The decision to be a working mom is incredibly personal. I will never forget February 13, 2008, the day I got to hold my baby for the first time. He looked up at me and all was right with the world. I will also never forget February 16, 2008 – the day I realized that being a parent was HARD and much more demanding than any client I had ever encountered.
What a debate! I had no idea that I would spend so much time as a parent thinking about, talking about, and considering who should take care of my children while I spent my time working on other people’s legal problems. Of course, why wouldn’t my husband and I spend so much time debating and worrying about the quality of care we would be providing for the most precious people in our lives—our children?
Well, my friends, in the past ten years, with our three kids, we have tried it all. And I literally mean it! We’ve done daycare, Montessori school, in-home child care, au pairs*, full-time nannies, and part-time nannies. I’m sure we’ve probably missed something in there, but that pretty much runs the gamut for all our options here in Fort Worth. I’ve researched all the types of daycares – Crème de la Crème, Children’s Courtyard, hospital-sponsored daycares, church-sponsored daycares, YMCA-sponsored daycares, and beyond. As a couple, we have toured, researched, and vetted so many options that I’ve practically become the local expert on childcare options. In fact, I’ve received multiple phone calls from local attorneys who explain, “We are expecting our first child and so-and-so said I should call you to discuss daycares…”
With all that said, it probably sounds like I’m one of those hyperactive, overprotective, helicopter parents, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! It is important for you to understand that I have never been interested in being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM – it took me forever to even figure out what SAHM stood for!). Don’t get me wrong; I adore—absolutely adore—my children. However, I know that the best thing for all of us is for me to not be at home with them all day. Now, I also recognize that many of you reading this, along with many of my friends and colleagues, feel the exact opposite. So, if you don’t judge me, I won’t judge you (actually, I won’t judge you either way, so it’s really a moot point).
Deciding on the perfect childcare situation for your family is a very personal decision and the answer will be different for almost everyone. Every family dynamic is as unique as a fingerprint. My family consists of three beautiful children: Luke who was born while juggling my last set of finals in my third year of law school, Evie who was born approximately 18 months later during my first year as a litigation associate at a large law firm, and George who was born three years later while I was practicing commercial litigation as a senior associate at a medium-sized law firm. During this time, my husband (not an attorney) was an up-and-coming executive in the consumer finance industry. To make a busy situation worse, we do not have any family close by to lend a hand. There are no next-door grandparents or aunts to cuddle and spoil our little cherubs, so we were completely on our own. To say that we were are busy is a gross understatement. The point of all this oversharing is to tell you that this is my family dynamic, and I’ve made choices based on what is best for my family—not yours. So, please take my opinions and utilize them in a way that makes your family dynamic work best.
Daycare is an absolutely wonderful choice for many people, and it was for us, for a time. When my oldest was born 10 years ago (wow, do I feel old!), we were not in a financial position to even consider a nanny or any sort of private care. I was just graduating from law school (baby in arms) and carrying the balance of law school loans in addition to a diaper bag. Even the pricing at Crème de la Crème was way out of our budget. So, price is definitely something to consider. Nonetheless, there are plenty of quality daycares out there that offer a safe environment, with intellectually stimulating surroundings and loving caregivers.
The benefit of choosing daycare, is that you are not putting all your eggs in one basket. There is a system of checks and balances in place that you don’t get with a nanny or an au pair. The Texas Department of Family and Child Protective Services provides governmental oversight and licensing for all child care facilities. Have you ever looked up your favorite restaurant through the Online Health Inspection Reports? (Don’t do it! It’ll ruin your dinner!). Well, you can get the same information on your daycare just by visiting this website: http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Child_Care/Information_for_Parents/default.asp. There are reports regarding the facilities, the care provided, the environment, and more. The facilities are inspected and reported, and the daycares are expected to self-report any known violations. For example, one of the child care facilities that we utilized (and loved) self-reported when a baby fell off the changing table. It was terrible! But, in the long run, I had more confidence in their honesty than discouragement in their level of care.
There are other advantages, too. There are required ratios of teachers to children, so that you know your child is getting the attention he/she needs. If a teacher calls in sick, there is a substitute provided by the facility. You aren’t suddenly wondering who is going to take care of your babbling toddler while you argue a motion for summary judgment in federal court. Instead, that’s the daycare’s problem. You don’t have time to find a replacement for the nanny who is suddenly experiencing car trouble and can’t get to your house. You don’t have time to interview and conduct a background check on any number of back up choices. And although there are services out there such as Care.com who will take all the work out of your hands, you still have to be comfortable with a stranger showing up at your house on a moment’s notice to take care of your child. (By the way, I’ve done this, so no judgment here!) Plus, the cost of a last-minute sitter may be escalated.
