Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Making the Big Decision: Daycare

By Brandi Rhoades

When you leave baby after your maternity and paternity leave run out, you will need to know that he or she is good hands. Many parents worry about their babies after they leave them, but there are some ways you can determine what childcare situation will serve you best.

Some families have the option of relative care. In this option, Grandma or another relative or close family friend will keep your baby. The benefit of this situation is that you have the ultimate flexibility. If you need to pick up a few groceries after work, Grandma probably won't mind keeping Jason a little extra. This option typically is less expensive than the other choices you have.

The downside of relative care is that you may have more difficulty brining up problems with the care. If Aunt Jane doesn't make your little one take a nap, which you believe to be the reason your toddler is unbearable at 7 p.m., you may have a difficult time convincing your aunt that your wishes should come first because you are the parent.

To avoid that problem, you may have the choice of hiring an au pair or nanny for your little one. This person may live with you or may come in for specific hours, usually longer than what a daycare will provide. If you hire a nanny, you will be able to specify all of the rules for your children from discipline practices to what the little ones can eat during the day. Au pairs still have a fairly flexible schedule, so they work well with parents who work long hours.

The biggest drawback to hiring a nanny is the cost. You are paying someone's entire salary, and it can be very pricey. Most families must rule out this option simply because of the cost involved. Some parents also have a problem with hiring a nanny because of the bond your children should develop with her or him. This bond may seem too strong for some parents to handle, especially if Mom and Dad work really long hours and the nanny is always available.

A third option, and the one which fits for most families, is to take your children to a daycare center. These centers are more affordable for most families, and the people who work there should have training with working with small children.

The disadvantage of daycare centers is that they are inflexible. You have times when you can drop your children off and when you must pick them up. That means that you cannot run an errand or stay late at work. You have to make it during the time allotted. Your children also will have more structure when you take them to daycare. This part of the daycare system can be an advantage if you want structure in your child's life, but you will have little say over issues such as snacks, naptime, and discipline. You will need to ensure that you understand the policies of the daycare center where you take your little one.

These options do not exhaust the available childcare choices out there. Some people have in-home care that is similar to a daycare but less structured. Others may have at-work daycare available. Still other parents can adjust their work schedule to be at home more with their children.

Look at all of the available options to make sure that you feel comfortable everyday when you leave your baby for your job.

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