How to start thinking about childcare

Finding the right childcare for your family is one of the biggest parts of returning to work with confidence. The more time you give yourself to find childcare, the better the likelihood you’ll find an option that most closely meets your needs.

By starting to consider all of your options now, you’ll have a lot more available to you, meaning you can make the best choices for your family – and not last minute solutions you feel like you had to settle for.

A lot of people start thinking about childcare by listing out their childcare options and then thinking about the pros and cons of these different options. Some of the most important things to consider when thinking about childcare are:

  • the background and experience of the childcare provider
  • social and personal interaction
  • the amount of flexibility that you need
  • what you can afford
  • whether you want full-time or part-time care
  • the location of the caregiver or facilities

Your (potential) options

Here are the most common childcare options you might want to consider, along with some of the pros and cons of each option. Remember, there’s no universal best choice; there’s just what’s best for you and your family.

  • Family day care: This type of daycare is operated right out of the owner’s home. It’s a popular choice because it’s often less expensive and more flexible than other childcare centers. Family daycare may mix children of different age groups together, which can be a pro or con, depending on your preferences. When considering family daycare, you’ll want to consider all the typical factors, like years of experience, the amount of time that your baby will need care and how close you want the provider to be to your house and work. In addition, you’ll also want to think about what you want from a family daycare provider. Is it okay if they have their own children present or have pets? What’s their philosophy on childcare? You’ll also need to consider licensure and other safety concerns.
  • Daycare center: Daycare centers may be more or less flexible than family daycare. Some have rigid opening hours, while others allow dropping-in. Many centers operate on the school year calendar, meaning they close in the summer and on holidays, and popular centers are likely to have wait lists. You’ll definitely want to communicate with the center and visit to learn more about their childcare philosophy and practices. Childcare centers should have state licensure and be able to discuss staffing requirements and safety measures.
  • Nanny or au pair: In-home care options like a nanny or an au pair have some unique pros and cons. For starters, with in-home care, children get a lot of one-on-one attention from their caregiver. However, they may be more isolated than they would be in a childcare center or family daycare, although this can be a plus during sick season! In-home care from a nanny or au pair is definitely more flexible than center-based care, but it also requires a fairly intense interview process and pay negotiation with the caregiver; you may also need to consider if you want the caregiver to live in your home because some nannies and all au pairs live in the same house as their employers.
  • Nanny-sharing: A nanny share is when a single nanny works for two or more families. This flexible option reduces costs for each family and gives the children a little more socialization with children their own age or close to their own age. Children also get the close attention of a single nanny. Of course, the drawback to nanny-sharing is that it requires a lot of research, interviewing, and planning before parents find something that works for their family and also for the family that they’re sharing the nanny with.
  • Employer on-site care: You or your partner may have an employer that offers on-site care for children of employees. This option isn’t always cheaper than other kinds of daycare, but it cuts out the trip to the daycare center in mornings and evenings, and parents have the peace of mind knowing that their child is being cared for nearby. In some cases, breastfeeding parents can even stop by to nurse instead of taking a pumping break.
  • Family members who can provide care: Family members may offer to provide a certain amount of childcare when parents go back to work. The pros of this option are that it can be a little less expensive than other forms of childcare, parents don’t need to get to know the caregiver like they would a nanny or childcare center employee, and children get the chance to bond with a family member. There can be tremendous peace of mind knowing Baby is with a person who loves them. However, family members might have different values and opinions, and since they’re not employees, they might be less inclined to follow parents’ directions on these things. Family members also might not be able to engage children in the activities and opportunities for socializing that are an inherent part of other forms of childcare. The family element can also make it awkward for parents if they want to raise criticisms or provide feedback for the caregiver. These are all things to consider before accepting a family member’s generous offer!

Backup care

After all this work, you get to do it again! Finding great backup care can be harder, as this sort of care needs to be available last-minute. But, at some point, you’ll likely need to go with a backup plan for childcare. Baby might get sick, and you can’t send them off to be at daycare with other kids, or your in-home sitter might deal with car troubles – these things happen! If it happens to you, you’ll want to have considered your options ahead of time. This may mean considering local sitters and childcare apps or exploring your and your partner’s flexibility for time off or different working arrangements.

Getting creative with availability and budget

For many parents, ideal childcare isn’t accessible or affordable. Many people get creative to maximize their childcare hopes and their budgets. This may take more legwork and planning, but it can pay off all around.

  • Investigate workplace childcare savings accounts that allow pre-tax contributions
  • Apply for part-time enrollment in your favorite location, work from home, rely on family, or hire a local sitter on off days
  • Nanny share
  • Ask at childcare centers about scholarships and other state-funded opportunities (you’d be surprised who qualifies!)
  • Waitlist your child as early as possible at desired locations – some even allow this prior to giving birth

Bottom line

There are many different ways to arrange childcare when you return to work. Long before you go out on leave, it’s important to start thinking about what’s right for you and your family. Having a plan in place before your baby is born will help you feel more confident about your return and make it much easier for you to focus on recovering and adjusting to parenthood during your leave.

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