Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finding childcare that works for your family

It's a predicament that all working parents have to face at some point, whether your kids are tiny and you have to go back to work or your children are older and you're trying to figure out how to handle the hours after school: How do you manage child care?

Not every family can afford to have one parent stay at home, and it's rare that a blended family can get by on one income. In our case, our finances dictated that neither my husband nor I could put our careers on hold and still pay the mortgage. 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 had two more kids together and figured we'd manage with our wonky schedule for a few more years, until the littles were old enough for kindergarten, but in 2007 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 at the office, along with all of my vacation and sick time. Our 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?

Evaluating your childcare options can be difficult even when you have plenty of time to prepare. Can you afford to stay home for a few years? Should Mom stay home, or should Dad? What do you ask the directors of a daycare center? How about when you're interviewing a nanny? Can you share child care with someone in your neighborhood? Is a home-daycare situation the right fit for your child? Should you look for part-time or full-time care? (You can benefit from my research: Here are a few things I wish I'd known when I was looking.)

We combed through our finances and examined our options and ended up choosing a new branch of an established daycare and preschool that had opened up in our town.

Fast-forward nearly two years. The initial guilt I felt about having them 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 (that's another blog post). Is it easy to drop them off at care each day? Not always. But it was absolutely the right choice for our family.

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

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