“Um, excuse me, you want me to give you how much money to watch my child?” If you are just starting to explore the world of daycare, prepare yourself—quality daycare can cost significantly more than a small Japanese sedan. Prices vary from city to city, but if you are in a metropolitan area, you can bet that you are going to be paying a tiny fortune to have your little one lie on the floor and roll around in other children’s snot for 9 hours a day. Do your research and examine your budget before you lose the rubber! The daycare business is a $45 billion industry and growing. Many of the costs associated with sending your child to daycare can be attributed to the regulations enforced by each state, which can be very costly to the daycare facility. In addition, demand for licensed daycare centers will affect the availability, flexibility, and cost of the centers in your area. Despite the increase in cost and demand for daycare nationwide, the pay-scale for caretakers stays relatively low, so do be kind to those sweet people who watch your most important excrement. They are underpaid and underappreciated. Your money is not necessarily going to provide them with perks like retirement plans or healthcare, it’s going towards making sure that all the toddlers in Massachusetts brush their teeth after each cheddar bunny they consume with GMO-free toothpaste—which is actually a nice service to provide considering that I don’t always get two brushes out of my toddler on any given day. #motheroftheyear
Budget is not the only consideration when beginning the daycare journey. Depending on where you live, a good daycare center can be harder to get into than the Ivy League. If you are reading this and you are a human who still has the ability to procreate, stop what you are doing and ENROLL IN A DAYCARE RIGHT NOW! If it turns out you do not want kids, you can sell your slot to the highest bidder down the road, but just in case your Mirena falls out, you should secure your place on the waitlist now. I can’t tell you how many parents I have spoken to that were shocked that they couldn’t just enroll their little one the day before they returned to work. I was four months pregnant when I started registering my first baby for various daycare wait-lists, and I didn’t get accepted into one until two months after she was born. Start doing research as soon as that little line appears on the stick and get yourself on several wait-lists as early as possible.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a daycare:
Location: Is it convenient to work and/or home? Can your back up childcare provider (spouse, grandparent, baby-sitter) also get there easily in an emergency? Some people assume being close to the office is most important, but consider who will be doing drop-off and pick-up most often, and how far the place is from the other parent’s office should the primary parent be sick or traveling.
Physical Structure: Does it meet your standards for cleanliness, safety, etc? Is the playground area fenced in and the equipment safe? Are visitors asked to remove their shoes in the infant areas? Does the daycare double as a doggy day-camp on the weekends? Your baby will get sick every third week at even the very best daycare, but there is a difference between coming home with an ear infection and coming home with fleas.
Philosophy: Do you feel like the staff is and will be helpful and responsive to your needs? Ask about their policies on cry-it-out, cloth diapers, tummy time, potty training, etc, to make sure they are reasonably up to date on the nuances of modern parenting and know what the F you are talking about. Their hands may be tied on some issues by state regulations (for example, in Tennessee daycare is not allowed to let an infant cry for any amount of time before falling asleep), but test their willingness to accommodate where they can.
Expense: Can you afford it? There are plenty of good daycares whose costs are more in line with a community college than Dartmouth. Don’t get completely snowed by the Ivy League promises to teach your 3-month-old political science—all your infant really needs is to be fed, changed, and loved. Be sure to investigate the “hidden fees” like monthly supply fees, butt-wiping fees, etc.
Parent Expectations: What do they require from you? This varies greatly from one facility to the next. For example, at one daycare, I had to provide 5 pack-n-play sheets at the beginning of every week. I’m sure some of the fancier, 1% daycares require organic cotton sheet sets from Pottery Barn and coordinated Jack and Janie back-up outfits.
Communication with Parents: What information will the caregivers track? They typically have a daily sheet that the teachers send home filled with lies about how your 5-month old learned about the migration of butterflies, however, they also include useful information like the number of naps and duration, how they ate, and how many times they pooped. This information will be crucial to help you determine how your evening is going to go and reassures you that all the basic needs of your little angel are being met.
References: What do the other parents in your friend group or community think of each daycare option? Go with recommendations and/or see if you can talk to other parents about their experience with the daycare. Sit in the parking lot during drop off in the morning and judge the parents—do they seem happy to be leaving their precious offspring or are they being escorted by someone from social services? Just don’t sit long enough to be put on the kiddie creeper list for that area.
Trust your gut: Do you like the overall feel and vibe of the daycare? Do the kids appear clean and happy? Is the care-giver-to-child ratio appropriate? And don’t be afraid to change course if it isn’t working out after the first few weeks—this is your child, your most important life project, and he or she should have the very best care that $12 an hour with benefits can provide!
For those of you trying to decide whether or not daycare is the right choice for you, it is typically less expensive than a full-time nanny and I have found that the social atmosphere and structure it provides can be really beneficial. Not to mention the fact that all of the people there have helped raise hundreds of children and are great resources for the advice and guidance you really need. Without them, my 2-year-old would probably still be using a bottle and wearing onesies!!
Written by: Alice