Best of Both Worlds podcast: Childcare revisited

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

Women with big careers — moreso than similarly situated men — are highly likely to be in 2-income families. And that means figuring out childcare. Consequently, childcare is one of our most requested topics on Best of Both Worlds. So we’ve covered it a lot! Since Sarah recently made some childcare changes, we decided to revisit the issue in this episode, mostly in light of our general BOBW childcare rules:

Think through day-to-day life. Unless your partner is responsible for all things kid-related, childcare will affect your day-to-day routines. So little annoyances add up. A daycare that is 15 minutes off your route vs. 5 minutes is going to add an additional 40 minutes to daily travel time. Even split among partners that’s 20 minutes apiece, or 100 minutes per week for each of you. So make sure this is a well-considered choice. One reason many people wind up going the nanny route is to avoid having to pack up multiple small children in the morning with assorted bottles, diaper bags, snacks, etc.

Be honest about how many hours you need. If you’d like to have help in the evenings with bedtime because your partner travels a lot, acknowledge this. If weekends will be crazed without another driver, figure this out. Sarah shifted her schedule to get evening coverage and also hired sitters to come for a few hours on weekend mornings so she and Josh can work or exercise, and then be more present the rest of the day.

Don’t be cheap. If you’re using daycare, don’t shop on price alone — you want to make sure your children are safe and happy and that you’re getting adequate hours and support. If you go the nanny route, just like in any other hiring situation, you’ll get better people by paying above-market rates, and offering paid vacations, bonuses, and the like. And, a reminder: anyone working in your home at hours you set is an employee. That means you need to pay on the books (withholding taxes and paying the employer portion of Social Security, plus making payments to your state’s unemployment insurance scheme, etc.) Sarah uses NannyPay, which is an app. I use GTM, which is a more full-service payroll company (they can do small business payroll too).

Think through trouble spots. If your daycare closes at 6 p.m. but you almost always have to work late on Thursday nights, what are you going to do about it? If you both travel occasionally, what are you going to do if one of you might have to work late and the other’s flight is delayed? Being optimistic is great in life, but not when it comes to childcare. Think about what could go wrong before it goes wrong and you’ll be much more calm when it does.

I realized, listening to the episode, that I sound a bit distracted — recording a podcast while feeding a baby is a bit more multi-tasking than I’d generally like to do, but that happened this week, so there we go.

23 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Childcare revisited

  1. I was wondering, if you’d be willing to share, the % of your income you allocate to childcare. In last week’s episode you mentioned some percentages for housing and holiday budgets so I’m curious how childcare compares. I know in Ireland that full time childcare is often referred to as a second mortgage, and often is more than that when multiple kids are in full time creche/nursery. Thanks.

    1. Hi! For us, childcare is roughly 12% of gross income (BEFORE taxes/savings/anything). It is a much larger proportion than housing (7%). This includes: full time nanny, some weekend sitting, and our toddler’s preschool. Once preschool is gone we’ll be at 10%, but I’m sure the rising costs of extracurriculars for all 3 as they get older will fill in the gap.

      Food is about 4% and travel about 4-5% for perspective 🙂

      1. (to be fair, our nanny also has child-free hours in which she does a lot of housework/household management type stuff, so those numbers do not reflect PURE 100% childcare. But mostly.)

        1. Thanks for that. So interesting. I found a study from 2018 (Maternal Employment and the Cost of Childcare in Ireland) that puts the figure at 16% of disposable income for one child for 40+ hours of childcare a week! I guess the higher the % of income for minimum cover the less likely people are to spend out on additional hours. I’m currently a stay-at-home mum of 3 (through choice and circumstance) so our childcare cost is practically zero. But it is a big consideration for when I return to the workforce, though the logistics are my larger concern. I like how in the podcast you talked of childcare as an investment more than an expense. Helpful reframing.

  2. Great episode, as usual.
    I’d like to add that I have had success using a “parent’s helper” or “mother’s helper” from time to time. This is a teenager from my neighborhood whom I know and she comes over to watch and entertain my 1 year old periodically while I am still home.
    Last Sunday, for example, I needed a few hours of uninterrupted time to do some editing work. The teenager came over and played with the baby, and read her books, yet, if there was a question or a diaper that needed to be changed, or a bottle that needed to be made, or whatever, I was home and able to attend to the baby’s needs for a few minutes before heading back to my home office. While I probably would not be comfortable yet leaving the teenager with the baby while my spouse and I went out at night, this was an excellent arrangement for everyone.
    (Also, all of Sarah’s raving about her hobonichi planner enticed me to order one too!)

