On childcare, daycare, and tips for how to choose what’s right for your family

Posted on

One of my most common motherhood-related questions I’ve received recently is “how we chose the childcare option that is right for us?”

What a loaded topic! So much so, I’ve put off writing it for…12 months. 😂 She officially started daycare a year ago this month!

Today, I’m finally biting the bullet and writing this (very long, sorry) blog post, going into detail about daycare, how and why we chose this option, and why I think it’s so great!

No matter what your situation is, it’s scary to commit to a childcare option before your baby is even born! How do you know how you’re going to feel!? That’s a tough one–but it’s important to remember that your childcare choice doesn’t have to be permanent. If you want to change your mind, you can!

I think it’s about setting yourself up for success to the best of your ability, but also allowing yourself the option to feel however you’re going to feel when the time comes to go back to work, if applicable. If you need to pivot–that’s fine too! You’ll figure it out.

The long and the short of it: all childcare options are great options. Deciding you want to care for your child full-time is also a great option. Part time childcare is a great option. The only thing that makes something a not great option is if it’s not a fit for YOUR family–and only you are going to know what that is!

Listen to your gut and prioritize what is important to you and nobody else–because whatever choice makes your family the happiest is what’s best for your child and they are going to be happy with whatever you are happiest with. (Also, they’re never going to know any different!)

There is no “perfect” childcare solution and this will also vary from family to family–but I hope sharing my experience can help if you’re navigating this season of life as well! (Also, please enjoy these hilarious photos taken by her teachers at daycare to give you a sneak peak into June’s typical day!)

How did I decide I even wanted childcare? Don’t I feel guilty?

I get this question a lot in particular. (Maybe because it’s easy to think bloggers don’t actually work so why would I need childcare? 😂 Can’t I just snap mirror selfies while my kid plays in the background? LOL. Wish it were that easy.) So anyway, let’s get the annoying “mom guilt” elephant in the room out in the open first.

If you read this blog post, you know that my biggest fear going into motherhood was getting into a situation where I felt trapped. This is just one of my biggest fears in life in general is not having independence and freedom and feeling like I’m stuck and don’t have options. I was also afraid of blowing up the life I loved and not having enough “non-kid” time to myself–whether that just be enough time to get my work done or self-care time in general.

Long story short–this is why I knew I wasn’t going to take care of June full time in the long run. It just wouldn’t be good for me, and therefore wouldn’t be good for her. The best gift you can give your child is the gift of mentally and emotionally healthy parents, so it’s important to be honest with yourself from the get-go in order to set yourself up for success. And also don’t listen to anyone else’s guilting bullshit when they ask, “but don’t you miss her all day!?!?!” 🙄

Well before June was born, I chose a start date of early October (June was a bit older than three months at that point), which is fairly common here in the U.S. in terms of “going back to work.” (That is, if you’re lucky–many jobs don’t provide paid maternity leave!) I think in hindsight I’d like to have had more time. If/when we have another baby, I think I’ll do a start date of 4 months depending on where things are at and how I’m feeling with work. I’m extremely grateful that this is something I get to choose as I work for myself and this isn’t dictated by my job.

The transition itself was pretty easy actually–of course, we teared up the first couple times dropping her off–transitions are hard! (She didn’t bat an eye though. The perks of starting a newborn in daycare when they still don’t know what’s going on. 😂) She adapted as easily as we could’ve hoped, and it was REALLY nice to feel like we got a lot of “our life” back.

The fact that I don’t have to be “mom Jess” from 9am-5 or 6pm every day is absolutely imperative to my mental health. I think this is much easier to do when she’s out of the house vs. if she were in the house all day being cared for by somebody else. (I’m also easily distracted, so that wouldn’t go well. 😂)

Do I sometimes wish that I could only work, say, three days a week and have June home with me the other two days? Sometimes. But I go back and forth on this, and I think not having the flexibility of sending her every day would make me stressed out. I am also on my phone all day everyday due to the nature of my job and I do not want her growing up seeing me glued to my phone constantly. Having full-time daycare means I can get my work done and then be off my phone when I’m around June.

