Daycare Options

I've been wanting to write this post for awhile now, but lo and behold---I've been in a blogging slump lately. Can you tell by the silence around here? Let's fix that now.

A few of my new-mommy or pregnant friends have asked for my opinion on daycare options, since it really is one of the bigger decisions working moms will have to make. I'm by no means an expert on the matter AT ALL but I have had the privilege of experiencing a daycare center, an in-home daycare, and also my father-in-law watching Truman so I feel like I have a little insight into the many options of child care out there. Of course, I have to throw out the disclaimer that my experience with these types of settings cannot generalize to everyone else----one center is going to be vastly different than the next, and every in-home caregiver is going to have different pros and cons, too. But I think it's important to touch on this subject anyway in case it does actually help someone out there trying to make some tough decisions.

Also, I want to address something I know I've said before: that daycare is not the devil, and it doesn't need to be viewed as 'paying a stranger to watch my child'. Nothing irks me more than that phrase because it implies that you are being forced to pay your hard earned money for something that is scary and awful and sad. Not true, my friends. If you find the right daycare provider they become a part of your parenting team, quite the opposite of that 'stranger' picture the world has painted for us working moms out there. Sure, it takes some research and visits and 'hunting', if you will but the time it takes to test the waters with daycare providers is well worth the effort, in my opinion.

So let's start with a daycare center and talk about pros and cons, shall we? I had Truman in a hospital-affiliated center when I worked at my other job from the time I went back to work at 12 weeks until he was about 6 months old (when I left that job and found a new one). I really loved a lot of things about this center but of course it had it's cons, too. One great thing about a center is that it's state regulated and has to pass inspection and requirements by law. I like that 'strictness' about a center a lot. In the infant room, where Truman was the whole time, there always had to be a 4 baby to 1 adult ratio. That sounds like a lot of babies for one adult but they really did have it down to a science. I was always impressed how they could flex another 'teacher' in and out of that room depending on the numbers, so that there wasn't a time when there was more than 4 kids to one adult. I also liked that the center was always open during their regular hours, meaning they didn't get sick days even if a teacher was sick, because they could find more staff to fill in as needed. I liked the rooms in this center because they were very organized and set up for a lot of fun time and learning time, with the cribs off to the back and in a dark area so the sleeping babies could actually sleep. They did a great job cleaning off the 'mouthed' toys because they really had it down to a science in there, and overall I kind of liked the idea that there were SO many families using this center. The hustle and bustle of the parking lot alone was kind of neat, seeing the older kids playing together like buddies made me excited for Truman to grow up and have friends there. Also, I loved that they had an outdoor playground area for kids to get fresh air there.

One con of the center is the price, no doubt. I was very lucky with our center because as a hospital employee, it was considerably less there than most places. As a point of reference, we paid about $45 a day there and most other 'normal' centers in our area are easily $60 or more. When you add that up, assuming you are going 5 days per week, you are looking at $900 per month versus $1,200 per month. Both are HUGE chunks of a monthly budget but again, you are paying for great care of the most precious being in the world, right? Another con for the center was that they had a dreaded 'shift change' in the middle of the day, so that when I showed up at 5 to get Truman the caregivers there had only been with him for 2 hours and could tell me nothing about his whole day. Yes, they fill out little 'report cards' each day which is great, but I wanted a verbal report too and it was so irritating to hear, 'Oh, I just got here, so I'm not sure.' Annoying. And overall the staff there was incredibly kind and friendly but since there were usually 3 regular staff members there during the day, then another 2-3 there in the evenings, that is really a lot of different 'teachers' to get to know. I felt like Truman couldn't ever really get attached to any of them since there was always someone different, if that makes sense. I think the final 'con' for the center was the concept of changing rooms based on age---going from the infant room to the toddler room meant the babies had to meet certain requirements. I found that idea sort of stressful, like what if Truman isn't ready to move on but they make him do it anyway? Or will that brand new room with new teachers and kids be too much of a change for him to handle? I guess this could actually be seen as a pro for the center, too, though, because it does sort of get them ready for school in a sense, changing grades with time.

