Daycare, and nannies, and au pairs, oh my! There are a myriad of childcare choices available to families today, but figuring out which option is best is no easy task.
Parents of young children have a particularly difficult job, because care providers for children under two are not as prevalent as those for older children. Because babies have more needs than older children, they require a higher level of care. That translates to higher costs for care centers and parents.
Deciding on the right care setting for your little one is a big decision, requiring careful thought, research and planning. Before you decide which option is best for you, consider the following factors.
Parents know that childcare will be expensive, but few are prepared for the shock of the actual dollar amount – even for those seeking part-time care. Looking at the total cost of childcare per month can be scary. But stay calm. This is an important investment, so re-examine your family finances before making any decisions.
Determine a monthly range that your family can afford. For example, if you figure you can spend around $800 per month, are you prepared to spend $900 if a certain month has an extra week? Will you be able to spring for incidentals such as field trips and fundraisers? Always give yourself a cushion for unexpected tuition changes, occasional nights out (and hiring a babysitter), or little odds and ends that arise.
While flexibility in the workplace is fairly common, especially for parents of young children, it isn’t yet an option everywhere. When you decide on a child care solution you also need to take into account your work schedule.
What will happen if your child gets sick? Are you able to leave work early or arrive late? Also consider schedule conflicts. Daycare centers may close on certain holidays when you have to work.
A babysitter or nanny may get sick at the last minute and not be able to make it. Create a realistic back-up plan that you, your family and your employer can live with so you aren’t scrambling to handle surprises that may pop up.
No one is going to care for your child in exactly the same way that you do. Even if you have family members or the most agreeable baby-sitter in the world, there are bound to be some differences. And that’s not a bad thing. Kids need to learn to adapt to different people’s personalities and preferences, while also expressing their own. Just make sure your expectations for behavior and meeting basic needs are consistent.
The reality is, expertise with young children is not easy to come by. Laws vary by state regarding teacher-student ratios for children under two; as a result, many daycares don’t accept infants. When you find a person or center that feels right, ask about the experience of individuals who will interact with your child. What is their educational background? How long have they worked with kids of this age? Are they certified in infant First Aid/CPR? Parents need to weigh how important these things are to them, and determine their deal-breakers.
Most pediatricians will tell you that the average child gets between four and eight colds per year. This doesn’t seem so bad, but when you realize that most of them will happen between late fall and early spring, and that a “cold” can last up to two weeks, it may start to feel like your child is perpetually sick. As a result, you are constantly stressing, missing work, or scrambling for last minute care.
If your child is cared for in a setting with other children, chances are she’ll have a few unexpected visits to the doctor, or at best a very runny nose. While the general consensus is that the first year in a daycare-type setting is the worst for sicknesses, the ailments don’t end after that. If your child is particularly sensitive to seasonal illnesses, you may want to find a temporary one-on-one care solution, or review the sanitation procedures at the daycare.
If you have a nanny, find out upfront if she is comfortable caring for a sick child. You don’t want to find out on your way at the door that your baby-sitter doesn’t know how to take a temperature or is nervous about giving medicine.
This is probably the single most important aspect when choosing childcare for young children. Because your child will be spending a lot of time with his caregiver, he’ll be learning a lot of behavioral and problem solving cues. You need to figure out how the caregiver’s philosophy on learning, setting limits, and maintaining schedules, matches up with your own.
This can be sticky regardless of what type of care you have. Make a point to observe your child in the setting for an hour or so before committing. You can also ask his teacher or babysitter how they handle certain situations like tantrums and conflicts. The conversation may be awkward, but at least you’ll know if you are on the same page.
Finding quality care is possible if parents do their homework. Take a good long look at each of these areas before making a commitment. But don’t stop there. Revisit these topics periodically to make sure your child care solution is meeting your child’s needs and making sense for your family.
Good help isn’t hard to find (if you know where to look)
These are just a few ideas from parents who’ve been there (and found what they were looking for)
– Drive around your town and look for signs for preschools or daycares (they’re the type of places you may not notice until you need one)
– Talk to people at work or even the local library; if you live in a small town, word of mouth is often your best bet
– Check out online sites like Care.com, craigslist, or even your local newspaper
– Visit coffee shops or bookstores, anywhere with a message board; baby-sitters often place business cards or fliers here
– Call the local public school. Often principals, teachers or office staff will know of a local care center or parent looking for part time work
– Hang up fliers at nearby colleges, and include your contact information. If you can, locate the building where education or early childhood classes are held so you can find students interested in working with little ones
Pros & Cons
The Breakdown: pros and cons of some popular childcare solutions
Child care center/daycare:
What it looks like – Your child attends a group child care setting with other children of a similar age
PRO – Child care centers have strict regulations set forth by most states, so the staff is usually certified in First Aid/CPR, and the child-caregiver ratio is low. Many centers also require their caregivers to complete an early childhood certification program, so they are trained in working with young children.
CONS – Your child will probably contract more than her fair share of viruses, especially her first year. Because there are several children per adult, your child may have to adjust to a group schedule of feeding and napping that may differ from the one at home.
Nanny or babysitter:
What it looks like – Your child receives care from an individual in your home
PRO – Your child has the undivided attention of a caregiver in a safe, familiar place. It also makes maintaining a feeding and napping schedule easy.
CONS – Lack of socialization. As your child gets older, you may want him to interact with other babies or toddlers, not just adults, to learn about sharing, taking turns, etc.
What it looks like – A grandparent, aunt or uncle, or other family member cares for your child in your home or theirs
PRO – Family members have a personal relationship with your child, so it’s probably the closest thing to having you there.
CONS – If your family member doesn’t agree with your way of doing things, they may do what worked for their kids. They may feel more comfortable doing their own thing without consulting you.
What it looks like – Au pairs are typically young female nannies who live in your home and work up to forty hours per week caring for your children
PRO – Because most au pairs come to America from another country, they introduce new cultural perspectives and ideas to your children. If you go through an organization like Au Pair in America or Interexchange, the candidates are pre-screened. Often the overall cost is less per hour than traditional babysitters or nannies.
CONS – Having someone enter your home (and your lives) for a year is a big commitment. You need to make sure you and your family are prepared for this. Most au pairs commit up to one year, so you’ll have to repeat the process again next year.
What it looks like – A combination of any of the options listed above
PRO – You can customize care to meet your needs, and possibly save money. Your child gets to experience different settings, and learns to socialize with a variety of people.
CONS – Change can be confusing for children, and if your hybrid schedule isn’t regimented, your child’s routines (eating, sleeping, etc.), may suffer.
Beth Fornauf is a freelance writer and mother of two.