Going back to work after having a child isn’t always an easy decision. The number one thing that makes your decision more complicated? Trying to find a childcare option that’s reliable, trustworthy, and doesn’t make you hyperventilate every time you remember that you entrusted your child with them for several hours of the day.
A lot of parents have concerns about leaving their child with a nanny, daycare, or even another family member. Just a sample of the questions that fly through parents’ minds: Will they be able to work with my child’s quirks? What if my child has special needs? Do their hours fit my schedule? Do their prices fit my budget? Will I miss my child too much? What if it doesn’t work out? Will my child be damaged forever by a bad childcare experience?
That’s a lot of questions to work through, so let’s get started.
3 major childcare options
When you’re heading back to work, you basically have three major categories of childcare options to choose from: in-home care, day care, or a family member.
1. In-home care (nanny)
Hiring a nanny comes with some huge advantages. For starters, you’re the boss, and you’re calling the shots. You can control, to some extent, what the nanny is doing with your child. You can also set your child’s schedule and ask for updates via text or apps like TinyBeans. And you can partner with your nanny to tag-team on your child’s developmental milestones, behavior and learning curves whenever you hit a road bump. Because let’s be honest, everyone hits road bumps.
Hiring a nanny can also feel a lot more intimate than your other options, which has both good and bad effects. On the positive side, you have a single person to communicate logistics with, and your child has a single attachment point and doesn’t have to compete for attention. At the same time, you will have someone who's not family in your home most of the day, every day, which can come with its own set of messes and wear and tear on your home.
Hiring a nanny comes with other issues. It’s expensive — you basically become a boss with a full-time employee, which includes means you're now responsible for the related taxes and accounting. Plus, you have to account for time off and sick days, which can be difficult to plan around if you don’t have a backup option.
If you want to reduce costs and develop your child's social skills at the same time, there's another option — a nanny share. In a typical nanny share, two or more families share one nanny, splitting her salary between them. And, if you were raised in a multi-child household yourself, it’s a good way to recreate the same experience for your little one, which is a nice alternative to daycare.
You also have the opportunity to tailor your nanny share situation to your child’s needs, so long as you consider the other child’s needs in the share as well. Lining up nap schedules, park trips and museum memberships are all part of the game and will make your little one’s week better — although it will also make your weekend scheduling a little tougher.
Ultimately, while you lose some of the benefits of a personal nanny — simplified logistics, one-on-one attention — you also save some cash while still maintaining some some control.
"Finding an ideal fit for a nanny share can be a tough process, since you have to interview both the family you’re sharing the nanny with and the nanny for an ideal fit," explains PolicyGenius’ Andrea Collins. "But, after 3 months of interviews and home visits we found a perfect fit and I couldn’t be happier to see my son playing with his new friend everyday when I leave for work. The most important aspect of our share for all parties involved is open communication — which serves us well for any minor or major issues as they arise."
2. Day care
Daycares have their own major benefits, primarily around building social skills and resources. Socialization is huge need for children, especially once they reach ages three or four, and day care can be a great way to build the social skills they need. Many also offer toys, games, and educational supplies and classes that help provide the building blocks for future success. On top of all this, daycares are state and city regulated (or should be, at least), and require that every work have a certain level of education and experience.
Depending on where you live, daycares can be prohibitively expensive. According to one of our PolicyGenius parents, Blayne Smith, "In NYC, you find a place you like, hope they have room, and be ready to hand over Ivy League tuition prices for it." Daycares are also businesses — they close at the end of the day, and if you’re frequently stuck in late meetings, that may not work for you. Your child may also struggle in a large group environment, or end up having problems with other children.
Like in-home care, there is a side-option to daycare — family daycare. Family day care usually is set-up in the home of the day care provider, providing a more familiar environment for children. Family day care also usually has less children than a traditional day care, but more children than a nanny share. There are also less workers than a traditional day care.
If you have family near by — grandparents, siblings, cousins — you may be able to drop your kid off with them. This may work out great if one of your siblings is a stay-at-home parent, and is willing to look after your child as well.
Note, however, that this has its own set of complications, and may lead to tensions within the family. Does your relative expect to be compensated for looking after your kid full-time? You’ll need to work that out with them. You may also get into arguments if you have different child-rearing techniques. Your relative is a not a nanny, and you do not employ them, which may lead to complications if you try to them how to raise children.
How to choose a childcare option
Choosing a childcare option isn’t easy — once you actually choose what category you’re comfortable with, you actually have to find a nanny or daycare that works for you and your child. And sometimes it doesn’t work out, which can be terrifying for new parents.
At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for your child, but you also need to think about your needs and finances. Do you have a set schedule or do you need flexibility? What is your child’s temperament? What can you afford, and how does that affect your retirement and college savings plans? There’s no right answer to these questions — what may be the best choice for your family may not be the best choice for your friends or relatives’ families.
#1 thing to watch out for when choosing a daycare
The number one thing you need to look for when choosing a daycare is their certification. All daycares need to be certified, and depending on where you live, there may be both state and city certification. In addition, all daycare workers need to have proper education, including continuing education credits. Research the certifications in your state and make sure that any daycare you’re looking at has everything that's legally required.
Questions to ask a nanny
There are a ton of questions you can ask your potential nanny — it’s a job interview, after all — and you’ll want to make sure you cover everything that’s important to you. Primarily, your goal should be to make sure that a nanny is a good fit for your family. This may mean asking questions about their familiarity with vegan diets or special needs concerns, like autism and ADHD.
You’ll also want to make sure they’re flexible, fit your budget, and trained in CPR. You should also get a feel for how committed they are to the job and if they plan to stay with you long-term.
Don’t be afraid of making the wrong choice
While you don’t want to make the wrong choice, sometimes no amount of vetting can help you from choosing the wrong child care option. And while that’s really scary to think about, you shouldn’t worry about it too much — just keep an eye on your child and make sure they’re adjusting well. If you have a nanny, you can install an internet connected camera to keep an eye on how they’re doing (it doesn't have to be hidden, by the way). If you choose a daycare, ask for daily reports from the workers who watch your child. And if your child isn’t adjusting, don’t be afraid to ask for changes or to take your child out of that situation. As long as you're vigilant, there will be no lasting psychological damage, and your child will be perfectly fine.
Image: Michiko Morgan