We are all familiar with the saying, “it takes a village,” and I find myself saying that often in regard to raising my daughter. Last minute babysitters, date nights, and alone time can be difficult to come by when both your parents and your in-laws live out of state. While I’m fortunate to have a network of close friends to lean on, I’ve also had to employ someone to help care for my daughter during working hours. The career paths I’ve chosen have allowed me to work from home, which I’m very thankful for, but while I thought I could work full-time while simultaneously watching my daughter, I learned very quickly that was not feasible. Luckily, we were able to find an incredible woman who comes twice per week to alleviate some of my responsibilities so I can focus on work, run an errand baby-free, and maybe even make it to the gym.
With Caregiver Appreciation Day coming up on the 13th, we wanted to a.) make sure all our mother’s helpers/nannies/daycares/family members get the kudos they deserve and b.) help you navigate the caregiver landscape, especially if you’re just embarking on your childcare-finding journey. Entrusting someone to take care of the tiny human(s) you love more than anything in the entire world can be a very daunting and emotional task, so let’s discuss the different types of care providers and some best practices in going about choosing the right one for your family.
There are two types of daycare you’ll come across when starting your search, one of which is in-home daycare. This is where a person gains a license from the state their private residence is located in to run a functioning daycare out of their home. Since regulations can vary from state to state, I’ll just focus on some points regarding California-based in-home daycares. There are quite a few requirements to get licensed, such as attending orientations, trainings, and having your home inspected for safety features as well as having a background check run against every adult who lives in the home. There are also strict guidelines for the child to care provider ratios, and while researching and interviewing potential daycares, you’ll want to ensure they abide by these – and bonus points for those who take an even more conservative approach to the ratios.
As the law stands, there can be four infants to one care provider -OR- six children, but no more than three of who are infants. If the home offers two care providers, twelve children are allowed, but no more than four of those can be infants. In an ideal scenario, you would have one care provider for every two infants and three to four older children per care provider, though following your gut during the decision making process is the best bet, as your mama radar will be on high alert!
This goes for daycare centers as well. The best thing to do is to visit the daycare you’re interested in and ask to observe. Any reputable service should allow you to do so and if they say no, that’s a red flag. Things to look for or inquire about in either setting: cleanliness; child-proofing; how the care providers interact with the children (are they standing up and talking to one another or are they holding the kids or playing with them on the ground?); discipline policies (do they align with your own?); food (what snacks are provided, if any, to the older kids?); sick-policy; back up plan in the event the daycare needs to close for a day or the care-provider comes down with an illness; if the older kids and their respective toys are kept separate from the infants; and updates on your child (do they text you photos or information throughout the day? ie: Ben just had his 5oz bottle and made a dirty diaper!).
While these are things to think about, every mama will have different priorities, so the most important thing is to trust your gut. Even after you enroll your child into a daycare, it’s recommended to stop by unannounced to see how things are going when they don’t expect you (yes, you can absolutely do this). If something seems off, you are not married to this daycare and can remove your child at any time. One final tip for the breastfeeding mamas out there: breastfeed your baby at the daycare frequently. If you’re rushing to work in the morning, then make sure to feed the baby before you leave to head home for the day. The reasoning behind this is that you get exposed to their environment, which better helps your body create the appropriate antibodies that your child needs. If breastfeeding the baby at the daycare isn’t something you’re comfortable with, that’s fine! You can kiss their little hands and face and pick up the environment that way too.
I probably don’t need to define this for you, but a nanny is a caregiver who comes to your home (sometimes there are circumstances where you bring your baby to another person’s home as a nanny-share) and watches your child.
They are typically much more expensive than a daycare set-up, primarily because they travel to you and the caregiver to child ratio is usually 1:1 or 1:2, depending on how many children you have. They also tend to help with light housekeeping, meal prep, and some even drive your kid(s) to and from school or activities. If you look on websites like care.com, you’ll see hundreds of people who are available as nannies or babysitters, and it can feel very overwhelming trying to make your way through all of the profiles. If you don’t feel like posting a job description to a forum like care.com or nextdoor.com, and if contacting potential nannies yourself seems like too much work, there are agencies who can do so for you.
