New parents face a dizzying array of decisions for their new spawn from the moment the plus sign appears on the pregnancy test. And one of the hardest has to be picking the right childcare options when both parents work. For the lucky few, family will step up and help out, but many couples are left clueless, thinking “Holy heck, who’s going to watch this child when we go to work?” And then they have a panic attack.
Childcare comes in all shapes and sizes, and what works for one family may not work for you. But we’ve come up with general guidelines to help you in your search—which will hopefully make it a little less stressful. Here are four strategies to get you thinking and will hopefully simplify your search.
1. Calculate the costs.
It’s an understatement to say that childcare is expensive, so it’s best to figure out how much you’re going to have to shell out early on. (According to Child Care Aware of America, the average cost of full-time infant care in New Jersey and Pennsylvania is $9,000-$12,000 a year.) Once you’re done having an aneurysm and moved beyond researching Swedish citizenship, calculate how much you are bringing in and how much you can realistically pay each month. Start putting money away money if you can, and research programs like Flexible Spend Accounts at work. Having this information handy will help inform the type of care you can afford (much like house hunting).
Side note: did you know that the United States if one of only four countries that does not require paid maternity leave. It’s joined by Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea. Even Bangladesh, a country notorious for its deplorable labor conditions, offers paid leave.
2. Do your homework early.
Once you start announcing your pregnancy, you might as well start asking friends and family about for child-care recommendations. It’s a big decision, and if you feel rushed in making it, you’re going to feel more overwhelmed—so start researching early. Ask parents who they’ve used, how much it cost and how they felt about the provider. Also talk to them about what they would have done differently—hindsight is 20/20, and seasoned parents loved to talk about what they would have done better given the chance. Post your search on Facebook and other social media accounts, and read up on reviews on websites like Angie’s List.
If you’re going the traditional daycare route, start visiting daycare centers in your second trimester when you’re energy is up and you’re feeling less barfy. Some daycare centers are competitive and have wait lists—better to get your name on it earlier than later.
3. Explore in-home care.
In-home care, like daycare, has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, a nanny will give your child that one-on-one care, and if it’s at your house, your child will be in the comforts of a familiar environment. Plus, there’s no waking them early in the morning and shuttling them to a center—never fun on a cold, snowy day. On the down side, nannies are generally pricey—about $15 to $25 an hour—and some require benefits like paid time off. Nannies can also quit or get sick, leaving you stranded for childcare last minute, so you’ll want to have a plan B.
Also investigate nanny shares—where a nanny cares for children from multiple families, which usually cuts down on the costs. Shares work best when kids are around the same age—say two 1-year-olds—providing them with social interaction and allowing the nanny to tailor activities to their level of development. To find a nanny, you can use an agency or post ads on Craigslist or at college campuses. Another option is a website like Care.com, which operates like Match.com, but swap out dating with babysitting.
4. Get creative.
There is no one-size-fits-all option when it comes to childcare. Job requirements are different. Children’s needs are different. So when it comes to figuring out your childcare schedule don’t be afraid to explore non-traditional solutions. What does that mean? Start with you and your partner’s work schedules. Is it possible to adjust your schedules so one of you works early in the morning and one of you stays later? Are the days that you work flexible? Is working from home an option? Many companies are starting to offer flex scheduling opportunities to their employees; if yours doesn’t, ask about possibilities. The worst they can say is no.