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What I Wish I Knew Before My Kid Went to Daycare, According to 12 Dads

From unforeseen regrets to unknown joys, here's what dads wished they knew before making the transition.

Nearly 11 million children under the age of five in the United States are in some sort of child care. And for every single parent, the decision is difficult. Which day care do you use? What questions do you ask? How can you best prepare? How difficult will the transition be? Is your child ready? Are you? Then there’s the cost: According to a 2015 study, the average U.S. family pays $18,000 a year for child care. And, of course, that number rises drastically depending where you live. Couple this with all the stories about toddler fight clubs and negligent providers, it’s no surprise that daycare is an undertaking littered with “I wish I would’ve knowns”.

But then there are surprising revelations too: how caring the right day care workers are. How seamless the transition can be. How much your child learns on a daily basis. Still, chances are, no matter how ready you might think you are, you’ll find yourself with at least a few coulda, woulda, shouldas when you look. So what advice do parents who have already experienced the transition have to share in retrospect? That’s what we asked a dozen dads. Their answers included everything from unforeseen regrets to unknown joys. We hope it helps you prepare for the dive into day care.

I Wish I Knew How Many Questions I’d Have to Ask

“I don’t want to say I thought that all daycares were created equal, but I had no idea that there were so many questions that needed to be — or, at least, could be — asked beforehand. My wife had a list that was legitimately two pages long. Some examples: What is your discipline policy? How do you foster social/emotional growth? How will your program help my child develop life skills? They made sense. But they just never, ever crossed my mind. I guess I was more concerned with the ratio of cubbies-to-children, and the quality of pudding cups for snack time. But you’re paying for a service, and you need to be informed. We found, too, that the ‘good’ daycare places didn’t even flinch when it came to answering any of those questions. They were ready, and they made sure we knew they were committed to doing a good job for our kids.” — Will, 33, Ohio

I Wish I Didn’t Go with the Less Expensive Option

“We had to make a choice between daycare A and daycare B. Neither were bad, per se, but we definitely got a ‘less impressed’ vibe from one place over the other. We went with it because it was dramatically cheaper, and the other place would’ve been a big financial stretch. It turned out to be a big mistake. The quality of care wasn’t great. The providers were inattentive. And it became clear that, once we’d signed up, keeping the place looking as immaculate as it did on our visit wasn’t a priority. Daycare is an investment. It’s one of the first places your kids will go to learn and grow. The frustration of having to constantly monitor and check the place and people you’re paying for completely defeats the purpose of daycare. And whatever money you’ll save isn’t worth it.” —  Jim, 34, Ohio

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I Wish I Knew Just How Heartbreaking the First Drop Off Really Would Be

“The first time we dropped our son off, he bawled. And, once we got to the car, my wife and I did too. I imagine dropping your child off with a relative stranger and waving goodbye is one of the most gut-wrenching things a parent can do. Our son cried every day we dropped him off for about a week. And it was awful. We’d put on our brave faces, but then we’d lose it as soon as we were out of view. The good news – it does get easier. You start to hear that your child is making friends, showing interest in certain things, and starting to grow. And that’s what you want. But, man, I will never forget the pain of that first week. I’m tearing up a little bit just thinking about it.” — Kirk, 32, Oregon

I Wish I Knew That Mob Mentality Can Work In Your Favor

“So, our daughter was insanely stubborn when it came to trying new things. Everything from new games, to new foods, to new friends – if it wasn’t familiar, she wasn’t into it. Until she went to daycare. Once she got used to the transition, she responded to the encouragement of the providers and the kids in her group when they would try to open her eyes to new things. She used to be afraid of the slide, for example. When we picked her up one day, one of the providers told us how all the kids were cheering her on, and being really supportive while she tried it. And now, it’s her favorite thing on the playground. She was part of the herd, which helped her grow as an individual, too.” — Rich, 37, Pennsylvania

I Wish I Knew How it Would Help My Kids’ Passions Emerge

“Daycares are built to make kids play and explore. Your art supplies at home, for example, are just pathetic compared to the endless assortment of chalk, markers, paper, paint, and glitter that daycares have stockpiled over the years. And it’s not just art, either. Daycare is basically a hands on aptitude test. Your kids will experience music, physical activity, and socialization in a setting that’s completely no pressure. No grades. So they can really be free to experiment and just have fun. As a parent, that’s a great resource to be able to utilize. You can learn a lot just by observing, and listening, and then use that information to help encourage your child to pursue some really cool things.” — Aaron, 37, Illinois

