Parenting itself may not be any more difficult today than it was for our parents and grandparents, but sometimes it seems complicated, doesn’t it? And one of the most difficult tasks for a new mother may well center around daycare options. The whole landscape of child care options is changing rapidly. In the United States, employment for women, according to statistics, peaked in 1999, and has been declining since then. The reason? Many new moms choose not to return to work until the children are in school. But if you do, what are the options?
Options for Infants
The average cost of center-based daycare in the United States is edging up towards $1,000 a month and costs in major cities can be substantially higher, according to information from the National Association for Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. Parents of infants in cities like Boston or San Francisco might be looking at $2,000 a month, but the average for preschool daycare drops to about $733 a month in Mississippi, Kentucky and South Carolina.
Additional options run the gamut from corporate nurseries that allow breastfeeding and frequent visitation by “back-at-the-desk” new moms (not the norm, by any standard), to “granny as nanny” solutions, but the most common is some sort of organized away-from-home care that accommodates a group of infants and toddlers. While preschools sometimes accept children as young as three years of age, parents have fewer choices for youngsters from six weeks to two years.
Still, nearly one quarter of women surveyed in 2012 returned to work within two weeks of giving birth. Among women with a college degree, six weeks was more normal, but extended maternity leave and employer support of innovative programs is nowhere equal to that found in many other nations.
A return to home-based care is enjoying a resurgence, in much the same way that home-schooling is growing in popularity. If you have an option to leave an infant in the care of a relative, that might be a workable solution, in your own home or in theirs; but infants and toddlers are demanding in terms of time and energy and, no matter how much a grandparent may love your child, caring for an infant on a regular basis is not always the right long-term solution.
So, Are You Ready for a Nanny?
Nannies have been, after all, the norm for generations in some European countries. Work with a licensed “nanny agency” to explore the nanny route. The best household staffing agencies perform all necessary background checks and will do their best to find you someone who will mesh with your family, abide by your wishes, and complement your own style when it comes to child-rearing. It can be a rewarding experience for you, your child and for the nanny, who is considered an employee in every sense, but often seems like a member of the family.
Nannies are still a tradition abroad, of course, and in some Latin American countries. Another honored continental tradition is the “au pair.” It’s worth investigating if you’re open to hosting a young person from another culture in your home. It can be a unique solution. The experience can foster international understanding, be truly educational, especially if you also have older children in the home, and is the kind of innovative solution that can enhance your lifestyle if you appreciate global solutions.
What Arrangements Are Best?
First, according to the experts, concern yourself with safety, and then consider the quality of nurturing available for your child. If you decide on a group care situation, look for a center that has no more than eight babies, with at least one trained caregiver for every three children. Eye contact, frequent interaction, and quick response to infant needs (diaper changes, feedings, crying), holding and cuddling, and change of position or physical environment are all good practices. You know what they say — it’s impossible to spoil an infant with too much attention.
Adherence to health and safety standards is vital; look for an obvious but flexible routine; and assure that your facility shows a willingness to have parents “drop in,” observe, or spend time onsite. All are indicative of a nurturing environment.
Choices for Older Children
Options for care expand as a child grows. Even if you choose to be a stay-at-home mom, chances are good that by the time your child is a toddler, you will want to check out Mother’s Day Out programs, faith-based or community “mom and tot,” and play-group schedules, or join a neighborhood “drop-and-go” babysitting group. Your criteria for becoming involved with any of these options should be similar to those you would use to decide on a fee-based child care facility. As your child grows, you’ll want to indulge yourself a bit or explore some other interests — for just a little while, at least!
Your child’s physical and emotional welfare should always be your first concern. Also important are the “look and feel” of the place and the personalities of each staff member as well as the person in charge. Look for smiles. Look for books as well as blocks, musical instruments and a radio or CD player. Be not so impressed if there is a working television. Look for colorful surroundings and quiet nooks. Ask about time spent outside in nature. If the daycare center seems like a lively, happy place, your child will likely be happy and well-cared for.
Also look at the children: Are their faces and hands clean? Does the room smell good? Clothes don’t have to be spotless, but they shouldn’t be totally covered with food stains or crayon marks, either.
Trust your instincts and don’t hesitate to ask the hard questions about discipline, routine, foods, playtime, and one-on-one interaction. Be clear about your expectations. Communicate your concerns, ask about how to relay and receive information that affects your child, and thoroughly investigate the policies of any facility you consider. Ask about policies that govern other people picking up your child. Must such pickup be arranged in advance? Is identification required?
Ask other parents and do your research; keep seeking answers until you’re satisfied. Trust yourself, despite what others say; if you have any misgivings, find another option.
The Reassurance of Time
Concerns about your child’s welfare will extend far beyond the first few years of life. Just as you are diligent about choosing a proper daycare, you will have mixed emotions when it comes time to enroll your youngster in preschool or, for that matter, when that first day of school looms large. Know that it’s even common when, years down the road, you prepare to send your child off to college. It all just goes with the territory; it is part of being a good parent.
Flexible hours, job-sharing, remote working options and the growth of work-at-home jobs may be the future. Paid family leave for both parents might become a reality. Child care options at the beginning of the next century might look nothing like available choices today. But at least one thing will never change: Parents will always want what’s best for their children.