Just the other day, I was talking to a soon-to-be father! In the excitement of the new baby news we discussed the gender of the baby, the due date, and whether or not they were going to tell the baby’s name. Very basic, “so you are having a baby” conversation. And like most soon-to-be parents, they had figured out their doctor, birthing plan, and were now at the stage of figuring out childcare. Yes, in America, it seems that planning for childcare is something that many parents do well before the baby is born and often times well before the baby is even conceived!
Sadly, that is the state of affairs for American families. Before you have a baby you need to figure out who the heck is going to take care of that baby, likely for up to 50 hours a week! So what are the options for new parents? Good public schools? Yes but unfortunately, public kindergarten doesn’t start for about 5 more years, if you are lucky to live in one of the few states with a universal Pre-K program you may have only 4 years to worry about… So what are parents to do for the first 4 years?
Best Option:. Win the lottery, quit your job, and get a PhD in child development and an MD in pediatrics and stay at home with your baby.
If that doesn’t work out for you here are your alternatives to consider and evaluate in your area:
1. Center Based Care. An expert in child care Beth Meloy posted about the details of childcare on PlayLearnParent back in February of 2011. There are a lot of options and a lot of resources out there for helping you to pick a quality child care program. Child care programs can introduce your children to other kids, teach lessons about sharing, encourage social-emotional development, etc. But with very little ones be sure to ask what the teacher to infant ratio is. At under 1 year of age, love, comfort, attention, and interaction by a caring adult is crucial for healthy development, so make sure the center can offer lots of one-on-one time for your baby.
2. At Home Child Care. These programs can range dramatically so be sure to spend time to learn as much as possible about the specific family center that you are interested in. Generally at home child care is offered at someone’s home. Usually, the provider has fewer children in her care than a center based program but there is often a larger range of ages of children in her care. Many programs will have 1 infant, a couple toddlers, and a few preschool-aged children all in the same room for the day. Whereas center based program usually break kids into classrooms based on their age or developmentally ability. Most at home child care centers will only take 1 or 2 infants at a time whereas centers can have upwards of 15 infants. Again, ask about adult to child ratios and be aware that infants and toddlers need more one-on-one attention. At home child care centers are usually at someone’s home so it is important to ask about the facilities available. Are there separate rooms for sleeping? What type of outdoor area is there for playing? Remember that children of different ages have different needs. Ask how the program maintains safety for each of the different children (for example, infants and toddlers can easily fall down stairs where as 4 year olds are much more capable of maneuvering around these obstacles).
3. Nanny. If staying at home full-time with your baby is not an option for you, consider hiring a nanny to spend that time with your child. Your child will become attached and comfortable with a nanny (don’t worry your child will not love the nanny more than you!) and the nanny can offer many of the affordances that you would have if you stayed at home with your child. Some benefits include: more individual attention, interaction, and care as well as keeping your child in your home so they can sleep in their own crib and play with their own toys. Nanny’s of course can be quite expensive depending on where you live, between $15 and $25 an hour is not unheard of (that can cost more than $600 per week!).
4. Nanny Share. This is the new hot thing in many metropolitan areas and is exactly what it sounds like- families with babies will share a nanny. Rather than each family paying $600 a week for a nanny, two families get together, generally with children of similar ages, and hire a nanny to watch both kids. Prices vary for the nanny but this can often save families up to 50% on childcare costs. Nanny shares can offer benefits beyond just monetary ones. By sharing a nanny you can rotate who’s house the nanny comes to, which increases your child’s access to new toys, parks, and experiences. Of course sharing a nanny with another kid can also help your child develop their social emotional skills like sharing and patience like they would get in childcare but with a 1 adult to 2 kid ratio which provides lots of interaction and time for hugs and kisses!
5. Get Creative. Yes, babies do well when they have routines but that doesn’t mean you cannot be creative with your child care schedule. Some creative things I have recently heard about. A friend of mine did a different kind of nanny share, she only needed childcare for 2 days while her friend needed child care for 3 days, so they split the nanny that way and kept the nanny busy 5 days a week but still got one-on-one care for their babies. My mom nanny’s for twins in the middle of the day during the week, the mom goes into work early and comes home early, and the dad goes into work late and comes home late, to decrease the amount of child care time/costs. Another friend is a dentist and is going to opt to work Saturdays instead of a workday so she can be with the baby at home one day a week and the father can stay with the baby on Saturday. Share child care time with friends and family. Offer to watch a friend’s kids on Tuesday evenings when they have late meetings in exchange for them watching your kids monday mornings when you have to teach a class, etc. Bring on the family members! If you have family in the area (especially retired grandparents) see if they want to participate in child care responsibilities (but please do not drop this expectation on them!).
*REMEMBER* In all cases be sure to ask for multiple references! You want to ask a range of parents about their experiences leaving their children in this person’s or center’s care.
Day Care: Choosing a Good Center FamilyDoctor.org
Choosing a Day Care Provider ivillage
How to Hire a Baby Nanny
About Nanny Shares:
BabyCenter Nanny Shares
Nanny Network Nanny Share