Childcare arrangements: What makes life easier?

I’m filling in some gaps in the Mosaic manuscript right now. One area where I think I am not being as helpful as I could be is the discussion on childcare. A lot of information out there is geared toward people who work a predictable 40 hours a week. So what if that doesn’t describe you? What if one or both parents travel relatively frequently, or have hours that usually stretch beyond 40? Or even 45-50, which is about the limit of what one would expect one caregiver to cover? What set-up have you found to make your life easier (or possible)? Did that take a lot of trial and error to figure out?

I would love tips and strategies for this, which can be COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS (no need to post in the comments — though you can if you’d like!) As always, you can reach me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com. Thanks.


24 thoughts on “Childcare arrangements: What makes life easier?

  1. One thing we tried to do living in Boston and will do again is strategic use of family visits/help. Since our nanny already worked already worked a full week and often was working overtime, it did not work to have her cover leisure time–date nights and/or overnight. Grandparents did this on several occasions, and we’d tweak the schedule to give the nanny some time off. A friend recently suggested to me to hire 1-2 college-age sitters for a regular amount a week to a) cover leisure time and b) be trained enough and capable of serving as backup. If nanny is sick and family can’t help, it might not be perfect but the college-age sitter could provide enough coverage to ensure we don’t fall too behind at work.

    1. @Griffin- yep, having some people who can do back-up, and nights, is key. College students then disappear for the summer, though! I had a great rotation of 3 people and then this number dropped precipitously…

      1. But other college students have more free time in the summer, at least if the college offers summer school. We’ve had to interview every semester, pretty much (during the 2 years, so 6 semesters, that we had mother’s helpers), no matter what.

      2. We lost some come summer, but, since I had cultivated a list of 4-6, a few are still in town. I didn’t realize I was doing it at the time, but the sheer number of sitters I’ve met and the rotation I’ve kept them on meant some are around this summer. I think of my sitter pool pretty strategically (are there any year-rounders and am I building a pipeline of first and second year students).

        1. @Griffin- I suspect there is a whole article to be written on the strategic rotation and pipeline building of night/weekend sitters.

  2. Oh, and I did travel for work, but usually in only 24-48 hour spurts to New York. Nanny came/early stayed late and, since husband doesn’t travel but works long hours, we could usually make it work. I generally knew of my travel well in advance and could make the plan work.

  3. An obvious way that some of my high-flying friends deal with this is to have a live in au pair. A cost-effective solution for unsociable hours. For me, it would not be worth it to have someone living in the house. No way!

    I wrote today on my blog about how I’ve been getting along this week with my partner away:

    “I am also reminded of how very lucky we are to have a babysitter who is retired. She is almost always available at any time that we ask. And she is a total grown-up. She doesn’t ask about stuff, she just does it. I don’t have to think about what she should feed them for tea, she’ll just do whatever seems right at the time. I really, really value not having to supervise.”

    We have been lucky as she looked after both of our children at a traditional childcare setting before retiring, but I would seek out a “veteran” again if she leaves the area. They are less transient than younger folks, don’t have work commitments, and are more grown up about making decisions. Obviously this wouldn’t suit everyone, but I would hate to have someone who checked in all the time!

    1. @Alison – having a sitter who’s always available and likes extra hours is a big plus. On the au pair thing – I’m checking because I think a lot of international placement programs limit people to 40-45 hours/week. While that works just fine if your kids are in school, it clearly won’t work for high flyers with babies.

      1. The people I know who use au-pairs use them as backup/night/evening care. Even the babies have other care during the week.

  4. We’ve only used college students (and the occasional teenage child) for regular working hours, but plenty of people (including my mom) use them for after school and before school care and transportation. A baby sitter doesn’t just have to be for fun nights out– they can play with the child when you need to work, or play chauffeur when you’re teaching an early morning class or just don’t want to take the kid to after school lessons and practices.
    In our family, DH and I trade off when we need extra time outside of work.
    A good reason to limit screen time is so it can be a treat when you really need to work from home but have kids. DH managed to work half a day recently because too-sick-to-go-to-daycare-but-not-really-sick DC2, was thrilled to be able to watch as much Caillou and play as much starfall as she wanted. That’s assuming work from home.
    I don’t know what we’d do if we both had to travel for work. Maybe beg my MIL to visit? With DC1 he could probably stay with a school friend, but DC2 is still too young.

    1. @nicoleandmaggie – yes, the both needing to travel part is where things get dicey. I’m getting some interesting suggestions on it, though. And it turns out a fair number of people use before school sitters too — which I hadn’t really thought about.

  5. For us, having an au pair has been the only solution that works. My husband travels and my hours can be unpredictable. The key thing for us was not having to worry about drop-offs/pick-ups for the babies (huge time saver), and then having someone else handle school pick-ups when they get to that age. Not having to worry about daycare drop offs and pickups (and bottles, food, etc) and what to do when they are sick has been huge. (I sometimes work from home if one is sick, but can work most of the day b/c someone else is there). In addition, we have flexible care that we’ve paid for – if we don’t use our hours during the week, we can do a date night on the weekend. If we occasionally need to go over the 45 hours, we compensate them.

    Having many friends that do daycare, I’m convinced this or a live-in nanny is the only way to stay sane.

