Like most first time moms, I fretted over what child care arrangement would work best for my family when I welcomed my first child into the world almost six years ago. Up until the very moment I held my newborn daughter in my arms I was adamant I would return to work full time without missing a beat. I realize now that not only was I overly confident, I was completely naïve. For when my firstborn and I finally met after 20 hours of labor and an hour and a half of pushing, all that I knew for sure up to that point I know longer knew for sure.
Fortunately, I had three months of mostly paid maternity leave (a luxury enjoyed by far too few women in this country) to figure out what my professional and personal lives would look like now that I was someone’s mum. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, today I kick myself for not getting better educated before beginning my search for quality child care. While circumstances and serendipity aligned to bring me and my family the most kindhearted nanny we could have hoped for short of Mary Poppins, we cannot claim that an exhaustive research and vetting process landed us the good fortune that we were able to come by in our care provider.
I wish I knew in March 2009 what I do now after having done extensive research for the March issue of Metro Parent and the two additional forthcoming stories that are part of a three-part series on the state of child care in the United States. The first story to appear in the series looks at child care in this country from a macro level, how the U.S. stacks up against other countries in this regard and the enormous cost of child care to families. A subsidy exists through the federal government that is administered by the state to assist low income families in covering child care costs. The problem is many families who qualify don’t even know it exists.
For other families who don’t meet the income threshold to qualify for the subsidy, they’re on their own to cover a household budget item that often exceeds the cost of college tuition and fees at many four-year public colleges. Cost is a major buzzword when it comes to child care as is quality. Yet, the two are not always correlated.
My hope through this series is that someone just embarking on their search for child care feels they come away with some ideas of where to start. Part two in the series will dive into the detail – what things to look for during a tour of a child care center or group home, what background checks to conduct on a potential nanny and reasons families might want to consider au pair child care as an option.
As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. While we as parents can hardly handpick all of the individuals who will make up our child’s village, we can handpick those crucial every day caregivers. I hope this series makes that endeavor less daunting.