All in all–no, I do not feel guilty for sending June to full-time daycare. It allows Neal and I to get the work we need to do done to support our family, it is incredible for her social skills and her development, and it also allows us to be really present parents whenever we’re with her because we had all day to be productive and get things done. It’s absolutely the best decision we could’ve made for our family, and I’m so grateful for our daycare and also that we’re in a place where we’re able to swing it financially. (A huge perk of having our first baby at 33).

Let’s get into some specifics:

Why we ultimately chose daycare vs. a nanny:

It’s most practical for our work/life setup:

We both work from home, and having our small space, a nanny just wasn’t even an option that was on the table. We’d never be able to get anything done with her at home all day, even with someone else watching her! If we lived in a much larger house with separate living/working areas, that might be different, but that’s not in the cards right now.

Even if our living/working situation were different, daycare was always our preferred choice because we saw so many of our friends’ kids thrive because of it, and we would’ve chosen to go that route for all of the reasons below! (Also, please note, by no means am I saying that alternative childcare options are less-than because they may not provide all of these factors–I’m just sharing what I love about it!)

Building social skills and relationships:

We really love the socialization that daycare provides and it was important to us that June to build trusting relationships with other caregivers that weren’t her family from a young age. While June is a huge part of my life and who I am, she isn’t my WHOLE life and identity–and I want the same for her–to have her own life with other enriching relationships apart from me. The relationships I had with adults outside of my parents growing up had such a big impact on the person I grew into, and I want the same for her. As her parents, we might be the center of her world in these early years, but I don’t want us to be her entire universe.

More on her amazing teachers in a second, but I love that she’s now used to being around lots of different personalities and interacting with lots of kids on a regular basis. Neal and I are very social by nature and therefore we’re constantly bringing her around our friends kids, so it’s really great that she’s developed the skill of being able to play well with others. (For the most part. Of course all kids have their moments. 😜) A big fear of mine is having “that kid” that nobody wants to invite over because she doesn’t play well with other kids (and I know she may still go through a phase like that, because many kids do) but I think the social skills she’s built in daycare go a long way in that category.

Will we ever fully know how much of this is due to daycare and how much is due to the nature of her personality? No–but anecdotally, I think daycare has a lot to do with it! (However, keep in mind, there are lots of opportunities for kids to socialize outside of daycare. This isn’t the only way to accomplish this and by no means am I suggesting you are setting your child back socially if daycare isn’t the option you choose!)

Fostering independence:

Many parents will see this as a con, but I actually like the fact that June doesn’t always have her caregivers’ undivided attention. To me, this is a pro, because I don’t want her getting used to having a caregiver at her beck and call. I want her to learn patience, having to wait, to be content playing independently, and to learn problem solving skills as this is going to set her up for the best success later on in school and in the real world. I’ve never had an instance where I didn’t think she was getting enough attention at daycare, but I definitely think the independence she’s gained as a result has made all our lives a lot easier!

Early childhood development:

She gets to do ALL kinds of education and development-focused activities that I would never do with her at home. (I’m just not that kind of mom. It is what it is. 🤷🏻‍♀️) I know some nannies do also have early childcare development experience and plan lots of activities like this–so that’s not to say you’d never get this with a nanny, but I do think a daycare environment is much more like a “school” environment vs being at home with a nanny.

Since moving into the toddler room at daycare, she’s been introduced to a really hands-on, child-lead curriculum with focuses in all areas of development. (It really is like pre-school!) She learns something new every day–constantly coming home saying new words, doing new things–it’s so amazing to watch!

We attended “open house” in her classroom the other day and were blown away at all the things they do in school. (All the parents were looking at each other like, “wait..they do WHAT?”) She lines up by herself with the rest of the class, she just learned to raise her hand when they say “where’s June?!” during roll call, she gets into her little cot and goes to sleep by herself at nap time (in a class full of little kids on cots!), they go outside every day, they have “music time,” they go over the days of the week and the weather every morning, they eat together at little tables all by themselves–they do lots of creative art projects, and of course–have lots of unstructured free play time–but it’s amazing how much a 15 month old is capable of when given the opportunity–and I would never want her missing out on any of this!

