Finding quality and reliable child care is one of the most stressful and daunting tasks for working moms. You are essentially trying to find someone to not only keep you child safe and well cared for, but also to provide a high level of attentiveness, enrichment, and affection. Essentially you are looking for the best possible substitute for you being there yourself.
There are many child care options available and there are pros and cons to each. Whether you hire a nanny or put your child in a day care center will depend on your specific needs and situation. I will try to briefly discuss a few considerations to help you narrow down your choices. For each option, it is important to carefully consider the following factors:
1. Child:adult ratio: to evaluate how much individual attention your child will receive. Generally, the younger the child, the more attention they will need for their routine care.
2. Control: the degree to which you can oversee your child’s daily routine (when and what to feed, when to nap, what activities to do)
3. Costs: how much will it cost you every month? Be careful to evaluate any hidden extra charges. My son’s Montessori preschool claims that there are no hidden fees, but the meals are not included and they charge a “childcare” fee on a per-minute basis before and after “school time” and during the lunch hour between the morning and afternoon classes.
4. Logistics: Are there age limits or potty training requirements? Some programs take infants as young as 3 months and some academic preschools require the child to be fully potty trained prior to starting. What are the hours of care available? Do they offer a meal option or do you have to prepare and pack the meals?
5. Enrichment, socialization, and extras: Will there be other children for your child to play and interact with? How about enrichment activities such as art projects and music classes? By way of example, my son’s preschool offers Spanish and Mandarin immersion classes, movement and music classes, and gardening. My nanny takes my almost-two-year-old to story time at our local library, gymnastics class, and arranges play dates at the park.
Let’s get started! Listed below (in no particular order) are my top 5 child care options:
1. Family member
If you are lucky enough to have a relative who is willing and able to take care of your child/children, definitely consider this option. A trusted family member will generally have your child’s best interest at heart and trust is by far the #1 priority for most parents. Before you choose this option, however, consider whether your relative is ready to care for a newborn/toddler/preschooler. Maybe they need to brush-up on a few child care basics, get their vaccinations up to date and/or take an infant/child CPR or first aid course. How would they react if you asked them to do those things? Would they eagerly oblige, or be slightly offended?
One potential downside to having a relative take care of your child is that the lines are often blurred between their roles as a child care provider and a family member. Would you be upset if your relative disregarded your child care preferences or differed in child rearing philosophies? A friend of mine felt lucky that her mom was going to take care of her daughter. They didn’t see eye-to-eye on every child rearing decision, but she decided to let the small things slide, for the sake of keeping the peace. The one thing that made my friend upset was that her mom smoked. Her mom never smoked in the presence of the children, but my friend’s blood pressure would rise every time she smelled the cigarette smoke on her mom’s clothes. Even though her mom was the ideal care taker in every other way, the smoking was almost a deal killer for her.
Finally, it’s important to discuss financial arrangements, albeit an uncomfortable subject. If your relative is offering to take care of your child for free, what are the unspoken expectations? As you know, taking care of a child is no easy task. If the relative is going to live with you, make sure to discuss when they are “off duty” to avoid feelings of disappointment and resentment.
The nanny option was what we ended up choosing for our sons, as we didn’t have nearby relatives available to help out. The main reason we chose to use a nanny was that our son was only 4 months old at the time we needed child care and we felt that it was important for him to get a lot of individual attention at that young age. Knowing how hard it was to take care of a newborn, I wanted to make sure he was getting the attention he needed without having three or more other babies competing for the care giver’s attention.
Secondly, we liked the idea of being able to control our baby’s sleeping, eating, and playing environment. Our nannies have followed our daily written instructions and every day we get a quick verbal/written report of how the day went. Our boys listen to classical music one day and toddler music the next. They go to local parks to play and do arts and crafts projects. Our nannies have also been great about taking pictures and videos of our kids so that we don’t feel like we’re missing out.