Now for an in-home setting, I think you will find a wide variety of caregivers and rules and experiences. Truman is at Lori's right now and I can definitely say that we love having him there and wouldn't trade it for the world, but I'll try to be as un-biased about this 'review' as possible. One of the nicest things about an in-home setting is the one primary caregiver there. I know there are homes that have multiple caregivers but for us, it's just Lori. We have gotten to know her so well that she is really a big part of our lives. During my loss Lori was absolutely amazing: she cried with me the day I told her, because she has had a rocky past of pregnancies as well. She offered to take me to my surgery if Nate couldn't get off work. She offered to watch Truman extra early if we needed to drop him off for my appointments. It's just really amazing how you can connect with the in-home caregiver and I value her so much. I am so glad there isn't the 'shift change' at the center with Lori, and I can always get a full report from her in addition to her little progress report she writes in our notebook each day. She truly loves my boy and with her 31 years of experience as a caregiver, she certainly teaches me things frequently about my babe. Another amazing aspect of an in-home setting is the price: we pay $35 per day there and only going three days per week means we pay only $420 for a whole month. Yes, compared to the possible $720 we would pay for three days a week in a center? Amazing savings.

Which brings me to another point: I know we are very lucky to have found a place that allows 'part time' care. A lot of centers make you pay for 5 days of care no matter how many days you actually need (we were able to do four days at the center we used, but we paid more per day for that luxury than if we sent him five days per week). Some require you to have the child there full time or they won't take them. Lori wants the kids there 3 days per week as a minimum and a lot of the families do send their kids there part time---flexibility is so helpful for situations like this. I love that I can choose to work on a Thursday instead of a Friday, and Lori usually has no problem switching Truman's days around for me, too. If I'm running late after work I just give her a call and it's usually fine---not that I ever keep him there past her preferred time of 5 pm, but it might be a lot more strict at a center. I know at our old center we had to pay $5 for every minute we kept Truman there past 5pm---so I'd be scrambling my butt off to get there during a busy day at work.

Also, I love that Truman will basically grow up with the same core group of kids ranging in age from 4 years old down to newborns. There isn't a room change or a teacher change, so he can really bond with the little group there. Some of the older 3-4 year olds can be very protective over the young ones and even help Lori grab diapers or things like that, so I can see how it's like a big family there. Again, I suppose this might be viewed as a con at times, too, because he isn't exposed to tons of kids over time but I don't mind it.

Some of the cons for an in-home center are that it does not have to be state regulated, and they can really have as many kids there as they want (I know some are licensed/regulated, but not all of them). There are days that Lori seems to have a ton of kids under her care (I think 7 is her max) but somehow she makes it work so the kids are entertained, well-fed, and clean. I think she does this by extreme organization---grouping the kids together according to age and getting them on schedules for naps, eating, playing, etc. Of course, for every really busy day when the place is busting at the seams, there are the days when Truman might be one of two kids there when I go to get him after work. So the numbers debate comes with both busy and slower days and overall, my child is very happy and well-cared-for there, so I don't let myself worry too much about how hectic Lori's day must be when she has a lot of children in her care.

Another thing that is a lot more challenging with an in-home setting is getting the kids outside to play in the fresh air. Truman does get to play outside when Lori doesn't have too many other kids to watch, and I know the kids help her in her garden pretty regularly. But there isn't a playground or anything really physical out there which might be nice as Truman ages. I guess some in-home places may have access to better outdoor play, especially if they have more than one caregiver, but this is one con for us. I like to think that Truman gets a lot of outside exercise with me on my days off with him and on the weekends, so it really doesn't matter too much for his days with Lori.

And finally, another con for an in-home setting is that they can definitely take sick days or vacations, which will leave you to find alternate coverage or make you take time off at your own job. It hasn't been too much of an issue for us because my job is so flexible, but Lori does take two vacations a year and during those weeks we have to patch together a few days of alternate care. A center wouldn't be able to do that, I'm pretty sure, which is nice.

