Friday, June 6, 2014

HELP WANTED: The REAL Working Parents' Guide to Childcare Options



Working Parents. We are the ones constantly trying to strike that fine balance between family, our careers and our other interests. We are the ones that understand that true love and comfort cannot be outsourced to anyone. We are the ones that serve as hardworking role modes for our children day in and day out. And we are also the ones that know that WE NEED HELP; we need reliable, trustworthy, amazing help, in order to pull it all off.

This guide is about the many available options for childcare, and it is based primarily on my ten years of experience personally navigating these waters, and secondarily, on the experiences of my friends and colleagues.

By the time you read this guide, I am assuming that you have decided to have a career and you understand how the right childcare can be the best investment you make, But if that isn't the case, read this.

I write this guide in the hopes that it helps guide the best decision on how to support your family as it grows, and hopefully avoid some bumps in the road.

This process of choosing your help has 3 steps:
Step 1. Assess your family's needs
Step 2. Research your options
Step 3. Evaluate and adjust

Let's get into it...

Step 1: Assess Your Family's Needs 

As with most matters in life, it helps to know what your family needs or wants.  Please notice that I am asking you to assess your family's needs and this isn't just your children, this includes YOU, and your partner if you have one.

Here are a few key questions that may help with this step:

- Which days and times do you need help?
- What would you like help with? Childcare, cooking, laundry, cleaning, household management?
- Would you like this person to live with you? Does your housing accommodate for this?
- How much can you spend? Is it likely to increase or decrease over time?
- What kind of person would you like to have around? Age, gender, years of experience, personality type?
- What skills should they possess? CPR, Driver's License, Language, etc.?
- What preconceived notions may you need to discard in order to succeed as a working parent?

Step 2: Research your Options

Here are the great news! There are plenty of options and many working parents have been doing this for decades! You aren't alone and you aren't the first. Thus, seek out information to find the right fit for your family.

The options generally break down into two categories:

1. Hire an individual, or a set of individuals, who works for your family with your house as home base - These options include doulas, live-in nannies, live-out nanny, Au Pairs, parent helpers and hourly babysitters
2. Register your child at a center - These options include childcare centers, developmental preschools, and family daycare centers

Let's get into each one of these, and before we do so please note that I am generalizing honest opinions. Your opinion or experience may differ. And that is OK! Because at the end of the day what matters is that whatever you choose works for your family and supports its growth.

Also, costs differ dramatically across the United States, and I provide the most expensive ranges here based on living in or near a big city. If you like an option, do not be discouraged by cost until you research that option locally. Also, I encourage all parents to join your local parents' club. Not only do these clubs offer a ton of support and information, but many have local online boards where you can see other parents sharing their previous or current help, and you may also post your ads. Finally, I have organized these in order of most intense to least intense care.

Here we go....

The Doula
Best for: Short term, intensive help during the newborn period. Especially useful for first-time parents learning how to care for their babies
How to find: a) Online search. Many doulas have websites. b) Asking parents in your parent club
Pay: $$$$$Pay of about $40/hour.
Benefits:
  • Doulas can train parents in the care of a newborn, and can help your baby get on a feeding and sleeping schedule
  • They can work the night shift
Possible Issues: 
  • The high cost generally makes this option ony viable for the first few weeks of the infant's life. 

The Live-In Nanny
Best for: Long-term help with infants, toddlers and children, including other domestic duties.
How to find: Place an ad on craigslist or your local parenting board. Then screen applicants by phone, followed by in person interviews, with reference and background checks. There are alos agencies that specialize in finding nannies and charge a helfty fee (average $4,000).
Pay: $$$$Weekly payment of $400-800 depending on experience and responsibilities. Additionally, free room and board. Possibly, use of your vehicle, unless the person provides own.

