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Why I Couldn't Stop "Spying" on My Daughter at Daycare

I was six months into my first pregnancy when a fellow pregnant friend and I began researching daycare opportunities for our babies-to-be. As with being admitted into a good preschool, we knew you needed to get on a waiting list, which meant getting on the ball yesterday.

My husband thought we were crazy. “Maya won’t even need daycare until next March!” he protested. He wasn’t totally off base; it did seem a bit extreme to be looking into something that was six months out. But I knew if we wanted our top pick, we were going to have to secure a spot now.

Through friends, we had heard wonderful things about one particular daycare. They had sung praises about its reputation, its curriculum, its teachers, its physical space, but most of all: its webcam. Though I hadn’t met Maya yet, I knew I was going to miss her when it was time for me to return to work.

After taking a tour, speaking with the director, and hashing out tuition details and vacation policies, we got the good news that we did, indeed, get into the daycare with the webcam. It was a major win – and a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders once I knew I’d be able to take a peek at my daughter in real time while I was at the office.

As expected, once Maya was born I questioned my decision to return to work a thousand times. As much as I loved my job, I just couldn’t fathom the thought of someone else being with my daughter for 50 hours a week. By the last few weeks of my maternity leave, I had just settled into a routine with Maya. I could anticipate her wants and needs and meet them with confidence. She was becoming more fun by the day. Plus, she was sleeping in solid 10-hour stretches and eating every four hours, which meant errands and making plans were getting easier and easier. We established a genuine rhythm just as I was about to leave. The only solace I found in going back to work was the knowledge that I’d be able to see glimpses of my daughter during the day on the webcam.

My first day back was hard. That morning I dug a slate-colored wrap dress out of my closet that fit my postpartum body, threw on some foreign-feeling black heels, and headed to the office, holding back tears all the while. I had no idea it would be that hard; it literally felt like a piece of me was missing all day, but I had no choice but to keep it together at work.

Each day got a smidge easier, and as I slowly I fell into our new routine, I could rely on the webcam to lift my spirits and put my mind at ease. For that first month back, it was an awesome vehicle to stay connected with Maya. I’d keep the window open on my laptop and take a peek every so often, trying not to let it become a distraction. I took screen grabs of her laying on the play mat or shaking a rattle and sent them to family and friends across the country. The webcam also helped motivate me while pumping breast milk at work, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

For the most part, I loved the webcam. In my mind, the daycare center was totally transparent and, as long as parents weren’t looking at it 24/7 searching for a problem, it was simply a way for them to keep an eye on their little ones when they were away. No harm in that, right?

Right. Until I became obsessed. Though the webcam and I had a great start, within a couple of months, I found myself wanting to see everything my daughter was doing. If she wasn’t on the screen, I’d wonder: “Is she being changed? Fed? Napping?” I’d drive myself crazy with what-ifs. Though rationally I knew I’d see a meticulously detailed daily report when I picked her up at 5:30, my mind would wander.

And rather than feel comfort when I did see her on camera, I’d get insanely jealous watching her teachers scoop her up, play peek-a-boo, or make her fly through the air. Seeing her snuggled in their arms sipping her bottle and drifting off to sleep made my heart sink. Even though the webcam view was a little grainy, I could see her smiling and laughing as they played – and all I could do was wish it were me making her smile and laugh.

All this started to affect my ability to focus on anything else – which isn’t good during one’s first few months back at work. Although I knew no one could do a better job at being my daughter’s mother than myself, it took a few weeks of talking to friends and family, blogging, and over-analyzing to finally realize the webcam wasn’t to blame for my feelings of insecurity. If I was going to survive this without losing my job, I needed to reframe how I was viewing our daycare situation.

While, for some people, the best solution might have been to cut off webcam access cold turkey, I knew that wasn’t going to be how I dealt with it. I needed to make peace with it; after all, this webcam had been what set our daycare apart from all the rest.

Finding my groove at work and taking the advice from friends and family ultimately helped distract me from obsessing over the cam. Although I was still catching glimpses of Maya here and there – in between my usual workload, planning a company-wide volunteer project in two cities, and putting together a big client event in Chicago – I simply hadn’t been peeking at the webcam as often as I had been before. And though a few months prior I might have been truly upset by this realization, surprisingly, I wasn’t bothered by it. I knew she was okay and that the webcam was there if/when I needed it.

I finally believed what everyone had been telling me all along: that we were so lucky to have this daily view into her life. Once I was able to see it that way, I felt less anxious, less jealous of her teachers, and more confident in my decision to return to work. It wasn’t the same as being there with my daughter 24/7, but I was able to feel connected and close to her from my desk. And as we ventured further along in our daycare experience, I grew to truly appreciate the webcam for what it was: a real-time glimpse into her little world.

Maya is 15 months old now, and I still look at the webcam, but with much less frequency. Today, I love to see her running around the room with her little friends. If she’s not on the screen when I pop on, I don’t obsess or start thinking the worst. And on tough days when I miss her a lot, it’s a comfort to know I can take a peek at her flourishing in her element.

But I can’t lie; sometimes my heart still hurts, especially now that she is walking and climbing and doing all kinds of fun and exciting new tricks, some of which I might not see first. And there are plenty of things I haven’t seen first: the first time she signed for milk; touched her nose, eyes, and mouth on command in English and Spanish; pointed to each of her little friends by name; and roared like a lion, to name just a few. Each time her teachers share a new trick with me, I swell with pride and get all choked up. Not because I’m sad, but because each instance is another reminder that she’s growing up, and I’m not there for all of it. It’s a realization I imagine many mothers who work outside the home feel.

In this past year we’ve really come full circle. I don’t know how long she’ll be in daycare, but though some days are harder than others, I’m getting more accustomed to our situation. If anything, my love/hate relationship with the webcam reaffirms how beneficial my situation is. Here are these people loving and doting on my daughter, day in and day out, and instead of just hearing about it on a daily report, I can see it for myself. There’s no need to be jealous of them; I’m her mama. Irreplaceable.

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