Daycare vs. SAHM vs. Nanny

Before I had my baby, I had everything all figured out.  I was going to take my maternity leave and then head back to work.  I interviewed caregivers, and picked out a wonderful licensed in-home daycare close to my home.   I wrote up a list of emergency contacts and brief instructions.  I prided myself on having been so organized as to having completed everything on time.

And then I had my son.  And everything changed.

Now – I am a planner by nature.  I don’t make too many big decisions in my life without well thought out (compulsive?) planning.  So when I found out I was pregnant, I immediately armed myself with spreadsheets for budget, daycare selection, and necessary home renovations.  I pulled up and edited a list of interview questions for daycare providers.

I always knew from the beginning that we would go the daycare route.  It was less expensive…  not cheap by any means, but not ridiculously expensive like some other options out there.  My baby would have the chance to socialize.  My sister’s kids were attending daycare.  My friend’s kids were attending daycare.  It’s what we knew.

I also knew intuitively that I didn’t want a “corporate” daycare.  I wanted my child to be able to form a relationship with just a couple of care providers, and I didn’t want the corporate environment at such a young age.  So I began researching in-home daycares.

I soon learned about state licensing requirements, so promptly printed out a list of all local licensed in-home daycare facilities from California’s Child Care Licensing Website.    Then I began simply calling down the list, asking about availability and hours.  I came up with about 7 who had both availability and offered the hours we were looking for (pretty long hours of about 11 per day).  Of those, I picked the top 5 I would interview.

The interviews were a good exercise in better learning what to look for.  I could immediately tell the ones who were in it for a paycheck, and they were scratched off the list.  There were 3 remaining that I really liked and who seemed to really love the kids, so I called the state to ask about previous audits and if any of them had ever received any complaints (none of them had). 

Now we just had to decide.  Option A we really liked – she had a nursing background and a real genuine interest and love for children – BUT she was a bit out of the way and talked too much.  Yes, talked way too much – we were there 3 hours when the interview was over in about 45 minutes.  And we quickly began calculating in our heads how much time would be wasted after work when picking up the baby and having to endure hours of conversation.  So she was put at the bottom of the list.

Option B also had a genuine love for children – and was meticulous about cooking fresh and healthy and homemade meals.  She reminded me of one of my best friends, which was comforting.  But she was also located out of the way, even more so than Option A.  And over time, she began texting and emailing and calling a bit too much.  It almost gave off an air of desparation which, valid or not, worried me that something might not be right since she was pushing so hard for the business.

Option C had a lot of things going for her.  She was located very close to our home, right across the street from what will eventually be our child’s elementary school, and had a wonderful maternal/grandmotherly feel to her.  Her husband works in the education industry, and her references seemed very passionate about the level of care she provided.  She also offered some additional flexibility that the others did not – like the ability to have her care for the baby on an “a la carte” basis as needed.  So ultimately, we decided to go with her.  Baby was registered and we were good to go.  The plan was to leave the baby with her a few times during my leave to get everyone accustomed to it, and then full-time once returning to work.

But once I delivered and had bonded with my son, I simply couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him at daycare.  I knew I would never leave him one second longer than I had to (there goes the plan of leaving him a few days during my leave to ease us both into it!)

There was and is absolutely nothing wrong with that daycare.  The family is wonderful.  The facilities are perfect.  Everything else checked out.  But I just began having visions of my son laying in a crib or being left alone while other children were tended to.  Crying in the other room.  Irrational thoughts, and I’m certain not warranted, but I couldn’t help it. 

Then I began paying closer attention to my sister’s and friends’ children who were in daycare.  It seems that they were always getting sick!  And in my sister’s case, the children are only in daycare a few hours a week.  I began to worry about my son coming home sick frequently and at such a young age (especially since I was choosing to space out his vaccinations).

As my remaining leave time dwindled, I began experiencing true anxiety at having to leave my son at all.  Almost mini panic attacks every time I even thought about going back to work and leaving him with someone else.  My mind began racing through all the horrible “What If” scenarios that could occur if I trusted someone other than myself or hubby to care for him.  Hubby assured me that those feelings would die down.  Sister assured me it was just hormones and would get better.  But it didn’t.  I felt horrible, guilty.  And I hadn’t (and still haven’t) gone back to work yet!

I decided I simply couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t go back to work and leave my son at such a young age.  At least not until he could walk, communicate.  At least not until he was bigger, sturdier.  At least not until I trusted someone as much as me to care for him… and fat chance of that happening any time soon.

This was a foreign feeling for me.  I had never once considered the option of staying home.  In fact, I was proudly adamant that I would NEVER stay home.  If I’m being honest, until now, I never had much respect for SAHMs.  Although I never spoke it, I felt that they were somehow lazy, too willing to use motherhood as an excuse to “opt out” because Corporate America was too difficult, too willing to rely on a husband to support them.  That would never be me.

I was instantly humbled.

Suddenly my financial independence, my identity as a working woman, my entire career – none of it mattered anymore.  Nothing could even come close to comparing to this tiny life relying on me for his every need.  I wanted to be there for every roll, every step, every word.  I wanted his memories to be of US.  Every fiber of my being was screaming at me to do the right thing and raise my own child.

We ran the figures.  It would be tight, but we could manage.  We reasoned that I could use the time to start my own business.  It would be an opportunity to pursue what I really wanted to do, both personally and professionally.  Perhaps if we wanted another child, we get started on that front immediately so as to better justify my time out of the work force.

But still, always, in the back of my mind was that niggling voice.  Is now, when you have a new life to support, really the right time to be quitting your job?  Are you being fiscally responsible?  Sure, you can do it, but what about lost retirement contributions and compounding?  What about future marketability?  What if hubby, heaven forbid, ever lost his job?  What about the career you’ve worked so long and hard for?