I Wish I Read the Daycare Agreement More Carefully

“Daycare business 101: read your agreement very carefully. On more than one occasion, my wife and I got blindsided by random costs, mainly associated with holidays. There was a Labor Day, I think, where we didn’t take our son in because we were both home from work. But, apparently, we’d ‘reserved’ that day when we signed up as part of a more blanket contract. So, we still had to pay. Maybe that’s not a universal thing, but the lesson is to make sure you know your daycare’s policies on cancellations, holidays, and stuff like that. You could end up paying for days you don’t use.” — James, 35, Massachusetts

I Wish I Knew Just How Many Filthy Kids There Were at Daycare

“Our son caught a cold his second week at daycare. At first, I just chalked it up to kids being filthy, putting their mouths on the water fountains, and stuff like that. But then I realized that throwing your child into a room with kids who, for example, might not be vaccinated could be a recipe for disaster. Through the grapevine, we actually heard that one of the families at our old daycare was ‘anti vax’. That’s why it’s our old daycare. Daycares can’t tell you who’s vaccinated and who isn’t, so you have to either be comfortable asking, or very, very aware of how things like that are handled. You can’t prevent kids from getting sick, but you can do your best to limit the possibilities.” — Brian, 38, Ohio

I Wish I Knew That Daycare Providers Really Do Care About Your Kids.

“The good ones do, anyway. They’re a wonderful cross between a teacher and a babysitter, and they love your kid. We had a great staff when our son and daughter went to daycare. They were attentive, caring, kind, and very, very committed to making sure our kids were well cared for. I guess I just assumed that it would be different. Like that they’d clock out at five, and that would be that. I wasn’t prepared for the bond that they formed with our kids. It was so great knowing that they were trustworthy and professional, but also warm and genuinely interested in helping our kids grow.” — Rudy, 41, Ohio

I Wish I Knew Just How Much Daycare Was Going to Cost Us

“That was how much we ended up sinking into daycare for our son. It wasn’t bad along the way. Our payment plan was structured, spread out, etc. But when we started looking at tax stuff and wrangling all of our expenses, seeing that number was just a kick to the financial nuts. It was worth it, of course. Our place was great. But you don’t realize how much it adds up over time. Again, worth it. I just wish I was a little more prepared for the sticker shock of a true daycare experience.” — Jason, 36, West Virginia

I Wish I Knew Just How Many Great “Hey Guess What Your Kid Did Today?” Stories I’d Hear

“On his third day at daycare, my son’s daycare teacher told me that he farted in another kid’s lunchbox. Of course, this was cause for concern. We apologized profusely. We bought the whole daycare pizza the next day. And we told him what he’d done was wrong, and he got punished. But, what a great story…right? I laugh about that to this day, and I honestly can’t wait to share it with him when he’s old enough to appreciate the situation as an adult. Sometimes stories like that lose their endearing quality when they happen to you. But, when they’re framed as, ‘Hey, guess what your son did today…”, and you can paint the scenario with your own imagination, they’re pretty priceless. Looking forward to the stories was definitely my favorite part of our daycare experience.” — Jay, 39, New York

I Wish I Knew to Prepare For How Left Out I’d Feel

“Your kid will start out terrified. Our daughter had to be pried off of our legs for about two weeks before she felt comfortable going to daycare. But, after that, she couldn’t get there soon enough. She made friends. She had favorite parts of the day. She had favorite providers and helpers. She had this new little life, which her mom and I had nothing to do with. It sounds silly, but I felt it. We both did. We felt left out. Obviously, we were thrilled she was taking to the new situation after being so nervous that she wouldn’t, but we definitely got a little bummed thinking of all the cool stuff she was doing during the day, without us. Pretty insecure, right?” — Ed, 38, Kentucky

I Wish I Knew That It Would Be Okay to Enjoy Dropping My Kid Off

“The first time I dropped my son off with no theatrics – no crying, no drama – I got into my car, and just felt so, so relieved. And then I felt super guilty, because I felt so relieved. I felt like I should be more sad. Like I should always be sad when I’m separated from my son. I actually beat myself up about it for a little while, but then I realized that the whole situation was healthy. My son was having a great time with his friends and the daycare staff, and I was able to relax for the afternoon, recharge, and not have to worry about crying, whining and temper tantrums. I wasn’t prepared to enjoy the freedom. Luckily, I learned to pretty quickly.” – Paul, 39, Florida