Choosing childcare is one of the most difficult challenges parents face; it’s also one of the most personal ones. I find myself in conversation about childcare on a daily basis with other working moms. For many of us, we want the perfect “care cocktail” of strict, loving, educational, and fun. That’s a lot to ask of any provider. The perfect fit is very hard to find, and like with anything, sometimes it takes trial and error to really get it right. But these are our kids, so getting it right is imperative for their development.
Moms of all kinds carry mom guilt like a connected twin, but the guilt of not staying home with my children is one that used to weigh me down on a regular basis. One major factor regarding this feeling is depending on someone else to help raise my children. Don’t get me wrong, I welcomed daycare with my first two. I was so young, and I honestly loved the advice I’d get from my providers, but with my third child, I was in my thirties, I had done this twice before, and it was so hard to go back to work. Once I got back in the swing of things, I remembered why I loved my job, and returning to work was eased by the comfort of knowing I had a provider in line that was fantastic. With my first child, an obstacle I had to overcome was having no family in town to offer advice or guidance in our search for a caregiver. In the case of childcare, my husband and I trusted word of mouth and a one- time interview to determine who would shape our babies’ worlds with us. Tough stuff! I don’t carry this daycare mom guilt now. My children have their little communities where they are thriving, and it is because of the excellent care they’ve received. Throughout my time researching childcare, I’ve found that most options for care are either family member, an in-home, or a facility. All have pros and cons, and the choice is very personal.
Shout out to all of the grandparents, siblings, aunts, and uncles that take care of their family member’s children; you are angels among us. Daycare is traditionally a large expense for families, but no one would argue that it’s not worth it. You want to take care of the people taking care of your babies, but when a family member can take even a little of the weight off of working parents’ shoulders, they should be aware of the amazing gift they are giving. I have a friend at work whose parents retired just in time to take care of their grandkids on a full-time basis. My friend will often repeat how thankful she is for this support for numerous reasons. 1. It’s family 2. Sick days (on behalf of the child) don’t cause many hiccups for the working parent 3. Grandparents are legally required to love these kiddos unconditionally even if they are terribly difficult any particular day. While all of this sounds great, there are some drawbacks to having family provide daycare service. There can be guilt and worry regarding damaged relationships due to the stress this can have on both parties. People that I know explain that a solution for this type of stress is open and honest communication. If the parent has a concern, that is addressed as soon as possible. If the caretakers have an issue, that issue is also discussed. My acquaintance has reiterated the importance of open dialogue. Without communication, this type of care can be tough to balance. No matter what, every person I have talked to expresses their thankfulness for having family bear the brunt of care in their homes.
Ten years ago as a new mother, I was attracted to in-home care. I loved that the environment was small, that I could speak with one person regarding the needs of my child, and it was as close to grandma’s as I could get. Most of my colleagues took the same route. The benefits of this type of care are many. The state dictates how many children one person can watch, a licensed in-home daycare must meet certain standards to qualify as an acceptable place for children to attend, and they get the kind of one-to-one contact that I’d want them to have in my presence or absence. The problem I have had in the past (with a previous caregiver) and some of my friends have had with in-home is that there is only one provider, so bad days or a rare illness can sometimes derail a routine. Everyone has a bad day once in awhile, and when you’re the only adult surrounded by babies I have to think it can be so challenging to maintain sanity. I have no idea how these saints do it, but that is one of the only drawbacks I can find with my first son’s experience.
My initial in-home experience was wonderful for my first born. I am forever thankful for what I learned from my provider and what my son experienced there. But my second born came along, and the fit wasn’t right for him. Because we had no family, we relied on word-of-mouth, and absolutely hit the in-home jackpot our second time around. Not only is our current provider the most patient and loving human I have ever met in my life, but she runs a preschool program in her home! How, you ask? I wonder the same thing. I have recommended my current in-home provider to three other families, and each will concur that she has redefined love, discipline, and education for us. Not only does she have a routine that the kids can count on, but she has the most open discipline practice I’ve seen. We needed to move providers due to that very aspect. (I’ve already mentioned my spirited middle guy in past blog posts.) He needed a firm but loving environment. He found this at our current in-home immediately. Would you believe each time I went to pick him up, she had him waiting by the door, his hands folded, with a big ol’ smile on his face? Moments like those are proof that miracles do happen. My second born also excels in school and I can attribute it to the foundation she has provided. I sent him to preschool at 4, like I did with my oldest, and he missed her home so much. To this day, he wants to go in and hug her. My daughter is in her last two months at this home, and she and I are both going to have a very hard time leaving. Since my son missed the love and care he received in her home (once he left for preschool), I opted to keep my daughter in this environment until Kindergarten. She received a top-notch preschool education in a home surrounded by the love our provider gives.
In-homes like this feel like home, and parents are forever thankful for them. I’ve recently had a conversation with a friend whose toddler was essentially asked to leave her in-home for doing toddler things. Each time she went to go get him, she would receive a negative report about the noises he would make or the fact that “no” was difficult for him. Her days were filled with anxiety wondering whether or not he was behaving; whether or not he was receiving love, etc. She decided to leave and has since found a wonderful in-home that includes a preschool program, too. My friend commented that when she now goes to pick up her little guy, it is a huge relief that she actually hears someone say nice things about her two-year-old. These type of providers are wonderful, and the very reason many of us choose this route.
Larger facilities are also an option many working parents choose. There are benefits to these places for kids. There are many other children with whom they can play, there are multiple, trusted adults to turn to for needs, and the playgrounds are usually pretty epic. These can also be a bit pricier, but parents that choose this option agree with the rest of us that you want to take care of those taking care of your babies. I chose a center for my boys’ pre-school part of life. I’m glad I did. They enjoyed their time in the center. Besides price, sometimes a downfall can be turn-over, but if you trust your facility director to hire well, then it’s just a way for children to adapt to new people that show up in their lives. This is not a bad thing, and it can help them socially. That is a huge benefit to a facility. Some drawbacks that I’ve heard from parents would be the fear that his or her child is just a number. Or, that the parents don’t get to personally interview each staff member. We did not have this problem in our facility. The staff employed an excellent group of adults. My ten-year-old son still remembers the wonderful people that gave him a strong foundation for school, and when learning to use scissors, they provided a comforting smile when he cut a chunk of hair directly out of the center of his head. Sigh.
Before/After School Care
If your child has graduated into elementary school, finding before and after school care can still be stressful. Most schools start later and end earlier than parents’ work schedules, so an entirely new challenge presents itself. We were lucky. I have a friend who has a daughter exactly one year older, so through her, I learned just how to make sure my child was put into a before and after school program at his elementary school. I showed up to register him at 3 am, and waited outside with other parents who had camped overnight for the doors to open to welcome registrations at 8 am. Luckily, some other folks (one couple with triplets), were in the front of the line, camping outside to try to get three of the nine spots that were open in their neighborhood school. Talk about stress. If parents aren’t lucky enough to get into a program that stays at that child’s school, then the worry of someone else transporting their child comes into play. That opened a whole new set of fears for me, but sometimes it can be the only option.
When considering childcare options, there is no easy fix. Interviews are essential and word-of-mouth is extremely helpful. Most of the negative experiences that I have had or heard about occurred due to a lack of communication. I find being up front about what I needed from a provider made all of the difference. When I moved my second to our current provider due to our original not working out for him, I came right out and asked how she dealt with a strong willed child. Her answer told me that this was the right place, and it felt so good to have that open communication. There is no 100% perfect plan for all. I’ve said it before, and I will most likely say it again: it does take a village to raise children, and who you have in your own personal village is so important.