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The Childcare Dilemma

Ah, childcare… the big hairy monster of parenting. 

Daycare? Nanny? Grandma and grandpa? For those of you going back to work (or even back to the good ol’ home office), choosing who will care for your baby once your leave comes to an end is one of the biggest, most difficult decisions you will have to make as a parent — so much so that it may be top of mind from the moment those two pink lines appear on the stick. 

“I’m pregnant!!” *frantically runs to the computer to go on care.com and start the search. 

Or, if you’re like me, you stall and dig your head in the sand because, well… who likes big hairy monsters? 

You see, just like maternity care and parental leave, infant and toddler childcare has a long way to go in our country — simply put: we hear a great deal about affordable childcare, here in the United States. But truly affordable, high-quality childcare is one of the most broken promises in modern American life. 

Compare this to Western Europe, where families have access to high quality early childhood education programs at approximately the same level of quality regardless of their socio-economic background. For free or very cheap. This is one of the great trade-offs of pure capitalism vs. countries with systems that are more socialized through taxation. 

According to the Center of American Progress, as many as half of U.S. families continuously struggle to find affordable, appropriate care for their little ones (this number has increased significantly since COVID hit the country, but more on that later); and in 2016, nearly 2 million parents had to either leave work, change jobs or turn down a job offer because of childcare obligations. Indeed, the childcare puzzle is a delicate balance between finding childcare that fits your family’s needs and being able to actually afford it, which, at the risk of sounding simplistic, is much easier said than done.  

For families with infants and toddlers, childcare is often the biggest expense after housing. In America, working families spend about 10-11% of their income on childcare, on average, with a fifth spending more than 25%. Unfortunately, the less you make, the more it hurts. 

America’s fragile childcare system, which was already a drain on parents, has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. Two third of parents have reported struggling with childcare during the crisis. The logistics of finding a safe childcare arrangement now goes beyond affordability and what fits your family’s needs. 

Now you have to think about risks… and risk mitigation, no matter what the setup.

There are questions we never had to consider before. Mainly, what’s the exposure risk of your childcare provider(s), especially if they are coming into your home. For nannies, those questions might be: is your nanny taking the subway to come to your house? If so, should you offer her to pay for her Uber rides to limit exposure? Does your nanny have children of her own who are going to school and thus at greater risk of contracting the virus? For daycare (or shared care), it’s even more complicated: are they following the CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19? How are they practicing social distancing? And let’s not forget about grandpa and grandpa. Will your mother or father not be able to babysit anymore because they are at risk? 

So. Many. Questions. Not. One. Right. Answer. 

It’s literally what feels right for your family. And that may change from one day to the next. 

Indeed, this is a lot of unknowns to zigzag through, which makes the childcare dilemma even harder to navigate. (And guess what… Once again, mothers are generally the ones feeling it the most… but that’s another discussion for another time).

A bit of good news: children between the ages of 1 and 9 are less likely to get very sick from the virus. But (of course there’s a but…) babies who are 12 months or younger have been more likely to be hospitalized than any other pediatric age group. Something to consider if you have an infant to care for at home. 

Seel also: Chances Are: Evaluating Re-entry Risk for Young Families

But hey, just like with anything else… misery loves company. As you can see from the responses we got on our Facebook post here, you are not alone in this. Many parents have had to change their childcare arrangements one way or another — whether it’s keeping little ones home instead of sending them to their grandparents’ after school, or dropping out of daycare to opt for a nanny instead. Or just staying home altogether.

In normal times, there are pros and cons to every childcare situation — and the same goes during the pandemic. In hope to help you sort things out, we’ve put this little childcare guide together. Just remember that, as you’re doing your research, it’s never perfect, and the grass is always greener. And if your original plan doesn’t work out, you can always do something different. 

Now, more than ever, it’s important to stay flexible and keep your options open. 

This article is LONG, but worth it. Afterward, you should come away with a really good sense of your options. 

Cost: The Big Picture

Remember that child care is most expensive in the early years but usually gets cheaper as your child gets older (unless you plan on sending them to private school). Just remember this: your costs should go down, hitting an all-time low when/(if) you enroll them in public kindergarten. 