Daycare provides guaranteed hours, guaranteed cost, human resources (to whom the employees can voice their concerns), management (to whom you can voice your concerns), benefits for the employees (built into your daycare fees), guaranteed oversight, and extensive years of experience. Experience is a huge benefit! Our first beloved teacher had over twenty years of experience with infants and toddlers when we first met her. Her colleagues had similar levels of experience, and they all nurtured and loved my two oldest children beyond my expectations. I had no idea that a childcare giver could become a member of my family so quickly. In fact, I still keep in touch with four of the teachers from the first daycare we utilized. We only left when those teachers left the facility due to a corporate buyout. They are like family to us.
Of course, daycare has disadvantages too. What if you don’t love the childcare giver your child has the way we loved ours? What if she doesn’t seem to provide the care you expect? What if you just don’t feel warm and fuzzy? Then, maybe, daycare isn’t the right fit for your family dynamic. In fact, some children absolutely do not thrive in the daycare atmosphere. There are germs. Millions of GERMS! No matter how diligent a daycare can be about scrubbing down toys, walls, beds, changing tables, countertops, and everything else in sight, there will always be germs and runny noses. Always.
One of the most difficult aspects about having a child in daycare is the dreaded “sick call.” Picture yourself elbow-deep in discovery, fielding phone calls in an attempt to schedule an upcoming deposition, and responding to emails regarding an imminent settlement, when you get a phone call from the daycare telling you that your bundle of joy has a fever and has to go home and stay home until he has been fever free for 24 hours. That means that you have to drop everything, grab your baby, maybe schedule a doctor’s appointment, and hunker down at home for the rest of the day and all of the next day. I’m certain you can see your billable hours flying out the window.
Also, you will have different childcare givers as your child gets older so even if you love your newborn’s teacher, you might not be in love with the subsequent teachers. Plus, your child’s teacher will have to divide her time between several children. It’s a challenge, but your child is worth it!
Nannies can fill the gaps that daycare leaves behind. A nanny typically becomes an actual member of the family. Parents are devastated when a nanny leaves or finds new jobs because she has become an important fixture in you and your child’s life. Nannies can be more flexible with their hours. Nannies don’t stop working when your child gets sick. Nannies can give your child their undivided attention. Nannies can drive your child to and from special classes like gymnastics or music. Nannies can help cook, clean, and do laundry (if you negotiate it into the scope of their job). However, Nannies are more expensive, aren’t subject to checks and balances, don’t offer automatic substitutes for sick days and vacation, and, quite frankly, may quit on you without any notice at all.
For some families, this is the only feasible option. A colleague of mine had to withdraw her child from daycare because her daughter simply could not stay healthy in the environment, even though other children (including my daughter) were perfectly fine. Hiring a nanny was the best option for her daughter’s health, and my colleague was able to return to her law practice without the constant interruption of sick calls. I am certain there are many others who have had this or similar experiences.
For other families, the benefit of having a nanny taking care of their child(ren) in their own home is priceless. Having the child’s own clothes, blankets, bed, food on hand is comforting to the parents and the child. There’s no need to pack bottles, formula, jars of baby food or a lunch, and extra clothes. There is no headache about drop off and daycare security. There are no squealing tires as your round the corner and rush through the doors to find your child is the last one in the daycare to be picked up (and yes, I speak from experience).
In our case, we utilized nannies once our older children were in grade school and required less than full-time care. It’s been a blessing to have nannies in our lives. We have also been blessed to have outstanding childcare givers at multiple daycare facilities. We are blessed that so many of these wonderful nannies and teachers continue to be a part of our lives as they watch our children grow and develop even if just from the sidelines of Facebook.
The bottom line is that there is no definitive answer regarding the choice between nannies and daycares. The ultimate truth is that there are people, whether nannies or teachers, who will care for your child with a level of love and joy that will surprise and delight you.
– Theresa Berend
The Berend Law Firm, PLLC
*Our experience with au pairs is worthy of a separate discussion, but the short story is that it also has positives and negatives. We still keep in touch with both au pairs and look forward to visiting them in the future. For more information, visit AuPairCare.com.