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The Juggle: Childcare Edition

Categories: Parenting, The Juggle


littlest-two.jpgBefore I had kids, there was a point to be made by working fulltime: “Sure, I would like my kids to have a stay-at-home parent,” the much-younger, idealistic, child-free Lylah declared. “But who said I had to be the one to jettison my career? Why couldn’t my husband do it for a while?”

Then I actually had kids and, as it often happens, found that I didn’t know what I was talking about. My point was all well and good, but there was reality to contend with: My paycheck paid the mortgage. Not working wasn’t an option.

Our finances dictated that my husband couldn’t put his career on hold, either, so, for years one of us worked nights, the other worked days, and we traded off with the kids in the middle. It was tag-team parenting at its finest. And it was a stress fest. My husband and I rarely saw each other. The kids had plenty of time with each of us, but very little time with both of us together. To make matters more difficult, my husband and I only had one day off in common, and that day was filled with each of us trying to “get stuff done.”

We thought we’d suck it up and manage until the littles were old enough for kindergarten, but my husband got a job offer with daytime hours that was just too good to pass up. I had just returned from maternity leave and felt like I had already used up any good will I had banked, along with all of my vacation and sick time — the big kids were older (and much more independent) by then, but I couldn’t take time off while we figured out childcare for our youngest two kids. What were we going to do?

We looked into and decided against hiring a nanny — L. was 2 1/2 and technically too young for preschool, but after having emulated her older siblings all her life, she certainly was ready for a more social, more structured environment. We looked into a home-daycare situation, but couldn’t find one that was both stimulating enough for L. and easygoing enough for our laid-back little man, O., who was 6-months old at the time. That left daycare centers, and here, we lucked out; a brand-new branch of a well-established company had opened up just months ago, and just minutes down the road from our house.

Fast-forward 6 months… The initial guilt I felt about having L. and O. in someone else’s care was eclipsed only by the shock of the first monthly tuition bill, and both feelings were replaced by relief and amazement when I saw how they were thriving. They’re so active and social — much more so than when I was home with them during maternity leave. It was absolutely the right choice for our family.

Working moms: What do you do about childcare? How did you decide what worked best for your family?

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7 comments so far...

  • My challenge with the center based daycare (it’s quite regulated where I live) is that very, VERY few of them offer infant spots, period. The ones that do have a waiting list of up to 2 years long (which… work out the math on that :-P)

    Infants are… 0-15 months? Junior Toddler spots are 15-18 months, and also hard to come by but possible. When I went back to work and had my sitter fall through, I called every center in 3 counties (I live in one, my husband works one county east of here and I work one county north of here) and not ONE had an infant spot open. 8 centers (out of over 70 that I called) offered spots at all… as in only 8 out of 70 offered the service to begin with.

    I mean, Canadian parental leave is great (with the caveat that it does cost a lot of goodwill at work, but at least it is legal)… but that 3 month gap between that running out and being able to *find* registered childcare was utterly horrific.

    I ended up going with private, home-based care. It’s not as stimulating, it’s not as structured, but it’s turned out pretty well. We happen to be rural so the kids get to visit the baby animals on neigbours farms a couple times a year. They get to go berry picking and to the beach and to the library every week. Because the sitters kids skate on the same night and timeslot as my own, she takes them to the arena and all I have to do is get their skates on and send them on the ice. Tons of things I would never get with registered, center based care.

    So that’s worked out well for us. But the lack of service available was very startling.

    wookie  |  January 9th, 2008 at 6:55 am

  • I was startled by the inflexibility of part-time options for 18-month to 3 year old set. Day care centers and pre-schools structure part time as either mornings 8-12, or T/TH or MWF full days, where I wanted care in the afternoon. It just made more sense to me to spend the mornings with my son and to work during naptime.

