Picking the right childcare is probably the biggest, most stressful decision you can make when you return to work after maternity leave. After all, a working mother’s worst nightmare is finding out something is seriously wrong with your childcare provider. Whether it’s a nanny who neglects your baby or a daycare center that doesn’t properly vet their staff when making hires, you can’t feel good about your job and career if you don’t have childcare support you completely trust.
But how do you get comfortable with a complete stranger or a complete group of strangers when it comes to your little baby? Every mom is different, but the ones we spoke to gave us a lot of helpful ideas.
While the following 11 tips might seem like overkill, we’re big believers in leaving little to chance on this topic. Whether you do them all or not, we think these suggestions will go a long way to truly giving you peace of mind.
1. Get some vouching from trusted referrals and/or intermediaries.
Linda Quinones, who is a mother of four and owns Seeking Sitters in the Washington D.C. area, helps families find safe and reliable childcare. She believes that referrals from people you know are the “best source for a nanny or babysitter.”
For those of us who don’t have immediate referrals to turn to, you may want to consider well-known childcare agencies or online mom groups. One West Coast mom we know said she used her “neighborhood’s Yahoo Group for new moms” when she was researching daycare centers. She said: “I also did research on the facilities on the government’s California Child Care Licensing Program site.”
2. Create opportunities for daycare/nanny observation before turning over the reins.
It’s easier to observe a new nanny within your home than a childcare provider that is off-site (such as a shared nanny) or daycare center. However, daycare centers will offer a tour and brief observation period where you can get a sense of them.
When you’re touring a daycare center, observe how the children (and your child) behaves. Do they seem happy or are they anxious? Do they play together well or are they constantly being separated by the staff?
Visit the daycare center you’re interested in at different times of the day to see how things may look at the beginning, middle or end of the day. Drop in unannounced and see if that makes a difference. One mom we know visited her daycare a couple times with her child before officially enrolling and stayed with her baby for 15 minutes per visit. Then, before she started dropping him off full-time, she did a period of half-day drop offs.
At home, you can test a new nanny out by working in a different area of your home with the door open and listening with one ear to what is happening in the other room. While a new nanny will presumably be on their best behavior when you are around, if you spend a few days like this, you’ll get a sense of what you’re in for.
Do this for a week or more, and you will feel even better — because it will be hard for anyone to truly “fake” being a different person for a longer period of time.
3. Don’t neglect to background check.
Background checks are widely available and should be conducted by registered daycare centers for all staff members. If you hire a nanny through an agency, they will suggest a variety of background check providers. If you hire one on your own, you will have to find your own background check company.
Be thorough and don’t skimp on the service. You want to see a clean criminal record and find out about other things that may be important to you, such as their driving records and traffic infractions — particularly if you expect them to be responsible for transportation in the future.
4. Compare your options because the range may surprise you.
One Chicago mom told us she toured six daycare centers to get a sense of what the differences were in terms of staff and environment. Even though she saw more places than she had to, she felt better about knowing about the breadth of options available to her in case she needed to make a change.
Similarly, every nanny is as different since they are all individuals. Seeing more than one, including those who have a wide range of years of experience (and even compensation), will help you identify what’s most important to you.
5. Ask smart questions. A lot of them.
Everyone who hires a nanny or chooses daycare will ask questions. There are even lists of questions to ask during an interview or daycare tour so that you don’t forget to cover any of the basics. But the point is to ask questions that will get to the heart of your concerns and fears.
Farah, a mom of two in New York, explained that her choice of nanny was based on her interview: “I asked a lot of detailed questions and also made it extremely clear about all expectations so there were no surprises.”
Also, look for circumstantial evidence. For one woman we spoke to, Alice, it was important that her nanny had raised her own children to be successful.
You and your family may have unique needs. Are you concerned about what your nanny would do if you are running late or ran out of your breastmilk stash? Or are you more concerned with your daycare’s evacuation procedures or the CPR training of its staff? Whatever it is that worries you most, get it off your chest. Ask about it directly or indirectly, but get answers or you will not be able to truly relax.
6. Verify answers.
Gloria, a new mom, was so anxious about getting every last piece of information about her prospective nanny that she called more than one family her nanny had worked with in the past. Even though her nanny’s first reference was sterling and was the most relevant (as she’d been with them for the past 7 years), she still felt compelled to ask for more information.
Call it paranoia, but Gloria said: “What’s another half hour call compared to the peace of mind that talking to someone else from [my nanny’s] past could give me? I don’t regret being thorough and making sure this reference was real…. and yes, I was a bit paranoid that the first reference was just a friend or someone who was making up a story!”
Similarly, you can ask anyone who has referred a daycare center for stories about what their daycare providers reported doing when different scenarios occurred such as a baby getting sick, refusing to sleep or eat. Asking 20 questions now will spare you worrying about the one thing you didn’t ask while you’re in the middle of your work day.
7. Check references and accreditations.
Look at certifications at your daycare center and contact your state’s child care licensing agency to get a copy of your center’s regulations and any publicly available records. Many reputable day care centers also go through accreditation with organizations like the NAEYC.
With a childcare provider, ask for their CPR or other educational credentials, if any. Sometimes just double checking this with the institution will bring any “white lies” to the forefront that wouldn’t be captured in a background check.
8. Monitor your child closely during the transition.
Even first-time, new moms have a third sense for who their baby is. Do they seem happy and calm when you pick them up or come home? If you’ve done an unexpected drop-in, how is your baby faring then? What about your baby’s weight and health?
Especially during the early weeks, be watchful of changes in your child, and while small changes are no cause for panic, your baby’s reactions can be very revealing.
9. Trust your intuition.
Childcare is about people. It’s either a single person or a group of people who you’re choosing to take care of your baby. The thing about people is that they just aren’t predictable machines.
You simply don’t know how even the closest person to you will react in any situation. That’s why listening to your gut after all the data, fact-checking, reference checking and information has been gathered is still of paramount importance. Your mom instincts are on high alert, so listen to them!
10. Make changes if you’ll feel better.
No one says your choices are etched in stone. You don’t have to stick it out with a daycare or babysitter who rubs you the wrong way, even if you can’t quite rationalize it. Your feelings about your childcare are more important than any “objective” truth. Maybe you are being fickle or emotional. Or maybe you are just feeling something in your gut that bothers you.
11. Get your partner involved.
While it may seem stressful to add another perspective to the process of finding a daycare or babysitter, your partner or spouse may see things in an interview or site visit that you don’t notice. They also may have a different perspective on what is important, be a sounding board for your concerns and notice different things about your baby after you’ve made a childcare decision. The moral support of figuring out child support with your child’s other parent can be a huge relief, too.
Our founder, Georgene, went a step further! She interviewed for nannies when she moved from London to New York by enlisting the opinion of the nanny she had at the time (who couldn’t live in the U.S.). She’s pretty sure that the nanny she ended up hiring had never before faced an interview panel of three!
Becoming a mom is an evolution, and to give your best at work and to your career means being comfortable. So do what it takes to get comfortable, and hopefully you and your baby will be well on your way to loving your daycare or nanny!