Benefits:
  • Person dedicated to the care of your family and running of your household
  • May become a pseudo family member, like a 3rd parent or grandparent, and certainly is a "3rd adult" in the house
  • Most flexibility in terms of hours. You may hire to work certain nights, weekends, or to cover school's half-days or days off
  • If things go well, great stability for your family. Many live-in nannies stay with families for multiple years
  • General expecation to perform duties beyond childcare such as loading/unloading dishwasher, cooking, light cleaning, laundry. This is dependent on what you negotiate ahead of time. 
  • May be open to housesit during family vacations
  • May be open to attend family vacations if her help is needed
  • Possible exposure to another culture or language if you hire a biligual person
Possible Issues:
  • Requirement for own bedroom and furniture. Bathroom may be shared
  • Cost is high, and weekly payment is expected whether she worked a full week or not. In other words, unless you negotiate otherwise, live-in nannies still get paid when the family is on vacation
Other notes: 
  • I have preferred mature individuals with previous and personal experience with childcare and the running of a household
  • It is best to start out with a more defined set of responsiblities and then ease back if not needed, than the reverse
  • Also, it is important to have some way to communicate about the needs for each day. I have a number of Excel spreadheets I have used over the years to help our nanny and us be literaly on the same page about the events of the day and week
  • As your children grow, you may need less hours from a live-in nanny. An option is to share her with another family who has a newborn and requires hours while your children are in school
  • For tax treatment of household employees, please refer to this tax topic at irs.gov

The Live Out Nanny
Best for: Consistent and ongoing childcare and domestic help
How to find: Place an ad on craigslist or your local parenting board. Then screen applicants by phone, followed by in person interviews, with reference and background checks. There are alos agencies that specialize in finding nannies and charge a helfty fee (average $4,000).
Pay: $$$$. You may negotiate pay per week or per hour. Weekly payment of $400-800 depending on experience and responsibilities.
Benefits:
  • Person dedicated to the care of your family and running of your household. This is the person's main job
  • Possible flexibility in terms of hours. You may hire to work certain nights, weekends, or to cover school's half-days or days off
  • If things go well, great stability for your family 
  • General expecation to perform duties beyond childcare such as loading/unloading dishwasher, cooking, light cleaning, laundry. This is dependent on what you negotiate ahead of time
Possible Issues:
  • Cost is high
  • You may consider sharing a nanny with another family in which case you should discuss venue, pay, sick days for one child but not the other, etc. 

The Au Pair
Best for: Less than 40 hours per week help with childcare only for a live-in situation.
How to find: CulturalCare.com; AuPairinAmerica.com
Pay: $$$. About $360/week. The Au Pair ageny pockets half of the money and the Au Pair herself receives the other half.
Benefits:
  • Flexibility in terms of hours and a 3rd "adult" in the house. You may hire to work certain nights, weekends, or to cover school's half-days or days off
  • May be open to housesit during family vacations
  • May be open to attend family vacations if her help is needed
  • Exposure to another culture or language
Possible Issues:
  • Au Pairs' student visas allow them to stay for 1 year, with a possiblity to extend to 2 years. This may amount to too much change for your family or may be appreciated. For many, it feels that as the family gets comfortable with the AuPair, it is time for her to leave
  • Au Pairs are young (ages 18-26) and may not be very experienced in childcare or with their driving
  • Au Pairs do not generally help with domestic responsbilies beyond chidcare and meal preparation for the children. (I have found myself teaching an Au Pair how to boil pasta. Seriously.)Some Au Pairs may be open and able to cook meals for the family, but many are not 
  • Taking care of the children can seem secondary compared to the excitement of getting to see the US and the social habits of a young person
  • Au Pairs are brand new to the country. They have a lot of adjustments to make, learning the language and learning to navigate your neighborhood and the country in general.
  • They are required to take classes and attend several meetings organized by the sponsoring agency

The Hourly Babysitter
Best for: Ocassional childcare, such as date night or afternoons.
How to find? Lots of online options such as UrbanSitter or Care.com. Also, neighboring high school students or day care workers. Word of mouth.
Pay: $$$. $15-20/hour, in most large cities for up to 2 children.
Benefits:
  • Pay only for hours worked
Possible Issues:
  • The job is generally a second priority, as they are student or working elsewhere on a fulltime basis
  • Difficult to stick to the same person for a very long time. Since this is a side job, I find that sitters either graduate, or move away or something changes. 

The Mother's Helper, updated to The Parent's Helper
Best for: Another set of hands to help with child or domestic tasks while parent is at home
How to find: Mother's helpers, as traditionally called, maybe high-school students in your neighborhood, or perhaps another mom with some free time.
Pay: $. $5-10/hour, in most large cities.
Benefits:
  • Pay only for hours worked
  • Can help with domestic and childcare responsibilties
Possible Issues:
  • If your helper is under age, sn adult must be present to supervise

Family Day Care Center
Best for: Infants and toddlers of families who prefer out of home care but still in a homey environment
How to find: Craigslist and word of mouth
Pay: $$. $8-15/hour

Benefits:
  • Predictable schedule in a more homey enviroment. Generally these services are offered in a person's home by someone who has obtained a license to care for several children at once
  • Social contact with other children of various pre-school ages
  • Likely a milew of fun activities, like outside time and arts and crafts
Possible Issues:
  • Sick kids must stay home, of course. Thus, you must arrange for either parent to take a sick day. Though you may think your child may get sicker at a center, please trust that children must get sick several times a year in order to properly develop their immune systems. Thus, they will get sick. It is ok if they get sick. It is just that you need to be able to have a good backup. I am a big fan of a parent taking a sick days. I feel if the child is sick, moms or dads are best at comforting and caring for that sick child and it also teaches the family that we take a day (or days) to repair and heal our family

Childcare Center
Best for: Children 2 and older, and possibly younger for highest-quality centers.
How to find: Google around your local area and ask other parents for recommendations on best ones in your area.
Tuition: $$$. Avg of $10,000 per year, depending of length of day and center
Benefits:
  • Predictable schedules
  • Social contact with other children
  • Likely a milew of fun activities, like outside time and arts and crafts
Possible Issues:
  • Sick kids must stay home, of course. See above for comment on sick days. 
  • Quality is important here. Please use your parental intuition. If the place looks dirty to you, it probably is. If the place looks like kids are treated like animals, they probably are. This is a great place to be picky. 

Developmental Pre-School
Best for: Children 2 and older
How to find: Google around your local area and ask other parents for recommendations on best ones in your area.
Tuition: $$$$. $13,000 - 20,000 / year depending on length of day

Benefits:
  • Predictable schedules
  • Social contact with other children
  • The great ones offer a community for the whole family. We still keep in touch with many of the families we met in our preschool. 
  • The great ones offer amazing activities for the children which include music, creative movement, art, drama, language, pre-literacy skills, social and emotional evaluations, and even yoga!

Possible Issues:
  • Registration generally occurs in February of the year for an August/September start, thus you must totally be on top of your game for getting those forms in in time for the more sough-after pre-schools
  • Sick kids must stay home of course. See comment above on sick days.

Step 3: Evaluate and Adjust

Alright! So now you have made your choice and have been living with it for a while. Hopeflly everyone is happy and healthy. I am a big fan of consistency so I prefer not to change things unless I have to but there are a few natural times when changes are expected to occur, and these are:

  • Once the child starts preschool - at this time your child will be out of the house for several hours. You may decide to enroll in the preschool for the entire day or still hold on to some nanny hours for the afternoons. 
  • Once the child starts elementary school - at this time your child may be in school till about 2-3pm. Once again, you may enroll your child in the school-provided after school center or have help during the afternoons. 
  • Once children have after school demands - at this time your child requires his/her own personal chauffer. Kidding, but not quite. Our family has a valuable rule: only 2 extracurricular activities per child at any given time. To add one, you drop one. Unless I am feeling like Wonder Woman, and all of a sudden I am "bendable" and "poseable!" At this time you may consider afternoon help in the form of a babysitter, forming carpools with other parents, or choosing only activities that can be accommodated within your family's schedule (weekends or after 6pm practices). 


Finally....

You are growing your family while growing your career and yourself. Do you know how amazing that is? Do you know how much meaning can come from each one and all of those areas of your life? So,
Is it possible? YES
Is it easy? NO
Are you alone? NO
Can you get help? YES
Is it amazingly fullfilling, once you have good help? YES, YES, YES

~~~~~~~
There is probably much more to say on this topic, so please send me your comments or questions to @SandraShpilberg on Twitter.
Check out my other articles at The Huffington Post