Best of Both Worlds Episode 4: Childcare — what we wish we knew starting out

Thanks to everyone who has listened to Best of Both Worlds, the new podcast I co-host with physician and blogger Sarah Hart-Unger. We are thrilled to see thousands of downloads, plus reviews and ratings!

We will be releasing new episodes every Tuesday. Since today is Tuesday, episode 4 is now live! (That link goes to the Libsyn site where it's hosted; iTunes users can of course find it there). We discuss a few things:

-- Why Sarah has been blogging since 2004 (you'll find out the first name of her blog, before she became "SHU").

-- Why both of us started out with daycare, and when you need to put yourself on the list if you want to send your child to a high quality center (hint: early).

-- The downsides of daycare, and why we both eventually went the nanny route.

-- Why, and how, to pay on the books.

-- Why you should be honest about how much care you need, and why you should view childcare as an investment in your lifelong earning potential.

-- Our loves of the week: reserving books at the library, and Modern Mrs. Darcy's book recommendations!

-- A listener question on how to stop thinking about work when you're not at work.

This episode was kind of epic (an hour long!) Most other episodes will be a lot shorter, but it turned out we had a lot to say on this topic. Thanks so much for checking it out.

In other news: Looking to donate or help with the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts? Here's a list of places (both general disaster relief, and organizations with specific angles: pets, housing, food banks). I made a donation through Global Giving.

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29 Responses to Best of Both Worlds Episode 4: Childcare — what we wish we knew starting out


  1. Jennifer says:

    Hi! Am very much looking forward to checking out your podcasts, but I am an Android user, will it be possible to subscribe to your podcasts outside of iTunes?

    • @Jennifer – yes! We put in a request to be approved on Stitcher, and are just waiting to get the official word. The request went in last week, so it should be very soon.

  2. Alissa says:

    Listened to this while working on a project at work today and found it interesting. I was glad Laura when you paused and acknowledged privilege and the cost issues. I live in the Midwest and know many middle class families who struggle with childcare costs. While my girls are now school age and we have a parent who stays home so I didn’t feel like I was the exact target for this I really enjoyed the conversation and the various ideas you put forward. I’ve never done a great job of having a large list of sitters and we relied on my in-laws too. Now due to some health issues and my other sitters aging out I find myself needing to build a list of sitters so it was helpful to think about options there. I’m going to look at care.com

    • Alissa says:

      I went on so long that I forgot that I wanted to say as a librarian I was absolutely DELIGHTED when Sarah mentioned the library as her Love of the Week! I also read modern mrs darcy and listen to her podcast so that was a great one too. Also, another good source for book recommendations – both adult and picture books is everyday-reading.com

      • @Alissa – yes to libraries! I’m currently reading a library book – I just need to get in the habit of visiting frequently. It’s been great for kids books too, given how quickly they go through them.

      • Meghan says:

        Yay for librarians! I was a librarian, and ended up doing publishing-related freelancing because of the childcare issues of the public library nights/weekends schedule and a spouse who travels unpredictably for work. It’s super you’ve managed to find your own way of making it all work! I’ve used care.com and also sittercity.com, btw. It can take some time to find the right one, but good luck!
        (My current favorite library resource, besides the reserve shelf, are ebooks and digital magazines! Overdrive saw me through many sleepless nights of feedings and ear infections.)

      • ARC says:

        I am a little sad that our new library is not nearly as fabulous as the one we had in WA. It’s kind of run-down and musty and they have hardly any new books. I lost my (new) library card already, so I haven’t yet explored the online options. But their kids’ section is decent. I’m guessing in our county it’s just not very well-funded and I’m trying to figure out whether i can also use the library in the next county over (which is HUGE).

        • Ruth says:

          ARC – In Indiana, we can get Public Library Access Card (PLAC) for an annual fee. You have to have a “home” library for which you pay taxes. With the PLAC, you can get a library card from any library in the state and use it fully. Maybe your state has something like that, or your library may have some sort of reciprocity program with other libraries.

          I also use the library’s electronic resources extensively, mostly through Overdrive – ePub books, audiobooks, and Kindle books. It’s great!!!

  3. Angela says:

    I just commented on SHU’s post that i really enjoy the two of you together. I think it’s a fantastic platform for you. It’s actually my goal to introduce your work to everyone I know (especially women)
    : )
    I think everyone can benefit from your work and perspective on time management.

    • @Angela – thank you so much! I appreciate your comment here (and there!) It’s been a lot of fun to do the podcast, and so wonderful to see people downloading it.