Infants in daycare

If you’re going the public elementary route, most working parents’ only child care cost is that of an aftercare program. For that too, the cost varies, but there are definitely affordable options that are relayed by schools themselves. 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. There, I said it!

Nobody is going to say that they won’t hire you because you took a year off to be with your baby. And if they do, it’s probably not a company you’d want to work for anyway!

No matter which type of childcare 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 childcare, such as daycare/ preschool, summer day camp, and before or after school programs. In 2020, you can fund this account up to $5k per year (for married couples filing jointly, unmarried couples and single individuals, and $2,500 if you are married and filing separately) 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.

Daycare or Preschool

A licensed day care offers the comfort of certified caregivers often trained in early childhood education.

Pros

Reliability. 

Outside of scheduled holidays, it’s always open, Monday through Friday. You don’t have to worry about being stranded because your nanny is sick or not showing up for other reasons. 

During the pandemic, many daycare facilities have plans in place to cover for staff members who need to stay home if they or their family members are sick. Make sure to ask the daycares you are considering what their protocols are, in the event of a reported illness (confirmed covid case or otherwise). 

Socialization

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.

But… We’re in the midst of a pandemic, of course, there’s a but. 

To try and help prevent the spread of the virus within daycares, the CDC recommends implementing social distancing strategies, such as forming smaller class clusters, avoiding activities that may promote the mixing of children (such as playground times), and spacing out children during lunch and naptime — all of which is sure to impact the ways in which your child will be able to socialize with other kids. Some experts also recommend limiting toy sharing and keeping children socially distanced whenever feasible and appropriate. To avoid cross-exposure among classrooms, they will also likely limit movement from class to class. This was, reportedly, one of the ways in which YMCA centers managed to keep the spread on the low last spring.

Check all of the CDC’s social distancing guidelines here, and make sure to ask the daycares you are considering what their preventative measures are (brace yourself — we will be saying this a lot in this post). 

The good news is, many daycares that have outdoor spaces will make an effort to get children to socialize outside as much as possible — another way to lower the risks of transmission. Yay fresh air! 

Lunch and Snack

Some childcare 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 dog, juice, and animal crackers. Again? Really?). If you aren’t satisfied with the kinds of foods they serve children, you can always opt out of school-made lunch and bring your own. 

Some parents have reported that daycare centers stopped providing food when the pandemic hit. So be ready to add lunch boxing to your morning prep fun… *sarcastic thumbs up* Oh and make sure to label everything. Everything! [here’s our roundups for lunch boxes, sippy cups, and labels]

Ratio

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. 

To abide by the CDC recommendations and in an effort to curb covid risks, many childcare centers have decreased size classes. Unless you live in Florida, where nobody cares (kidding!) (sort of). 

Some progressive companies will provide a designated childcare center right on campus (the holy grail!!). If that’s you, congratulations! You’ve won the lottery of childcare. It’s super convenient for drop-off and nursing (instead of pumping), but with the benefits of certified caretakers and structured days.

Cons

Drop-Offs

Getting your kid out the door and off to daycare will add a substantial amount of time and, most likely, 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). 

During the pandemic, the process has gotten even more taxing as childcare centers are now staggering arrival and drop off times to avoid crowding and to adhere to social distancing recommendations. Daycares are even told to limit direct contact between parents and caregivers, which many parents have been mourning. 

Note also that: 

  • You will have to drop off your child(ren) outside of the facility, even on the very first day. This can be especially difficult and emotionally draining for parents of infants or for parents whose children have separation anxiety. 
  • Most daycare centers now conduct daily health checkups before children enter the premise. This includes taking their bodily temperatures. Alternatively, you may be asked to do it at home. If your little one has a temperature of 100.4 or higher, he will not be able to attend school. 

Check the CDC’s guidelines for daycare drop-off and pickup.

Germs! 

Are we even allowed to say this word, nowadays? 

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 standing next to me looked 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 (although maybe not as much now that daycares are implementing social distancing measures?). It’s not the end of the world, but these are things you should know. The reality is that stay at home kids typically don’t get these illnesses as frequently. If you choose to go the daycare route, you’ll just have to make peace with that fact — germs are part of the “daycare package deal” 

In COVID times, though, the “fear of germs” has reached new heights. 

