Each spring, as I compile information for my annual review, The Engineer and I choose childcare for our daughters. With so many little ones, does it make sense for me to work? (Spoiler alert: that answer is always yes). Should we look into a new childcare set up? Should The Engineer or I spend more time at home?
With our daughters’ needs always changing, what is the safest arrangement to ensure they are growing and thriving?
I know we are not the only family weighing these decisions and feeling the pressure from such a big choice. Currently, we feel that our arrangement allows us to meet the needs of all our children, while simultaneously not breaking the bank. But, our circumstances are not easily replicable to other families, so I have included testimonials from families who use a different set up that works well for their children.
I have created a flowchart and worksheet that can help your family with weighing your options. If you click on my picture at the bottom of the blog to sign up for my email list, I will send it your way!
Part-Time In-Home Nanny
We have used this set up since Laura Claire was 12 weeks old, and I returned to part-time work. The Engineer has always worked a fairly predictable 8-6 Monday-Friday job with occasional weekends and travel, while my hours as a nursing instructor vary with each semester. Our babysitters have always been students of mine, so I have the advantage of knowing them in a professional setting before welcoming them into our home. Nursing students come with background checks completed and are CPR certified, cutting out some of the leg work for us.
For one child, this option can be more expensive than day care, but once you add additional children to the mix, it ends up being cheaper, in most circumstances. Since I have always worked part-time, I have found the flexibility of an in-home babysitter to be the best for our needs, though the downside is the lack of consistency among sitters. The longest we’ve had the same nanny was 3 years, and most were significantly shorter time periods than that.
Today, we need childcare approximately 15 hours/week during the school year for our 4 daughters. I am required to be outside the home to teach about 6-8 hours/week, and the remainder of my time is flexible, and during the academic year, this includes weekends. Currently, we employee 3 different babysitters who come to our home and watch our girls while I need to work, either at home or out of the home.
This works well for our family because it allows our girls to remain in their own space and keep their schedules, while also being the most cost efficient option. One struggle we have is that we don’t have a car for our babysitter, and their cars can’t hold all of our children. Our girls have to do activities when I’m available to take them. We aren’t looking for a new childcare set up currently, mostly because our needs keep changing as our girls grow, and sitters in the home seem to offer the most flexibility for the best cost.
Each of the following sections are narratives from families who use the particular set up.
We need full time childcare for our three children – two in elementary school and one in preschool. My husband works in healthcare and has a very predictable M-F 8-5:30 job. I’m a Realtor and work every day, 7 days a week, but it does offer some flexibility in hours. We currently have an au pair. We had a full time nanny that came to our house for 5 years but we switched to an au pair last year because my hours were changing so much, and we didn’t feel it was fair to ask the nanny last minute to change her hours outside of the expectations we had given her.
Having an au pair has proven to be a great experience for our situation. She works an average 38-40 hours a week and sometimes up to 45 hours. We are able to set a schedule for her, but also with notice, change that schedule due to my work schedule changing, whether starting earlier some mornings or staying later some evenings. Au Pairs are required not to work more than 45 hours a week, no more than 10 hours a day, and require a full 1.5 days off each week. She is allowed 2 weeks of vacation each year with mutual approval on dates from us.
This set up has been great for us because there are many situations that we would need help prior that the nanny couldn’t provide assistance. For example, if there was a heavy snow, the nanny couldn’t drive to our house, and the kids had no school, I would have to cancel work appointments and stay home with the kids. Our au pair lives with us so she just walks downstairs, and whether she has 1 or all 3 kids because of a school cancellation, teacher work day or holiday breaks, she’s there to take care of them. It also enables me to be a part of my children’s day when I am able, so if I want to take an afternoon to have lunch with them or take them on an outing, either together or individually, I can.
It also enables us not to have to scramble to hire a babysitter separately when my husband and I want to go on a date at night. If we plan our dates ahead of time with our au pair, it is nice to get out of the house together and not have to orient a new person on what to do with the kids, since she knows everything already.
We do provide a separate car for our au pair, a phone, and pay her weekly stipend, but the overall cost is affordable and less than having a full time nanny, since she is living with us. We gave our sitters a raise every year (because it was expected), which increased the cost of childcare for us year after year. A weekly stipend for the au pair is nice because there’s no negotiation about pay. The expectation is set up front and a raise or bonus is not expected in this structured system. We can, of course, provide one if we would like to. Our au pair travels with us on family vacations and is a big help with the kids.