    Since I work from home, I ended up hiring a part-time nanny, originally from 12-2 M-F, but now from 12-4. She feeds my son lunch, puts him down for a nap, does light housekeeping (dishes and laundry) while he sleeps, and is availabe if he doesn’t sleep or I need to go into the office. It was easy to find someone for this schedule on Craig’s List. My nanny is a college student who takes classes in the morning and evening, and also does afterschool care for another child from 4-6. At $12/hr, in my area this option is competitive with the commercial daycare centers, although more expensive than church and home based care.

    SoftwareMom  |  January 10th, 2008 at 5:45 am

  • We were lucky after our first and my inlaws watched C when I went back to work 3 days a week. When I got pregnant with M I kept the same schedule, but left my job. I stayed home for 7.5m and found a new M-F 9-5 job. We explored centers and found only one (pure luck) that would take an infant and a 2yo. They were the only center that met muster in our area. The price tag was $3300/m for both plus the extra commute which added 30m to our travel each way. We were not able to find home-based care that we liked for our boys. We explored the nanny option and for us the price was just less and we got the benefit of the boys keeping their own schedule, sleeping in their own beds and few colds. I worried about C not getting the social interaction, but the benefits were too good to pass up. Making the transition back to work full time was stressful and knowing that the housekeeping (light) boys laundry and playdates were still intact made it much easier. Our nanny is amazing a grad student working on early childhood education who takes classes at night. Sadly we are loosing her in May and have to begin this process again. C is in preschool 3 days a week 8-2, something that wouldn’t happen if we were at a center. Overall this works well for us and the boys. I am not excited about beginning the search again, but having a system that I know works will hopefully help.

    This issue is stressful on so many levels.

    KLG  |  January 10th, 2008 at 10:40 pm

  • I never really thought I would stay home when we had kids - we needed my income.

    With my first son, I was lucky to stay home for almost 4 months and the juggling act started. My husband worked in the am, I ran to drop off the baby with him and then attempted to go to work and get a whole days work done in 5-6 hours. We were only able to sustain this routine until my son was 7 mos. old. I fought to keep him out of daycare as long as I could, but ultimately we did it. I cried a lot! I was the most painful thing I had ever done.

    Once I stopped focusing on all the emotions I started to see the my son was doing great and appreciate that he was in a great home-daycare situation.
    Another thing that happened was that my stress-level dropped and I loved having a schedule.

    With my second son, it was still painful to leave him, but I looked forward to the schedule! (I wonder what that says about me?)

    Amanda  |  January 16th, 2008 at 11:41 pm

  • I think it says that you’re a good mom, Amanda! You figured out what worked best for your children and your family and yourself, and looked forward to the positive aspects of it… that’s great!

    As you can see from the other commenters, figuring out childcare is a major stressor, no matter what you end up doing. It’s encouraging to me to see that so many other people have gone through what I go through, and have figured out ways to deal with childcare and bring those stress levels down.

    KLG: What a tough position to be in. At least knowing what the steps that need to be followed are means your a tiny bit ahead of the game, right?

    Software mom: Craigslist is a great resource for things like this, as long as the parent is willing to do the fact-checking/reference calling legwork. And, $12 an hour? That’s fantastic…

    Wookie: I’m really surprised by the lack of options you experienced — how disappointing! I’m glad you found something that works for you in the end, though.

    Lylah  |  January 17th, 2008 at 11:33 am

  • [...] taking a job on the day side. Money got even tighter once we had to pay for childcare (before, the kids were with my husband while I was at work, and vice versa). I took on more freelance assignments. His new job required him to do so much that he often [...]

    No Time for Date Night? Try Date Day - The 36-Hour Day - Work It, Mom!  |  April 7th, 2008 at 12:10 am

  • One thing I’ve learned, is get references, but don’t let other people’s opinions change your gut instinct. I have heard some negative feedback about the daycare I chose for my children. What’s funny is all of the feedback comes from someone who knows someone who’s child went there… never first hand experience. Any place that takes care of children is going to have one or two parents unhappy for one reason or another. It’s just how the world works. You have to learn how to interpret truth vs. gossip. We’re now pregnant with baby #3 and I plan to take him/her to the same daycare my other children attend.

    Kenya  |  July 13th, 2009 at 7:34 pm