When my son was born, I immediately started looking for new jobs. My previous job had been a contract position so they wouldn’t allow me to return after the birth. Fine, I would reapply elsewhere. I tried to apply there again but it was obvious they were only interviewing me as a courtesy (another story for another post).
Anyway, I was happy to have received two offers a few months later. But the job I took was in a different state and as a first time mom, I had no experience looking for childcare. My husband would still be in the Navy (and living in another state) for another couple of months, so he couldn’t help interview babysitters or daycares. Moreover, he also had a job lined up after he finished his time in the Navy, so I was left to make this decision alone rather than postpone it so we could do it together.
My in-laws promised someone would be able to help, given the fact that they were a big family. However, after I moved, it suddenly became apparent that no family member would be able to provide full time care for my three-month old baby because they all had day jobs that were more important. I couldn’t blame them for not dropping their careers to watch over my son, but I was irritated that they put me in a position where I had to quickly decide what to do with my infant. Pressed for time, left with few visible options, and nervous to make the wrong choice, I did what any mother (newbie or experienced would do). I considered all the options and picked based on my instinct.
I set up a profile on Care.com but was repelled by the lack of attentive or informative replies. Young high schoolers that only asked questions about pay or college girls that wanted a schedule catered to their classes or weekend plans were the only ones responding. Why yes, please email me your list of detailed requests while I write out my check for $900 a week to you. No.
Next, I went on Google to search daycares in the area but then became frustrated by the fact that my commute from my in-laws’ place (where I would be living until my husband came back from the Navy) was an hour and a half away from my new job. Should I pick a center close to my job or to their house? On one hand, it would be nice to pop in to see my son over lunch if the daycare was next to my job, but if it was near to where my husband’s family lived, others could pick my son up in case of an emergency. Not only that but could we afford $250 a week on daycare when we didn’t even have our own place to live? Too many questions made this one an unattractive option.
Battling with the multiple lists in my head, I called my sister to complain and she brought up an option I never thought to consider.
‘Maybe I could fly there for a few weeks and help out,’ she said, as I worked to get rid of the frustration built up inside me from wondering if I could be a good mom and a working mom at the same time.
Yes! That felt right. I could trust my sister. She was my son’s aunt. She would care about him and for him in ways that a stranger wouldn’t. For a month, she watched my son during the day and woke up with him every night so I could get sleep and get myself to work every morning. It was difficult but she handled it well and even started a walking routine with my dog so my son would have stroller rides in the evening, and my black lab could get out and breathe in fresh air around the neighborhood. I was so grateful but she had to fly back home eventually and I was left with the same conundrum as before.
What should I do about childcare?
I had learned that home daycares were popular where I now lived so I called about a dozen women near my job and another dozen near my in-laws. But everyone was full. I had waited too long and with summer almost over, they were already maxed out on number of kids. Great. Just as I thought I had found the happy medium between a babysitter and a daycare center, the option slipped away from me in the blink of an eye.
I had to start my son at a normal daycare center when my sister left. The center was halfway between where I lived and where I worked, which was perfect. The brochures said they promoted learning and social development and I was impressed with the center. But after the fifth accident report and a nasty conversation with the director in which she ended by telling me that it was impossible for her employees to watch all the babies and that I would have to accept that sometimes they would fall or get bitten, I was furious. You mean I have to risk my child hitting his head everyday because you’re understaffed or because you think that’s just how daycares work? Maybe when kids are toddlers or school-aged that’s a reasonable assumption to make, but if I’m paying premium to have my infant watched by a center, then I deserve to have my child’s safety be listed as a priority. This woman also had an issue with us being unwilling to sign a waiver/consent form for allowing our child’s pictures to be taken and used for teaching, marketing and social media purposes. We don’t have our child on Facebook and force our family members and friends to follow suit so I would certainly not allow it at a public daycare center. Needless to say, the daycare stint didn’t last very long.
My mom decided to fly across the country and help. She sold her house in Florida and moved up North with me to survive cold winters for the sake of my baby because she understood my struggle. At this point, my husband and I were living together again and had our own house so it was easy to ask her to come over or to drop him off (since she also lived between our home and my place of work). I was so happy. We still paid her but it was significantly less and my son was receiving one-on-one attention from Grandma. Finally, an ideal solution!
For almost two years my mother watched my son but she recently moved to California, and AGAIN, I had to think of what would be best for my son. This time I at least had the support of my husband but it was tough nonetheless. We changed our minds multiple times, interviewed nannies and centers, and almost sent in a deposit to a nearby center that was okay but not impressive. Then, we did a 180.
My husband was up for a new job and turned down the offer to stay home with our son. Now, I go to work everyday and he gets to play with our sweet little boy. Of course it’s not really a piece of cake. As stay-at-home moms know, it is emotionally and physically draining to have your days revolve around your child. But he’s a fantastic dad and though I never expected for this to be in the cards for us, I am eternally grateful for the blessing.
Other options available to us that I have now come across, (once I realized child care can be whatever you want it to be as long as you are open to something different-or not as traditional)-are leaving my son with stay-at-home friends of mine who have offered to watch him since they’re already home with their own kids, me leaving work to stay at home full time, taking advantage of a back-up care program through my work, looking into church daycares, me working a few days from home (an option my last company tried to negotiate with me before I quit), or us mixing up the above options. Maybe full time daycare would be unsettling, but if my friend could watch our son two days a week and I could do it the other days or a trustworthy babysitter could, then why not? While my mom was taking care of our son, she took a weekend job and we were able to give her Fridays off by hiring a family of sisters from church to watch him on Fridays only.
Every family has their own set of criteria and preferences. So the things I did may not work for you.
The point is, you have to think outside the box when deciding what options are available to you in terms of childcare. It’s your child. Your most valuable possession. Why not ask a million questions of both yourself and possible care providers before making a decision? When you give it a lot of thought and open yourself to being flexible and bold (asking a church friend or neighbor to help or seeing if a family member is available for a bit), the possibilities that light up in front of you could surprise you.