Finally, there is a huge convenience factor with having a nanny who comes to your home. The nanny can work around your schedule, instead of vice-versa. And you don’t have to worry about taking time off when you child is sick (unless you want to). We don’t have to worry about shuttling the kids to and from a day care or school, we don’t have to worry about packing diapers, extra clothes, or meals, and our nannies have helped with light household duties like laundry, dishes, and food preparation.
There are a couple of disadvantages of having a nanny. The cost tends to be the highest amongst all the childcare options, and your child will have less socialization and interactions with other children. One way of getting around these things is to consider doing a nanny share with another family. This will significantly decrease the cost of child care while exposing your child to other children who are of similar age. There are many stay-at-home moms who are looking for an extra source of income while taking care of their child/children at home.
In 7 steps to finding a great nanny, I shared my experience and tips in finding an excellent nanny – from where to look, to attracting high quality candidates, to the interviewing process.
3. Home-based child care
I have heard mixed reviews from friends about the home-based child care option. These are operated by individuals in their personal homes, so they tend to offer more flexibility and lower cost for child care than the commercial child care centers. The best way to find a great home-based child care facility is through word of mouth, since these tend to be a hit or miss. My neighbor put her son in a home-based program and she was thrilled with it. Her son was a highly energetic and physically advanced three-year-old with limited verbal skills. He needed a place that provided ample personal attention, guidance, and stimulation to thrive. After a year’s time, he was fully verbal, learned to speak Russian, and eats healthy organic fruits and vegetables from the garden that he helped to plant and water.
4. Commercial child care center / preschool / Montessori
With my older son, who is about to turn four, we have used three different nannies since he was 4 months old. Although he had some exposure to other children from library time, parks, play dates, and interacting with his little brother, my husband and I felt strongly that he needed more socialization and interactions with children his own age. When he turned three, we decided to enroll him in part-time preschool, three days a week. We asked around for recommendations and toured eight facilities before deciding on a Montessori-based preschool. This program offers Mandarin and Spanish immersion, hot meals, an array of extracurricular activities, and flexibility in child care coverage. While I am satisfied with the school over all, I’m not a raving fan, mainly due to the high cost of attendance and the school’s inflexible policies.
5. Au Pair
I first heard about au pairs from a few of my patients who came to their appointments with their au pairs. I was considering various child care options at the time, so I asked the working moms about their experiences. Generally, the appeal of having an au pair is the affordability and flexibility it offers. Au pairs are typically young women from other countries who live with the host family for one year. They work up to 45 hours per week in exchange for the opportunity to live with an American family. You still have to pay them, but the cost is much lower than hiring a nanny, especially if you have two or more children (because you pay the same amount, regardless of the number of children you have). Some stay-at-home moms and moms who work part-time opt to have au pairs because it is nice to have a mommy’s helper or an extra pair of hands.
Of course, there are some pretty big compromises. You have to open your home to a stranger you don’t know, sometimes you get a great au pair, sometimes you don’t. The term of the contract is for one year, so be prepared to repeat the process of having a new person come into your home every year.
Not loving any of the above options? Here are some creative and affordable child care solutions that you can consider:
- Part-time preschool and part-time grandparents/relatives
- Nanny share with friends or family (as discussed above)
- Hire a nanny with their own child/children (as discussed above)
- Either you or your spouse can work part-time (this is what we have done)
- Stagger your working hours with your spouse’s working hours
- Swap child care duties like after school pick-up and care with other moms
- Consider staying at home if you can afford it. Consider what you and your spouse make after taxes and see if it makes financial sense. Many people with more than one child find that after factoring in the taxes and extra child care expenses, the bulk of your second income is just going to pay for child care – you’re basically just working to earn money to give to someone else to take care of your kids. Of course, money isn’t everything and you have to consider your professional aspirations, emotional needs, and personal satisfaction.
I hope that this was helpful in getting you started in your child care search. Do your homework, ask lots of questions, and use your gut to help you narrow down your choices. Feel free to ask me questions in the comment section below and I’ll be happy to answer them. Please share this with other parents if you found it to be helpful.
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