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 that you’ll find an option that perfectly meets your family’s needs.

By starting to consider all 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 amount of flexibility that you want, what you can afford, whether you want full-time or part-time care, and 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 option; there’s just what’s the best choice 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 day care 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 the amount of time that Baby will need care for 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 day care provider. Is it okay if they smoke or have pets? What’s their philosophy on childcare? You’ll also definitely need to find someone who is licensed and whose home is baby-proofed and safe for children.
  • Daycare center: Daycare centers are a little less flexible than family daycare, which could be a pro or con, depending on what you prefer. 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.
  • 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 one caregiver. However, they’re also a little more isolated than they would be in a childcare center or family day care. 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 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, 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.
  • 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. 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 in the sort of way where 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.

What to know about the ‘quality-cost dilemma’

Many parents will choose a low-cost provider that doesn’t fully meet their needs or isn’t the quality they want, but is good enough and affordable. This decision to sacrifice quality for a lower price tag is called the ‘quality-cost dilemma’, and it happens a lot in the case of childcare.

It’s understandable that parents choose cheaper, lower-quality childcare. After all, childcare can be expensive, and it is very smart to try and reduce costs wherever possible. But consider the tradeoffs that come with paying less for a lower-quality provider. With a lower quality provider, you’re more likely to worry about your little one, and it will impact your productivity at work.

Think of childcare as an investment for you and your family. There is definitely a limit on what you can afford, and of course, you don’t want to go beyond your means, but if possible, consider cutting costs somewhere else and spending a little more to get the care you desire for your child.

Bottom line

There are many different ways to arrange childcare when you return to work. Long before you go out on maternity 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 will make it much easier for you to focus on recovering and adjusting to motherhood during your leave.

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