Nursery guilt

I refused to feel guilty for sending my toddler to nursery… so why do I feel guilty anyway?

I didn’t feel remotely guilty about our decision to send Max to nursery.

I mean… I kind of did. But, to be totally honest, I think I felt guilty about not feeling guilty, if that makes sense?

The fact is, by the end of last year, we knew we just couldn’t go on the way we were : by which I mean, “barely working”. It would be great not to have to worry about money, obviously, but, like many people, we have to work to survive, and I just can’t bring myself to feel guilty about that. We have to work: and if two afternoons of nursery per week were going to help us do that – and give Max a chance to socialise with other children a bit more, into the bargain – then it seemed like a reasonable compromise to me.

It started off pretty well.

I mean, I’m not going to claim he loved it, exactly: like, he wasn’t rushing out of the house desperate to get to nursery, or anything like that. He didn’t hate it either, though: in fact, he bonded pretty quickly with one of the “ladies”, as he calls them, and he was a big fan of the snacks (What can I say, the boy loves his food…) so it all seemed ideal, really. He was getting to do lots of messy play and new activities: we were finally starting to see the light at the end of the financial tunnel, and were looking forward to getting just a little bit of our old lives/selves back after two years of full-time, stay-at-home parenting.

So, Max was happy, we were happy: I finally felt like we were getting some much-needed balance…

… and then Max came down with Hand, Foot & Mouth disease , and turned into a completely different child, apparently. Plot twist!

OK, OK, it wasn’t a complete personality change. The thing is, Max has been going through a bit of a clingy stage for a while now, but that single illness just seemed to take it to the next level. He wanted to be cuddled. He wanted to be held. He wanted mummy to lie in bed with him, and hold his hand while he slept, and by the time he was starting to feel better again, I’d pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was probably never going to visit the bathroom alone ever again.

Yeah, it was like THAT.

It was my own fault, obviously: I mean, I’m not stupid (Well, not ALL the time, anyway…) – I knew perfectly well that I was setting myself up for future trouble by pandering to these requests, but, at the same time, I also knew I had a little boy who wasn’t feeling well, and just wanted a cuddle from his mummy: and, honestly, if you can resist that, then all I can say is you’re made from sterner stuff than I am, because I crumbled like a biscuit. A really wet, crumbly biscuit, which, to be honest, quite enjoys a bit of a cuddle itself, so might as well just go with it, right?

Nursery guiltThe spots lasted for around 10 days, but, because Max only goes to nursery a couple of times per week, he ended up being off for almost a fortnight. Honestly, though, he was well enough to have gone back earlier, and, in retrospect, that’s what we should have done.

We didn’t, though.

No, instead, we chose to keep him home just a bit longer than we needed too … and then we wondered why he didn’t want to go back AT ALL. WHY THOUGH?


His first day back was a little bit tricky, but we told ourselves it was just the first day, and it was bound to get better soon.

But it did NOT get better.

In fact, it got to the point where Terry had to ban me from doing the nursery drop-offs, because it would always end in tears… and I’ll leave you to work out for yourselves whose tears they were. I did, however, continue with the pick-ups, which have been almost equally emotional in that, the second I walk through the door, Max drops whatever he’s doing – sometimes literally – and comes running towards me, flinging his arms around me and occasionally bursting into tears. Twice now I’ve turned up to find him standing staring at the CCTV screen showing the nursery car park, where he’d apparently stationed himself so he could see the car the second it pulled in.

It’s heartbreaking. Like, absolutely heartbreaking.

So far, we’ve tried everything we can think of to make the transition easier on him. We’ve explained why he goes to nursery, and why mummy and daddy have to work. We’ve assured him over and over again that we will always, always come back for him, and that ‘the ladies’ at nursery are just taking care of him for a little while. We’ve given him treats for going, and tried to illustrate that all of the fun things we do on his days off are paid for by they money ( THE MONEY ) we earn while he’s at nursery. We’ve praised him to high heaven, and repeated again that it’s just for a little while, and that we’ll ALWAYS come back.

He still doesn’t want to go.

When you feel guilty about sending your child to nurseryThe nursery staff have been great in all of this. They’ve told us it’s totally normal, and that they’re used to dealing with it – and, more importantly, that, once we’ve left, he always settles down and plays quite happily, until 20 minutes or so before we’re due to collect him, at which point he starts asking for us again. This particular nursery has an app which they use to send us photos of him throughout his sessions, so we can see for ourselves that he isn’t just moping for us all day long.

None of this, however, changes the fact that he just doesn’t want to go: or how guilty I feel about it.

I know I shouldn’t feel guilty. It’s not like Max is the first child to ever go to nursery, after all, and we’re hardly the only parents who have to work for a living. Right now, it’s basically a choice between either sending Max to nursery and being able to pay our bills, or keeping him home and risking not HAVING a home for much longer… which is no choice at all, really.