  3. I wish I had been able to listen to this episode when I was pregnant with my oldest son (who is now 10). I know most of this now but I had to learn it the hard way. It was a huge game-changer to realize that I needed child care to do things other than work, and I am always happy when I hear you advocate for this. I am still figuring out how to handle child-care disruptions, and I was reassured by hearing Sarah talk about how she has relied on last-minute nanny services …and the world didn’t end!

  4. A podcast topic: women who have flexibility due to long tenure with their companies and in their roles ( I have 10+ years). Also, sparked by a comment Laura made some time ago, men don’t ask for permission to leave early for kid activities (ie 4:00p soccer game on a Thursday), they just do. I started doing the same a few years ago and no one notices.

    P.S. there are Senior Executive dads on the sidelines, who I seriously doubt notified the CEO of their multinational employers they would be leaving “early.”

  5. Another great resource for babysitters are high school teachers. When my husband taught high school, he would just ask his most responsible students who he had taught in previous years if they were interested in babysitting. Now, I ask friends would teach for recommendations.

    Also, my husband does do weekly food prep on Sunday with our two girls (4 and 7 years old). I work on graduate school work on weekends and so he does the grocery shopping, cooks scrambled eggs for my breakfast all week, makes entrees for the girls’ lunches and cooks Sunday dinner of which the leftovers are my lunches for the week. First off, he loves it (especially grocery shopping with the kids which seems crazy to me). Second, I handle most of the week with the girls (drop offs/pick ups/swim lessons) and this is his way of setting me up for success. And I don’t think it takes him much longer than doing regular grocery shopping and cooking Sunday dinner. He gets the girls really involved and they are always excited to tell me about who scrambled the eggs, packed the lunch entrees, etc. And, it really does make my week easier mostly because it makes the routines more automatic.

    And lastly, I don’t have my kids lay out clothes at the beginning of the week – but I do before bed. If I don’t, inevitably there is a temper tantrum at 7:15 in the morning about how they have nothing to wear. But if it is already laying out, there are no issues. The three minutes at 7pm are well worth the 15 minutes they save me at 7:15am.

  6. I’ll echo a commenter above regarding a mother’s helper! I do a lot of solo parenting due to my partner’s work schedule. I have an amazing high school student from church who comes to help me several days a week during my solo stints. I am a MUCH happier parent & 3yo and 5yo love the extra attention.

    1. @Amy – I am hoping that my older children can take on some of this role once the baby is mobile. We shall see!

    2. Yes, my almost 1 year old LOVES having someone to play with her and read to her exclusively during this time. Wins all around!

  7. Thank you for the information on childcare, a lot of the information was some that I wished I had had earlier in my parenting career!

    I wanted to address the response to the listener question, because I feel like the answer given was dismissive of the utility of preparing for the week to some degree. I completely agree that spending hours of your weekend preparing instagrammable lunches and color coordinated outfits to compete with a parenting blogger is a waste of time, but I also feel like not doing anything on the weekend because you might also have to spend time on a weeknight preparing dinner is also not smart. I think the story that it takes 4 hours to prepare food on Sunday for the rest of the week is not accurate. Also, it helps to look at your priorities and figure out what is worth the time investment. Personally, I feel strongly about having home cooked dinners and lunches and I do a *few* things on the weekend to set myself up for success. I wash lettuce, chop up some broccoli and cauliflower, make a salad topping, whatever so I am ready on a weeknight when the mental hurdle of cutting something up actually is a barrier to getting dinner on the table. It doesn’t take me 4 hours. And I could buy prewashed lettuce and precut vegetables, but I don’t want to and I’m willing to invest some time in doing it myself.

    And as for the patriarchy, I admit that part of why I prefer cooking might be because it falls within my typical gender role and it is something I can say I do for my family and disappear in the kitchen while I prep, but it still does serve a purpose. It doesn’t take the place of the exercising or reading I want to do, but just like chores (yard work or laundry), it has to get done. Telling the listener that spending her time on a weekend preparing things is a waste doesn’t seem very helpful, but maybe spending some time identifying ways where the time is best spent and finding ways to make a real impact on the midweek crunch would be better.

    1. I have to agree with this—and preface my comment by saying that in our house, my husband and I split this fairly equally (or maybe he does more, actually), so maybe The Patriarchy is not at play here? But yes, doing some prep on the weekend (never the “whole day”, but a couple hours, which we do usually spend with headphones and a good podcast or audiobook) saves us lots of ANGST during the week. Yes the time spent is the same overall, but having something to quickly heat up when I walk in the door (hungry and tired myself) and the children are hangry and the dog needs to go out, so that we can all sit down to dinner at 6 pm is MUCH more pleasant than getting home at 5:30-6 and THEN starting dinner (with hungry kids grumping in the background) to eat at 7 pm. Last Sunday I spent from 10 am-noon (after my workout and before taking my son to his basketball game) making a big pot of stew and a stir fry dish which we have been alternating between for dinners this week. We are well fed with homemade meals, AND have time on those oh-so-short weekday evenings for more quality time with the kids—we can head to the park, or play a boardgame, or I can just relax with them as they read, which is just what we need at that time. Whereas by Sunday afternoon we are probably very much fine with taking 2 hours away from the kids to “meditatively chop” in the kitchen.
      The absolutely LAST thing I want to do after a full day at work is cook a meal, honestly, no matter how simple. I just don’t have the physical/mental energy for it then, and shifting things around to make the best use of your energy is something that is often recommended by Laura herself. I don’t think Laura and Sarah have ever been in that position, since Laura works from home and Sarah’s nanny does the cooking, so its easy to dismiss the problem.

