Great Child Care Solutions

Posted on 24 August 2007

by Laura D'Angelo

Family Day Care

If you've ever looked for child care, you know just how difficult and emotional the search can be. You've got to carefully consider everything from the type of arrangement that suits your family best to finding a loving and responsible caregiver. After all, your baby's well-being is at stake. The good news is that there are more options than ever, from nanny sharing to job-based day care. "Parents are becoming creative in finding solutions that work well for them," says Kristin Smith, author of Who's Minding the Kids? a U.S. Census Bureau report on child care. The seven families profiled here found care they wouldn't trade for the world. Their stories are the blueprint you need for deciding what's best for you and your children.

Stacy and Mark Olsen
Taylor, Texas
Child: Reed, 20 months
Weekly child-care cost: $150

When Stacy Olsen visits her son, Reed, at Jennifer Abernathy's family day care, she sees a whirl of action and organization under the close supervision of a nurturing caregiver.

"I trusted my instincts," says Stacy, 34, an import supervisor for an international-shipping company. Though Jennifer is strict about on-time pickup and parents must find alternate care when she's sick or on vacation, Stacy says the arrangement is ideal. "Reed's close to my job, gets individualized attention, and isn't exposed to a lot of illnesses," says Stacy, who nursed Reed at lunchtime for eight months. "I never worry that Reed's not getting the level of care that I'd be giving him."

Family Day-Care Pros:

  • Less expensive than day-care centers
  • Children are in a homelike environment
  • Close relationships fostered

Cons:

  • May be less professional
  • Quality of care varies
  • May not offer sophisticated equipment

Au Pair Care

Lorri and Edward Bengochea
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Children: Twins Cartier and Cayenne, 2
Weekly child-care cost: $199 ($139 au pair cost;
$60 for day care)

When Lorri Bengochea began looking into child care for her twins, she and her husband quickly picked au pair care. "I liked that my children would be safe at home," says Lorri, 33, a product manager for insurance policies. "They'd have undivided attention while getting to know someone from another country." Even factoring in the yearly $5,000 agency fee and the $500 that families are required to put toward an au pair's college tuition, the costs were more affordable than those of other options.

Twenty-year-old Jessica Halmes, from Belgium, is Lorri's second au pair. The first often stayed out late and napped while on duty. Lorri requested a replacement, and Jessica is great. Like all au pairs, she can stay in the U.S. for only 12 months at a time and work a maximum of 45 hours a week. But her schedule allows her to help out as needed. "I had an emergency dental appointment, and Jessica was right there," Lorri says. "We've all grown close and plan to stay in touch."

Au Pair Pros:

  • Flexible hours
  • Cultural exchange opportunity
  • Youthful energy and enthusiasm

Cons:

  • Difficult to meet in advance
  • Privacy may be an issue
  • Professional training is minimal

Grandmother's House

Carrie Stetler and Jeff May
Mount Tabor, New Jersey
Child: Julia, 3
Weekly child-care cost: $0

Three days a week, Carrie Stetler, 37, drops her 3-year-old daughter, Julia, off with her in-laws, Judy and Roger May. "They take her to Gymboree class, and they play games with her," says Carrie, a part-time reporter at The Newark Star-Ledger.

The arrangement -- which Judy, a child therapist, proposed -- brought the families closer but also raised a few issues. "At first, we'd all just coo about how wonderful Julia was," Carrie says. Then Judy began urging Carrie to give up her family-bed arrangement. "At 9 months old, Julia could nap only if someone lay down with her," Carrie says, which the Mays disliked doing. Carrie reluctantly agreed.

The Mays also wanted a more established pickup time. After a long day, they needed to relax. Overall, though, Carrie stresses how lucky she and her husband are. "We're grateful," she says. "Julia's in the best hands, and we've saved a lot of money."

Grandparent-Care Pros:

  • Mutual love and affection
  • Free or inexpensive
  • Child is in comfortable setting

Cons:

  • Some grandparents may lack energy
  • Activities, vacations may interrupt care
  • Child may socialize less

On-Site Day Care

John and Carol Lewis
Cary, North Carolina
Children: Madison, 3, and Harper, 1
Weekly child-care cost: $200

As soon as John Lewis, 34, found out that his wife was pregnant with their second child, he added his family's name to the waiting list at the day-care center at Rex Hospital, in Raleigh, where he works as a financial administrator. The couple's older daughter, Madison, was already receiving excellent care there.

The center offers children plenty of opportunities to socialize, and the Lewises noticed that infants thrived there. "When the babies aren't napping or eating, they're listening to music, lying under mobiles, or going for a walk in a stroller," John says.

Now on the three days that Carol works as a negotiator for Blue Cross, John commutes with their kids and visits them during the day. "They're always so happy," he says. "It assures me that we made the right decision."

On-Site Care Pros:

  • Professionally run, structured setting
  • Convenient location
  • Cost may be subsidized

Cons:

  • Must commute with kids
  • May have waiting list
  • Children must adapt to center's schedule

At-Home Nanny

Parents: Lisa and Curtis Moore
Baldwin, New York
Child: Max, 2
Weekly child-care cost: $370

When Lisa and Curtis Moore considered finding a good caregiver for their son, Max, who has Down syndrome, Lisa was tempted to just stay home. For a special-needs child, care can be complex. Then, a therapist suggested Monica James, a nanny who had cared for another Down-syndrome child for five years. "We all liked her right away," says Lisa, 34, a high-school biology teacher. "Monica knows the routines and is very reliable."

Lisa notes, though, that having a nanny calls for flexibility. "People have different ways of doing things," she says. "You need good communication." What's great, she adds, is that Monica makes playdates for Max and keeps him active. "She creates an environment that's full of love."

Nanny Pros:

  • Adjusts to your schedule and your child's
  • Individualized attention
  • Child can be at home

Cons:

  • May require an agency fee
  • Parent must set the rules and pay taxes
  • Often more expensive than other options

Nanny Sharing

Butler and Mike Carmichael; Dorothy and Dan Holt
Falmouth, Maine, vicinity
Children: Stone Carmichael, 1 year; George Holt, 10 months
Weekly child-care cost: $230 each

Both the Holts and the Carmichaels believed a nanny would provide the quality of care they wanted, but neither couple could afford one alone. The solution? Share one. The babies would get plenty of attention and be each other's playmates.

The couples eventually hired Kelly Sniper, who cares for the babies at the Carmichaels' one week and the Holts' the next. The friends compromised over housework: Kelly would clean up only after the babies. "We have similar views about raising children," says Butler, 30, a manager at a footwear company. "Otherwise, this wouldn't work."

Adds Dorothy, 33, a business-development manager for an Internet-cable company, "Not only do we share a wonderful nanny, but we've got a great support team in each other."

Nanny-Sharing Pros:

  • Parents can compare notes when hiring
  • Children have built-in playmates
  • Personalized attention at a cost savings

Cons:

  • Requires extra equipment in each home
  • Possible disagreements between parents
  • With two or more children, nanny may take children on outings less frequently

Originally published in Parents magazine, August 2001.

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