Agencies typically staff care providers who have undergone background checks, driving history checks, and who are CPR certified. Sometimes there is a placement fee, but in other cases they just charge a flat rate for all their nannies and take a cut off the top. Most agencies don’t charge a fee for their initial search to provide you with candidates. They would charge you after you hire one of their candidates. So it’s not such a bad idea to contact multiple agencies during your search process. There are a handful to choose from locally in OC and in LA.
When choosing a nanny to care for your kid(s), it’s important to interview a few so you can get an idea of the type of candidate pool available. A phone screen is a great place to start, and if they “pass,” reaching out to their references would be the next step. Once you speak to all of them and hear raving reviews, a home visit to meet you, your partner (if applicable), and your child would be suggested. If the nanny has the availability, it would be ideal to have them come for a couple hours as a “test run,” to watch how they interact with your child and how they mesh with the entire family (you can choose whether to pay them for their time).
This is someone who will be coming into your home, who may have their own key, and who will be watching your child by themselves with no other adult present – it’s ok to come armed with a lot of questions and do your due diligence when conducting background checks and calling references.
Ask for certificates that show CPR certification and proof of valid driver’s license and insurance (if they will be driving your child), and similar to when vetting daycares, ask them about their ideologies on discipline, food, playtime, activities, etc. This person will become an extension of your family, so it’s important that you align on these topics so your child receives the care you prefer.
As for paying nannies, some choose to pay cash or check, while others set up a payroll system. Consult with your family accountant on the best format for your family. What is an ABSOLUTE necessity is to ensure your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy has enough Worker’s Compensation coverage to account for the nanny. There isn’t a flat number I can give you, but if you call your insurance agent and walk them through the upcoming change, they’ll be able to tell you if your current policy is adequate.
Family (or Friends)
Some people are fortunate enough to have family nearby to help care for their child. Sometimes this comes at no cost, or a very discounted cost, compared to traditional daycare or nanny services. While this sounds like an ideal scenario to most, it can sometimes become complicated, so before you automatically assume your mother-in-law will watch your baby full-time, there are some things to consider.
With any caregiver – daycare, nanny, family – it’s important to have a very open and clear line of communication. Expectations should be clearly understood and if something happens that you’re uncomfortable with, bringing it up in a timely manner (aka right away) is key. Sometimes, when people are receiving a free service, they feel like they cannot “complain,” or “correct.” So, when your MIL gives your baby cake for the first time before you wanted your baby consuming sugar, it’s ok to tell her that you’d rather not have your baby eat those types of food, and you’d like to be present for any of those “firsts.” On the flip side, because she is family, some parents may feel TOO comfortable and approach that conversation in a much more combative or angry way.
Balancing the line of family member and employer can be tricky, so coming up with agreed upon boundaries is very important. For example, just as you would with a nanny, you would agree upon a schedule of hours and stick to those. It’s easy to become flexible with family and friends, and while there is a time and a place, the last thing you want to do is abuse the care they’re providing you. So, if the deal is 8-5 Monday through Friday, then stick to that schedule. Of course, things come up or your boss invites you to a last minute team dinner, and those are all to be expected, but if you’re constantly calling to ask your mom to stay another hour or two while you run errands or go to happy hour (which also have a time and place, because mama needs some self-care too!), then you might start to wear on that relationship a bit. As with any childcare set up, each scenario will be different and everyone will have their own approach. I think the key is just to have that open communication and, as the “employer,” check in with your care provider to see how things are going and if they have any feedback or concerns, questions, etc.
As for Caregiver Appreciation Day, why not do a little something special for the person or people you entrust with watching your most prized possession? It doesn’t have to be elaborate; flowers, a gift card, or even just a thoughtful thank you note can go a long way. If your nanny has been with you awhile or if you’re approaching their anniversary, maybe use this time to discuss vacation days or even a pay increase. Whatever you choose to do, I can guarantee that your caregiver will be very appreciative and likely very surprised – because who knew this date even existed?
Cheers to all the caregivers out there,