Grandparents? Childminder? Nursery? Quitting the day job and staying at home to get your hair pulled by sticky fingers for years to come??
Leaving your child with someone else is no easy decision. Even that first time you escape for an afternoon to get your beehive hair under control and leave your little treasure with friends, or in the doting claws of grandparents, can be daunting. But that ominous End Of Maternity Leave deadline that looms ever nearer and spells out entrusting Baby with another caregiver might be enough to reduce a mother to a quivering wreck.
Whilst finding the right childcare very much depends on your personal situation, priorities and local options, below is a handy list of pros and cons to keep in mind when choosing a ‘home from home’ for your most treasured possession.
Option 1: Grandparents
Oh, the grandparents. They were there from the start, bearings gifts, good advice and endless cuddles. You know they have experience: they have managed to get at least one baby over the line to adulthood! But are they really the right care for your mini me?
- Free (usually). Whilst you might want to give your parents something for their troubles, it is unusual for them to charge as much as a formal childcare provider
- Loving. Other people might like your children, they may even come to love them, but is anyone going to just adore them as much as Nino and Nonna? No!
- Flexible. Unlike formal care, grandparents don’t work set hours. If you are working flexi-time or building up your hours slowly, it is nice not to have to commit to a set schedule before you have figured out what’s going on. Similarly, if you are running late, you are not risking penalties (other than evil eye) and your general schedule can be more relaxed.
- Unreliable. This depends on your parents, of course, but here I am going to assume they want to live their independent adult lives too? Whilst they are able and willing to spend time with Baby, they are probably not committed to the realities of taking on full responsibility of looking after Baby All Day. You might have to work around their schedule for parts of the week or give them time off or bingo etc., which may not be right for you if you are going straight to full time work.
- My way or the highway. Routine or rhythm? Cuddle or cry it out? Pick-them-up or leave-them-down? Everyone has different views on parenting. Whilst in formal care you might give instructions and ask certain rules to be respected, you may come to clash with grandparents that have firm views contrary to your own.
- You’re simply the best… or are you? Childcare isn’t just about leaving Piccolo with someone who makes sure they won’t starve or stick forks in plug sockets. It can also be an investment in your child’s development. As the little one nears the end of their first year you can see their need to play, socialize, interact. Playing alone in grandma’s garden may not replace the stimulation and buzz of a nursery group.
In all, grandparents can be a wonderful option when you crave a much-needed escape, work from home or just have family ready and available and want to avoid childcare fees. However, if you are diving straight into full-time employment and are set on actively developing your child’s progress you might want to consider other options.
Option 2: Childminder
Friendly, informal, flexible, a good child minder can really create a home from home for your little one. Child minders are usually ladies with their own children or grown-up children that have flown the next and are looking to use their maternal instinct and earn some lifestyle cash. So what should you bear in mind when looking for a good one?
- Flexible. Whilst the child minder will need to know your child’s routine to plan their week around, they tend to be more flexible than nursery. This generally means that they can add extra hours or days if need be and are usually less strict with penalties for running late.
- Personal. A good child minder will develop a relationship with your baby as a caregiver that will make your baby, and you, feel safe. If your baby is very young and you are cautious about handing them over to the zoo that is a nursery, a little home environment in loving care might be just the thing.
- Convenient. A great child minder makes parenting easier. They can offer pick ups and drop offs to school that mean your day can work regular hours. They might even pick up essentials like milk and nappies and then just bill you for it. A great child minder is on your side and at your side.
- Unreliable. Sickness, injury, an unexpected event or a holiday (how dare they!)… all these can mean that your child minder is out of action – and so are you. If you are somebody who can not take time off, this is an important consideration to consider.
- Informal. Whilst nurseries have to keep a development journal for your child along with other paperwork like incident books etc, child minders are more likely to overlook this and simply get on with the business of looking after your child. If you like to cross your Ts and dot your Is, this informal approach may not be for you.
- Close and personal. I thought my child minder was absolutely wonderful… until they starting taking on too many kids, microwaving breastmilk (the horror), popping out to get nails done and leaving the babies with husband / assistant / daughter / son / family dog. Make sure the relationship you have with the child minder remains professional – you are paying for certain services and they have an obligation to play by the rules.
I am guilty of falling in love with my child minder. For all the forgotten / “quickly” microwaved bottles of breast milk and expensive bibs given by accident to other children she and her family were just so…. NICE I always felt like I my tongue was tied and I didn’t want to risk rocking the boat. Predictably, things didn’t end well and they ended up being investigated by the care inspectorate. So here is the lesson: feel free to love the child minder but remember: you are paying for a service. Never allow them to bend the rules for being ‘nice’.
Option 3: Nursery
Really? Will all the big kids? The riff raff that are going to pull my little Barnaby’s hair, spit in his morning porridge and hit him on the bum with a plastic spoon? Staff that will forget to change his nappy and swap so often that he’ll never see a familiar face? My list of concerns, stirred by the aforementioned child minder who often reminded me of the horrors of nurseries (and, indeed, other child minders…) I was slow to awake to the benefit of a good nursery. However, once there, I have never looked back. Here’s why.
