On Choosing Childcare…

Being that I have a young child, I tend to hang with other mom’s of young children (and by “hang with” I mean refresh my facebook a million times a day waiting for new posts in the secret mom’s groups I am apart of! SPECIAL SHOUT OUT TO MY BLUE HOMIES!)    Yes, it is pathetic, but true, I have very few friends these days.  The single ones are all busy having fun and slaying the corporate giant, the older ones have older kids and are busy homeschooling or being PTA goddesses, and the new moms are just as frazzled as I am, stuck on a couch with a nursing baby and cannot commit to anything!  Anyways, where was I?  Oh! Yes, my computer friends.  So, lately, there are a lot of mamas looking for recommendations on childcare.  They often ask other women what local daycares or nannies they like best and go from there.  While I think this is a good starting point, I would say it is not THE best way to find your childcare.  Why?  Because those parents are probably just as much in the dark on what goes on at their kid’s daycare as you are.

I am no expert on childcare, I was never placed in daycare.  My mama homeschooled my sisters and my experience with being cared for in a childcare situation was in Sunday School and Kid’s Klub at church growing up.  My knowledge comes from having worked in childcare.  I don’t claim to have all the answers or the BEST advice, but I have spent my working years babysitting, working in elementary aged school camps and after school care, 3 preschools, and my last outside the home job as a nanny, so I have a little bit of the inside scoop.   Now, being a mom, I kind of get the parenting side of things, as well as the worker side of things.

I must preface this with the following:  If you can cut down to 1 income or even 1.5 incomes, ANY POSSIBLE WAY, just do it.  Get a financial adviser to help you break down the money in your household, learn to live on the bare minimum, and stay home with your kiddo.  No one is better equipped to care for your little one than you.  Maybe you don’t know much about CHILDREN, but I can tell you right now you know more about YOUR child than someone who took 4 child development classes at community college.

Okay, some tips, in no particular order, on choosing childcare:

1. If you can find a family member to watch them, do that instead! Offer to pay 50-75% of what the day care charges. Grandma, an aunt, cousin, niece, or sibling is going to be one of your best options.  Your child will probably feel safer, and you may feel more at ease (unless everyone you are related to is a crazy, then, not so much.)

2. If you have a friend who is a SAHM (Stay at home mom), ask if she’d consider watching your lovey.  Offer to pay 50-75% of daycare fees and bring her brownies.  (I say this, because if I was watching your kid, I’d want me some free brownies sometimes.  Mmmm.  Fat moment over.)  She will most likely be caring for her own children, so what is one more to add to the mix?  Easy peasy.  You can rest assured that your child will probably get similar care in her home as you would offer to her kids if they were in your home.  As with the other options, your lovey will be able to stay on their own schedule, rather than on the center’s schedule.  Sweet deal!  And you would be helping give that mama a small income so she can continue to stay home! (and happy, if the brownies are still involved.  SHOUT OUT TO my online mama friend B.G. and those world famous brownies! Come to Cali and make me some!)

3.  Get a nanny or a sitter.  My last job outside the home was nannying for the best family on the planet.  NO, REALLY.  I cannot think of a time when I have enjoyed a job more.  I fell in love with my little charge, and adored the parents.  They made me feel so special and though it was still a professional relationship, I was able to integrate into the home and the little one was able to feel safe and secure in his domain.  Is it more expensive?  Yes.  But if you are working full time, your care provider will be spending more waking hours with your child than you will during the week.  How are you going to say your child doesn’t deserve second best care?  (I say second best, because you are the best!)

4. Look into home daycare for kiddos under 2.  I will say it again and again.  Yes, you have to really do your research for an in-home because they won’t be as heavily regulated as a center, but your child will feel better about the home-y feel and environment and you probably will too.  More than likely, your child can stay on his/her schedule better than in a center.  Also, you will have less people in and out of your little one’s day, and therefore, in theory, more stability.

5. If you are putting the wee one in a center, look up state ratios for teacher to in. In Cali its 4 to 1. When I worked at Kiddie Korral, many of the rooms were out of state ratio and had way too many kids for each teacher.  You try to take care of 28 kids all the same age with one other teacher!  Not so great for your little one. Talk to the director or report them to the state if they are out of ratio.

