As a working parent en route to three children, I have sampled widely from the range of childcare options. I’ve also collected data on childcare types that I haven’t personally tried. Scientific analysis of these data has led me to conclude that the “perfect childcare solution” for children of pre-school age is a load of hogwash.
Let’s consider the folklore versus the on-the-ground reality:
- The grandparent myth: The grands have dreamed their whole lives of holding your cherubic children in their arms. When you finally procreate, they are ready and willing to drop everything to provide as-needed childcare so you can fulfill your professional and personal goals. It’s the perfect set-up since they are the only people in the world who will love your little angel as much as you do.
- The grandparent reality: Your parents cleared out your room the week before you left college to create a room that could accommodate a sewing circle and a cocktail bar. When they come to visit, the faintest sign of whining or crying will have them passing your tot back to you as they return to Words With Friends. Of course, some grandparents willingly take on regular childcare. But these folks are pretty confident that their breadth of childcare knowledge exceeds yours. When they are in charge, it’s ice cream for breakfast (for the calcium), and rickety ladders for play toys (motor skill development, of course).
- The Family Childcare Fairytale: Your babe will receive care in a homey environment that, by law, requires a ratio of one provider to no more than 4-6 children. Your child will nap peacefully while under the loving watch of a grandmotherly figure whose expertise in childcare is enforced by state regulation. You won’t have to worry about packing snacks or lunch since provided meals are a regular part of the Family Childcare Solution. And the cost of is far less than a nanny or large childcare facility.
- The Family Childcare Facts: Your grandmotherly provider will contract you to pay for her personal leave, sick days, holidays, snow days, and vacation days, totaling several months of closed time. If you weren’t able to secure several months of paid non-work time (you know, because of the job that requires you to pay for childcare), you’ll have to fight it out with your partner, beg for favors, or scramble for the opportunity to pay for double the childcare only to receive a single dose. Good thing you saved all that money.
- The Childcare Facility Fantasy: With a large enough staff to be open year round, most childcare facilities close just for national holidays. The staff includes highly experienced senior providers and energetic younger providers. They have all the necessary equipment, and organize rooms by age to allow your child to be appropriately stimulated and socialized with same-age peers. You can fulfill your job responsibilities without needing to sell your soul to pay for the privilege.
- The Childcare Facility For Real: The older staff seemed burnt out by the long hours and low wages, while the younger ones don’t stick around long enough for you to learn their names. It’s nice that the daycare is always open, but since your child shares his pacifier with the 20 other children in the room, he will be home sick about half of each winter season. Hey, show some gratitude—they’ll be open when your child is healthy enough to attend.
- The Nanny Dream: A nanny is a well-trained individual whose care focuses precisely on the needs of your special love. She’ll do drop-offs, pick-ups, make meals, and hit the grocery store when needed. She’ll be available when your child is sick and when you have an early or late work meeting. You won’t have to drag all the baby crap across town or worry about your child adjusting to naps in a new setting because all care occurs in your home.
- Nanny Realities: Paying for a nanny can set you back a huge chunk of your income, making it a viable option only if you’re a high wage earner or if you’re inclined to take a financial loss in order to keep your job. If you can afford that nanny, you likely work exceedingly long hours, meaning your nanny will spend more time with you child than you will. Thankfully, you always intended to have children of your own so you could watch someone else raise them.
The bottom line: no matter how much money you have, or what your professional constraints may be, there is no perfect childcare solution. Even when your childcare shows up and does the job, it’s pretty much guaranteed to feel imperfect. Because the smoothest of childcare days still mean you’ll miss out on some delicious hugs and wet kisses.
So maybe instead of looking for the perfect solution, we could acknowledge our lived realities. It isn’t perfect or easy for anyone. But we can credit ourselves for doing our best and appreciate that the best we can do is often more than good enough.