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Selecting Child Care - The Pros and Cons of the 5 Different Choices

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Child care makes or breaks a working mom's career. If you're stressed about your child's well-being, you can't focus on your job. Being confident that your child is in a safe, loving, and stimulating environment frees you to excel in the workplace.

If both parents work, or you're a single mom, you have five basic choices: relative care, a babysitter, an au pair, a family daycare, or a daycare center. Here are the pluses and minuses of each care setting.

Care From a Relative

You may be lucky enough to have a father, mother-in-law, or sibling who offers to care for your child. Before accepting, think it through.

Pros:

  • The care may be free, or less than you'd pay a stranger.
  • You can be far more confident that your child is with someone who loves and cares for her.
  • The emotional bonds your child forms build upon an existing family relationship, and will last a lifetime.

Cons:

  • The care may be free of cost, but not without strings. Your mother may feel comfortable ignoring your feeding, sleep or other care preferences. After all, her rules worked fine for your childhood.
  • It may be harder for you to maintain appropriate boundaries when your employee is also a relative.
  • If the arrangement doesn't work out, lingering resentment may haunt your relationship with the relative.

Care in Your Home

Whether you call her a nanny or babysitter, the role is the same: someone you hire to care for your child in your home.

Pros:

  • You don't have the hassle of packing up your child in the morning.
  • If your child sleeps late, you won't have to wake him. You can leave once the nanny arrives.
  • Your child will have a higher adult-to-child ratio than in a center.
  • You'll have more flexibility to set your own rules for discipline, feeding, and schedule.
  • Your child won't be exposed to the germs of a group child care setting. (You may see this as a con, because some early illnesses strengthen the immune system.)

Cons:

  • There's nobody supervising your nanny while you're at work.
  • Your child will have limited opportunities to socialize with other children or learn group manners.
  • You're wholly dependent on your babysitter's availability. If she gets sick or quits suddenly, you’ll be left in a lurch.
  • You'll shoulder the burden of background checks, verifying employment eligibility, and employment-related insurance and taxes, including Social Security and Medicare.
  • This is usually the most expensive child care option.

An Au Pair

Several agencies match young women looking for a way to visit the U.S. with families looking for inexpensive live-in child care. The catch is finding the right fit.

Pros:

  • Same advantages of a nanny: no packing up your child in the morning, set your own rules, favorable adult-to-child ratio, no group care germs.
  • If you don't need the au pair for all the hours she's allowed to work during the week, whether 35 or 40 hours, she may be able to babysit on weekend evenings.
  • An au pair is usually much cheaper than a nanny and many daycare centers.

Cons:

  • Same minuses as a nanny: nobody supervises the au pair while you're at work, limited socialization, and you need backup care when she's sick.
  • An au pair must adjust to a new country, culture and possibly language. You may end up effectively having another, teenage child struggling with homesickness.
  • You'll have less privacy with an au pair living in your home.

Daycare Center

In a daycare center, teachers care for children in groups and are supervised by a director. Most states have licensing rules and minimum standards that the center must follow.

Pros:

  • There are multiple adults watching to make sure nobody abuses or neglects your child. Not only the teachers and director, but other parents are your allies.
  • Your child will learn from other children in her room, making for easier transitions such as weaning from bottles and potty training.
  • If one teacher is sick, your child will still be able to attend.
  • Many centers offer a preschool curriculum and enrichment activities for 3- and 4-year olds. This is a convenience if you plan to have more than one child.
  • Your child will become socialized and learn to enjoy other children's company.

Cons:

  • When your child is sick, you'll need to arrange backup care.
  • Your child will have a lower adult-to-child ratio than with a babysitter.
  • You'll have limited ability to change the center's routines or rules.

Family Child Care

A family daycare center combines some of the good and bad points of a nanny and a daycare center. Your child is in a home setting, but socializes with other children.

Pros:

  • This is often the least expensive option.
  • Your child will socialize with other children.
  • The setting is more homey and less institutional than a daycare center.

Cons:

  • There are few other adults keeping an eye on the caregiver. Often, any assistants will be the caregiver's relatives, making them less likely to report sketchy behavior.
  • Licensing standards may be looser than in a daycare center.
  • If the primary caregiver is sick or on vacation, you'll need to provide backup care.
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