Once upon a time, children were required to stay home only if they had a fever, diarrhea and vomiting (and would not be allowed back until 24 hours after said fever or vomiting. Runny noses were totally fair game. But now, even some snot may get you that dreaded phone call (or at least a couple of side eyes from other parents). 

Here are the symptoms that daycares will be on the lookout for: 

  • Cough and postnasal drip
  • Runny noses
  • Sore throat 
  • Muscle aches 
  • Difficult breathing 
  • A new loss of taste or smell
  • A fever at 100.4 or above. 

In an effort to keep the virus at bay, many daycares will ask you to monitor for symptoms daily and will require households to remain out of the center (aka at home) for at least 10 days, until symptoms subside or until you can prove that your little one (or anyone in the household) does not have covid (either by testing negative or via another diagnosis that rules out covid). All of this goes to say…save up those sick days, you’re going to need them! 

Pull quote: Presumed COVID until proven otherwise. 

Again, COVID-related protocols will likely vary from daycare to daycare, and it’s likely to be stricter in bigger childcare centers, where the overhead is greater, than in small local daycares. 

Here is what to look for in daycare centers: 

  • Preventative steps: 
    • What protocols, including social distancing, are they following to ward off COVID-19? 
    • Are they implementing frequent handwashing? 
    • What are their cleaning and disinfecting procedures? 
    • Are staff members required to wear masks? 
    • Are they requiring daily health checkups at the door? 
    • What is their sick/symptoms policy? 
    • How small/big are the classes? And are they allowing/limiting contact between different classrooms? 
  • Steps taken when someone in the facility (child or staff member) is symptomatic: 
    • Do they have an isolation room? 
    • Will they separate the person immediately? 
    • When will the person be allowed to come back? 
    • Will they require a negative covid test before return? 
  • Steps taken if there’s a confirmed covid case: 
    • Will they close the entire facility? If so, for how long? 
    • Will they only close the classroom in which the case was confirmed? 
    • When will the person who has a confirmed case of covid be allowed to come back? 

We know that the extra step of having to mitigate risks makes childcare hunting ever-more difficult and taxing, but it’s important to make sure that you are comfortable with the ways in which the daycare facility your child will go to. You can review and cross-reference CDC guidelines with daycares’ protocols.

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. Not to mention, vitamin D, vitamin C, along with zinc, could help reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus or the severity of symptoms. 

Less Flexibility

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.

Children Napping at Preschool

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.

Cost

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).

Summary

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 (especially during a pandemic), 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 childcare 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.

Many families have turned to neighbors and friends to create “pods” or “bubbles” or makeshift preschools in an effort to meet the social and developmental needs of their children while trying to lower their risks of contracting coronavirus. These “quaranteams” are essentially the covid edition of family daycares or preschools and are a good way to share the burden of childcare (and to get support) when bigger daycare or school settings doesn’t feel safe to you.

One Lucie’s List reader shared her experience in hosting a neighborhood preschool in her backyard: 

“We have five 4-5year olds and three 2 year olds. They go to “school” on stumps in our backyard and are basically doing forest school. We have hired two teachers (paying taxes and all) to run it. When it rains/is too hot, they use the finished space above my garage for class. A local (out of work) chef brings picnic lunch every day ($15/kid/week). All families and teachers agreed to the same strict Covid-prevention rules. It’s been a lot of work but has also saved my sanity.”

Pros

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 own 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.

Cons

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. 

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. One of our staff writers, Karen, pulled her son out of an affordable home daycare for this reason (endless soap operas!).

Home daycare kids on an outing

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 to 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 preschoolers. 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.

Cost

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).

Summary

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, in theory. 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:

Nanny

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.

Pros

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 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 playdates 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. Though once again, playdates will add another layer of exposure that you will need to take into consideration in your risk mitigation. 

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. This is something to consider during the pandemic: are you ok with adding an extra body into the mix, hence potential extra germs? At the same time, if your nanny is able to bring her kids, then she won’t have to send them to a daycare center and will thus be less exposed… Again, so. much. to. think. about! 

College students can make fantastic nannies (especially for high-energy boys), but often move on after they graduate — albeit, people in their late teens and early 20s are more likely to go out to bars and socialize with bigger groups of friends. 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.