(It’s also important to note that a childcare option WITHOUT an early childhood development curriculum is still an amazing option. The best thing for kids development is free play! I stayed at home with my mom the majority of my childhood and I turned out just fine. 😂 I don’t think there’s a correlation between daycare and attending Harvard. It’s just a “nice to have” but absolutely do not feel like a different option is doing a disservice to your child!)

Her bond with her teachers:

The bond that June has with her teachers is the best. She is genuinely excited to get dropped off at school and it’s so fun to watch her relationships grow. Most of her teachers are moms themselves, and they really treat her like one of their own. Everyone is always so excited to see her. They know her little quirks, they know what’s “normal” for June and when she’s off. She blows them kisses when we leave every day.

Also, when she started at 3.5 months old–we were still in the phase of experiencing ALL the firsts. The first time she got sick, the first time she got a diaper rash, starting solid foods, all the things. We had NO idea what we were doing, and her teachers were such an amazing wealth of knowledge. They gave us so much advice from how to best clear up her diaper rashes to, “it’s time to size up June in diapers now!” (We would’ve never known. 😂) It’s like we have our own support system who also know our baby backwards and forwards and it’s so wonderful.

Stability and dependability:

We don’t have to worry about a nanny calling in sick, having to account for a nanny’s vacation time, etc. I know I will always have dependable childcare every Monday through Friday between the hours of 7am and 6pm, and I am able to drop her off and pick her up whenever I want within that timeframe. (Even if you don’t utilize all those hours, it’s nice to know that they’re there if/when you need them!)

Potential daycare cons:

All the sick days:

First, the sickness. The first year can be ROUGH with sickness because the more kids you’re around, the more germs go around. This is hard because you have a sick kid, they often get you sick, and it causes a lot of last-minute scrambling with work and juggling schedules to tag-team who is taking care of the sick child because they can’t go to daycare.

Apparently the first year is the toughest while their immune systems are getting used to the constant germ exposure–but they’re going to go through an adjustment period either now or when they start full time school–so in my opinion, why not just get it over with? 😂 The best tip that one of the doctors at urgent care shared with me: stop sharing straws and utensils with your kid. Really, it helps a lot. I swear I got sick a lot less when I stopped giving June bites off my fork and letting her drink out of my straws!

Second, while it’s nice that you don’t have to worry about a nanny calling in sick, on the flip side, you don’t have childcare when YOUR kid is too sick to go to school! This can cause a lot of scrambling in their first year of daycare as their immune system is getting used to being exposed to a bunch of germs.

No extra help around the house:

A lot of people I know that have a nanny say having an extra pair of hands around the house is one of the biggest perks. They can help with the dishes, the laundry, running errands, keeping the house tidy and organized. This is a HUGE perk–and obviously this isn’t something you get with daycare! (However, we thankfully have Janine, our house manger, to help with things around the house–so hiring a house manager a couple hours per week could be another solution too! Can you tell I’m REALLY pro hiring help? 😂 I’m a mess. I need all the help. FYI–I found her by putting an ad on Care.com!)

Naps can be challenging:

This definitely gets better as time goes on, but expect periods of short naps. They won’t always (or ever?) sleep as well at daycare as they do at home, but that’s okay. Life goes on. Again, it’s important to us that June learns to be flexible and go with the flow and there’s a valuable lesson to be learned there: being able to sleep in a new place with commotion going on around you is a GREAT skill for your baby/toddler to have! I think this has definitely helped us whenever we travel as she’s rarely had problems sleeping in new places in less than perfect sleeping conditions.

The cost:

To be honest, I think even the most expensive daycare is often more affordable than the average nanny (so maybe this should be in the “pro” section? 😂) but that doesn’t mean it’s still not INCREDIBLY expensive.

From my search, I found the average cost of full-time infant daycare in Chicago comes out to between $2,200 and $2,500 per month–one bougie school was even $3,500! 🤯 However, this depends on the age of your child. Infant care is more expensive, and it gets less expensive as your baby gets older and moves into toddlers, twos, threes, so on.

How to decide what type of childcare is the best fit for you?