We’ve experienced the pros and cons of having a nanny verses an au pair, and we are happy with our decision to switch based on our situation. The au pair can stay with us for up to 2 years; so while she can’t stay with us longer than that for visa purposes, having the cultural experience with a different person, who becomes part of our family, and exposes our family to that culture has proven to be a positive impact on the children. Our children also help us interview the au pairs, so they are aware of that process and are a big part of it, which helps with the transition between new au pairs.
In-Home Day Care Center / Year-Round Preschool
Our family requires childcare about 45 hours/week, as my husband and I work full-time for the U.S. Government. Our three-year-old daughter attends a wonderful play-based preschool right around the corner from our house. The school hours work perfectly for our schedules, with morning care beginning as early as 7:30am and pick-up allowed until 6pm. I typically drop our daughter off around 7:45-8am on my way to work, and my husband picks her up between 4:30-5pm. We do this Monday-Friday, year-round, and we are home together during the evenings and weekends. All three of us have loved this school since our daughter started last September at age two-and-a-half, and we plan to keep her there until she starts public kindergarten at age five.
Before she started preschool, we had our daughter in a small in-home daycare about five minutes from our home. She started there at age five months, when I returned to work after maternity leave, and stayed until age two-and-a-half, and my husband and I could not be more grateful for the amazing care she received. The daycare provider, essentially like a nanny but who operated out of her own home rather than ours, had over two decades of experience caring for infants through school-aged children, and was a mother herself. She provided a small, loving environment that encouraged play, early learning, outdoor time, and socialization.
Because there were only three or four children on any given day, she was able to give a great deal of attention to each little one. This fact alone always gave me peace of mind, especially as a new mother leaving her baby with a caregiver for the first time. In addition, our provider was extremely reliable; in all our time with her, she never once called out sick or closed unexpectedly for any reason, and she was always flexible if we were running late or had a schedule change. Similar to our current preschool logistics, I usually did drop-off around 7:30-7:45am and my husband picked up around 4:30pm.
We are expecting our second little girl this May, and are thrilled that we’ve been able to secure a spot with the same in-home provider when I return to work in the fall. Our toddler’s preschool schedule will remain the same.
We have been very happy with both of the above situations, as they have allowed my husband and I to continue working full-time, while feeling assured that our baby girl is receiving the best possible care. The Monday-Friday, year-round coverage was critical for us, but it was equally important to find this coverage in environments that were more intimate than a large daycare center. So far so good, though we recognize that life will get slightly more complicated once we have two separate drop-off/pick-ups to worry about. Luckily, despite the full-time schedules, my husband and I both have enough flexibility in our current jobs to make it work.
One last note: we are also very lucky to have my mom (aka Nana) very close by. She is almost always the one who watches our daughter for weekend date-nights or other one-off times outside the core child care hours. She also helps us cover sick days if we have conflicts with work. She is retired and has a very flexible schedule. This is obviously ideal — we trust her completely, our daughter loves the time they spend together, and she doesn’t charge!
We need childcare 40 hours/week for our 2 year old daughter. My husband is an accountant with a large healthcare company and his hours are consistently 9-5 M-F. He does not travel. I am the senior vice president of a national non-profit. I am in the office 8.5 hours a day from 7:30 – 4. I work from home in the evenings and on weekends occasionally, when no childcare is needed. I travel 4 – 5 times a year. For the most part we do not work on weekends or holidays.
We do a nanny share in our home. We hired our nanny when I went back to work and our daughter was 3 months old. When my colleague had her baby she was interested in doing a nanny share. My colleague, or her husband, brings their daughter, who is 6 months younger than our daughter, to our house every morning at 8:30 and they pick up at 4:30. My husband and I pay more since the childcare occurs in our house every day.
When we have to work longer hours (which isn’t that often) or if I am traveling, we pay our nanny hourly as a babysitter. She is very flexible and always available.