    This would not work if we both traveled, b/c they can not be left overnight with the children (though with each of our previous au pairs, I would have at the end if necessary, they were like family and I trusted them completely).

  6. Daycare plus au pair. We have no family who can help, but we do have a big basement where the au pair can stay and have privacy. Occasionally if we’re feeling charitable, we slide a piece of bread under the door along with her watery gruel. KIDDING. No seriously. We couldn’t do it without a live in.

    1. @oldmdgirl – I am definitely seeing that this solution works best for families with long and unpredictable hours. What throws a wrench in the concept for some is the travel. I’m kind of curious how people structure live-in nanny employment (not au pair version).

  7. A friend was saying the other day that what she appreciates is having a retired person (who happens to have been in childcare) as babysitter. She’s always available and she’s grown up enough that one doesn’t have to do things like plan meals and activities for babysitter + kids. She can just show up and figure things out herself.

  8. she is the most expensive sitter out of all my friends -which they have given me flack about over the years. But in my opinion and it’s been a big BUT well worth the money as my career has been able to grow due to not having stress about who is taking care of my kids.

  9. We’ve had a nanny since my oldest was a baby; initially live-out b/c we were in an apartment and then live-in when we moved to a house. It’s the only way we could manage. When subsequent children were babies, and I went back to work, I got extra help for some time on the weekends too. We have good friends who are both doctors, work well over 40 hours per week and have 4 kids (the youngest 2 being twins). They have 2 nannies, and it’s great. Neither one gets totally overworked and overwhelmed, but there is always coverage and support, even when the parents are home. Obviously, this is mega pricey, but they consider it a cost of their rewarding (personally and financially) careers and their large-ish family. I think, even in our modern world, “it takes a village to raise a child.” It’s just that we now have to hire that village, and pay for that help.

    1. @Rinna – I would love to learn the structure of your live-in arrangeme/nt, what hours she is expected to work (I think your kids are all at least in preschool at this point…). What time is she guaranteed off? Feel free to email me if you don’t want to post it here 🙂

      We likewise talked with some people with 4 kids (including twins) who at one point had 4 nannies when the twins were infants: day, night, weekend, floater. My husband and I, who were on our first kid at the time, were flabbergasted. We’ve had some weeks lately, though, when I could see the merits of that. Always the lesson: don’t judge. Someday that could be you.

      1. Totally agree about the judgment. I used to think 2 nannies was insane and that people were outsourcing parenting. Now I see how it can totally make sense and actually make you a much better parent – i.e., so that you are less stressed and more able to focus on those things only you can do.

        I’ll shoot an email about nanny hours separately.

        1. When I was pregnant with my first, a more senior (and famous) economist said they’d had two nannies for their kids (who were either twins or born in rapid succession, I can’t remember which). Not as shift workers, but at the same time. (Different shifts seems pretty normal– for the first 9 months for each of our kids we had 2-4 mother’s helpers each working some number of hours for a total of 30-35 hours/week but never at the same time.)

          1. My friends who are doctors actually do have overlap with their nannies. In other words, in the morning before-school rush and in the after school, pre-bedtime rush, there are 2 of them on duty. For the rest of the week (including 1 day on the weekend), there is 1 nanny at a time. One is live-in; the other is live-out. Because they are both specialists that work in the hospital, they often have to be on call during odd hours, so they do need this kind of coverage. They have a great relationship with their kids, and with their nannies! It’s funny though, because the wife is the only one that has any guilt about the arrangement. Her husband doesn’t think twice about it.

  10. My and my husband work at the same company and it is an hour away from our house. I had to go back to work after our son was born and we didn’t have any daycare center near us who would provide that much coverage (6:30am – 6:00pm). Plus, I am not even sure, if I would be able to be separated from my baby for so-o long! We have found a babysitter 10 minutes away from our office, so we all drive together, drop the baby off and go to work. I see (and even nurse) him every lunch break. In addition, if an emergency happens we are close to him.
    The drive is pretty long but it was the best arrangement that could have been done.

  11. Trying to find reliable childcare for *less* than 40 hours a week (but more than, say, 3) is also challenging. Most nannies/in home babysitters in our area want full time hours (and can easily find them with all the tech companies in the area), and college students can’t spare 20-25 hours a week during prime working hours.

    Many daycares do not accommodate part-time schedules either. I was lucky to find a few near us with flexible-enough schedules and pro-rated pricing.

    M goes 4 days a week for 6 hours a day, but daycare tells me what those 6 hours should be (8:30-2:30). The other options were 5 half days (8:30-noon) which is barely enough of a stretch to get things done between drop-off and pickup, or 3 full days.

    When our older one was a baby, she went 2 full days and I did the rest of my work from home in the evening or weekends. That daycare “split” the week between two families, so one would get 3 days and one would get 2 days so they weren’t “wasting” a spot on a part-time kid. It worked well until you wanted to change your schedule 😉

    I understand smaller home daycares may be more flexible with schedules but we didn’t look into that.

    1. @ARC – you bring up a good point on another potential downside of PT work. Childcare can wind up being proportionally more expensive. I know the daycare we used years ago was the exact same price for 4 days as 5 days. So if you negotiated a 80% schedule, you’d get paid 20% less, but your childcare costs would be exactly the same. Of course, you could keep the kid in for the 5th day and have a day off!

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