’re asleep!
  • If she wants to breastfeed and cuddle more the next day, I slow our pace down.


What are your tips for gently easing children into childcare?

Photos courtesy Lu from Kiddiewinkles and shared with parental permission

If this is what a baby is like…

If I’d known from the start how healthy, good and normal it is for babies to wake at night, I wonder if I would have felt inferior to those mothers who boasted that theirs slept through.

If I’d known from the start how much babies need the security of their mothers’ bodies, would I have bothered with the Moses basket?

Would I have expended so much energy trying to put Talitha down? Would it have taken me weeks to sort out a sling? Would I have ground my teeth wondering what I was doing wrong?

If I had known that there are no goals in this relationship but only a journey, would I have wished away the weeks and months? Would I have partly longed for her independence, only to be surprised by it when it began?

I have a lot of books and articles running around my head at the moment: references to anthropological studies, findings about how we physiologically work, beautiful reflections on mothering.

The recurrent theme through all of this reading and thinking has been for me “acceptance”.

If we accepted what babies are like and what they need, would we form so many strategies to try to change them? Would we get so stressed about them behaving the way they are designed to be?
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Toddler tantrums and my un-peaceful parenting

The screaming was so loud I didn’t even wait to put her in the pushchair before leaving the cafe. I’d taken it because I was fed up and feeling run down. As it turned out, my eighteen-month-old didn’t think much of this plan and went completely rigid, flat refusing to get into the pushchair. She screamed so hard she began retching and almost threw herself out of my arms and on to the pavement.

Thankfully, I’d taken my woven wrap along as a blanket. So I picked it up, figuring I’d just put her down and get my jacket off so I could tie it properly. She wasn’t having it, making it clear that she’d be lying on the pavement if I put her down.

So, with the help of a friend, I awkwardly wrapped over my jacket the fastest front wrap cross carry I have ever done, toddler now screaming because she didn’t want to be wrapped, she wanted to be held in arms, naughty mummy. I’ve never been so aware of strangers’ eyes on us. I mean it.

As we walked home, toddler strapped to chest and buggy carrying our bags, she settled down and even nestled forgivingly into me. But I felt tight inside. I wasn’t angry with her so much as stressed out with the situation and wondering yet again: “What the hell am I doing? Am I ruining a human being?”

I’m not worried about spoiling her, let’s be clear. I absolutely think that you can’t hold and reassure a child too much if that’s what they’re asking for. It’s more the fact that I don’t always keep my cool. I am boiling inside when she throws a tantrum for the third time that morning.

I am feeling at a loss as to what to do. I have had to lie her on the floor and walk away to collect myself. I have told her to “Shut up!” when she was on my back screaming into my ear about God knows what. I have not been slow to anger. And I have felt utterly shitty about it. I don’t often swear but in this case, I feel it’s appropriate.

Empathy. I know that this is where it always starts. I try to work out what she must be experiencing and I know in my gut that this tantrum in many ways is not something she is throwing but something that is happening to her. She doesn’t understand it. She can’t control it. She is a little frightened by it.
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Nappy-free: starting elimination communication with a toddler

Elimination communication involves catching your baby’s poo and wee in a potty, container or whatever instead of just leaving them to go in their nappies.

It sounds like something out of Star Trek.

It’s probably just what your granny used to do…without the techie name.

I first heard about it back when I was thirty-three weeks pregnant and someone commented on my list of things to do before the birth with a link to “Save on nappies – don’t use them?

I read that post and my eyes grew wide. Surely this was a step too far? It sounded like seriously hard work. Too crunchy for me.

When Talitha was nine-months-old we went to a sling meet in Bristol and met real people who were practising elimination communication. I was intrigued but unconvinced.

Then last month, I discovered Lulastic and the Hippyshake and fell in love with her blog. I felt like I identified with a lot of what she had to say and, well, what do you know? Her baby is nappy-free. It got me thinking about it again.

Now that Talitha is a toddler, the thought of toilet training doesn’t seem so distant. But the more I consider it, the more it doesn’t make sense to me.

Why would I teach her to go in her nappy for years and then present her with a potty? The only real reason seems to be convenience, though nappies do mean work, especially if you’re washing and folding them. Convenience isn’t really enough of a reason for me.

The more I’ve read about EC, the more it’s made sense to me. The baby grows awareness of her bodily functions. The adults in her life are responsive to her need to eliminate as they would be to any of her other needs.

I know how “out there” this probably sounds because at one point it sounded crazy to me. But this is where I am.

So, I bought and read The Diaper-Free Baby: The Natural Toilet Training Alternative on Kindle, got a few little knickers and the potty out of storage and decided to make a go of it. The book has a chapter on starting EC with toddlers so I especially focused on that.

How’s it gone so far?
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Attachment Parenting is responsive not box ticking

I missed the attachment parenting segment on BBC Breakfast, incidentally, because I was in bed with my baby. Anyway, with all the interest about it on Twitter, I thought I better catch it the second time around. I braced myself, expecting talk of these AP hippy weirdos who are making life harder for themselves, ruining their children and judging everyone else.

Actually, I was surprised. I didn’t hate it. It could have been better but it could have been a heck of a lot worse. I don’t think it drew out anything particularly new or interesting about the topic. Maybe it’s not as “controversial” as the presenters claimed it is?

Well, from the vox pops it started with, they covered the standard negativity toward attachment parenting. One man called that level of physical closeness fine at a year but not at three. One woman with a very young baby said she wouldn’t be able to handle it because she needed to go back to work. Another laughed at the idea of breastfeeding for three years because, personally, she felt you should stop when they have teeth. The last woman agreed that parents should give their children more time but not necessarily physically.

So, how’s that for balance? If this is indeed a reflection of what the public thinks of attachment parenting then all it really shows is that it’s shrouded in misconceptions. Children don’t suddenly become independent at a year but the way attachment parenting manifests itself over time naturally changes. Many AP mothers do go back to work, although admittedly Dr William Sears (a major advocate of this parenting style) isn’t that encouraging of it. If you’ve only breastfed for two to three months then it’s unsurprising that three years sounds too long. You struggle to imagine it. Physical closeness is important (very important) but it’s not everything.
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This bed’s not big enough for the three of us

“Then when we have another baby that one will sleep between me and the bed rail and Talitha will sleep between us. Or maybe she’ll sleep on a mattress next to the bed. I don’t know.”

“Wait, what? She’ll still be sleeping with us?”

“Umm, she might be.”

“No she won’t.”

“But she might.”

“But we don’t have a big enough bed.”

“We could buy a bigger bed.”

“Or we could buy her a bed.”

We are getting a bigger bed. My in-laws aren’t giving it as a donation to the co-sleeping cause but I can’t wait.

There has never been enough room for the three of us in our bed. When she was a newborn, we stayed well away from her – terrified that we might squish that fragile frame.

She has mostly slept between me and the rejected cot, which acted as a bedrail. Now that she is strong enough to kick the cot away from the bed, she sleeps between us.

The cot sulks in the corner, knowing it will only hold this tiny human for the first three-hour sleep of the night. Then madam demands to be where the action is.

This so isn't where I sleep

It’s been magic mostly not having to get up at all in the nights. She stirs, I flop a boob her way and within seconds or, at most, minutes, we’re asleep again.

But now she sleeps between us star-fished while we are consigned to the edges, fingernails gripping duvet so we don’t to fall out.
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