I didn’t, and still don’t, know the right answer.  But I knew I needed to have a back-up plan while we figured it out.  I had already decided I couldn’t, wouldn’t, use a daycare facility at this point.  I had exhausted all other options such as pursuing care by a local family member.  That left us with only one other option – a nanny.

At first glance, I had serious sticker shock.  Nannies ain’t cheap, especially in this neck of the woods!  But by now, I didn’t care about the cost.  What was best for our baby was really the only consideration.  As long as we could afford it, we would do it.  I figured we could bite the bullet on the cost for 1-2 years, or at whatever point I felt comfortable to begin putting my son into a group program (as I still do feel that socialization is very important). 

I began the long process of finding a fit for our family.  Posting the job, interviewing applicants, running background checks, finding CPR classes, installing nanny cams, obtaining Workers Comp insurance, reviewing Nanny Tax laws, etc, etc.  I’ll save this for another post, but I had no idea how difficult it would be to even find someone willing to work “on the books,” never mind legally documented to work in the United States!

Finally, we found someone who met most of our qualifications (I literally had a laundry list of requirements) and who we liked and felt comfortable with.  We made her an offer that has her coming in part-time during our leaves (more to get us, ME, comfortable with the situation), and then full-time once we are both back at work.  I’ve gathered every single piece of information I can from her, her references, etc.  I’ve spent almost three days with her already; watching, training, and trying to predict how I’m going to feel when I go back.

And we’re going to see how it goes.  That’s all we can do now.  Once I go back, I’m fortunate to know that my husband will be home for an additional 12 weeks.  “The Plan,” as it stands now, is to simply see if I can handle it during those 12 weeks.  If I can handle being away from my baby.  Handle the thought of trusting someone else to care for him.  Handle inevitably missing some of the firsts.  Handle the juggling act.  And then go from there.  If yes, we should be okay.  If no, well, then we can cross that bridge.

And yesterday, for the very first time, I forced myself to leave the baby alone with the nanny for a few hours.  I didn’t want to leave.  I kissed him so much he started fussing.  At just over 17 weeks, this was the first time I would ever be leaving him with someone other than husband or myself.  The nanny knew it, and she was wonderful – reassuring.  Calming. 

I left, drove down the street, and promptly called my husband to have him start watching the nanny cams and dictating to me what was happening as I drove to my first errand.  Okay, he said, she just put the baby into the carrier….  she is putting them into the stroller….  now she just put the leash on the dog… okay now they are leaving for a walk….  now i’ve lost all visibility, they are out in the world.  Out in the world!  No visibility!  I immediately panic and then calm myself down, focus on my errand (except there is no real focus on anything other than what is happening at home).

Right afterwards, I pull up the nanny cams myself.  Oh no!  I can’t see them!  I call my husband, worried.  I’m sure they’re just still out for their walk, he says.  I get nervous.

Now it’s been 90 minutes.  I still can’t see them.  My mind starts racing.  Ridiculous thoughts.  I know they’re crazy even as I’m thinking them.  What if she took him away in her car – kidnapped him?  What if she got hurt on the walk?  What if she didn’t latch the carrier onto the stroller correctly and it tipped over?  What if she couldn’t handle both the dog and the baby at once and the dog got run over?

My heart literally starts pounding and I have to tell myself to CALM. DOWN.  Now it’s been 100 minutes.  They should be home by now!  What’s going on!?  I frantically jump from one nanny cam to the other to the other.  Suddenly, I see the stroller in the foyer.  Waves of relief.  Hear the baby crying.  Hear the nanny calming him.  Relief.  Relief.  On cue, husband calls me.  He must know I’m scared…  or maybe he’s scared too?  They just got home, he says, I see her with the baby now.

So I survived Day 1.  It was hard.  Anxiety-ridden.  But I did it.  And I have to admit, I got a TON of errands done.

So I’m afraid I don’t yet have the answer for us.  I’ve ruled out daycare for now, but am still torn between using a nanny and becoming a SAHM.  I should point out two books I’ve read to try to help me make sense of the confusion I’m feeling:

  •  The Perfect Stranger by Lucy Kaylin discusses the complex relationships between mothers and nannies.  It is written from the perspective of a working mom, albeit a seemingly very high income earning working mom.  This book was fascinating and I could hardly put it down.  Instead of making me feel better about using a nanny, however, it pushed me in the other direction – and made me feel more and more like I should become a SAHM.  An interesting read with lots of personal stories and anecdotes.
  • The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts delves into the Working Mom vs. SAHM wars.  Also a fascinating read, it is one of the few books I’ve read (really, one of the few pieces I’ve read anywhere) that discusses the potential downfalls of choosing to stay at home.  While not promoting work as the necessarily best option, it does discuss some of the niggling fears I have of losing marketability, retirement savings, financial independence, etc.  I highly recommend this book for working mothers who are feeling guilt or anxiety as it has definitely helped me to better reconcile myself to this option.

So I suppose this post ends with a big TBD….  as we ultimately decide what child care route to go over the coming weeks.  Any others struggling with this who have come to a final decision?

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2 responses to “Daycare vs. SAHM vs. Nanny

  1. Thanks for the book recommendations. I went back to work (now getting a little more time at home) because I am the higher wage earner. For our family it worked out best for my husbad to be a sahd. We both agreed we didn’t want to go the daycare route for many of the reasons that you mentioned. I think just being able to leave your baby in your home where you have more control of the environment is a great thing. If it is with a Nanny or as a Sahm I know you will make the right choice.

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    • That’s wonderful that your husband is able to be the SAHD! It must feel more comforting for you while at work to know that he is home with your little one instead of an outside party. I’m glad it worked out for your family, and thank you for sharing.

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