I'll briefly talk about having a family member watch your child, but in reality my father-in-law only watched Truman two days per week for about 2 months last summer (which was GREATLY appreciated, since he used all of his time off to do this for us!). I will say that it's automatically assumed that having 'free' daycare from a grandparent is a no-brainer for the massive amount of savings you get to have, and the amazing bonding experience you can see between your child and their grandparent. However, it does bring about it's own share of challenges, like when the grandparent isn't being as strict as you'd like them to be---sometimes it's hard for them to be a disciplinarian and authority figure when they really just want to be the fun grandparent, and I totally get that. Or if you don't see eye-to-eye on something with how to guide the child---how hard would THAT be if you are getting their time for 'free', so you feel like you should just be thankful and not complain. But sometimes there will be times when you have to step up and let your opinion be known, which I'm sure places a strain on your relationship with the grandparent, too. So overall, yes---it's going to save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in a year. But there will be other 'costs' if you will since nothing in life is free.

There you have it---my deep, insightful thoughts on daycare options. I realize it's pretty specific to our personal experiences but maybe some of it can generalize to others. Just remember that no daycare will be perfect because nobody will do it just like YOU do---it's pretty hard to let go of full control when it comes to caring for your children. And man, it's a hard job to do, right? But if you shop around and really get to know your options, you can make the best decision possible for your baby. And if you get into the place and feel like something is 'off'---it probably is, and you should always listen to your gut and find a new place if needed.

A few pictures...

Truman's very first day of daycare (at the center):
First day of Daycare! Bright and early...

And his first craft project for Fathers Day 2010:

Why haven't I taken any daycare-related pictures since June of 2010? Mommy fail.


  1. Such a thoughtful post Julia. While we don't have children, my mother is a direction of a day care center. She will be the first to say that there are pros and cons of each approach and its quite possible that, like for your family, a different approach might fit better depending on the point in time for the family. Thanks for this!

  2. Welcome back, we've missed you!

    For some reason I was always against the in-home care option. I guess because I didn't like the idea of my son's caretaker watching little bitty babies and older kids all at the same time. In Texas the caregiver doesn't have to be in the same room but they do have to be in earshot. That wasn't enough for me when my son was teeny.

    Andrew has been at the same daycare since he was 9 weeks old. We tried a different daycare when he turned one (and after we moved 20 miles away). He stayed a week before we took him back to his old center. You can't beat a small church daycare full of ladies who have known my son since his first day, know what he loves, what he hates and knows that I want a minute by minute report when I pick up.

    Thank you for this topic!!

  3. I've missed your posts greatly--even though I'm not yet in the babymaking stages, I find this good 'food for thought' for the future! :)

  4. Great post, Julia!

    Obviously as a fellow Lori mom (ha), we've talked at length about the pros and cons. But for me, like you, the biggest pros are the relationship we have (and Henry has) with her and also the cost! We simply could not afford to have two kids right now if we were using a center, which makes me so sad to think about!

    The outside play thing is a big con for me, too, but as you said - we feel like he gets so much of that with us that it isn't such a big deal during the days he's there.

    For me, I think in-home is great when they're little and toddlers since it's so "home-like" rather than school-like, and in just a few years, they'll be in preschool, so they'll get that school-like structure and outside play soon anyway.

  5. I was SO excited to see a post from you in my reader! :)

    This is obviously a topic that I've thought a lot about too - it's really such a tough decision, and it's so hard when you literally cannot even afford some of the daycare centers in the area, or they have years waiting lists AND you can't afford them. MN has ridiculously high daycare CENTER costs, so they really weren't even an option for us.

    I went to 10 daycares as a child, and consider myself something of an expert ;) Ha! I went to centers, church daycares, in-homes, day camps, had a cousin watch me and my sister one summer, lots of different options. I figure if I can turn out okay (even AWESOME) then daycare really is fine as long as you find one you're comfortable with.

