Finding childcare for your little ones can be an incredibly overwhelming thing for new parents--especially if you are bracing yourself to go back to work for the first time.
There’s so much to think about just logistically: the research involved, phone calls to make, interviews to conduct, budgeting to figure out, and so on. And when you factor in all the emotions that come with it--The guilt! Oh, the guilt!--it can almost feel like too much to handle on top of everything else you already have to do everyday.
I've even had moms share frustration that dads always leave this big task to them to figure out. This is probably something I’ll expand on in another blog post (because I want to focus for now on the bullet points of things you need to know while searching). Suffice to say, there are ways you can divvy up this task so that it’s not all on mom’s shoulders, like dividing up the list of places to call or websites to search and, at the very least, brainstorming together a list of priorities for things to look for in a caregiver or caregiving facility (keeping in mind that some compromises may need to be made).
Whenever possible, it should also be the both of you that are touring facilities or meeting with prospective caregivers. But if that isn’t realistic for you and your partner, then agreeing on the things to look for ahead of time and sitting down together afterward to review how those meetings went can make all the difference. Remember, you are team and you should be on the same page doing this together in ways that work for you both.
But first, let’s tackle that guilt for a moment.
The guilt is often one of the biggest challenges for many moms. And it doesn’t seem to matter too much what choice you make--you can feel guilty for leaving your baby if you decide to go back to work or for not contributing financially if you decide to stay home. You can feel guilty for not wanting to go back to work or because you’re so happy get back to your career goals and get some adult time. Please give yourself permission to feel it, then let yourself off the hook for it.
It can be so hard to let someone else care for the baby. But we really do need to take time for ourselves, whether it’s for work or simply for some self-care time. Especially in the early days we give so much to our little babies that it can be very hard on us because we are always giving and not getting much back.
So, I really think that we start this transition as soon as possible, even in the first month of motherhood if we can. And, no, I don’t mean that we should be expected to hire full-time daycare four weeks in. I mean starting with teeny tiny baby steps (no pun intended) to get small breaks when we can.
The first start is letting our partners spend more one-on-one time with the baby. It can even be for short burst of time in the beginning. Maybe you take a bath or extra long shower. You can go for a walk or even a trip to the grocery store by yourself.
Or, maybe you have a relative or friend that can come spend some time with the baby to start practicing this separation and giving you time to start giving your attention to other things outside of motherhood. This doesn’t make you selfish or a bad mom to let someone else help more. This gives your brain and body a break, and time to rejuvenate.
Then, once you are ready for childcare assistance, you can build up to it separating for longer intervals.
So, start small. You can handle that, right?
Now, STEP 1: let’s deal with actually finding childcare.
There are some overarching things to keep in mind during this process:
Do take your time to pick the right provider, so that your children are in the best hands and you feel comfortable.
Develop a relationship with your child care provider.
Have them come over for a period of time why you are home and watch your child while you do household tasks.
You may even need to train the trusted individual on certain things in order to feel safe leaving your child with them, so factor that extra time into your plan.
With that in mind, the first thing you need to do is decide what kind of care you are looking for. There are many different types of childcare out there, so you’ll want to give some thought to the pros and cons to each and decide what your preferences are.
Your options might include:
A friend or family member
A part-time babysitter (often a high-school or college student, possibly with experience or certifications)
A full-time nanny (often having years of experience and/or credentials and certifications)
A nanny-share with another family (a more affordable way to have a full-time nanny, in which you may have to factor in having at least one extra child present with yours, as well as driving time, if you have to take your child to the other family’s house)
An in-home nursery or daycare (usually has a smaller number of children to look after, but quality of care can vary)
A daycare facility or institution (such as through the YWCA or something comparable. Their care will be more standardized and systematic, so quality is more controlled, but you’ll need to research their philosophies to see if they are aligned with yours as well as their schedules).
You’ll also want to think about costs, of course.
I would argue that quality care is worth spending the money--they are being entrusted to help you raise your children and keep them safe, after all. However, I do understand that if we don’t have X amount of dollars, we simply don’t have it.
Still, aside from figuring out what your budget will allow, there are some other things you can do:
If you prefer a nanny or babysitter, you can always ask if a childcare share with another family is an option. This is often a win-win, as the caregiver can provide you with a reduced rate, but she still makes more money because she’ll be caring for multiple children at once.
If you’re looking at a daycare, you can ask about available scholarships or active-duty military or veteran discounts.
You can also contact your local health and human services or education departments to find out if there is financial assistance available.
It may even be worth talking to your employer about childcare options available as part of your benefits package and/or whether bringing your baby/child to work or working from home is ever an option for you.
Next, STEP 2: You’ll want to figure out your criteria for your search.
This is going to be specific to every family, so you’ll want to sit down with your partner to discuss your priorities and deal-breakers. Here are some basic things to consider. (You might want to print this post out and add your own questions or bullet points to these lists.)
Qualities of a good childcare provider:
____ number of years of experience (what you determine is important, but be realistic)
Know what to do in an emergency - CPR trained, choking response, etc
Qualities to avoid in a childcare worker:
Tired when they arrive
Seem to be not happy to be there
Cancel at last moment
Overreact to little things
On their cell phone
Invite friends over
Meet their own friends while on outings
Knows everything and cannot take feedback
Too hands-off if your child needs cuddles or too physical if your child is uncomfortable with huggers
Questions to ask a potential child care provider:
What hours are you available?
Are they flexible if you are running late?
3- 5 references of previous childcare experience.
Age level they are comfortable watching.
What activities do you like to do with the children (have them describe a typical day watching other children to get a sense of how they interact, what they are doing i.e. if they say they go to the park, ask what do they do at the park? Do they push the child in the swing, do they make up games to play or make believe. You want to get a sense of their interactions.)
Are they available to help with household chores during nap times? What things would you want them to do? Show them your list.
How would you handle a fussy child?
What happens if my child falls down/get hurt and won’t stop crying/screaming?
What is their approach or philosophy on discipline?
Are they CPR trained?
What will you do if my child won’t go down for a nap?
What will you do if my child won’t take a bottle/eat?
How would you respond to my child if they were not listening to you? Get a sense of their different reactions if it is something minor like they won’t put their books away or safety concern like they won’t stay on the sidewalk when walking to the park.
What would they do if there was a safety concern and you can’t get ahold of me? (You are looking for them to say that they hope there is a list of other people they can contact, like other parents, grandparents, friend, neighbor, etc.)
If your child has any special needs, dietary restrictions, etc., are they comfortable with implementing those requests? And have they had experience with those types of needs before?
You might prefer to do your initial search via phone interview or on-site tours without your little one present first. Or you might prefer to do it all face-to-face with your littles present. That’s entirely up to you.
And, STEP 3: I recommend observing them spending time with your child at some point in your decision-making.
That might mean bringing your littles with you during your daycare tours or inviting a prospective nanny back for a playdate with your child while you’re present. It’s important to observe how they interact with your baby or child.
- Are they affectionate or somewhat cold with them?
- Do they literally get down on their level to make eye contact while speaking to them?
- Do they come on too strongly or are they a bit too shy or seem uncomfortable?
- How does your child react to them?
This is key information in making your final choice and your gut feeling will tell you a lot.
Now it’s your turn. Are you in the process of finding childcare now? Have you already found good childcare? What kinds of questions were helpful for you in your search? Share your thoughts in the comments!