In this first article, I will discuss the various pros and cons of the childcare options out there. I've identified four general "types" of childcare you may consider and listed some pros and cons to each option.
1. Family Member(s)
Some parents are lucky enough to have family members who can help watch their child(ren) while they work. This may be a sibling, a grandparent, aunt, cousin, or a combination of people who take turns. Some parents will pay their family members for the childcare (for example, to help out a retired grandparent who could use a little extra cash). Often, though, childcare is offered by family members without expectation of payment, to assist the working parents in maintaining their household.
- First of all, it will cost considerably less than a daycare facility or paid nanny or babysitter (obviously). In families where finances are tight and paying for care would be impossible or impractical, this may be the only choice they have. It is often true that paying for care would wipe out one of the parent's whole paycheck.
- If it is a family member you love and trust and who your child loves, then you can feel secure knowing that your baby is well cared for while you are working.
- If your job involves non-traditional work hours (such as a job in retail or healthcare), a family member will likely be more flexible and more able to watch your child at odd times.
- A family member also means consistent care, that your child sees the same person every day and can develop a secure attachment to her/him.
- In addition, if your child is sick, your family member may still be able to care for him, whereas he or she might not be able to go to a daycare or preschool facility when sick.
- A family member may also be able to care for your child on holidays and other times when a facility or school might be closed but you still have to work.
- The IRS also does not require you to report employment taxes if you pay your parent or child as a domestic employee.
- If your child has any health or allergy issues, a family member can tend to those special needs in your own home, an environment which you have made safe for him or her.
- It can be a problem if your caregiver is doing something you don't like - for example, giving your child foods you don't want him to have, or letting him watch TV shows you'd prefer he not watch, or putting him in a car seat incorrectly - because it may be difficult to confront a family member who is doing you a favor with things you would like her/him to change. After all, you don't want seem ungrateful. And if you do say something, depending on the personality of your family member, you may risk them deciding they don't want to help you anymore.
- Aside from these interpersonal/relationship considerations, when you have only person available to watch your child, if that person becomes ill, wants to take a vacation, or is otherwise unavailable, you have to scramble to find a replacement.
- Also, if that person suddenly decides they don't want to watch your child(ren) anymore, you may be stuck without any other options.
- If your child or children are alone with the caregiver without much opportunity to socialize with other children, you may consider this a disadvantage as well.
- Plus, your child(ren) will only be exposed to activities and experiences that your caregiver can provide, which means less variety of arts and crafts or cooking or outdoor play or games or toys or whatever else is important to you.
2. Paid Nanny/Babysitter in Your Home
A great option for childcare is to hire a nanny or babysitter to come to your home when you are working to take care of your child(ren).
- Your children are taken care of in their comfortable home environment, with access to the foods and toys and other activities you want them to have in a place you feel safe.
- Also, this provides the flexibility you may need if, for example, you have older children in school who need to be home for any reason, so that you don't have to find alternative childcare for them.
- Your child(ren) will have the advantage of seeing the same person every day and forming a bond with that person.
- You can "keep an eye" on them by popping home, or, if you work from home, you can keep an ear out to see how everybody is doing.
- A nanny may also be able to work flexible hours if your job requires you to work outside of regular business hours.
- A nanny will likely be able to care for your child even if he is sick, whereas he or she might not be able to go to school or a daycare center if he has a fever or stomach issues.
- Some nannies will also do housework such as laundry, dishes, and cooking, which can be a massive help for busy parents.
- Hiring a nanny can be easier on the wallet as well if you have multiple children needing care, since you would typically pay a daycare facility tuition for each child, whereas you would pay your nanny a set rate for all children together. (You may need to pay more for multiple children than for one, but likely not as much as you would pay a daycare for that number of children.)
- In addition, if your child has any health or allergy issues, a nanny can tend to those special needs in your own home, an environment which you have made safe for him or her.
- You are trusting a somewhat unknown element/a relative stranger in your own home with your children. It is very important that you be comfortable with your choice and that you can trust the person you have hired.
- If your nanny decides she doesn't want to work for you anymore, you are stuck having to find alternatives quickly.
- If she is sick or needs a day off, you may not have any backup (unless you have arranged for some in advance).
- There are also tax implications to hiring a household employee, which you should be aware of. You must pay employment taxes and report her earnings to the IRS, and she must pay her own taxes on the income as well.
- And, similar to the above-mentioned "cons" to using a family member as your caregiver, if your child or children are alone with the caregiver without much opportunity to socialize with other children, you may consider this a disadvantage as well.
- Plus, your child(ren) will only be exposed to activities and experiences that your caregiver can provide, which means less variety of arts and crafts or cooking or outdoor play or games or toys.
One type of daycare facility is a "home daycare," where a small group of children is cared for by one or a few caregivers in the caregiver's private home. There may be anywhere from 4 to 12 children in the home at any given time. You pay, typically weekly, for each of your children who attends the daycare.
- At a daycare, your child will have the opportunity to interact with other children on a regular basis and learn how to conduct himself in an environment different from his own home.
- You don't need to worry about having a stranger in your home caring for your child.
- A home daycare facility should be licensed by the state, which means it needs to meet certain safety and structural requirements.
- A home daycare is often run by one or a small number of people who are the direct caregivers for your child and will love and care for them like their own children.
- They will likely have toys and activities for the children that you may not have at your home, and they will have a structure and schedule to the day, which is of great benefit to children.
- Home daycares are often open long hours (sometimes as much as 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or even later) and can be fairly flexible as to the days and hours that your child attends.