      1. I also agree that doing some planning ahead is helpful for me, too. Mainly I do this to have my own lunches ready, so I can having a working lunch rather than spending time leaving my office to get a meal. I will also have a dinnertime meal plan sketched out so I can have all the groceries I need ready to go and might do some amount of weekday dinner prep ahead of time so we can “heat & eat” on those busy weeknights. This all probably takes an hour, maybe 2, tops on a Sunday.

        You all also mentioned some shortcuts and I love shortcuts! I definitely use salad kits, frozen vegetables, pre-made simmer sauces, and pre-made crusts/dough. The instapot has also been a real time saver for me (pinto beans take 30 mins from totally dry to fully cooked!).

  8. I loved Laura’s comment about laying out clothes. I also think that does not save any time at all. And, if I did do it, my kids would likely reject part of the outfit for some arbitrary criteria it failed to meet (too scratchy, too hot, not enough cartoon logos, etc). My oldest daughter used to go to school wearing truly cringe-worthy outfits that she chose. But now at 14 she looks pretty cool.

  9. I so appreciated your perspective and tips in this episode, but if (when?) you address this topic again I’d love to hear more from the child’s perspective. How do you get them used to new sitters, for example? How do you explain when they are the last picked up at daycare at 6:30 (not that that’s ever been me… ahem… and hence now we have a nanny). Maybe I’m the only one with “sensitive” kids who protest other caregivers and really seem to crave parent time? I’m not letting preschoolers dictate my life choices, but I would love to hear a discussion on parenting amidst various childcare arrangements.

    1. @Jen – kids prefer their parents, of course! The good news is that even if you’re working, you probably also spend a lot of time with your kids if you are the sort of person who thinks about these things. I do think we have to be careful about how much of any perceived sensitivity is us playing out our cultural narratives on children. Your children probably also get mad if told to eat broccoli, turn off the TV, go to bed on time, etc., and we don’t worry too much about this. If my school-aged children told me “I don’t want to go to school! I like you better than my teacher!” I wouldn’t go down some rabbit hole of examining my life choices… I’d just keep saying guess what, you go to school — and this would be true even if I were a stay at home parent. I’m not saying there isn’t sensitivity, I’m just saying that we assign more weight to this than other things kids complain about for larger cultural reasons.
      As for getting kids used to new caregivers, I think it’s good to start with small doses (1-2 hours). You can set them up for success by maybe having an early small outing somewhere really fun that the kids like, or having the new caregiver do some activity with the kids (Candyland?) that you really hate doing and try to get out of if at all possible…And of course hiring people who are upbeat and positive and care about your kids.

  10. Great episode! On week ahead prep, I share Laura’s bias against spending all weekend on housework, but also, I hate arriving home with no plan for dinner and/or having a lot to do on weekday evenings. My home is two moms with moderately demanding careers, and a three year old in daycare.

    We have kept up this minimalist routine for a few months now and I feel like it has reduced overall work and angst: Once a week we look at our calendars and see whether our default pick up/drop off schedule is going to work, and adjust as necessary. On the weekend I make a meal plan and order groceries for pickup. We write who is on pick up/drop off and what is for dinner on a white board on the fridge. Most Sunday evenings one of us makes a dinner that will leave leftovers for Monday. Most meals are not fancy. That white board often says things like “fish sticks and cut veg” or “pierogies from freezer” but even having that much decided seems to make a big difference.

    1. @Allison – sounds like a good plan! It’s also interesting to see, in 2-mom households, how things get split, given that there aren’t any larger cultural narratives about who should own what job. My bias against the weekend prep does stem, partly, from the fact that it’s usually mom who’s doing this. Dad lives through the weekday crunch too, but why are there not dad blogs insisting he needs to spend all of Sunday prepping for the week ahead?

  11. Another meal prep option is asking grandparents if they’d cook meals you can keep in the freezer. My parents are both retired and enjoy cooking so have the time and inclination to do this. It’s a very practical way for them to help out. They don’t do it every week but every so often they ask what they can do to help and I send them some recipes.

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