  4. Meghan says:

    Yes, another great episode! We have dealt with the childcare puzzle pieces in many different ways, as we move every 1-2 years and I work from home. We’ve had everything from a part-time regular sitter (6 hrs/wk) to full-time daycare. I totally agree that finding someone who is willing to be there while you’re also home is tough, but worth it!
    We don’t live near family, but right now are lucky enough to live on a really tight-knit street a block from the school with no through traffic. So today, my 4yo napped and my 7yo rode his bike home with a friend and played outside while I had a 3.5-hr board meeting (no meeting should ever be that long), and I didn’t have to worry or arrange for anything other than a casual, “Hey, can T ride home with E tomorrow?” to my neighbor.
    Anyway, it’s amazing how many different variations there are on care, and how they change over the years with your kids and circumstances — definitely not something a first-time parent is necessarily aware of (I sure wasn’t)!

    • ARC says:

      Hey, your kids are the same age as mine 🙂 I think hubby and I would find it SO distracting to have a sitter + kids in the house while we work, so we always just sucked up the pain of dropping them off at daycare, even though one or both of us has been working from home for the past 3 years.

      • Meghan says:

        Yeah, I don’t often do the sitter at home thing, but it was useful when I had an infant I was breastfeeding – I had a sitter who would come over for just a few hours here and there when I had a deadline, and she’d bring her daughter to play (my son was around 9 mo, and her daughter was only 18 mo, so it worked out). Now, I have a neighbor boy I can pay $10 to go play with my kids out back for a while, and I hole up in the upstairs office. I agree that it would take some getting used to if it was a regular situation!

        • ARC says:

          Oh, I hadn’t even thought about breastfeeding – yeah, that would be perfect. I used to come home from work mid-day to feed the baby when my husband was home with her just to avoid one pumping session (and it helped that we lived <5 min from my job!)

  5. beth says:

    I really liked the childcare talk! I did the much more conventional center daycare for both of my kids from birth until they went to kindergarten. It’s interesting to hear how other people make it work.

    • @beth – that can totally be a great solution, as long as you have some layer of back up care. I think figuring out that back up care is one of the hardest logistical tasks for many people to swing. It can work if you have family nearby, or a flexible back-up sitter, or neighbors/friends, or one partner has a very flexible job (and doesn’t mind always being the one to get stuck with the sick kid care — I got a bit resentful after the fifth week of it…)

      • beth says:

        I agree that the back up care is the hard part. We never really had any! Finding someone to take care of a sick kid within minutes of getting “the call” was never something I was able to find. Finding people who want to care for sick children in general are really hard to find (or were for me). I was a postdoc at the time (so a nanny wasn’t really financially feasible) but I had the flexibility to take care of a sick child during the day and go in to the lab at night to get experiments done. On the plus side, my eldest has been in elementary school for 3 years and has had perfect attendance each year. Potential upside?

  6. Kristin says:

    I’m only part way thru listening but I just wanted to comment that the biggest issue with childcare was that it was an issue at all! I knew we would need it and made arrangements etc, but in all the baby books, must have collections and lists of things you should worry about (screen time! BPA! organic everything!) I felt like we were not prepared for the stress and complexity of it (and even though we had anticipated and planned for it, it’s also hard to write that check each week that almost equals my husband’s take home pay) Maybe I didn’t know enough people with full time childcare or was oblivious, but it has been by far the hardest and most stressful part about becoming a parent and something we didn’t see coming. Reliable and affordable childcare for the baby’s first year is a big reason we are choosing to stop at 2 kids.

    • @Kristin – so, so true. Many baby books have such an Ozzie-and-Harriet view of childcare, that this would never be something you’d even have to think about. I know we were pretty much flying blind going in, since neither of us had grown up in a situation like ours.

      • ARC says:

        This is a great point. All of the ‘parenting prep’ books I had read, and even the helpful classes they offered at work (birth, breastfeeding, class for new dads, returning to work) glossed over HOW to find good childcare. They seemed to just assume you had it without going into the details. It was only from talking to other parents that I realized you needed to sign up for daycare while still pregnant (!) and that daycare centers of the same chain were *totally* different environment-wise and you had to visit each one.

  7. omdg says:

    I loved your podcast on childcare, especially the points you made about a) paying on the books, b) investing in enough childcare and viewing it as an investment, c) the “real” reasons that people talk about daycare so negatively. I am also really glad you dispelled the idea that au pairs can work overnight. We’ve used au pairs for the past 4.5 years and have had an overall great experience, but they do have real limitations on their work hours/job description that come from conditions placed on their visas.

    • @omdg – thanks, so glad you liked it. Au pairs can be wonderful, especially for families with school aged children, or as a supplement and back-up to daycare, but it’s not going to work for families where both parties travel overnight. I’m sure you’ve discovered some valuable insights on what you request from the au pair agencies too. I know I’ve learned a lot about hiring caregivers the more times I’ve gone through the process.

  8. ARC says:

    Hopefully you’ll have a post for each podcast where we can comment, like this one?

