Q&A: Who do you trust with your child's well-being

Shandra writes:

"Short background: I was a victim of incest by an extended family member as a child; my parents failed to protect me and my mother's narcissism, in particular, was also a factor in being Somewhat Messed Up.

My son is two now and I got a pretty much dream job that's a perfect match for me - the kind of timing that doesn't happen very often. 

So I carefully visited a lot of daycares. I have a nanny who still watches my son once a week, but we could not afford her full-time, and also I generally have felt that if it's full-time care of a toddler, a centre may be safer because the staff get breaks and things. I chose this centre because they were open and friendly and warm, the physical space was good, and most importantly a toddler from our playgroup has been going there and thriving (on the surface) and her mom recommended it. It's a Montessori. My parents wanted to be my son's full-time caregivers, but, see background, above.

Flash forward to today, 4 weeks into the full time daycare thing. It was grandparents day and my parents went, and they are appalled at how miserable they perceive my son to be and want to have a huge family meeting and g-d knows what all else. I called the school and my son's teacher said that yes, he was upset when they were here, the way that he is upset when we drop him off and pick him up, but that he was fine the rest of the day, except at nap, because he often is a little teary at nap, so they had to rub his back for him. 

He does cry at dropoff and pick up, and he does tell us that he does not like school (although he also says he likes the blocks, painting, his friends, and his teacher).  I would say until today that I thought he was having adjustment issues but was generally fine - eats, sleeps, laughs, plays, etc., fine when he is at home. My mother spidey sense is horribly upset at walking away from my son every day, but is not going off that he is being damaged awfully or anything like that.

And yet I feel like I should take my parents' concerns seriously because I am kind of invested in the dream job and that may cloud my judgment. My husband, who does all the dropping off, thinks the school is fine and that our son is having some trouble adjusting (but not horrible all day crying or anything) and that it is really too early to tell any more than that,

So my core question is, how do you know if daycare is working or not working? How do you know whether to trust the staff when they say your child is okay? I am ambivalent because (see incest survivor, above) I have no trust in anyone really."

This one's a gut-punch, for sure. I'm so, so sorry for the incest and your damaged relationship with your mother. But I'm so happy for you for your job!

It sounds like you're in a huge conundrum: Trust yourself in this situation, and you're risking being a mother like your own mother was, who didn't protect her child from horrible emotional damage. Or trust your mother, and potentially protect your child, except that how can you trust your mother when you know she's not trustworthy?

Now I certainly don't have any idea whether things are going well at daycare. But I do think there are somethings you can tease out about motives of the various parties involved here:

Your husband: You know his main concern is for your son's well-being, with yours and your family unit's coming a close next. His opinion and judgment counts for a ton.

Your son: He's 2, and all he knows is that he wants to be with you, because that's the way it's always been. Transition times are tough for this age, so he cries and clings. (I actually think it's worse when they don't cry and cling. The other day I left my younger one with our new babysitter B--a friend from church who is 22, energetic, goofy, and thinks he poops rainbows just like I do--and he wouldn't look at me when I tried to kiss him goodbye. That about killed me. Even though I know he has tons of fun with B. Don't you love how I turn everyone else's problems into mine? Charming, I know.) But he's also adaptable and looking for a good time, and is probably loving hanging out with the other kids and all the new-to-him toys. In short, he's an unreliable witness about the daycare center, because he may love it while he's there but hate being dropped off and picked up. To a 2-year-old, that's completely logical.

The teachers at the center: IME, daycare providers and teachers will definitely tell you when your child is having problems. They want you to be able to help from your end working on the adjustment thing. And it doesn't help them one bit to have a miserable kid in their class, since it distracts them from the group as a whole. I just don't think they'd be telling you he's fine if he was miserable, because it goes against their best interests.

The other playgroup mom: Her only motive, it seems, is to tell you about a place she likes and her daughter is happy at. Presumably she's your friend (or at least friendly acquaintance), and she wanted to offer a good solid solution to your childcare problem.

You: You know you're only looking out for your son's best interest, but your own faith in your abilities to judge a situation is shaken because the story you tell yourself is that you don't trust anyone. The overwhelming feeling I get from reading your email, though, is that you don't trust your parents. So you're in this conundrum now in which not trusting your parents could potentially turn you into your mother. But trusting your parents could drag you under emotionally, because it means that a) you failed to protect your son initially, and b) you're still that same scared kid who couldn't do anything to help herself.

And finally, your parents: They wanted to be your son's full-time caregivers, and were hurt when you didn't ask them. They clearly have major lingering feelings (guilt, fear, denial, something else) about not having protected you when you were young. Maybe wanting to take care of your son is the way they think they can "make up for" what happened to you. Or maybe they are just in denial that anything that bad happened to you, and think they can do a better job with your son than anyone else can. At any rate, to me it sounds like they were predisposed to hate the daycare from the beginning, because his going to daycare instead of being with them reflects badly on them. Of everyone involved in the scenario, they're the ones with the cloudy motivations. But you knew that already.

I can't really come up with a way to summarize that this isn't going to tell Shandra what to do, and I'm not going to do that. I am going to say that she knows more about herself than her parents can afford to give her credit for. This is sort of a real-life version of Prisoner's Dilemma, only in this case, Shandra knows who the other prisoners are, and what their motivations are.

Other thoughts?