All the same, though, I wish it was easier. I wish he enjoyed it more. I wish there was a way I could earn a living without it having an effect on him. I wish I could guarantee that he would never have to do anything he didn’t want to, or feel even a moment’s sadness at being away from us. Most of all, I wish I didn’t have to spend all my time feeling like no matter what I do, I’m letting someone down: because, right now I’m doing my best to look after Max and earn a living, and I just don’t feel like I’m doing either of those things very well – which I think is the most guilt-inducing thing of all.

The good news, however, is that we only have to keep on like this until we win the lottery and give up work: well, someone has to… right?

P.S. I write a weekly diary which goes out every Friday to my subscribers. Sign up below to get on the list...

books by Amber Eve
  • Amy


    Great post!

    February 25, 2020
    • Joji


      Thank you for penning this down! Just what in going through!
      – Jo

      December 3, 2020
  • Aw the guilt is so hard. I had to bring my daughter to creche starting 13 months and the transition period was rough. I remember one time having to walk down the hall with her screaming cries in my ears and I just went home and broke down. Thankfully it did get better after a few weeks, because I was also wondering whether I would have to quit my job or what- such awful guilt! You don’t have to explain why you are sending him, all your reasons make total sense. I have heard it can be easier on the kids to adjust when to go for more short days in a row rather than two long days just in case that might be an option. I hope he will settle there soon!

    February 26, 2020
    • Great post. The guilt is there even if your child loves it!! My little boy is nearly 3 and has gone to nursery since he was 1 and although we have had a few tough moments, he loves it there so much. But he is there a full day 7.30- 5.30pm and i feel so guilty but in that time i am at work not just sat with my feet up. Nursery for us was partly about money but also really important to us that he is happy in different social situations and also that school next September doesnt come as a massive shock!!! Keep persivering and i am sure one day it will all click and u will end up where i am….with him not wanting to leave at pick up time!! X

      February 26, 2020
  • Mum guilt just never seems to end! The other week I had a dream I forgot about Bailey and left him in a hotel room all day, and I still feel guilty now, even though it DIDN’T EVEN HAPPEN!!

    February 26, 2020
  • Anya


    If it makes it any easier i have big sister guilt because as a 10-12 year older i was tasked with bringing/ dropping of my 7 year junior brother. I do remember how i left him once while he was screaming scared and i had to go to school after. He was so upset he actually ran after me and the teachers had to come after him. In the end i felt even guiltier when my mom scolded the poor child after. Sadly there were just no other options. The good news is he doesn t hate me or my mom and he turned out a very well adjusted young man 🙂

    February 26, 2020
  • Lucie


    Dear Amber,

    both my children went to nursery. We are lucky that both of them loved it BUT even for kids who love it, it is almost always difficult to go back after a week or more off (holidays or sickness like your case). It usually took about a week to fit into the routine again and make them stop crying when the parent leaves. I always smiled and left the kid affirming we were coming back to pick him up later, just waved and left. All our nursery professionals always told us it is important to be firm, say you love them and are coming back later, give a hug and a kiss and wave goodbye. As you say, even on days when screaming happened, it would be over a few minutes later.

    As somebody else recommended, it is usually easier at this age for the child to go several days in a row (say Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) rather than with breaks in between (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). I know it is not always and option depending on nursery availability (we experienced both scenarios).

    I don’t know if this might be the case with Max but you say he goes in the afternoon, so I will give you our experience with this. My youngest used to go for 3 days (and loved it, always leaving smiling in the morning) and then we had to change the schedule and at one point he was going in one day a week only for the afternoon. This meant right after his lunch and already pretty tired, arriving to the nursery at nap time (around 12:30). I don’t know exactly why but he HATED it. He cried every time we went after lunch. He also started crying in the mornings. It seemed to really stress him out. We luckily managed to get back to our “getting-into-nursery-in-the-morning” routine after a bit and all went back to normal.

    NO GUILT, you are doing the best for your family. Take care.

    February 27, 2020
  • nic


    Dear Amber, I just came across your blog.
    Let me give you the perspective from the “other side”: It takes about five minutes and then the children settle into their nursery routine. We always told parents that to get it over with quickly and decisively is easier on the children than to draw it out because Mum feels guilty when her child cries. The nursery staff will pick up from there, console and distract him and as they told you, they are used to dealing with upset children. Bear in mind that he will also reflect back how you feel at this moment, so the easier you make it on yourself the quicker he will get over it. No need to feel guilty about the situation, that’s what nurseries were invented for after all. It’s been a year since your blog post, but the same guidance applies to primary school as well. 😀

    February 24, 2021