Updated July 2018
In the world of modern parenting, child care is a big hairy monster.
The exhaustive search is on to find the right person (or place) to care for your child(ren), so you can return to work, enjoy an overdue date night, or run a few errands while attempting to reclaim your sanity (who knew going to Target alone was such a luxury?).
For those of you with a back-to-work date looming on the horizon, you know this is something you’ll have to deal with sooner or later. If you’re like me, figuring out child care ranks up there with refinancing your house: you know it’s SUPER important, but you don’t want to deal with it. Great! That makes two of us.
Finding child care is a relatively new stressor for the human species. Before the 1900s, this problem basically didn’t exist. For starters, most women didn’t work outside the home. Second, we were surrounded by family – aunts, grandmas, and cousins, who were ready, willing and able to swoop in to care for the youngest members of the family clan. Nobody hired a nanny unless you were royalty. Diapers were changed, mouths were fed, and no one worried about too much screen time or immersing their infant in Mandarin.
Our modern childcare worries seem a bit ridiculous, no?
Not to mention the absurdity of the producing babies and working. Think about it: we produce offspring (no easy task!), lactate to feed said offspring, pump milk for offspring — all while going back to work full-time, probably with little paid time off.
Everyone, let’s just admit it: the maternity situation in America is absurd (there is no better word for it). So whenever you go crazy thinking something is wrong with YOU (why can’t I swing this? etc.), just remember: the problem is not you. Everyone else is going crazy too.
I feel better having said that. Honesty is good.
Modern life brings with it a set of unnatural needs, such as outsourcing the care of your precious offspring to a stranger (or group of strangers). Add to that the enormous cost of child care and things can get super stressful (living on a commune doesn’t sound so bad, aye?). For parents with infants and toddlers, child care is often the biggest expense after housing. In America, working families spend about 10-11% of their income on child care, on average, with a fifth spending more than 25%. Unfortunately, the less you make, the more it hurts.
But don’t worry, hundreds of thousands of parents before you have tackled this beast so they can work to support their families, further their careers and still be a great (albeit tired) mom or dad.
There are pros and cons of every child care situation, including mom or dad deciding to stay at home. Remember this: it’s never perfect, and the grass is always greener. But worry not, it will work. And if your original plan doesn’t work out, you can always do something different. You might have to get creative, but you too can win at this crazy game.
Cost: The Big Picture
Remember that child care is most expensive in the early years, but usually gets cheaper as your child gets older and becomes less needy (unless you plan on sending them to an expensive private school). Thus, if you’re in sticker shock over infant care, it’s important to remember that it’s the single most expensive year of child care (2-12 months) — and that your costs should go down over time until that magical day when/(if) you enroll them in public kindergarten. Most parents will experience some cost savings even if enrolling later at a private elementary school, but again this varies greatly depending on the area and school.
If you’re going the public elementary route, most working parents’ only child care cost is that of an aftercare program, which tend to be very affordable. Thus, many working parents mentally “amortize” the cost of the early, expensive years of care into the long-term equation, which – if nothing else – makes it much more palatable. It’s an investment in your career. Yes, it is 🙂
That said, don’t feel pressured to go back to work sooner than what feels right (or at all, for that matter). Also, don’t feel like taking some time off in the short-term will impact your ability to get back into the workforce (if you take 15 years off, sure, but short-term, generally no). It irks me when I hear people tell new moms they shouldn’t take time off because they won’t be able to re-enter because they’ve “expired” in some way. That’s bull-jive.
No matter which type of child care you end up choosing, be sure to take advantage of the tax programs available to help reduce your effective costs. For example, many employers offer a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA), which is a pre-tax account used to pay for any type of child care, such as daycare/ preschool, summer day camp, and before or after school programs. In 2018, you can fund this account up to $5k per year and pay your childcare expenses from it. There’s also a dependent-care tax credit that can help if you don’t have an FSA at work. Talk to your CPA about your options.
Okay, enough of the pep-talk. Here are your basic options for “Under 5” child care in the US and the pros and cons of each.
- Daycare (or Preschool)
- Home Daycare
- Nanny Share
- Live-In Nanny
- Au Pair
- Family Member
- Combo Platter Care
- Staying at Home
Daycare or Preschool
A licensed day care offers the comfort of certified caregivers often trained in early childhood education.
