So you have a child. A magical process happens and suddenly there you have it, a human being whom you are responsible for. They are very complex, with unique needs and unfortunately they do not come with manual. At some point you are going to have to take the plunge and hand over the care of your precious one to someone else for part of the day. When that happens will be largely dictated by your circumstances and preferences, but when ever that happens it is likely to be as scary as anything you ever do.
This article is written from a point of view that you have no maternity or paternity leave, and that all available parents work, which is of course a worst case scenario.
Most of our the education & child care choices come from our own experience (ie, what our parents did with us), and what our friends and relatives do: most likely this is a sub conscious process. This article assumes that either you do not have that to fall back on, or are making sure that you follow a path that is best for you and your child, not just the one of least resistance.
Dealing with newborns
So there you are, newly home from the hospital with a beautiful, bouncing, poop machine. If you are needing to return to work next week, and are only thinking about this now, then good luck. What you need to do at this point is find a DeLorean, skip back 6 months and tell your pregnant selves that you need to think about this now, not when the baby arrives.
If you both (sorry if you are a single parent here, if so please accept my apology and assume that by ‘both’ I mean just ‘you’ since you are going to have to be two people from now on anyway) need to return to work very shortly after birth you have three main options:
A friend or relative:
this is usually either one or both sets of grand parents, though it could be any relative who you trust to look after your little one.
- its pretty much free
- timing can be flexible. If you pay a professional they are likely to stipulate pick up and drop off times. Juggling these in a busy work schedule can cause you a lot of stress, with Gogo and Oupa its a much easy thing to phone and say you are running late.
- these are people you know very well and should be able to trust (not always the case though)
- you are giving up a lot of control. If you have read all the right books and articles in this guide, you probably have your own ideas about raising children. Well, good luck explaining that to your mother-in-law, and even better luck assuming she is going to stick to it when you are not around. Sugar free upbringing? To my Granny that would have been only putting 3 sugars in the tea.
- it can cause strain on families. Your parents may have forgotten how tiring it is to look after a new born, but are unlikely to come out and openly say, “we cannot do this any more”. Just watch out for signs of fatigue in your ‘carers’.
This is someone who is going to be in your home while you are out caring for your child. You may combine the duties of a house maid with that of a nanny, but that is up to you. Either way someone is going to be in your house whilst you are out, caring for your child.
- Get the right person and you know that your baby is in safe hands in a familiar environment.
- your home is ‘lived in’ during the day
- this is a professional relationship so you should be in control of the situation. You will be able to dictate what happens and when.
- cost, you need to pay the going rate. Failure to do so can lead to…
- you run the risk of getting the wrong person. This can quite literally be fatal. There are documented cases (mostly high profile, and thankfully still rare) of nannies failing horribly in their duties. It is highly recommended that you use an agency to find a nanny, and that you take your time in choosing both the nanny and the agency. An agency also makes it much easier to change nannies if the first choice does not work out for some reason. It is likely to cost you a little more in the long run, but is going to make you feel much safer and secure.
- nannies are professional people, and if they are not then they probably aren’t worth employing. You will expect certain things from them, and likewise, they will expect certain things from you. Whilst the occasional “I’m running late” might be acceptable, constantly running over time will be frowned upon. You may be able to come to an arrangement with your nanny regarding over time, but be aware that nobody appreciates having half an hour added to their work day, 15 minutes before they were thinking of going home.
These wonderful ladies are a bit of an in between service. And if they are any good they will be a closely guarded secret. You usually have to know somebody who knows somebody in order to find them in the first place. They also set their own conditions, so some may take newborns from a few weeks after birth, others may only take babies who are a few months old.
Day Mums are a sort of crèche, usually operating out of their own house, who take on a few babies at a time. Their status is heavily determined by the number of children that they care for, if they stay below a certain number of babies they do not need to follow the same legislation as pre-schools.
As with nannies, you need to be sure that you have the right person, though usually, you have been recommended to the day mum, not the other way around, and everyone will vouch for how wonderful they are.
- you know your child is going to be safe and well looked after
- your child gets used to being social around other children from a young age
- they have others to interact with
- lower cost than a nanny
- pick up and drop of times are likely to be set in stone. Most day mums will allow you some latitude, they are usually understanding of circumstances, but they are not to be taken advantage of.
- by exposing your child to other children on a daily basis they are open to catch every illness that the other kids have. If one gets the cold, they all get the cold. This can be a problem with very young babies, especially if they have not had their shots.
- which leads us to… starting ages, not all day mums will take newborns. This is OK if you have maternity leave, it usually gets you to the point where they will take your child, but if you aren’t that fortunate you may have to compromise to find a day mum who does take very young babies. Alternatively you may need to employ the help of a relative, or nanny, for a few months until your child is old enough to be accepted by the day mother of your choice.
Crèches, nurseries and pre-schools
I am not going to say that mouthful every time so will refer to them as crèches from now on (its shortest).
Some crèches will take children from just a few months of age. It is unlikely that you will find one that will take a new born though. They tend to be a small, separate part of the rest of the facility.
- regulated and professional (or they should be, and this is easy enough to check into)
- lower cost than having a nanny
- your child could be at the crèche from a few months right up to grade R, which is a tremendous amount of stability
- the play facilities are usually excellent, and the activities structured towards child development
- you are not likely to find a crèche that accepts newborns
- the crèche tends to have an educational philosophy. You will need to find a crèche that best suits your beliefs rather than expecting the facility to accommodate them for you.
- drop off and pick up times are very rigid, being over time is going to cost you and repeated offending may see the crèche asking you to seek an alternative arrangement.
Just a personal word of advice on choosing a crèche. Crèches are regulated, and usually are very proud of levels of certification. When you go and look at a facility they will shout loud and proud about such things. Be very careful about how that certification was achieved. A crèche may have a high level of certification based on one or two people working there (usually the owner/s). If they are never there (ie they are busy running the business rather than looking after the kids) then their level of expertise is useless. This is based on my personal experience of a facility that had excellent credentials. The two owners were highly qualified. However, in reality, they were rarely there. On one infamous day we picked up our daughter and the only person watching the kids was the cleaner. Don’t be seduced by the owners credentials, it is the person who will be there all day that needs to be looked most closely at.
What ever your choice is you are going to face the same anxieties. Have you made the right choice, is your child safe, are you a bad parent for leaving your baby with someone else, etc.
What you need to realize is that you are not alone in thinking this, every other parent is feeling the same way. And you don’t need to feel bad or guilty about this either.