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What I’ve Learnt about Choosing Childcare

I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages but have never quite felt ready, but now I do. I have two children aged 3 (nearly 4) and 5. They are about 18 months apart which means that whenever one has grown out of a phase (crawling, potty training, fussy eating, night waking – actually scrap that it still happens, who am I trying to kid, but you get the picture) the other is not far behind. It’s a permanent, on going, chaotic juggle.

I recall breastfeeding Tilly in a cafe whilst Eliza was making a dash for the door, and having to run after her before I’d managed to restore my decorum or indeed dignity (boobs hanging out in plain English). I remember pushing the Phil & Ted’s double buggy round the Sainsbury’s on Clapham High Street when both kids jumped out and started to kick off on the floor of the nappy aisle. I remember nights where I went from one child to the next on a loop until the light started to come through the curtains and I had to fool my body into thinking I’d had some sleep.

Baby Tilly

Baby Tilly

It’s been a challenge and it continues to be one.

But nothing, absolutely nothing beats the challenge of finding the right childcare. In all honestly it’s a total nightmare. There are so many different dynamics and emotions going on at the time; guilt that you have to have someone else look after your children, anxiety that the person will do what you want and need them to do, fear that the children will be neglected, told off too much, fed the wrong food, allowed too much TV (only I’m allowed to do that), given sugary snacks etc. It’s not easy. You want someone who’ll play with the children, hug them when they need it, feed them well, follow your lead on teaching them manners and helping develop their skills. It’s an awesome job description.

And there are a several options. We’ve tried them all; nanny, child-minder, au pair. We haven’t tried day care nursery actually, so can’t comment on that.

On one of many Sainsbury's shops with a toddler Eliza

On one of many Sainsbury’s shops with a toddler Eliza

1>Nannies

I returned to work when Eliza was 6 months old, so we decided to find a nanny. To be fair there was little in the way of childminders in Clapham where we lived and the nurseries weren’t very local and only took the children until 6pm which wouldn’t have worked for me. I then returned again when Tilly was 6 months and Eliza was about 2. That was harder really, because Eliza had become used to having me around, she didn’t like the idea of someone else looking after her. Tilly was too little to really know what was happening. I cried silently on the tube and at my desk every single day for the first month. I had an aching in my heart and a twisting in my stomach about the fact I was leaving my babies, because they were just babies, even Eliza as a toddler was still a baby to me.

Sorry to break it to you, but  Mary Poppins-alikes are hard to find

Sorry to break it to you, but Mary Poppins-alikes are hard to find

We most recently had a nanny for about a year, she left us early this year because the girls were at school and pre-school pretty much full time and she was left with big chunks of time during the day when the girls were elsewhere.

The upside:
Nannies come to your house so the children feel safe in their own environment, they can come early (ours started at 7 or 7.30) and they can work a bit later (7pm). This works brilliantly if you commute as I do and don’t get home at 6pm. They will take your children to their regular playdates and other activities like ballet and gym etc. We’ve been lucky with our nannies, we’ve had three. All very different with different strengths and skills, but united by an unerring love of children (and of my children thankfully!).

The downside:
OK so the bare fact is they are expensive, relatively speaking. When you look at what they do they are absolutely worth it, but you are paying someone’s salary and that includes their tax and national insurance contributions. You’re looking at about £30k all in per annum. Gulp.

Tips
When you’re interviewing think about the personality of the person you want your children to be with. Do you want someone lively and fun or a bit more thoughtful and considered? Are you looking for someone outgoing, who’ll get out and about and arrange playdates or someone who’ll encourage quiet activities like crafting, drawing and reading. I’m sure most people want a bit of both, but personality is one of the key factors to consider in a nanny, and people tend to be one way or the other.

Ask about flexibility. Do you need someone who can do the odd late evening or work on their day off occasionally? If so ask. Many nannies have very busy social lives!

Take up references and don’t be afraid to interrogate previous employers. Ask about what’s important to you, this person will be looking after the most precious people or person in your life.

2. Childminders
We had a childminder after I was made redundant and set up Mabel & Milo along with some freelance PR. I was at home much more so it made it possible to drop off at 7.45am and pick up at 6pm. We were lucky to have a lovely local mum, who had just quit her job and set up as a childminder. We were her first clients. The girls loved going to her house, they were always extremely busy!

The upside:
The children are mixing with other children which is great for their socialising skills and for their confidence. It’s also good for them to see that they are not the only kids whose mums work. This is actually pretty important for both you and the children. They learn about sharing and playing nicely together too.

The downside:
All the extra activities they do have to be scrapped. You can’t expect a childminder who has other kids to look after to take your children to their classes. I found this a shame as Eliza did enjoy ballet but had to stop it, we started it again afterwards.

There’s a fair bit of transportation that goes on, kids being collected from various schools and pre-schools means much of day is filled with ferrying about. Eliza was only 3 when she was with the childminder and I think she was very tired a lot of the time, because many of the school runs were done on foot or on scooter. Which is good exercise, but she was certainly very tired and this always manifests is some pretty awful behaviour (rather than just sleeping later, sadly). You also have far less control with a childminder, your child has to fit in with an established routine. This is not necessarily a bad thing unless you have a particularly sensitive child.