What is your typical day like and how does childcare fit into that equation? How much flexibility do you need?

For example–if you both work from home, it might be too disruptive to have them in the house all day and therefore an out of home option is best. Or maybe you both work out of the home, that’s not an issue, and maybe a nanny would be the best choice!

Maybe you have a flexible schedule and therefore you want the flexibility a nanny provides vs. structured schedule of a daycare.

Maybe you decide you want to work part time (if you have that luxury!) and decide therefore you only want part time childcare and decide to go with a part-time daycare, or you want the extra set of hands in your household, and decide to go with a part time nanny. (I’d also like to add, even if you work part time and decide you still want full-time childcare–GO YOU. OWN THAT!)

Maybe education and development is super important to you, and you decide you’d like to hire a nanny with an ECD background, or maybe you find a daycare that makes you super excited, and go for that!

Maybe you find an in-home daycare down the street with a loving caregiver who feels like family the second you meet her, and that fits with your budget!

OR maybe you hate the idea of not being with your baby all day, and you decide to re-structure other things in your life to figure out how you can stay home!

PLEASE don’t overthink this, because there is no “right” answer, it’s just what’s important to you and feasible for your family! I keep getting asked over and over “but how did you know what the right fit was?” and I know I keep repeating “go with your gut” over and over again in this blog post, but it’s true. You won’t REALLY know what the “right fit” is until you get there–all you can do is listen to your gut right now and make an educated guess as to what you *think* you might want and need.

There is no one size fits all solution! (I will also remind you again–not only is it okay to change your mind, but it’s also feasible to do so!)

What is your budget?

Childcare in the US in wildly expensive no matter which option you go with because parents have to pay out of pocket for all of it, but some options are less expensive than others. I would talk to as many moms as you can to get to know what options are out there. Facebook groups are also SUPER helpful! Search your area and “moms group” or even the Facebook groups of some of your favorite influencers, if they’re moms, it’s likely they have a lot of moms in the group.

What’s important to you?

Write down your priorities. In a perfect world, what would your day Monday through Friday look like? Write that down! Again, everyone is different. You just need to listen to your gut in terms of what’s important to you!

This kid 😂 I cannot with her

Tips to keep in mind when searching for a daycare:

What kind of daycare are you looking for?

Daycare centers are licensed facilities, often that require head teachers to have their masters in early childhood development. These are expensive, but they are run more like a school than simply a care facility. Many times, meals and snacks are included in the tuition cost. (This is what June goes to and same with most of my friends’ kids.) Centers have a set schedule/hours. Some offer part-time, some are just full-time. While you pay a set cost, usually they are pretty flexible as to when you can drop off and pickup your child. (Sometimes I want to spend extra time with June and I will keep her home, or pick her up early, that’s never a problem!)

In-home daycares: these are often cheaper than a daycare center and can vary widely, but don’t often include meals, snacks, and may or may not include a structured developmental curriculum. (Some are more like a nanny or babysitter, but you drop off at their house, and they are watching more than one child at a time). I definitely don’t think it’s a deal-breaker if your daycare doesn’t have a focus on development or education–I never went to daycare, I was home with my mom most of the time–and I turned out just fine. 😂 It all evens out!

Location of daycare: I think location should play a very big factor in deciding on a daycare. It’s hard enough getting out the door in the morning and getting there in time for pickup, adding complexity of dealing with lots of traffic or a commute adds a ton of stress. If you’re between two different options you like, in my opinion, location wins. If you can walk, even better. If you’re driving, make sure it’s either close to home or close to your work. This was the number one priority that solidified our choice.

How to find daycares: Google “daycare” and your zip code. That’s how I started. You just gotta start somewhere. Write down a list and get in touch, schedule a tour, and go from there! Also, ask everyone you know–post in local Facebook groups, reach out to friends of friends who live in your neighborhood. Word of mouth is great, but I found our daycare from Google. I toured three places, picked one. The end.