How to find a nanny

On the hunt for a nanny or babysitter? 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 (sometimes 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. During covid, you may want to conduct interviews outside to avoid being in contact with too many strangers inside your home. 

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. As mentioned before, you also want to know that your quarantine values are a good match, too. For example, will you want her to wear a mask when she’s inside your house? If so, is she ok with that? If you aren’t requiring masks, is she ok with that too? 

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.

Cons

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.. 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 wondering if their nanny is spending good quality time with their child. This is one of those things that goes with the territory.

Cost

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.

Summary

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.

Nanny Share

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.

In corona times, this option is a pretty good compromise, too. Sure, you’re inevitably increase your family’s exposure, but it’s all about trade-offs, isn’t it? You’re little one gets a buddy while it’s still less exposure than in a daycare setting; plus, you get a built-in support system with the other family/families. It’s a win-win-win situation. Once again, make sure you can count on each other to be transparent and be honest about how many contacts you have outside of your childcare arrangement? Also, ask yourselves: would you be willing to “go all the way?” To commit? To go “exclusive?” If so, this may be a good way to lower your exposure and help with contact tracing.

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 (and covid) 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. 

Cost

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.

Live-in Nanny

So you and your partner are both doctors who take calls (thank you for being on the frontline), 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… and for corona time. 

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!), but… guess what: date nights are ba-aaaaack, and it’s time to try for baby #3… haha, kidding! (Seriously, don’t trip, LOL).

Another plus during the pandemic: as long as she follows best practices when outside of your home, a live-in nanny (or au pair) is the safest nanny option. Pretty ideal, especially if you have control issues… 

Defining how many hours of work is required is part of pay negotiation, as is time off, etc.

Cost

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.

Au Pair

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.  

Pro 

You can’t beat the flexibility and cost-saving that an au pair brings to the table. 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!

An au pair provides all the benefits of a nanny with the comfort of belonging to a licensed service and is 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!).

Cons

Depending on the layout of your house, a full-time roommate might get a little too close for comfort. She’ll also probably be in her 20s, 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. Pro tip: think twice about an au pair who is young and hot (kidding)… (not really). Cost

The cost is usually per family, not per kid, so this can be an attractive option for families with lots of kids. 

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/gas money 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 childcare 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.

In loving Memory ~ Colette Agresti, Karen’s mom

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 (and healthy) 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 time 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 they all 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).

Combination Platter

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.

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.

But DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT plan on working at home while taking care of your baby/kid(s) at the same time. Now that we’ve all experienced the “joys” of WFH while taking care of littles, we can all agree: it 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 (or when you’re forced to because schools are closed but the office isn’t), but only for a short while.

If your significant other is also home, consider splitting duties. And if you are still expected to work full-time, you may have to rethink your “office” hours and get some stuff done in the evening, once baby is sleeping. 

this photo is bullshit^^ No parents are this happy working and caring for young children all at the same time

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. Especially right now. 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.

During the pandemic, many people have had to make the difficult decision to slash work hours or quit their jobs entirely because of childcare and remote learning obligations or because they’re worried about exposure to the virus. Though both men and women have been affected, mothers have statistically been more likely to make the sacrifice. In September alone, about 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce, compared to 216,000 men, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some women are made to do this SAHM-thing, 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 (is anyone getting a break anymore??). 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 — although all of these are now things of the past. 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. But it gets so much easier with every passing year!

In Closing…

Even before the pandemic, the search for adequate childcare was not an easy feat. Making arrangements that feel right for your family and that you can afford was a shaky endeavor for many. With covid lurking, childcare has grown ever-more precious and, well, risky. 

Many parents who get childcare at all don’t have the opportunity to choose its form, but if you are in a position where you get to pick the kind of childcare your child will get (especially during covid), rest assured: things will work out. Whether you choose a local daycare provider or a family swap, it may not be what you envisioned, and it may not be ideal — but take comfort in knowing that, no matter the route, your child WILL BE FINE. 

Also, remember that you can always change your mind and make new arrangements. Now more than ever, don’t be afraid to experiment until you get it right. 

Good luck, dear parents. And Godspeed!

– Annette, Meg Karen and Charlene

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