My baby is six months old. I’m starting to work at home and can’t figure out what to do about childcare. We started out thinking we’d get a nanny. That way, I could breastfeed and part of the point of working at home was to be around the kid. But we haven’t found a nanny we really like. Maybe I’m being too fussy. And now we have an option in the neighborhood that seems tempting: it’s one nanny, in her house, shared by three families (three kids). It’s cheap and the other families love her. But do I really want to send my baby out of the house? How do I make this decision? – In or Out?Dear In or Out,
Reflecting on the current cultural fascination with Jane Austen, it occurred to us that her theories on finding lasting love could be applied to finding decent childcare: the right answer is always a question of sense and sensibility.
The sensibility part means that this is mostly a job for your gut. Call it instinct, first impression, “blink reaction,” whatever you want, but the way you feel about the caregiving situation will help you make the decision. But common sense says you have to weigh the pros and cons of each situation with a little dispassion. And since between the two of us, we’ve had experience working at home with in-house and out-of-house care, we know a lot about the mathematics, as well as the chemistry of each choice.
Here’s the basic breakdown:
• The baby is gone. We don’t mean to sound harsh here. But to paraphrase a later era doyenne of English Literature, a room of one’s own is a huge step in the direction of parental sanity.
• Socialization and separation. As your child gets older, she will become more interested in the other kids. Starting with other kids and another place really early can reduce separation anxiety later on. And it can be genuinely enriching for the baby to develop some other bonds.
• Less cash outlay (enough said).
• Sickness. Sickness. Sickness. More kids means more germs. And when your kid’s sick, it’s not nice to send him to daycare to get the other kids sick. Depending on the caregiver, this may not even be allowed. The bonus is that you get a lot of the sicknesses over with and nursery school germs are less of an issue later on. The bad news is potentially missed work time and the prospect of seemingly endless antibiotics.
• Naps. Daycare providers have different solutions for dealing with the issue of multiple kids’ napping needs. But there can be some juggling going on, which can mean naps are dropped or postponed.
• Easy contact if you want it. For many breastfeeding mothers this pro is even more specific: no pumping. Instead of having a break with a machine, you can have a break with your baby instead. Whether you’re nursing or not, working in the same space with your baby gives you a lot of opportunity for closeness while still letting you get your job done. Some think of this as “the best of both worlds.”
• Separation without separating. As the baby gets older, it can be very helpful for her to learn to feel okay about you being around and working. There can be a healthy separation within the home, in other words. (This is what British psychiatrist DW Winnecott was getting at about the “good enough mother.”)
• Dedicated help. A nanny working just for you will probably be more flexible than one committed to other families’ needs. Your child has the benefit of one-on-one attention and, depending on the person, you may benefit from some light housework. It can be convenient to have someone at home to accept the grocery delivery or meet the plumber.
• Boundaries. Even with earplugs in, just the knowledge of your teetering, rooting baby on the other side of the closed door can be hard to shut out. Some parents are better at this shutting-out than others. It can also be hard on the babysitter and/or kid to have you around. If the kid knows you’re nearby, will she go down for a nap? The answer is usually yes, after time, but it can be frustrating for a baby/little kid to have mom physically present but not available.
• Isolation. As your child gets older, you may want the nanny to reach out to others for some social activities. There’s a lot made of this, and we don’t want to get all over-scheduley, but beyond toddlerdom, kids can benefit from some socializing. This could be classes, school, or regular visits to the park.
• Expense. Can. Add. Up. So, each scenario comes with both good stuff and bad. The most important thing is that you feel good about the situation, whichever option you decide to go with. And though too much variation in care can be a bit discombobulating, it’s not bad to stay flexible as you work out your work situation and as your child grows. Just keep your eyes open to see what’s working for everyone. And while we’re looking, is it us, or does Anne Hathaway look absolutely nothing like Jane Austen?
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