LIGHTEN UP . . . call if you're running late . . . have a backup system in place before you need it . . . spend 10 minutes a day talking with each child . . . remember there's a kid inside you, too . . . talk to your child . . . talk to your care-giver . . . know what kind of child care you're looking for . . . keep your sense of humor . . . .
This is what child-care providers around the state are saying, but only when asked, to parents who work outside the home and rely on others to care for their children. Working parents are getting recognition, and advice, this week, the Second Annual Maryland Week of the Working Parent, sponsored by the Maryland Committee for Children.
There are places for more than 123,500 children in regulated child care -- family day-care homes and group centers -- throughout the state, according to the committee. Many of those children will be bringing home personally decorated stickers for their parents to wear Friday,to show employers what a large part of their work force parents make up.
Being a working parent is "not an easy job," says Barbara Tyler, the mother of three teen-agers and the owner of Tending Toddlers, which operates three child-care centers in Frederick County.
"You have to have fun -- take time for a cookout or to play kickball. Use your day-care center to make contacts with other parents," advises Tyler, who knows what she's talking about. Her children spent more than seven years in family day care before she opened her business three years ago.
"Every parent that I've had -- no matter how much education they've had -- had awful separation anxieties. I try to help them through that," says Patricia Goodwin of Phoenix, who's been a family day-care provider for 20 years. "I tell them it's OK to miss them.
"They'll recognize in a couple of weeks that their child is nurtured and loved," adds Goodwin.
This security grows, however, not only with time, but also with feeling comfortable in a child-care situation and with being able to communicate with the people giving the care. Nearly every day-care provider interviewed mentioned those two C's: comfort and communication.
The comfort comes, providers say, when parents know what they want for their child, research the child-care opportunities and visit several homes or centers to compare care and facilities.
Parents should observe "the interaction between children and their teachers," says Iris Crilley, owner of the Stonewall Day Care Center in Fallston.
Parents can tell a lot, even on the phone, from how a care-giver talks to, and about, other children, says Patricia Woodward, a family day-care provider in the Belair-Edison section of the city. "You want the care-giver to be someone who is in tune with that mother," says Woodward, adding that both parents should visit a care-giver and inquire about her around the neighborhood -- in schools and libraries, for instance.
Parents can evaluate child-care situations, Woodward suggests, by asking these questions: Is my child happy? Are the parents comfortable? Is the care-giver professional enough to handle a crisis?
"Parents have got to feel good about the situation; don't go into a situation and say 'it's all that's available,'" suggests Glenda Blomquist, a family day-care provider in Catonsville. "You can't keep switching your child around."
"If you feel uncomfortable, say so," adds Cecilia Johnson, one of Baltimore's more than 1,100 registered family day-care providers. "Communication is so important; don't assume, ask." Johnson advises parents who might have to work overtime to consult their providers before accepting longer or different working hours.
Not all the providers' advice is about parent-provider relationships. These women have some suggestions for parents and their children.
"Put your child first," says Crilley. When changing a child's care, ease him in over a week or so. "If the child has not been thrown into a 10-hour-a-day situation," he will adjust better, she says.
Crilley also suggests that eight hours in a center is the optimum amount of time for small children.
The child needs to feel comfortable, too -- not tugged between two worlds, says Johnson, president of the Baltimore City Family Child Care Providers Association. Ask your child what he's done, how he feels about day care.
Barbara Tyler concurs: "Find at least 10 minutes a night to spend with your child one-on-one -- talking about what went on during the day. Don't just have time for children on the weekend."
Here are some other suggestions for working parents:
* Plan ahead for field trips or special events. "Sometimes it's important for parents to be with their kids," says Cecelia Cheeseboro of Baltimore.
* "Talk about problems [with providers] right away; don't think about it and let it fester," says Blomquist.
* Don't feel guilty about not taking children somewhere every weekend. They need to be home to play and establish a relationship with their parents.
* Although there is sometimes jealousy between parents and providers over a child's affections, a mother "should hope that person loves her child."
* Especially first-time parents should feel free to call a center or day-care home frequently -- at least at first.
* Don't bring sick children into care.
* Don't worry about cleaning the house.
* Never lose your sense of humor.
* Focus on the children and allow them to be kids, says Ginny Simoneau, supervisor of The Children's Center in Frederick County. "That means stopping to examine a bug . . . simply finding the joy in childhood. We were once little children and, somewhere in our hearts, still are."