    A few things – SHU’s point about talking to other parents about specific daycares was spot-on. You can’t just go by price or individuals’ online reviews. Near us, not very many daycares were NAEYC-accredited either (not sure if it’s more common on the East Coast?). When I looked back in 2012, the cost for high-quality infant care full-time for an under-6-month-old was $2500/mo. If you could even find a spot(!).

    Where I worked, we had a lot of people who preferred smaller home daycares, which wasn’t an option you guys discussed. In WA, they are also required to be licensed, etc. so you can find these online and look up their status as well.

    We had a great website called “Child Care Check” where you could check on their licensing status, which employees had background checks on file, and whether there were any complaints or issues that came up during inspections. Those were another helpful data point, like when we found out our daughter’s preschool was not actually licensed like the owner said 🙁

    The other thing we learned was that as babies grow up and your kids’ personalities become more clear, you may need to change the environment/care situation accordingly. We switched both girls to Montessori preschools (with extended day care) at 2.5 because they seemed like they were ready for more structure at that point and the mixed-age class (usually ages 2.5 to 5 or 6) was amazing for both of them.

    Also, the mixed age thing meant we could have them BOTH in the same school for a while, because doing two drop-offs was easily a 45min – 1 hour round trip for us.

    Even now, that experience has taught us to prioritize child care (or school) options where they can both be in the same place for as long as possible. They are 3 years apart, and our current school (which also happens to be our neighborhood public school and is walking distance!) is pre-K through 8th grade and has easily available aftercare onsite, so fingers crossed we can use it for the duration.

    We chose center-based daycare because we felt like it was more stable (ie even if a teacher quit or called in sick, the center had lots of backups) but totally didn’t realize the illness factor would negate a lot of the benefits those first 18 months or so in that setting.

    Another handy tip I got from fellow moms (the second time) was to “save” some vacation time for illness that first year, rather than tacking it all onto maternity leave like a lot of people did.

    The other (hidden) benefit of having two kids in daycare/preschool was that paying for private elementary school wasn’t a big deal after that – it was just like continuing to pay for daycare 😉 Obviously we were luck to be able to afford that, but it alleviated a lot of the childcare concerns we would have had with our local public school in WA — onsite aftercare never had any openings, kids had half days every Wed, and getting full time K was a lottery and many people did not get it 🙁

    Private school was full day, had high quality before- and after-care onsite and even available as drop in hourly care in case we had unexpected early meetings etc, and generally seemed better equipped at catering to working parents.

    • Meghan says:

      Yes to the shared school point! As you noted, our kids are the same age, and right now we are in 2 schools – I could have paid to put them both in a small Montessori (I love Montessori!) but 1. That’s expensive 2. It’s such a small, new school and 3. We move often, and one thing we want our kids to learn is how to learn wherever they are, so sticking with the neighborhood school whenever possible is important to us. I could have enrolled my 4yo in the pre-k class at my 7yo’s school, but it’s really more like a 2-hr playgroup, so he’s staying at the private preschool they both have attended off and on (whenever we live in this town). Anyway, just more anecdotes to illustrate how every year, the decisions have to be made over again, and different priorities arise! I loved the public school Montessori we had in Savannah, and wish we could have stayed there, but moving is just part of our life 🙂

      • ARC says:

        My parents live in Savannah 🙂 Right now our public elementary/middle is a hybrid Montessori model and I am so excited about that. It’s unfortunately NOT mixed-age, but they do use a lot of the Montessori materials.

        Just as I was reading this, my friend posted on Facebook that her local community center aftercare had 70 kids on the wait list (!!!). I imagine there are a lot of parents scrambling right now to figure out what to do. 🙁

      • @Meghan and ARC – all 3 of my older kids will be in the same school this year. I am so incredibly excited about this idea!

  9. Kathleen says:

    Loved the episode.

    One thought about choosing daycare location: consider home location, office locations, and travel schedules. We had the chance to use my office’s awesome on-site daycare but declined because it was 20 miles from home and 15 miles from my husband’s office. Fine for most days, but a non-starter for the many days I would be traveling.

    Also, I cannot give enough high-fives to your comments on amortizing childcare across a career, and on accounting for the long-term wage depression that comes from taking time out of the workforce. Yes, it’s hard to work full time with littles. Yes, good childcare is expensive. But it’s an investment in your future!

    • @Kathleen – yes, definitely, the travel time issue can be huge. My daycare was an 8 minute walk from my apartment, which is where I was working, so that was fine. But in I Know How She Does It, I profiled a woman who had to drive quite a ways in rush hour traffic to drop her sons off, then more time in the car to her office, then repeating it, the whole thing turning into a potentially 90-minute hellish event each morning and evening. Plus the daycare only had street parking! Ponder that, and the logistics of dragging two kids in the snow an uncertain amount of distance each morning. Eventually something had to give. The family moved, and chose a daycare 4 minutes from the train station where she’d commute from. Plus her husband got a different job that meant he could do half the drop-offs/pick-ups. Totally different life.

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