- Qualified staff. I might have thought my child minder was great while it lasted in terms of just being loving and caring in general, but the reality is that nursery staff inevitably have to be qualified over and above anything you might find in more casual care, including closely monitored qualification to staff ratios.
- Stimulation. Yes, the aforementioned riff raff are going to be your little one’s best pals! Depending on the personality and attachment your baby has developed to mum and dad (influenced by the age at which you wish to place Baby in care, as well as other factors: other kids at home etc.) your mini me might react differently to being with other kids. Still, your little primate is a social creature and will soon love to be with all their new mates. Plus there are tons of other people to get to know and multiple play rooms to terrorize. Do you really want to build a sand pit or mud kitchen at home? Point made.
- Reliability a.k.a. avoiding being bitten on the bum by other people’s health, vacation schedules, bingo tournament dates (…) If you are about to go on a work trip and you don’t want to suddenly find that your regular care has picked up a nasty bout of cat flu, a nursery is for you.
- Strict schedule. Gone are the days of chatting away on the minder’s sofa long after official pick up time with the minion sleeping in the corner or suckling away unperturbed. Nurseries (generally) open at 8 and shut at 6. Fines for being late are steep (£7 for every 10 mins, in our case) as the staff understandably want to go home. If you cannot clock out on the dot, this may present a problem.
- Inflexible. Our minder was quite happy for us to occasionally miss or swap days with no charge or charge half fees for our holidays. At nursery you are committed to keeping Baby for set days week in, week out, whether you come or not as they have to keep your place. If you don’t work the normal 9-5 and have a vocation that ebbs and flows between busy and calm, you may find nursery care to be bad value.
- Poorly wee thing. Kids seem to pick up everything going, especially from other kids. Generally, this shouldn’t concern you as part of it is all in the name of strengthening the good old immune system. However, if you are tired of waging war on the next wave of vomiting bug / head lice / unidentifiable but annoying lurgy, nursery is not going to help you keep Piccolo out of trouble here.
Every baby is different and much of how they get on at nursery will depend on their personality and previous experience with other care takers. Much also depends on the nurseries in your area: newness / staff / location – remember, you are going to be dropping off / picking up most days of the week, so don’t underestimate what a toll picking an inconvenient location can take, no matter how good the place is!
Trust your instincts. I have seen some nurseries that were great on paper and with great facilities, but my little one just didn’t seem to take to them and just cried. When we came to the nursery he goes now, the staff were friendly and caring, the place looked clean and well-equipped, the other kids were cute, and Piccolo couldn’t wait to get off my lap, on the floor and going! That’s what everything clicked and I just knew – we found The One.
Your Other Options
If none of the above options seem right, here are some others to think about:
- Nanny. I don’t have experience of nanny care as this was not an option for us. However, if you have the funds, the house and the need to fund a day or live-in nanny, this can work out well, especially if you have other kids. Remember to research your rights and obligations. You may wish to use a good agency to ensure you get the right references and support if things go wrong.
- Shared parental care. If you are really not keen on giving your little one away full-time, perhaps you can consider working part-time and leaving them part time with any of the above or Parent Number Two.
- Cousins unite. If you have a brother and sister who also recently ‘popped’, I have heard of siblings taking care of each other’s babies and swapping days so the other one can get to work. Added benefit of little ones being friends and together.
- Working From Home. Perhaps your job allows or even encourages working from home, or perhaps you are considering going freelance and turning early nights and nap times to profit. The success of this depends on your job, but consider carefully if you can really commit to your work with the little one going rogue around the ankles. You may find yourself ‘sitting between two chairs’ – work not done and guilt as you have not been able to play with your adorable, cooing chid who may have essentially seen you ignore them for hours.
- Quitting work. The big one. Having kids changes your life. All of it. If you have always had doubts about your Human Typewriter – type job and had dreams of being a kaftan-wearing Sitar-player, this may be your chance. Remember, there is no ‘Real World’ – only Your World.
Taking your little baby out from under your wing and placing them into the hands of other people can be frightening. It can make you feel sad, emotional and even have you questioning if you are ‘bad mum / dad’. Your heart may make you feel like you want to keep your little darling by your side forever. Your mind, however, might remind you of the bills, the missed career opportunities and the fact you want to keep your identity too, outside of ‘her / him indoors’ or ‘mum / dad of Baby B’.
Whatever you decide, remember that millions, nay, billions of human beings have survived and thrived whilst in the care of people other than their parents. Don’t be influenced by advice of parents / friends / lady in the supermarket. Every baby, parents, locality and financial situation is different and only worry about the choices that are right for you. If you go down one road and you don’t like it: change.
Remember, make decisions that are right for you, not what you think the baby will ‘thank you’ for. Babies are master adaptors and as long as they are cared for and well-looked-after will soon settle and enjoy their new situation. You may feel like Parent of The Year for quitting work and staying at home, but your baby may be a social creature who would love to have the chance to make new friends. Oh, the joys of parenting where, one day, you will be blamed or thanked for things out of your control no matter what you do! So take heart, take courage, and take the step on your baby’s new journey of development and adventure.