We love this set up so much. Our daughter can be in her own space and keep her own schedule. I am a little bit crazy about her sleep so I love that she can take long afternoon naps in her own bed. Our nanny, who is now family after being with us for over 2 years, has two grown daughters and is incredibly professional. She is focused on helping the girls learn and grow, and she is helping my husband and I become better parents. Plus, our daughter is learning how to share and be a kind human being since we have another little girl in the house.
Our nanny also does a lot around the house (cleaning, laundry, cooks food for our daughter, etc.) which allows my husband and I to have quality time with our daughter when we are home with her. The nanny share makes it more affordable for us. We would not be able to have a nanny without doing a share set up. We are incredibly blessed to have a nanny we consider family. Plus, things have worked out great with the other family.
Sometimes, it’s a challenge giving our nanny time off since two families are involved. The only thing that I wish were different is that our nanny has a 2 door car, so we really haven’t thought much about her taking the girls anywhere during the day. We probably could buy extra car seats if we wanted to, now that I am thinking about it, but that is a little bit of a barrier.
We are thinking about putting our daughter in preschool for a few days a week when she turns 3, but we don’t want to lose our nanny. We feel like our daughter needs a little more social interaction. Doing preschool and a nanny would be a challenge financially, as would the transportation.
Elementary and Preschool
We need childcare 4 days a week, as well as occasional Saturdays. As a veterinarian, I work 4 days a week (8:30-6) and some Saturday mornings, with little flexibility. My husband is in outside builder sales and works 5 days a week (7:30-5), but has more flexibility as he makes his own schedule (ie if a kid gets sick or school is cancelled, he can stay home).
Currently our 6 year old is in elementary school and participates in the after-school care program, and our 4 year old is in full-time, year-round preschool. My parents retired to our town 4 years ago and live 1 mile away. They pick up our girls 4 days a week from school and care for them/feed them until we get home in the evening, which is a huge blessing!! I don’t know what we would do without them.
I am home every Wednesday and try to plan the kids activities for that day or weekends. For the occasional Saturdays that we might both have to work, my parents or a neighborhood sitter will watch the girls. My husband’s sister also recently moved to the area and can be available to help.
Currently, we are beyond thankful for our child care set-up, as having the girls be with my parents when we cannot be home feels so comforting. The relationship they have created is beautiful, and I rarely feel guilty about my work schedule. We both very much enjoy our jobs, and my parents have allowed us to have a great balance in our work and home life. I am also grateful for having a full day at home in the middle of the week to catch up on errands, laundry, etc so I have more time to spend with the girls on the weekend.
We also have been very pleased with our preschool and elementary school experiences, as well as the after-school programs that are offered.
Full Time Nanny for Single Parenting
I was widowed with two daughters, ages 6 and 10, and continued to work full time as a corporate financial manager. Prior to my husband’s passing, we had employed a full-time, in-home nanny for the previous 9 years, who continued to provide care for my children after this large life transition. My hours in the office were roughly 8-6, with occasional travel and rare weekend requirements.
There were many positives to having one, familiar caregiver in our circumstance: mostly, individual attention for my children in the added comfort and familiarity of their own home. Our nanny was able to provide assistance with and transportation to other activities, both at school and for sports. She also had immediate availability for medical appointments and school pickup for illness, which was essential as a single parent.
I found that an in-home, full-time nanny was better available to address my daughters’ needs after school, especially related to getting their homework completed in a quiet place, and getting to relax after a long day at school. She also prepared dinner for our family each evening, so I could eat with my daughters without needing to cook an entire meal after being at work all day. Our nanny also kept the house organized, and while she did not complete heavy cleaning, she would do the laundry and dishes.
With the many positives that this set up provided for our family, there were a couple of down sides. Sometimes, our nanny’s hours were less flexible than day-care, depending on what was occurring in her life at the time. It was difficult to establish a ‘backup’ process when care was not available. I also felt that, when care was being provided in our home, there was a need for audit; while it is paramount to have trust in the nanny, there should be some sort of ‘surprise oversight’ from time to time to be sure of what is going on.
Depending on the nanny and what they charge, it can be much more expensive than day-care, depending on the number of children who require care. There is the added administrative paperwork for tax purposes, given that I was employing her full time out of our home.
If you’d like a flowchart and spreadsheet to help you weigh childcare decisions for your family, please click at the bottom of the blog to sign up for my email list, and I will send it your way!