What is their child development philosophy/curriculum? Every daycare has a different approach–maybe it’s Montessori, maybe they follow an emergent curriculum, maybe they have a focus on building independence at a young age–I’m not going to go into details on June’s daycare specifically, but I will admit, the whole idea of “curriculum” wasn’t really important to me when June was a baby, but I do think it can be amazing as they get a bit older! As she’s moved into the toddler room and I’m seeing just how rapidly toddler development moves in general–it’s been really cool to see her thrive with all the things she’s doing and learning in daycare!

Something to consider, again, if you’re weighing two options–is their philosophy as a whole and the kinds of things they’ll be doing/learning during the day. (Music class? Art projects? Outdoor time? Reading? What other kinds of developmental skills do they work on?) If I’m going to be paying a relatively similar amount between center A and center B, but center B doesn’t offer much in the way of curriculum, I might be more inclined to go with option A because why not? Get your money’s worth!

What is included in pricing? Again, I feel like I touched on this all already, but to recap–it’s important to weigh what isn’t/is included. A center that provides all their meals and snacks will actually save you a good amount of money on your grocery bill, not to mention save you a LOT of hassle. I am dreading when June gets older and starts real school when I have to deal with the stress of packing a lunch and snacks every day. 😵‍💫

What is the child to teacher ratio? This is actually regulated by the state, so this will likely be a pretty standard maximum ratio wherever you go, but in cases where, say, you’re taking your child to an in-home babysitter, this is really important to know. I believe in Illinois the ratio is 1 teacher to 4 infants, and 1 teacher to 5 toddlers for toddlers.

Do infants have to adapt to their schedule, or will they work with their current schedule? Not all daycares are equal in this, but many will keep your baby on whatever schedule you’d like them on, which is ideal. Of course, there are always adjustments to be made, and your baby may not always nap as well at daycare as they do at home, but ours did what they could, and I appreciated that!

If meals are included, what are they? Are they healthy? Organic? Etc: If this is important to you, it’s an important question to ask!

What feeling do you get talking to the staff there? Talk to as many people as you can–especially the lead teacher(s). Go with your gut feeling over everything else. I really loved the enrollment coordinator we met with at our daycare. She was super honest, not pushy at all, really down to earth, and had been there forever and clearly loved her job. I just got a good gut feeling, and my gut was right! We couldn’t be happier with our choice.

What is their turnover rate? How does that vary between head teachers and assistant teachers? It’s important to distinguish between the two. If a daycare has a high turnover rate of head teachers, I would not be thrilled about that. But if there’s low turnover with head teachers and higher turnover with assistant teachers, that’s not necessarily a bad thing–that could mean they are really serious about ensuring all teachers are a really good fit for the kids.

What is the main method of communication? How easy are they to communicate with? Most daycares now use an app called Brightwheel to upload updates into, so you have a real-time look at how your child’s day is going and what’s happening. You know when and how well they napped, you know when they ate, you know about their diapers, you know what kinds of activities they did that day. Plus, you get lots of cute pictures! (Almost all these photos are taken at daycare!) It’s really nice to have, but also not a dealbreaker if a center doesn’t use it. Just ask how they communicate updates to parents!

Another thing I love about our daycare, which I wouldn’t have known going in, but worth mentioning anyway–is that her teachers are amazing communicators. I have their personal cell phones and talk with them often. They are wonderful. Even if I let them know June is sick and will be out for a few days–they often call/text me to ask how she’s doing, weigh in on if I should take her into the ped, let me know other symptoms I might watch out for, tips they have to make her more comfortable–they’re just incredible and so caring.

Are they able to provide you with references of parents who currently attend or recently attended the school? Talk to as many parents as you possibly can! Ask them to be honest about what they do and don’t like, and why they made the decision that they did.

Do they have a transition plan? Many daycares have transition plans where you either get a couple “transition days” where you can start bringing your baby a couple hours at time to get acclimated before their first official full day! We did this with June and it was helpful! (Honestly, it was helpful for us, she didn’t really need them. 😂)

Start looking EARLY: And I mean REALLY EARLY. I’m talking, start emailing daycares by the time you’re in your second trimester. I’m sure it’s different everywhere, but infant daycare in Chicago is incredibly competitive and the waitlists are LONG. Over a year long. It seems a little absurd to tour daycares before you’re even showing, but I’m glad we did because we got her a spot in our first choice daycare. Like I mentioned in the beginning, it’s really hard to make this decision before your baby is even born, but in this case, I would rather be over-prepared than under-prepared.