Biggest perk: reliability. Outside of scheduled holidays, it’s always open, Monday through Friday. You don’t have to worry about a nanny getting sick or not showing up for other reasons. If you’ve ever had a babysitter who doesn’t show up during “her time of the moon,” you’ll appreciate this a lot! (Major exception to this, depending on your geography: snow days.)
I like the socialization factor and structured daily routines, which can include story time, singing, outside play, naps, meals and free play. Think of it as a “pre” preschool for a curious infant or toddler.
Another pro is that you don’t have to worry about a home caregiver’s bad habits, such as sticking your kid in front of the TV (I had to hide the remote for a week before finding a replacement caregiver.) Bonus: while your child makes friends at the Lego bin, you’ll meet local families that you might click with too (hello, babysitting swap!).
You’ve won the lottery if you’re lucky enough to work with a progressive company that provides a designated child care center right on campus (the holy grail!!). It’s super convenient for drop-off and nursing (instead of pumping), but with the benefits of certified caretakers and structured days.
Most daycares take infants, but the cost is higher because of the ratio of caretaker-to-infant. The typical toddler ratio is 1:7, while the infant ratio is 1:4. Again, the cost of child care is highest in the first year but gets a little cheaper as your kiddos get older (outside of expensive private schools and private colleges – can’t help you with that! LOL).
Getting your kid out the door and off to daycare will add a substantial amount of time and, quite possibly, stress to your mornings. This struggle is not as big of an issue if both parents (if you have this luxury) can help get everyone out the door (or take turns with drop offs and pickups). Over time, you’ll get to know other families in the immediate area that you trust picking up your kid if traffic is a beast of burden in your area.
Another major con: germs! Oh my god, the germs — especially in the winter months. There is lice, hand foot and mouth disease (coxsackie virus) and let’s not forget our favorite, the highly-contagious stomach flu (norovirus, rotavirus, etc.).
I will never forget showing up the week before Christmas break to pick up 2-year-old Lucie from preschool with one of the mandatory OUTBREAK warning signs on the door. The mom next standing next to me looked at me and said dryly, “Merry freaking Christmas!”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Hand foot and mouth, for example, is an illness that nearly EVERY day care/preschool kid will get in the course of their time there (usually only once, thankfully). It’s not the end of the world, but these are things you should know. The truth is that stay at home kids typically don’t get these illnesses as frequently.
Your child getting sick means you and your partner (and your other kids, if you have them) will probably get sick too. It goes with the territory; so save up those sick days, you’re going to need them! At daycare, runny noses are typically okay, but fevers, diarrhea, and vomiting are not allowed for 24 hours after said fever or vomiting. And sometimes your kid just feels so bad that you can’t, in good faith, send them to daycare that day. And of course, it’s always on the day you have an important meeting with the boss!
Specific (and very helpful!) strategies for this and other common problems facing working parents is addressed in Ally Downey’s awesome book Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood.
I highly recommend this book to any working parent, and before your baby comes (while you still have a few working brain cells) is a great time to read it.
Ally Downey, author of Here’s the Plan: “I recommend a minimum of three back-up sitters, though you should aim for six. Using an app like Sitter.me makes it really easy to track those sitters and be able to message them all simultaneously to see if they’re available. A lower-tech way to have that list at your fingertips is to store them in your phone with “sitter” in the last name field, so you can search and see your short list on one screen.”
The good news: as your children get older, they don’t get sick as much – yay! The difference in frequency of illness between age 3 and 4, for example, is significant.
Also, don’t forget that Vitamin D! It’s absolutely essential for every process in the human body and helps significantly in the battle to stay well. Unless you live near the equator, your whole family should be taking Vitamin D religiously (product recommendations here). I used to be very skeptical about the need for Vitamin D until I saw this presentation, please watch. <— Seriously, it might change your life.
Some child-care centers offer the benefit of serving meals and snacks. Yes, not dealing with packing a lunch and snack sounds awesome… unless they are serving meals that you aren’t very excited about (the craptastic America kid’s diet: hot dogs, juice, and animal crackers. Again? Really?!).
The structure of a day care center can also mean less flexibility. For example, most childcare centers will have specific nap time(s), so your child might need to adjust to their schedule. Another example: some child care centers will not use cloth diapers. Some have specific requirements for sending breast milk or formula and are less flexible about feeding times.
None of these are deal breakers, just FYIs. The bottom line is at daycare or preschool, you typically have to follow the set schedules for feeding, napping, etc.
The good news is that for one kid daycare is generally one of the cheaper options in the world of childcare. Like with everything else, the cost of daycare varies depending on where you live. It generally ranges from $800 to $1,800 per month for full day, full-time daycare.
This is when someone always chimes in and says, “oh goodness me! We only paid $350 a month for Brixton’s daycare”… then you come to find out that Brixton went to a church care program 3 days a week from 9-12am. Nine hours a week is very different from forty! Cost per hour, people.
Full-time care is expensive. It’s a lot of hours. Note that many daycares or preschools will offer sibling discounts up to 10% (whoop-tee-do).
All in all, daycares and preschools are a highly reliable, (sort of) affordable option for most families. The big downsides are getting your kid(s) to and from every day (and picking them up on time! gulp), the sick-factor, and the loss of flexibility for napping, feeding and such.
Approximately 25% of families choose this kind of care because they are reliable, certified, “always open,” structured and encourage socialization. (For some data on this, see the Census Bureau’s “Who’s Minding the Kids?”)
Read also: It Feels like a Second Mortgage — tips for keeping daycare costs down.
“Home” or “Family” Daycare
A home daycare is similar to a large child care center but takes place in someone’s home. Most home daycares were started by fellow parents, teachers-on-a-career-break (with their own kids) or former daycare caretakers who went out on their own.
Bringing your child to someone’s home can feel more intimate, warm and more like a family. Often, they are closer to your home and in an ideal world, in your neighborhood.
Big perk: home daycares are often more flexible with your requests.
Annette: I am “that mom,” a difficult (but I like to think nice) client. We used cloth diapers, had a specific diet to follow, and strict schedules with naps and food (with twins and all, it’s a must). Our daycare’s wonderful owner was accommodating to all our requests.
While they are generally more flexible with special requests, home daycares also provide structured activities, nap/quiet time, circle time, free play, and socialization. Pick a home daycare in your neighborhood, and you might make some new friends who live around the corner.
Some counties and municipalities require family daycares to be licensed, some do not (to check yours, click here). Common sense says the licensed daycare is a higher quality than an unlicensed one, but this isn’t always the case; we had a great experience with an unlicensed family-run daycare. Don’t hesitate to ask all the standard questions, including “why aren’t you licensed?” I went a step further and asked all the adults living in the house to fill out the background check with fingerprints and sent it in myself. Every state offers background checks (for a nominal fee). In some states, you can also search to see if anyone has filed a complaint against any given facility.
The sick factor here is no different from a larger facility, but with fewer children in the mix, there will be fewer germs going around (6 kids vs. 30 kids is a big difference in exposure). One other potential con: be on the lookout for bad TV behavior. Jerry Springer should not be blaring in the kitchen and cartoons during naptime are unacceptable. If you have a no-TV policy, make that clear. Karen pulled her son out of an affordable home day care for this reason.
Meg’s experience: When we switched to a family daycare, I was thrilled to be paying the same for full-time care as I was paying a nanny only two days a week (whaaat?). It was two blocks from my house, and I liked knowing she was close by, just in case of “the big one” (the earthquake that’s supposed to destroy us all). Yes, this proximity helped soothe many of my irrational fears, LOL. There were four other toddlers Lucie’s age, and she loved socializing and playing with other kids all day. While we loved our nanny, her English-speaking skills were minimal, so the communication between the two of them (and me!) was challenging. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked well enough for us at the time. The downside: our provider had two infants at the time who spent, in my opinion, an unreasonable amount of time in their swings. The toddlers definitely fared better because they were mobile (sad but true). For this reason, I would have never put my infant in her care.
Home daycares can be hard to find, especially the under-the-table establishments. The best places to find them are your local mom’s groups, community Facebook pages, neighbors, or Yelp. Search to see if there’s a referral agency nearby. Again, there is a w-i-d-e range in quality; some are places you wouldn’t want to send your pets and others are AAA-mazing. You have to do your homework to vet them.
Be sure to find out the child to caretaker ratio and the ages of the other children. Standard ratio maximums are 1:4 for infants, 1:7 for toddlers, and 1:10 for pre-schoolers. However, the most common scenario is one home that hosts 4 or 5 children and has 1 or 2 caregivers. Sometimes older kids arrive after school gets out. My toddler loved when his caretaker’s 8-year old daughter showed up to play.
Home daycares typically cost less than daycare centers because they don’t have nearly as much overhead. Again, you can use your care FSA for additional tax savings, but only if you are paying on the up and up. Your caregiver must be reporting their income for you to qualify (many do not).
Bottom line: Home daycares are another great option for families. They are generally cheaper than large-scale daycares and your child will be exposed to fewer germs. They can also be more flexible with your requests. On the downside, you are generally dealing with an individual person who isn’t being held to any standard of care. They usually have kids and drama of their own. Home daycare providers can also be sick or unavailable, though they usually have reliable backup plans for dealing with these situations.
The best family daycares are reliable, always open, have a warmer/homey feel, flexible but still structured, affordable and encourage socialization.
Here are some excellent resources for questions to ask a prospective home daycare provider:
- Building Blocks – On Site Visit Questions and Checklist
- Care.com – 7 Questions to ask when Touring a Daycare
As Hollywood taught us, a nanny is a magical someone who comes to you, cares for your kid(s), aaaannnd presses all your collared shirts. Sounds pretty amazing!
But seriously, nannies are pretty great. They can drive kids to play dates, classes, let the dog out, sign off on packages and sometimes do light housework. It’s important to define expectations with your nanny about duties outside of childcare during the interview process. Karen’s favorite nanny always took the kids on outdoor adventures for a change of scenery.
A huge pro with having a nanny is flexibility. Yes, your nanny will follow your schedule (need to stay late for a meeting?), feed your kids what you prescribe and use those awesome cloth diapers you paid so much money for. Early meetings can be made and rush hour traffic won’t send you over the edge because your daycare closes promptly at 6 pm (they usually charge you a fee for every minute you are late).
Another great perk for working parents is your nanny (generally) comes in even if your kid is sick (unless he is throwing up, in which case… no). And just maybe, your kid won’t be sick as often because she’s not exposed to dozens of other sniffling kids.
Another huge perk is the low-stress mornings; kissing your little one still-in-pj’s (or perhaps not even awake yet) and not having to hurry everyone out the door and face rush hour traffic with a crying baby in the backseat is HUGE. Bonus for not having to make lunches. Double bonus for leaving early enough to get in a Barre class before work.
Children often do best with routines and in a familiar environment. Having a nanny come to you *should* make for better meals and naps. A nanny is also ideal if you have errrr… control issues. After all, it’s your house, your rules, your food, your diapers, your nap times and your screen (or no tv) rules; you don’t have to compromise your standards for how you like things done. That said, be open and thankful for picking up some helpful parenting tricks from a trusted and seasoned nanny; it can be a great gift.
One big drawback with having a nanny is lack of structure and socialization, but with a little extra work on your part, you can set up play dates for your nanny and your friend’s kids. Heck, most nannies have a nanny posse with meet-ups at parks or library sing-a-longs.
Get really clear with yourself and your partner on your feelings about your nanny driving your kiddo around in her (or his) car. If this is a thing you want them to do, it’s your right to ask about driving experience, accidents, etc. For example, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a nanny-who-just-learned-to-drive-in-America driving my kids around.
From Fran Drescher to Mary Poppins, there is a wide range of nannies out there. For some, it’s their life’s work, and they’ll come packed with experience, patience and (if you’re lucky) some early childhood education training. Some nannies will want to bring along their kids for a lower price. College students can make fantastic nannies (especially for high-energy boys), but often move on after they graduate. My sister hired a spry neighborhood grandma who loved my nephew like her own. Yes, there are also some beloved “mannies” out there, which is popular in places like LA. Bottom line: people from many different walks of life can make a great nanny/manny.
Here are some of our favorite services for local nannies and sitters:
With these services, you pay a monthly fee to connect with prospective nannies and sitters in your area (you can always cancel once you’ve found who you’re looking for). If you live in a metropolitan area, there are usually many local services and agencies (sometime for-profit and sometimes not) to help connect you with childcare providers. The best way to find out about these is to ask other local moms. See also: Meeting other Moms.
Start with a phone screening, then an in-home interview/meet with the kids. You can always combine the two. You want to make sure your parenting philosophies and personality mesh with the applicant. Here’s a list of good questions to ask while you’re getting to know each other.
It’s also important to watch how your nanny interacts with your child. Does she get right down on the floor and start playing or is she more reserved (or just shy around adults)? Rely heavily on your gut feeling and previous references. If you’re open to a limited-English speaking nanny, communication might be challenging, but your child might pick up a second language (a perk!).
I had a friend who started out loving her nanny, then found out her nanny’s daughter was hitting her 6-month old baby. She found someone else immediately. On the other hand, we (Annette) had an AMAZING first nanny who left after graduating from college (to be a successful engineer, whateverrr, I’m not bitter). It may take a few tries, but a good nanny is worth the wait! Always, always ask for references from previous clients. If you see red flags, run (don’t walk) away.
Cost is, by far, the biggest con of using a nanny.
One kid to one nanny is (obviously) the most expensive situation. Again, the price varies widely depending on where you live, their experience, their schedule, and how many additional tasks are required. The hourly rate can range from $7 (Alabama) to $25 (NYC) per hour. However, for multiple kids, a nanny can be more cost effective than daycare. While the price of daycare often doubles for an additional kid, nannies usually charge a marginal amount more for an additional child. There comes the point where a nanny is actually cheaper than paying daycare x 2 (or more!). This is often the case with twins or higher order multiples.
When your nanny calls in sick (especially in the morning), you might have to stay home too. Not an option? Again, always keep several trusted backup sitters on your speed dial, especially if a family member or trusted SAHM friend can’t bail you out.
There’s also some added work with payroll and taxes when hiring a nanny. There’s no getting around this unless you pay them under the table. Furthermore, nannies who are non-citizens living here (yes, legally) are increasingly worried about their future under the current (ahem) administration. Yes, these are all matters you have to deal with when bringing on a domestic worker of any kind. At the end of the day, their problems become your problems.
Finally, some parents (especially first-timers) spend a lot of time and emotional energy spent wondering if their nanny is spending good quality time with their child. This is one of those things that goes with the territory.
Bottom line: a great nanny has many pros: they’re convenient, flexible, work in your home (a familiar environment!), keep your child’s schedule the same, and offer personalized care. Bonus: they might be able to help with child-related housework and let your dog out to pee.
A “nanny share” is when two (or more) families hire a nanny and share in her cost. If you know of a neighbor with a kid around the same age looking for child care, a nanny share is a fantastic option. The nanny can rotate houses or go to one designated house (the “host house”), but the family needing the longer hours will usually host. This hybrid option is the best of both worlds for many: it has all the benefits of a nanny for a reduced cost. Plus, your little one has a built-in buddy to make the day more fun.
Nanny shares are more popular in urban and quasi-urban areas because of logistics. Finding a “share-care partner” can be a task in and of itself; finding families close enough to be convenient with similar schedule needs and compatible parenting philosophies isn’t always easy. For example, first-time parents and veteran parents can have very different expectations and requirements and may drive each other crazy.
Typically, the two families split the cost of a double stroller, 2nd highchair, 2nd Pack ‘N Play, etc., though a seasoned “share-care nanny” might own many of these items already.
Share care has its challenges, namely coordinating logistics among three parties. The nanny must be vetted by both families, though usually one of the families already employs the nanny and goes out looking for a partner. A share-care nanny must have bundles of energy and be REALLY on top of her game. Many nannies love this opportunity because they can make more money in the same amount of time — and making more money makes everyone happy 🙂
Typically, a shared nanny costs about 30-35% less than a dedicated one (per child). Again, in San Francisco, we paid $17/hour for one-on-one nanny care and $22/hour for share care (2 toddlers). This brought our effective hourly rate from $17/hr to $11/hr, a HUGE savings. Mind you: this is in a high-cost area.
Check out this article to see if a Nanny Share is right for you.
So you and your partner are both doctors who take call, you have an irregular schedule or perhaps you need help around the clock with a special needs child. If you have a spare bedroom or guesthouse, a live-in nanny could be ideal for you.
Sure, having another person living in your house is going to be one h*ll of an awkward adjustment. Just be thankful it’s not your weird Aunt Debbie! Other good news: date nights are ba-aaaaack, and it’s time to try for baby #3… haha, kidding! (Seriously, don’t trip, LOL).
Defining how many hours of work is required is part of pay negotiation, as is time off, etc.
Similar to an au pair (but without the regulations), you provide housing and meals, in addition to a monthly paycheck. Salaries vary, but you can expect to (and should!) pay about the same hourly rate for a live-in nanny that you would for a live-out nanny. Costs are then offset by what you provide, including housing, car access, food, etc. Read more about the actual costs of a live-in nanny.
