Personal Choices: Childcare

Those who are regular readers of this blog know that I am a working mom who has and always will struggle with the decision to delegate a large chunk of childcare to another caretaker. This has never been an easy choice and I am still plagued by constant worries about my child’s safety and happiness as a result of the choices that Evan and I make. This post is intended to discuss some of the considerations we made when deciding how to best care for Sophia’s welfare after her birth.

We were the first among our circle of friends to have a child and found the decision on how to best care for Sophia very daunting. We didn’t know if daycare is something we wanted to pursue or if we should hire a nanny or if one of us should quit our job and become a stay-at-home parent. In the last two years, thankfully, quite a few of our friends have welcomed children. Some, like us, have nannies, others who have placed their children into childcare centers, and then some of our friends who rely on relatives for childcare.

I don’t have any experience with daycare centers, so I cannot comment on the pros and cons of those, except that in most cases, having two children in daycare is a financial burden equivalent to having a nanny. This is one of the reasons we decided against a daycare option along with the steep 1800$/month rate (3-9 month olds) that is standard in our neck of the woods. That reasoning eliminated this option and left us with a nanny vs. au pair option.

For those who are not familiar with the au pair program, it is a program run by the United States government that is intended to provide a means for young people from other countries to come and learn about America, master the English language and immerse themselves in the culture. The program stipulates that families pay an application/finders fee ranging from $5500-7500 to find an au pair, then offer room/board and a weekly salary of at least $192 for no more than 45 hours of childcare/domestic duties guaranteeing 1.5 days off/week and at least one full weekend/month. Au pairs are contracted for 6-12 month basis and families and au pairs can extend the contract based on a mutual agreement. In some cases, but not in all, the family is required to garner social security and medicare wages which adds to the overall financial burden on both the au pair and the family. Additionally, one would imagine that the family would need to provide the au pair with a vehicle, pay for health and car insurance, and provide a cell phone. Given the nature of the program (immersion in the culture) au pairs are expected and expecting to accompany the host family on outings and activities further adding to costs. Au pairs are also expected to take college courses and the host family is obligated to pay at least the first 500$ of the course fees. Lastly, there is the minor consideration of having live-in help. My general feeling is that since an au pair’s most obvious motivation to enter the program is to learn about the culture, master the language and maybe pick up a few college credits, child care is probably not their absolute first priority. That is not certainly not the case for all au pairs, but it is least likely to be for most. Secondly, with contracts ranging from 6-12 months, au pairs come and go — the separation and adjustment to a new individual in the family is difficult enough once that I would not want to go through the process multiple times. While 192$/week may seem like a bargain for 45 hours of childcare, the ultimate cost will quickly add up and that is not calculating the emotional cost of frequent caretaker changes.

Lastly, the nanny route… I can only speak for our nanny who we are very happy with. She is a nanny because she chooses to be one and enjoys spending time with children. She works forty hours a week and as a non-exempt employee is paid hourly. She earns 150% of her pay for any time over 40 hours. Her job description does not include any household chores and she is solely obligated to spend time with Sophia. She is contracted to prepare Sophia’s meals but we have never asked this of her as we prefer to cook ourselves as is evident in most of the weekending posts like here, here and here. I have previously been asked if the nanny cooks for us or cleans and my answer is a resounding no. The reason for this is simple: if I cannot master cooking/cleaning and taking care of Sophia all at once, then I am surely not going to request it from anyone else.

In general, I find trusting your child to someone else for any period of time to be incredibly difficult. I recall being incredibly stressed after going back to work not because working and having an infant at home was difficult, though it was, but rather because I was placing a helpless infant in the care of someone who I at that time did not know well. Do I regret my decision? No. Will I ever get a new nanny if our nanny chooses to move on? Probably not. I would rather move closer to my parents and ask my mom to retire early to help than find another nanny.

Just remember, childcare is a deeply personal choice.

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