3. Au Pairs
We have had 4 au pairs. We currently have an absolute star, which given my previous experience is quite remarkable. She is fun, happy, always smiling (even when I’m having a minor breakdown with both kids kicking off as I’m trying to leave the house), cleans and tidies the house every day, does all the washing, feeds the cat, does the shopping, irons shirts. In fact she is pretty bloody brilliant. We love her. So do the girls because she plays with them but she has good control of them, having come from a pre-school in her native Hungary. We had two dreadful au pairs though and that was hard for all of us. Heartbreaking really.

The upside
Au pairs are very cost effective, in exchange for bed, board and language lessons you give them pocket money each week, about £100. You don’t pay any tax. If you find a good one, and I cannot underestimate how much of a lottery it can be, then it’s the perfect childcare solution. You have two nights babysitting per week, they will drop off and pick up children from school/nursery. They will take them to classes etc and they will most likely make friends with other local au pairs so the children get lots of playdates.

The downside
Au pairs live in, so you need a spare bedroom. But other than that it doesn’t really become the issue you might think. They generally have no desire to spend their evenings watching TV with you on the sofa and would far rather Skype their family in their room. They come here to learn English, so you can’t expect perfect English language. This could be a downside if you are hoping they will help with homework and/or reading. Many don’t drive. It’s a bit of a lottery. If you can find someone with some childcare experience then you’re doing well.

Tips
Have a really good chat with the au pair agency, and ALWAYS use an agency. Explain what you need and they will do their best to place you with the right au pair. We used Awesome Au Pairs because a friend of mine locally runs it, and she did an amazing job.

So there you go. My experience in choosing childcare. There’s nothing better than their mum or dad but we don’t live in that kind of world and so it’s important to get the choice right. It’s worth bearing in mind that the decision does not have to be forever and if it’s not working out then try something else. Children are pretty resilient and will bounce back. The main thing is they know that you are always there, maybe not all day every day but you will always be their mum. Remember that when you’re feeling guilty about going to work.

If you have childcare what do you have and do you have any advice you could offer people looking?

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Comments

  1. Fantastic post, think this is going to be really useful & reassuring for mums & dads.

    • Really good post, thank you. I head back to work in a few months and have booked my little one (he’ll be a year when he starts) into the local nursery. We decided upon it based on meeting the criteria on my tick list eg :being a small size class (my fear of big classes at his age would somehow squash his ability to express himself if the other babies had big characters) , outdoor activities,good reviews from friends /care commission etc. Being my first ive no idea how he’ll take to it and dreading what I thought was a good nursery for him ( based on my tick list) 100% agree with.

      I’m already dreading leaving him but the last bit you wrote, them knowing you’ll always be there even if its not all day you are still their mum, made me think and is a really good piece of advice.

      Thank you for the advice and if the nursery option doesn’t work out you’ve given food for thought for other options.

      • itsamummyslife says:

        Thanks. I’m sure you’ll be fine with the nursery. Good reviews from friends is really important. I’m glad the post helped, it is hard leaving them but I think overall it gives them good independence and builds confidence. Good luck :)

  2. We’ve been done childminder and nanny, and I absolutely agree with the pros and cons. Missy G also goes to a morning nursery session as she’s now 4, which she adores. It’s pricey when also combined with the nanny but works out thanks to the previously accrued Kiddicare vouchers. It is a total minefield though, and I definitely can relate to the tear-filled days, I had many mascara-streaked mornings!

    • itsamummyslife says:

      Thanks Zaz, I also think pre-school/nursery sessions are a great idea, they really love it and it gives them a chance to do all that painting and glittery stuff! Oh yes the mascara-streaked mornings, I know them well :( Have a lovely weekend. x

  3. What a well-considered and helpful post! The au-pair thing interests me, not so much because we’re thinking of getting one, but because I used to be the one teaching them English. :) I heard their side of the story a lot and wondered how their host families were experiencing the whole thing… Now I meet au pairs at toddler groups locally. They do seem very lovely on the whole, but I agree that getting one with childcare experience is the magic bullet.

    I went back to work briefly after having my first and he had one day at home with Daddy and another at a friend’s house. But even though this arrangement involved only extremely trusted people including my own husband, and even though I reciprocated by looking after my friend’s kids a morning a week, I still felt crushingly guilty about leaving my son. There you go. We just can’t win really…

    • itsamummyslife says:

      I always think it’s an incredible brave thing to do to be an au pair. Coming here, speaking limited English, mostly knowing no one. Particularly because you hear horror stories about host families being utterly vile. And some are so young.

      It’s all part of the eternal juggle, I live in hope that one day I’ll find the right balance :)

  4. I agree, this was a great post. Im a new mother and deciding what to do for child care. I found it very re-assuring when you said that they’ll know your still the mum.

    • itsamummyslife says:

      Thanks Georgie. Good luck with it, you’ll be fine and I really mean that about knowing you’re still their mum, nothing ever replaces you.

  5. What a fantastic resource this is for anyone trying to decide what to do about childcare – sounds like you have had lots of experience in all these areas. It’s never easy leaving your little ones. Thank you so much for linking up with PoCoLo – what a great blog :) x

    • itsamummyslife says:

      Thanks, very kind to say so. We’ve certainly had a bit of experience in this area! I love #pocolo, such a lovely idea. x

  6. fab post, it really is a mine field out there.

  7. All I will say is I wsh I had seen this 4 months ago when think of returning to work!!!! ;) xxx

  8. All I will say is I wish I had seen this 4 months ago when think of returning to work!!!! ;) xxx

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