    Honestly, we were super wary of our provider at first. We interviewed her when I was like 14 weeks pregnant, observed her with the kids for an hour a few weeks later, then didn't see her again until Annie was about 2 months old - then we went and visited a few times but that was it. Our provider is SUPER affordable ($125/wk), and 5 blocks from our house. Our main criteria was that it was very clean and that the provider had no children attending of her own, because then you have to not only deal with the provider getting sick, but their children as well. We also wanted someone licensed. While Sue seemed a little brusque at first, and the first few weeks were kind of rough on everyone, we all got used to each other - there IS an adjustment period most of the time. So I will say, give any daycare at least a month before you completely write them off unless you truly feel like something isn't right.

    Annie has LOVED daycare since she was probably 4-5 months old and I love that she has her little daycare family. She's been with the same girls (it's all girls except for one 5 year old boy) since the beginning and they are all best buds now. It's so cute to see them give each other hugs when we leave, and to hear her "talk" to us about her daycare friends at home. Sue also very clearly loves all those girls (and the boy too obviously - who is her grandson) so much - she brags about them and it's great to hear the little stories from the day, even if she is pretty socially awkward. So I have loved our experience with an in-home provider but I know that not all of them are created equal, that's for sure. It seems like we really lucked out because we just kind of found her randomly and didn't even interview others except on the phone.

    Anyway, that's my daycare story :)

  6. My son is in Daycare. We were lucky enough to have family watch him until he was 1. At first, it was really rocky at first. It's expensive (we pay $40 a day, in-home setting), and my son cried every time we dropped him off. But after a yera, we are so happy with our decision. He is learning so much from his friends and Daycare provider. The other day he started using words we hadn't yet taught him, and we later found out that they were practicing new words with flashcards at daycare. I'm so glad he is getting excellent care and attention while we are at work. If I could stay home with him, I would; but I honestly don't know if I could constantly give him all the attention that he needs without wearing myself out. It works for us!

  7. Obviously I'm clueless when it comes to these things but I think this post is going to help a ton of people. My SIL does in home daycare and I always thought that if I had to choose, I'd go with a set up like hers. Seems more intimate to me.

    Regardless, it's obvious whatever you guys are doing is working. Truman is a smart, well rounded little guy :)

  8. Great post! We take our son to an in-home caregiver. LOVE HER! One more con to daycare (from what I've heard), kids get sick a lot! That also might depend on the child (whether or not he/she is a typically "sick" child anyway). I just love that I have so much confidence that my son is well taken care of and LOVED by a great person during the day. We found someone that was the same price as a daycare. Oh, and believe me, we have a HORROR story of one potential caregiver we met with when I was pregnant. I would definitely recommend going by word of mouth in some way and then obviously meeting with the person! You also just reminded me that I need to get a picture with our caregiver and with my son's buddies!

  9. I have one horror story from when we were looking, too. ::shudder::

    About the sickness thing, I think that's across the board - in-home or in a center. When your kid is around other kids like that each day, he/she is bound to get sick, unfortunately.

  10. This post was so helpful! I have been researching daycares around our area as most require a year's wait to get a spot (I know) and I've been wondering which we would fare best with. There are two large daycare centers that I really like - they're large and well-maintained, have outdoor spaces and gardens for running and playing, and most have cameras in infant rooms where I could see baby if I wanted to check on him/her during the day.

    On the other hand, I know several in-home providers and they truly do LOVE their kids. Not that the daycare center folks don't, but it is probably different when you have fewer kids? But the sickness issue, with providers getting sick and you having to take time off work, would really be an issue for us.

    I do wonder if anyone knows whether most daycares require a traditional vacine schedule? My family has really tough times with vacines, so I've already discussed with my doctor that a delayed vacine schedule will probably be necessary for our baby. I do have a nagging worry that some centers may not accept us if vacines are delayed.


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