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I've been a working mom for four years now, and in that time I've tried almost every form of childcare under the sun. I'm no expert, but I have learned a thing or two – usually the hard way.
First, finding good childcare is a stressful, emotionally loaded pain in the butt.
Second, no childcare situation is ever perfect. Some are downright unbearable. There was the wonderful nanny who just stopped showing up one day, and never again picked up my phone calls. There was my baby's first winter in daycare, when she had four ear infections back-to-back. And there's always that nagging voice that whispers, "Is this good enough? Are they getting what they need?"
(Before I go on, please don't tell me the best thing for my kids would be for me to not work. It wouldn't be. I love and need to work outside the home. Enough said.)
Back to daycare. After years on various waiting lists, my older daughter got a spot at a well-regarded center in our area. Bonus: The sibling policy meant my baby would skip to the top of the wait list, too.
For the most part, our daycare center has been great – though I've discovered several things that no one told me, or that people did tell me and I ignored:
1. Your child will get sick. Not all babies will catch every single bug making the rounds, but mine did. As I mentioned, she got back-to-back ear infections last winter and was home sick for weeks. I missed a lot of work, and sobbed to our pediatrician that I was the worst mom ever. But I decided to keep her in daycare, and she was perfectly healthy from April to October. So far, this winter has been a lot better (as the pediatrician said it would be) – but my daughter has still had an ear infection, roseola, and a cold that kept her home for five days. Turns out all this early illness could actually be a good thing – but that doesn't make it any easier.
2. There will be great caregivers – and a few not-so-good ones. I've been amazed by the quality of the teachers and caregivers at our center. They have a demanding, exhausting job, and they do it gracefully and with a lot of love. Of course, there are a few folks who aren't as great, but from what I've seen they don't last long. It's too difficult a job to do if your heart's not in it.
3. Your child will learn a ton. If it's a good daycare, you can expect your child's education to get a boost. My younger daughter's vocabulary is way ahead of where her sister's was at this age, and I credit the work of her caregivers at daycare, as well as the stimulation. There's just a lot more going on there, like full-body painting, bins of oatmeal and cornstarch to explore, and of course other kids. My 15-month-old has a best friend – they hold hands and giggle at eachother.
4. The rules, regulations, and policies are a pain. If I had a nickel for every minute I spent labeling bottles of breast milk with various identifying stickers and rubber bands, filling out forms, and signing incident reports for every bump and bruise, I might have enough for a Caribbean cruise. The rules and regulations tend to be most onerous at big daycare centers like the one my daughters attend. But smaller, home-based daycares have their own inconveniences, like two-week vacations a few times a year. (Meaning that you need to take this time off work or find other arrangements.)
Photo by Grant Barrett
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.