From the time we learn we’ll soon welcome that precious baby into the world, we parents must figure out how to care for them. So begins the extensive research on the many options for this sweet child who we hope to guide into the best person imaginable. One major decision I seem to need to revisit often is choosing where my children spend a significant portion of their time each day. Please allow my child care journey to explain why one size certainly does NOT fit all.
Step 1: Daycare Center
When my baby girl was born, I didn’t want to leave her, but I didn’t want to leave my career either. So I found the closest daycare center to my work and had a beautiful arrangement that allowed me to keep my job and spend every lunch hour with her. I loved watching how she interacted with other babies her age and even spoiled her with walks around McFerson Commons when the weather was nice. I trusted everyone responsible for her while I was away – especially her assigned caregiver Miss Melanie – and I knew I’d made the right decision. Except it cost a small fortune, and baby #2 was on the way.
Step 2: Home Daycare
Just before my little guy came along, we moved our daughter to a home daycare closer to our house. In addition to the cost savings, we figured we would save our kiddos from the dreaded downtown commute. We found Jackie from a local paper’s newspaper ad, and she was perfect. She watched a few other kids, too, and she let them creatively play in a safe environment. Her mother had also run a home daycare for years and often helped out so the kids could do art projects, go to the nearby playground, or even swim at the pool. I felt like Jackie was an extension of our family, and I was grateful we’d found such an affordable option. But the kids kept growing, and I felt the pressure to push our daughter’s education in addition to her socialization, so we needed a preschool.
Step 3: Preschool
I, fortunately, found a full-day preschool very close to my home and on my way to work. Days were structured, but still allowed an appropriate balance of play time. I credit that school for my soon-to-be kindergartner’s early advancement (and the teacher’s extreme patience with his ridiculous fight against potty training). It made me realize how much my kids were ready to learn generally, and I even grew to accept the high price tag as the cost of this phase of their lives. Then I moved.
Step 4: Family
My definition of “family” is rather extended because I’m divorced. I’m blessed with a network of people due to exes and their families who all know and love my children. My children’s step-mom and step-grandma devoted their days to watching the kids for a few months when I first moved my newly blended family into one home. The expense paled in comparison to the preschool, and the kids visited Franklin Park Conservatory, explored outside, and made beautiful crafts. Honestly, the next change stemmed from my own desire to have a bigger place in their daily lives. My oldest was already in kindergarten, and I felt their young stage slipping through my fingers. So my boss offered an option I didn’t know existed.
Step 5: Working from Home
My husband’s schedule gave him Wednesdays off to stay home with all four of our kids. I then worked from home every Thursday and every other Friday to cover the shared parenting schedule. That allowed me to respond to emails, attend conference calls, play games with my son, and get my daughter off the bus after morning kindergarten. My balance had swayed and I treasured the additional time with my little ones. The system worked perfectly… until my husband quit his job.
Step 6: Stay at Home Dad
There were lots of factors that led to my husband’s break in career: a change in custody, a negative work environment, four kids in four different schools, and conservative money management. It no longer made sense for me to work from home with him there all the time. With zero expenses (although quite a loss in income!), we somehow figured out how to keep all bills paid with minimal interruption to our daily lives. But I really missed being home those few days each month, so I started working from home every Friday. Balance achieved. For now…
Step 7: ???
We’ve decided that my hubs will return to work when our two boys are in school full-time. That gives us about 18 months to figure out what’s next. Our kids will attend two different school districts by then, but they’ll only be in school at the same time from 9:15 AM – 2:50 PM. That means we’ll likely have to figure out before and/or after-school care. I have no clue what that will look like, but we still have a while before we make it to that amazing point when kids can stay at home alone!
So much goes into deciding what makes the most sense for a family. Money. Flexibility for disruptions like illness and snow days. Need for education and socialization. Individualized attention. Desired structure. Life circumstances. All to figure out who will care for the most important thing in your world. I’ve never had a nanny or an au pair, but I know people who have found those to be the perfect solutions for them. You can see I’ve used several solutions depending on what was going on in my life. To find the right option for you, check out resources like Craigslist, local papers, online sitter sites, Angie’s List, neighborhood Facebook pages, and of course everyone you know. They say it takes a village. I hope yours is as full of love as mine has been.