An au pair is a foreign exchange nanny who lives in your home. She’ll probably have a sense of adventure (and curiosity about America) and (hopefully) bring the beauty of her culture into your home.
The cost is usually per family, not per kid, so this can be an attractive option for families with lots of kids. An au pair provides all the benefits of a nanny with the comfort of belonging to a licensed service. Au pairs are trained in child care based on American customs, including feeding your kids mac and cheese for every single meal 😉 (kidding).
The au pair service will help pair you with a good match for your family. You interview the candidate (over skype, email, or phone) and then make your top selections. There are some au pairs that you want to adopt yourself, and there are some that take a nap while your kids are playing (true story). Most agencies have a grace period to make sure the match is a good one. I had one friend send an au pair back after a couple of weeks when it became evident she wasn’t a good fit (and couldn’t actually drive in America after all — oops!).
Depending on the layout of your house, a full-time roommate might get a little close for comfort. She’ll also probably be in her 20’s, so that comes with long-distance boyfriend drama (you’ll be hearing the sobbing on the phone). She might even try to seduce your husband (this happened to a friend — trust me, I wish I were kidding!). Yup, shit can get real with anyone you have in your house, but at the end of the day, you can’t beat the flexibility and cost-saving that an au pair brings to the table (trying so hard not to drop a sister-wife joke here). An au pair can have set hours during the week and watch your kids on a Saturday night too. They can also travel with your family (on your dime), which makes vacations ridiculously relaxing.
A unique benefit of hiring an au pair is your child’s exposure to other cultures and countries. It might spark a love of travel and curiosity about how other people live. My friend just took their family to visit their kids’ former nanny who lives in Morocco. I want that for my kids when they get older!
You’ll start the process by paying a matching fee (around $500). There are usually discounts for signing up that can help offset this cost. Au pairs cost around $2,000 per month for full-time care (ya heard me, even with 4 kids.)
If this price seems too good to be true, keep reading. Extra costs can include an (agency- required) weekly stipend, cell phone, car for transporting kids (and nights off) and a college class. You’ll probably notice that your monthly utility bill will go up too. Get a full understanding of the cost before you commit to an au pair.
Here’s a great site for au pair advice.
A Trusted Family Member (aka: Grandma)
Consider yourself fortunate if a family member/loved one has offered to watch your child, either full or part-time. This arrangement is much more “the way things should be,” I suppose. Because of the high cost of childcare, family care is the most common type of child care in America.
Cost savings aside (but seriously, it’s huge), if you have a family member you trust, it makes all the difference. After all, no one loves your kids like your mom, dad or sister; this can give you peace of mind that others only envy.
Drawbacks: my rules, my house… may not exactly fly in this situation. Also, look deep inside yourself and ask if your loved-one is up to the task of non-stop infant care or chasing around a toddler. The physical demands are real, especially for older grandparents. Is this person in good enough physical shape to handle the job? Bad knees, bad hips, bad backs, obesity, diabetes, too much Fox news watching — you name it. One woman reported her mother had fallen while walking downstairs with her child, which scared her enough to call off the deal (nobody was hurt and – in all fairness – this could happen to anyone (ahem, me. Twice. Just sayin’)).
The biggest downside is the guilt factor: many parents have some level of guilt using their parents for free childcare, especially if it’s not part of their family culture. Asking grandma to turn the TV off might be harder than you think. You will undoubtedly feel guilty or afraid you’re asking for too much. However, many working parents pay their parents to provide childcare. Some even live in their home, as is common in many Asian cultures.
All in all, a willing and able family member can make a wonderful caretaker assuming they are physically up for the job. Just remember that 40 hours a week is an awful lot of hours for this type of work at an older age. This can be mitigated by blending it with some backup care, like a part-time sitter. I also know many families with both sets of grandparents close by, so the 2 sets of grandparents share the burden (MTW and T/Th). If this is your situation, consider yourself sooooo lucky! These are the same assholes (LOL) who have never, ever paid for a babysitter in their entire lives (can you smell my jealousy?? It exudes from my pores).
If you work part-time or otherwise have flexibility in your schedule, you can do a little mixing and matching: the combo Pu-pu platter (pun intended). With many parents working at home or telecommuting these days, it opens up the door for some flexibility in your child care plan.
But DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT plan on working at home while taking care of your baby/kid(s) at the same time. This does not work and isn’t fair to anyone. Yes, you can pull it off for the first few months when your newborn sleeps around the clock, but only for a short while.
Ok, back to the Pu-pu platter… An example: my friend Heidi is a work-at-home-mom (WAHM), an interior designer. She does share-care three days a week, has a sitter one day a week, and does drop-in daycare 1 day a week (if needed). I’ve done lots of mixing and matching as well (Meg). When we were living in Florida, I did share-care with a friend 2 days per week, my in-laws watched Lucie 2 days a week, and I took Fridays off to do fun things.
I’ve known friends who started DIY (do-it-yourself) kid co-ops where neighborhood parents took turns babysitting and sharing a caretaker. This is definitely a money saver (either free, or cost of one sitter split 4 ways). This option might work best for part-time workers or folks who want their kids to socialize but can’t afford preschool. You need parents who are committed and who you trust with your kids. I know families that co-op date nights twice a month. Yes, a beautiful cocktail and a few free hours of uninterrupted mommy/daddy time can do wonders for your marriage.
Another option is to make use of drop-in daycare centers and MMO (Mother’s Morning Out), which are hosted at many churches, synagogues and other places of worship.
Point being: there are many different childcare choices out there. The option that is best for you now may change as your child gets older or your work situation shifts. Once your kid turns 2.5 or 3, preschool is another great option.
Staying at Home
If the daunting-ness (I just made that up) of finding child care makes you want to throw in the towel and stay at home, you’re not alone. Many career women, and yes, some men, decide to stay at home until their kids are in elementary school. Or forever, LOL. Yes, even those with costly Ivy League graduate degrees. One-in-three children today have a full-time, stay-at-home parent.
Remember, again: the grass is always greener, but I will say that staying at home is truly, truly, one of the hardest and least appreciated gigs out there. Some women are made to do this, while others (like me, Meg) just aren’t cut out for this job. This is harder still on parents who don’t have any family living nearby and feel like they can never get a break. It’s imperative for “orphans” to make friends with other orphans in your area so you can support each other. Crucial, in fact.
The “Mommy Track”
Can you afford to stay at home? Can you afford not to? One woman calculated all of her expenses and determined that she only netted about $4/hr by working in addition to her husband (so not worth it, girlfriend!). Check out “Should I go back to work?” – a roundup of the top 10 answers from my peeps to my Facebook poll.
Ask yourself this: does working make me happy? Does it make me a better mom – or – will it make me a sad, strung-out, stress-case-maniac? No judgment. Know thyself.
Me (Meg)? I was a Type A/high-stress working gal. I did a (very) poor job of balancing my career with… everything else in life. I didn’t want to be this person to my daughters. I DO miss it sometimes: wearing heels, after work happy hours, and ridiculous expense-account dinners. The Christmas parties and the camaraderie. As with most things in life and parenthood, there is no perfect solution. You just have to follow your gut. And sometimes? You just have to see what develops and let the universe guide the way.
Don’t be afraid to wait and see how you feel when the time comes. I have known even the most ambitious career women who have fallen to pieces over handing their babies over to a nanny; conversely, I have seen many a mom who was previously lukewarm about working do somersaults about getting back into the office. You get to eat lunch all by yourself and pee without having to make arrangements (you’ll appreciate this after the baby comes, trust me)!!!!!
Remember also that your feelings about this will probably change over time and nothing is set in stone. Although it’s hard to see it when you’re in it, the period of time that your kids are young (under 5) is only a blip on the timeline of your long-term career. Don’t get caught up in the vortex of thinking your career is over forever if you stay at home for a little while or conversely, remember that working during the early years is hard any way you slice it.
Having young kids is hard, you guys. That’s the bottom line.
At the end of the day, there are many child care options in this world, especially if you’re willing to be a little creative. While cost is (of course) a major factor, you also need to consider how the child care you’ve chosen will suit you, your child, your career, and your marriage.
Take comfort that whatever route you choose, your child WILL BE FINE. Also remember, you can always change your mind and do something different. If you’re not happy with daycare, you can hire a nanny. Or vice versa. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you get it right.
Good luck, dear parents. And Godspeed!
– Annette, Meg and Karen
What does child care cost around the U.S.? My poll here.
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