How to approach if you’re on the fence about daycare: This is MY two-cents only, but I’d play it safe and still secure your spot on the waitlist. You can always discuss pushing back your start date if you wish, or decide to pull your baby out altogether if it doesn’t feel right once you get closer to your start date. Yes, you would lose your deposit, but I would rather that vs. being in a stressful situation where I decide I actually DO want daycare but can’t get into one because I wanted to “wait and see” and now I’m desperately stressed trying to work full time and piecemeal childcare together. It’s also my understanding that it’s much easier to find a nanny on short notice than it is to get into a daycare. (Again, most daycares have year-long waiting lists).

More tips on starting daycare:

It will be hard, but remember that this is going to be an amazing growth opportunity for your kiddo that not only benefits them but also YOU as their parent! As I said above, it’s such an enriching part of June’s life that I would never want her to miss out on. Plus–FREE TIME for you! Amazing! Be excited for them, and yourself! Here are a couple tips to help with the transition:

Quick goodbyes: Drop-off can be hard at first, but it’s much easier if it’s quick. Don’t give 100 kisses, don’t linger–just get in and get out. Typically even if your kid is crying, they’ll stop crying the second you’re out of sight. You can always hang in the car for several minutes if it helps you feel better and tell them to text you if they’re unable to calm down. I’m telling you though, it’s wild how different kids act when their parents aren’t there! It will likely be much harder on you than on them!

Try an earlier bedtime on weekdays: This isn’t for every baby, but if you find your kid isn’t napping as much at daycare or just coming home really tired in general (it’s exhausting playing all day!) then don’t be afraid to try an earlier bedtime. Sometimes we put June to bed as early as 6:30 if she’s really exhausted, but her normal bedtime before we started daycare and on the weekends is 7:30.

Buy some inexpensive clothes for daycare: I really like sets from Old Navy and H&M, but I never send her with anything “nice” to daycare. (Even better, ask your friends if they have any hand-me-downs!)

Get these Minted name labels for bottles, cups, coats, etc: So easy and way cuter than labeling things with a sharpie or label-maker labels. Use code JESS15 for 15% off!

Talk through example scenarios to prepare for WHEN your child is out sick: Because it will happen. Talking through how you will handle it with your spouse ahead of time will help lessen the stress when they bring the inevitable bugs home.

Plan activities for yourself and with your spouse during daycare hours! This in my opinion is another huge perk of daycare–if I finish my work early–I can read a book!! I can go to lunch with a friend, I can get a manicure–I can do whatever I want before 6pm! Huzzah! Freedom! Also–if you have the flexibility to do so, plan dates during this time with your spouse. Hit happy hour before daycare pickup (photo below–we often do pre-pickup happy hour together!) or go to lunch together–take advantage of having your baby out of the house and having time to yourself!

How to respond to annoying people who act like sending them to daycare is akin to dropping them at the orphanage: (LOL someone asked this on Instagram–gotta love those Karens!) First of all, I would remind them that you didn’t ask for their opinion, and second of all, I would send them this article on Psychology Today on all the positive benefits of daycare as it pertains to childhood development. 😉

On ensuring enough quality time outside of daycare: This will vary for everyone, but I still feel like I get lots of quality time with her outside of daycare hours. We’ve got at least two hours in the morning together and at least two hours at night. Often I will try to finish work and pick her up early to spend more time with her, and if I’ve been traveling or haven’t seen her at all, I’ll keep her home with me for a day or two to make up for lost time. (It’s not like school where attendance is mandatory!) We still have lots of time to spend together reading books, going for walks, I try to get her involved in “helping” me with dinner (if we’re both not cranky and exhausted 😂), etc. And then there are times when we’re both cranky and tired and we watch Moana and eat Mac and cheese for dinner. It’s all about balance–but to make a long story short, it works for us!

That’s it! I hope this was helpful! Remember whatever option you choose, you know your family best, and you’re doing amazing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *