I’m a full-time working mom, and my husband works full time, too. Since our daughter was 3 months old, she’s spent most of her days during the week with sitters. Initially after I returned to work, she attended a daycare center, but we didn’t feel it was the right environment for an infant. So we made the leap to in-home care, which was a little scarier for me. After all, you see the nanny cam exposes on people who abuse the children in their care, and you never really know what’s going on behind closed doors. But. We’ve done our due diligence and in the end have been able to find multiple care providers who have been absolutely amazing.
In total, Isla has had 3 different in-home sitters, and I can’t say how fantastic they’ve been or the peace of mind they have brought me. There is no way I could go to work every day and leave my daughter in a stranger’s home if I didn’t know they loved my daughter, delighted in her, and treated her like one of their own. It has really blown me away, the love people are able to share with my child and the way people have opened their hearts and homes to my little family. We’ve been lucky, and people area always asking me where I manage to find such great daytime care for our daughter.
Here’s my secret: we found all of them through Care.com, a wonderful online service where for $39/month, you get access to a fantastic job posting board and screening service. When it’s time for me to find childcare, I upgrade my membership from a free ongoing membership to a $39/month premium membership. Once I do this, I’m able to post job listings, and care givers in my area can respond to my posting, sharing information about themselves and their resumes, while I can review their profiles, access background checks, request interviews of their references, and see any recommendations or reviews from other people on Care.com who have received care from them. It’s a little pricey to be sure, but it’s been very worth it. $39 for a thorough screening process is a small price for being 100% confident in your caregiver.
When it comes to writing the ad, I try to be very specific about our needs:
- The days and times we need care
- Whether our need is long-term or short-term (for instance: full time year-round care, evening only care, or summer care)
- Our pay rate (negotiable, but gives a clear starting point)
- What kind of care we are looking for: in our home or in their home
- Isla’s personality
- Current and upcoming developmental milestones and transitions we need help making (for instance: learning to crawl, starting solid foods, learning to walk, weaning, potty training, transitioning out of the crib, changing nap times, etc.)
- Any other special things our family does (for us, this includes cloth diapers and using ASL)
- Specify whether it’s okay for the caregiver to take care of other children and if so, how many
- Activities we are/are not okay with
- More vague, touchy-feely things we are looking for (our biggest thing is we want Isla to have a second home/family)
The great thing about Care.com is that I always get a ton of responses to any job posting, which means I usually have a lot of people to choose from. The downside to this is that I have to filter a lot of people out and do a lot of rejections, which I hate doing. The first thing I screen for is any obvious mismatches: not available in the times and days I need, only available for short-term care, a rate that is way too high for us, people who watch a number of other children greater than what I’m comfortable with, etc.
From there, I tend to very carefully look at people’s responses. It may sound like a small thing, but the main thing I want to see is that a potential care provider actually read the entire listing and gave thoughtful responses about specific things I discussed or requested. Chances are, someone who responds thoughtfully and thoroughly to a job listing will also be a thoughtful and thorough caregiver. If I like their response to my listing, I will check out their profile, look at their qualifications (seeing CPR certified always makes me feel better!), their pictures, and their references. If I feel good about those things, I will respond to their message and request to see their background check.
Once the background check comes back clean, and I’ve established from our back and forth conversation that the caregiver is genuinely caring, warm, knowledgeable, and willing and excited to work with me and be a part of my daughter’s life, I arrange a time to meet. If they are uncomfortable meeting in their home or mine, I will first arrange a meeting in a public place, but for the most part, people are willing to meet at home. When I meet with a potential caregiver, I try to arrange it so Kellen and Isla can both come along. I feel like I get the best idea of what a person is like when the whole family is there.
Doing the home interviews is, in my opinion, the hardest part. We tend to meet a lot of people we genuinely like, and once you meet a person face-to-face, often meeting their spouses and their children, it becomes much harder to reject someone, in no small part because you know they’d be a great care provider! Still, you have to make a choice, and the more options you have, the better your chances of finding fantastic care.
A lot of things factor into our final decision:
- Is the care provider’s home safe?
- How will traveling to the care provider’s home factor into commute times and morning and evening routines?
- Does the care provider seem warm, competent, and capable?
- Does the care provider’s family seem warm, friendly, and welcoming to my daughter?
- If the care provider has small children, are those children well-behaved and well cared for?
- What kind of lifestyle will the provider offer up to my daughter? Would Isla be in a very homey, family environment? Is the family generally on the go or more stay at home? What kind of play, experiences, and routines will Isla have here?
- Is the care provider knowledgeable about child development, proactively thinking about how my daughter will change and grow, and organized? Will she be able to maintain a routine and plan age-appropriate activities, and seamlessly be able to transition those as my daughter gets older?
- As we get into the nitty gritty on drop-off and pick-up times, rates, and routines, how well does this person line up with our specifications and life?
- And the biggest question: how does my daughter respond to the care provider, her home and her family?
After we interview all of our potential care providers, my husband and I sit down and make a pros and cons list. Often, factors like distance or money will be overridden by more important questions like safety and how much Isla enjoyed it. I’ve found for us when it comes to finding the right place for our child to spend her days, the biggest factors in our decision-making come down largely to intangible qualities. How do we feel about the care provider, their home, and their family? What vibe did we get while we were there? How did Isla act while she was there? Was she excited? Confident? Happy? Interested?
With so many of the care providers we meet, they are great people, with lovely homes and sweet families. They are genuine and kind, and I know they would take very good care of my daughter. But with the right care provider, we tend to find someone who will do more than just meet our daughter’s needs. The right care provider loves our daughter, and our daughter loves them right back. Someone who loves my daughter will always take the very best care of her, will think she’s all the good and wonderful things I think she is, encourage her and help her to become the very best version of herself. Someone who loves my daughter would do for my daughter what I would, and if I can’t be there, then that’s the person I want taking care of my baby 5 days a week. I think when it comes to finding that magical match, a care provider who will love your child and be their second family, it has less to do with their qualifications than with chemistry.
To sum up all the advice I have on finding the right daycare for your child:
- Be specific about what you want up front.
- Find a pool of qualified caregivers who would work well with you and your family on paper.
- Meet with people in person and wait to see which one has that spark with your kid.
- Give yourself plenty of time and options.
- Don’t feel bad about being particular or rejecting great people who just aren’t quite right for your child.
- Be confident that you will find the right person.
There are so many wonderful people out there who love children and are just waiting to open their hearts and homes to your little one. Daycare can be scary, and there are a lot of horror stories out there, but trust your gut and your child’s instincts. You’ll know when you’ve found a good one.