6. Stop in unannounced occasionally to see how things are running.  When they are infants, go into the room and pay the teachers and your little one a visit.  (I don’t recommend dropping into the ROOM past infancy, as it often ruins your kid’s day to see you and think they are going home, only to have a second meltdown goodbye for the day when you have to go back to work.)

7. Be nice to the teachers. They make very little money (probably a quarter of what you are making), work long hours, and have many screaming children to attend to. If you treat them badly, 9 times out of 10 they WILL treat your child differently… not in a good way.  Not all teachers are this way, but some are.

8. Get to know them! Without being creepy, find out about their personal lives, try to be genuinely interested in them. If you are interested in them, they are interested in you, and therefore invest more in your child.  Know their likes and dislikes, know what things you have in common.  It’ll help them to bond with your family.

9. If your kid has a lousy teacher, unless they pose a danger to children in the room, don’t confront them or yell at them. Talk to the director calmly and try to schedule a meeting. If nothing is done, follow up! They work for you, and it is your child’s wellbeing in question.

10. Christmas, birthday, teacher appreciation week… spoil them a little. They probably make barely above min wage to tend to tons of kids. Starbucks gift cards, gas cards, Target, etc. will always be much appreciated. Yes a drawing by your kid is sweet, but not as sweet as being able to use that target gift card to buy much needed toiletries they can’t afford or a coffee they rarely have the money to splurge on.  I loved getting sweet little homemade gifts from my kids, and kept all their drawings, but it was always much appreciated when parent’s sent a little something extra with it to help with life costs!

11. Ask questions. It’s your right to know what your kid is up to all day!

12. Don’t ask too many questions!  😉  They can’t always remember the consistency, smell, and flavor of your kids poop. (Not joking, I have been interviewed on BMs more times than I care to remember) And if they aren’t parents, those questions will peg you as a weirdo at the school.

13.  Be aware. If you wanna have an extended talk with the teacher, and kids are going crazy and lots of parents are dropping off and picking up, realize that an unfortunate side effect of daycare is that they have other kids that need attention other than yours. Make an appointment to talk with them! If the director tries to brush you off, it is because they are probably understaffed and cannot pull a teacher out of a room for a conference.  Oh well!  Push them, get your time with the teacher.  Once again, this is your child.

14.  Don’t be the stealth parent that drops off in a rush and picks up in a rush. You will be pegged as a parent who is too busy for their child and doesn’t care about him/her. Every now and then, it happens, but don’t make it a habit.  I have seen more kids than I care to remember dragged in and dragged out with nary a nod to the teachers or a hello for their child.  Always made me sad for that child.

15. It’s ok to cry! Don’t ever feel bad about crying. It shows them you care about your baby! I always cried with my moms who cried!  I remember one mom telling me how awful she felt dropping her 2 year old off, and that her husband made her work and she felt so guilty, she could barely live with herself.  I held her as she bawled and we both needed the tissue.  It showed me she was real, cared about her kid, and that she was comfortable enough with me to show her weak moments.

16.  Don’t judge teachers for stereotyping … they deal with some good moms, like you, but a ton more who are rude and have jaded them. Win them over, and you will have made a good investment for you and your family.

17.  Don’t assume that because they charge a lot and have kids of high profiled parents enrolled that they offer the best care.  Oh, the things I have seen go on behind closed doors at so-called “good” preschools.

18.  More than likely, your child will be kept safe in any care option.  More than likely, they aren’t going to be beaten or locked in a dark room.  But, the difference between just okay care and great care has to do with the amount of time the caregiver can invest in your child.  The more children under care, the less attention your child receives.

19.  No matter the care environment… Brownies are ALWAYS a good idea.

(Can you tell I am fiending for some chocolate?)

There is so much more I could say on this matter, but I’ll leave it at that for now.  Have any specific questions?  Though I am no expert, I am happy to help answer questions you may have.  Leave them in the comments or drop me an email.  Have more tips for other mamas?  Leave those in the comments!  I wish I had a giant house and 8 arms to hold babies, because I would watch lots of them and give them love and cuddles all day long!  (and you’d only occasionally have to throw me a brownie.)