Childcare is a big deal. While we know that managers can make a huge difference in the quality of our lives when we return from maternity leave, there’s less emphasis on how much your choice of childcare will make you feel during the day.
It’s personal, for sure, but it’s so important that we wanted to explore the experience women had about when they started to look for childcare, and how they decided between different options. Some of us will be able to rely on extended family, while others will be leaving our babies with our partners and spouses. Then, there’s obviously traditional daycare and in-home care options like nannies or shared nannies. What you end up choosing for your family will be a function of your job and personal finances, as well as the local options available where you live.
We talked to a handful of moms about how they selected the type of childcare they wanted and their tips for new moms trying to decide when (and how) to start looking for childcare.
First, Sarah O’Grady at Lenovo told us:
When we lived in New York (where my son was born), it was a different game altogether in terms of choosing daycare - everything good had a wait list, and so you really had to start visiting daycares the minute your pregnancy test revealed a positive. It was so stressful!
Now we live in North Carolina, and it was a different experience, here. There were a lot more great options to choose from, and if there were wait lists, they were often very short. We chose our daycare after Gemma was born - she was maybe a month old, and she started at three months old. We selected a place that was close to home (rather than close to work) so it would be convenient for both my husband and I to do pick up and drop off.
Similar to Sarah, a number of women we spoke to started looking for childcare during their pregnancy. They tended to be sure they wanted (or had to) use daycare and lived in places where quality daycare centers tended to fill up quickly. One California mom told us she was 6 months pregnant when she first started examining day care options and touring different centers.
Those looking for nannies, however, usually have more time. Georgene, one of our founders, explained that daycare was never an option that crossed her mind because of her long hours.
"I had a very intense job when I had my son and another very intense job when I had my daughter. Because of the long hours I worked and because we were able to afford it, we chose to have a nanny. That was the easy part of our decision. The hard part was picking the right nanny."
In many ways, I thought of this as my most important “work” hire. If I couldn’t be focused on my job and had any doubts about the quality of care my nanny gave, I knew I couldn’t really be present in my job. I had the added complication of needing a new nanny after relocating to the U.S. after living abroad. I probably interviewed 30 people on the phone from London, using a combination of word-of-mouth referrals from other moms I knew as well as agencies.
In the end, I liked using an agency because they ran background checks and had processes for checking referrals (including setting up calls with former employers) which gave me a lot of peace of mind, despite the added transaction cost.
I picked someone with a long track record and someone with a lot of ‘executive presence’. That sounds odd, because it’s not exactly the first phrase that comes to mind when you’re looking for a caregiver for an infant. But I’ve come to learn it’s not incompatible to have a nanny that is both warm and loving, as well as one that can take command of a situation (e.g. organizing playdates and after-school activities and meals) without being asked.
Some women choose daycare even when they can afford nannies or home-based care because they like the idea of leaving their baby in a more social environment which they consider to be more “educational.” Others feel like they can more easily trust an “institution” compared to any single individual
We took our time to decide between daycare and nanny and ultimately chose daycare about two months before returning from leave. Once I went back to work, we realized we needed the flexibility of a nanny instead. We used care.com and my neighborhood network (mom group, etc.) to find a nanny. We interviewed several and made our decision pretty quickly after interviews.
Elizabeth ultimately had to change her childcare choices, which women tell us is very normal.
First, it’s normal to change your mind about what you want. Second, it’s also normal to change your childcare solutions as your child develops or you experience career changes. Sometimes you need to dial up the intensity of childcare support you have, while other times you may need less. Since so many things about being a mom are new, it’s normal to evolve your thinking.
Whatever type of childcare you choose, you may want to consider is talking to other moms of young children at your company. Find out whether they use a local daycare provider and whether they find it more convenient to have a daycare located near home versus the office. Think about your hours and build in a traffic-jam and last-minute-meeting buffer into your calculations.
Finally, remember that no matter how well you prepare for it, it will probably still feel difficult and nerve wracking to leave your baby in someone else’s care. Take comfort in the fact that for so many moms, their nannies and daycare centers quickly become extensions of their families. You will soon be the one turning to your childcare provider for advice and reassurance about how to take care of your baby!