- Some offer school drop-off and pickup for your older children as well, and may be able to watch your school-aged children after school or on school holidays (this will vary from daycare to daycare, but it is of interest to many people who work long hours).
- Your child is in a private home, which is a controlled setting with a small number of people around and less in-and-out of adults and children.
- Daycare can be hit or miss in terms of quality. Many home daycares offer very high-quality care and you and your child will love the caregiver(s) and be thrilled with your arrangement. But others may be only adequate, in that your child is safe and fed, but possibly not stimulated or given as much love and interaction as you'd like.
- In a home daycare, there are often several children of different ages, so your six-month-old will be in the same room as three-year-olds, whose needs are different.
- It is a small group in a relatively small space, and if there are any personality conflicts or another child your child simply doesn't get along with, it can be a stressful environment.
- In the first year or so in a daycare setting, your child will probably catch every cold and stomach virus around, which may mean a large number of sick days for him or her and you. (The "pro" side of this is once your child's immune system has "toughened up" from repeat exposure to viruses and bacteria, she or he is less likely to be sick often as she or he gets older.)
- If your child has any health issues or allergies, it may be harder to have those special needs addressed in a home daycare setting where one person is caring for multiple children with varying needs.
- If the caregiver wants to take a vacation or is sick, the daycare may be closed for a day or week or even weeks at a time, necessitating your finding alternative care.
- If you work a late evening or early morning shift, the daycare will likely not be open at a time when you still require childcare.
- Price may also be an issue. You will typically need to pay for each child who attends the daycare, and you have to pay for your child's spot even if your child isn't at daycare that day or week.
There are also freestanding daycares, which are buildings dedicated to childcare and are not private homes.
- Your child is in an environment specifically designed for him or her. Daycares usually divide children into different rooms by age, so your child will be with other children in his or her peer group and will have a day structured according to his or her needs for sleep, food, and play.
- A daycare facility should be licensed by the state, which means it needs to meet certain safety and structural requirements.
- A daycare will have a structure and schedule to the day, which is very beneficial for children.
- They will have multiple staff members, so that even if one is sick or has some time off, there will be someone else around to care for the children, so you don't have to worry as much about an interruption in care.
- Most daycare facilities will have outdoor play areas with play structures and other outdoor equipment and toys. They will also have a variety of toys and educational tools and other activities which will be rotated and changed relatively often, so there is always something new to do.
- Your child may be exposed to many different types of activities, such as arts and crafts, music, language, dance, games, books, and opportunities to learn and develop fine and gross motor skills.
- Your child will be among many other children in a supervised and managed space to foster social growth and emotional awareness.
- Daycare centers are often open long hours (sometimes as much as 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or even later).
- Some offer school drop-off and pickup for your older children as well, and may offer special after school or school holiday care as well (this will vary from daycare to daycare).
- A big "con" to a daycare facility is cost. A high quality daycare can be prohibitively expensive for many families. If you have multiple children who need care, you will have to pay separate tuition for each child. (Some daycares offer a modest discount for multiple children, such as 5% or 10% off one tuition fee.)
- Daycares will have strict operating hours and may not tolerate your picking up your child late or allow her or him to attend at times she or he is not signed up for. (This is because staff need to go home, too, and they need to be able to plan to have the required number of staff members for the number of children who are there.)
- Many daycares will close for federal holidays and in-service days, meaning you may need to make alternative childcare arrangements for those days.
- You have to pay for your child's spot in the daycare even when he or she doesn't attend for a few days or weeks.
- Some daycares have a fairly high turnover of staff, which means your child may not get to bond with a single caregiver.
- A daycare with a large number of children will have adults in and out throughout the day, which may be a safety issue. Be sure your choice of daycare has strong security standards, such as requiring children to be signed in and out by a parent or guardian and doors that lock so that adults must be permitted entrance by a member of the daycare staff.
- And, as with the above "cons" regarding a home daycare, in the first year or so in a daycare setting, your child will probably catch every cold and stomach virus around, which may mean a large number of sick days for him or her and you. (The "pro" side of this is once your child's immune system has "toughened up" from repeat exposure to viruses and bacteria, she or he is less likely to be sick often as she or he gets older.)
- If your child has any health issues or allergies, it may be harder to have those special needs addressed in a daycare setting where there are multiple children with varying, and possibly contradictory, needs.
5. Other Creative Childcare Solutions
Some families come up with creative solutions to their childcare needs. Here are some other options you may consider:
- You may "trade off" care with a friend, where they watch your children along with theirs on days you need care, and you watch their children along with your own while they need care. This works well in families where one parent works part time or from home and doesn't need regular care or the structure of a daycare facility.
- Some families set up a "nanny share," wherein they go in together in hiring and paying for a nanny and share her time, so that she cares for some children on some days and other children on other days.
- There are preschools called "co-ops," where parents take turns volunteering in the classroom, which reduces the cost of the school considerably but also requires a large commitment of your time. This would not work well for a parent who works full-time.
- Shift work. Some parents take the drastic measure of working opposing shifts (one works during the day and the other at night) so that whichever parent is not working can be home with the child. This can be very stressful, as you cannot really sleep and take care of your child simultaneously (especially for the night-shift working parent), and the two parents rarely get a chance to spend time together. You may also find a variance of this wherein you work different days of the week or different daytime hours.
- Take your child to work. Some offices may allow you to bring your baby or small child to work with you. This is quite unusual, but depending on the type of work you do, you may be able to make an arrangement with your employer that will allow you to bring your child with you to work, at least on occasion, to help cut back on childcare costs.