Monday, January 7, 2008

Doing the childcare juggle

In this week's post over at The 36-Hour Day, I share how my husband and I deal with working fulltime jobs while taking care of five kids, two of whom are still too young for kindergarten. Obviously, it's a juggle.

Before I had kids, there was a point to be made by working fulltime: “Sure, I would like my kids to have a stay-at-home parent,” the much-younger, idealistic, child-free Lylah declared. “But who said I had to be the one to jettison my career? Why couldn’t my husband do it for a while?”

Then I actually had kids and, as it often happens, found that I didn’t know what I was talking about. My point was all well and good, but there was reality to contend with: My paycheck paid the mortgage. Not working wasn’t an option.

Our finances dictated that my husband couldn’t put his career on hold, either, so, for years one of us worked nights, the other worked days, and we traded off with the kids in the middle. It was tag-team parenting at its finest. And it was a stress fest.

My husband and I rarely saw each other. The kids had plenty of time with each of us, but very little time with both of us together. To make matters more difficult, my husband and I only had one day off in common, and that day was filled with each of us trying to "get stuff done."

We thought we'd suck it up and manage until the littles were old enough for kindergarten, but my husband got a job offer with daytime hours that was just too good to pass up. I had just returned from maternity leave and felt like I had already used up any good will I had banked, along with all of my vacation and sick time -- the big kids were older (and much more independent) by then, but I couldn't take time off while we figured out childcare for our youngest two kids. What were we going to do?

We looked into and decided against hiring a nanny -- our youngest daughter was 2 1/2 and technically too young for preschool, but after having emulated her older siblings all her life, she certainly was ready for a more social, more structured environment. We looked into a home-daycare situation, but couldn't find one that was both stimulating enough for L. and easygoing enough for our laid-back baby son, who was 5 1/2-months old at the time. That left daycare centers, and here, we lucked out; a brand-new branch of a well-established company had opened up just months ago, and just minutes down the road from our house.

Fast-forward 6 months... The initial guilt I felt about having my youngest kids in someone else's care was eclipsed only by the shock of the first monthly tuition bill, and both feelings were replaced by relief and amazement when I saw how they were thriving. They’re so active and social -- much more so than when I was home with them during maternity leave. It was absolutely the right choice for our family.

Working moms: What do you do about childcare? How did you decide what worked best for your family?

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