Mommy Monday: The Daycare Thing

A number of readers have asked about Minnow's daycare situation and how she adjusted to it. Fish and I spent a lot of time debating daycare options before we settled on our current center. There are 4 basic choices in childcare: a daycare center, a licensed home daycare, an unlicensed stay-at-home mom who takes in 1-2 extra children, or a nanny. Of course, if you are lucky enough to live near relatives - grandmas can make great babysitters. But we're not so lucky. Our closest family is about 20 hours away. Given the economic imperatives of both Fish and I working, we need to leave our precious little girl in someone else's care.

Note: Any commenters who summarily declare that I am a BAD MOTHER for putting my child in daycare with be booed, hissed, and sent to Zuska for some shoe-puking.

Daycare centers around here have 100-200 children, and usually 10 or fewer infants with two teachers. There are all sorts of rules about bottles and diaper changes, etc., but the essential trade-off is this: In exchange for a regulated, professional staff and environment, your
child is one of four or five babies clamoring for the teacher's attention. As the kids get older, the ratio of kids to adults gets even worse. By 3, it's in the neighborhood of 1 teacher per 10-15

Licensed home daycares generally have 4-5, sometimes 8, kids and again, have some state-supervision. (I didn't actually visit any of these, because there don't seem to be any in geographically proximal areas). You get a smaller overall environment, but no lower kid:adult
ratio for babies, and the kids are a range of ages, so the teachers are potentially juggling the needs of a 4 year old with those of a 4 month old.

Unlicensed moms give you a lower kid:adult ratio and seem to want kids that are somewhat comparable in age with their own children, but they may not have much education on child development, and there's no state supervision. I corresponded with a few moms and even visited
one, but in the end I wasn't comfortable with her. She seemed as nice as could be, but didn't seem to have thought through what having another child in her house would entail. I think going the unlicensed route would require a really high level of trust and I just didn't find someone who lived up to my requirements.

Finally, you can hire a nanny to care only for your child(ren). Unfortunately, live-out nannies run $500-$600 per week around here, and we can't even begin to afford one. Live-in au pairs are cheaper, but we don't have the house to accommodate one. So we ended up in one of the big daycare centers.

What we found when touring the daycare centers was that you got what you paid for in terms of staffing and resources. So of course we ended up in the most expensive place. The biggest plus for me was that their infant/teacher ratio was 4:1 rather than 5:1. And that alone seemed
worth the extra money.

We've been very happy with Minnow's daycare. At first she'd just bawl when I'd leave her there in the mornings, but now the teachers and I have figured out how to get her happily situated in an activity or in a teacher's arms before I leave. And she reaches out for her teachers with real enthusiasm. She has two main teachers who are there for most of every day, and then there are a few floaters and substitutes that come in for lunches and at other odd hours, but essentially it's the same two women taking care of her day in and day out. She'll be in her current classroom until she's at least a year old, and then she'll move through about one classroom per year. Some of the other daycares we looked at moved kids up about every 6 month, and in one place she would have moved through three rooms before age 1. We wanted her to have consistent caregivers who knew Minnow well and to who she could bond. And that's what we've gotten at her daycare. Minnow is the lightest (though not the youngest) baby in her classroom, so she gets to spend a lot of time in arms....when she's not busy climbing up on the furniture.

One thing I really like about the daycare is that they don't believe in restraining children. The babies don't spend all day in bouncy seats or jumpers. Many of them don't even sleep in cribs. Instead there are lots of soft places to sleep on the floor, and the mobile kids are really encouraged to crawl around and explore. They don't even use high chairs to feed the babies eating solid foods, but they do have the cutest little baby sized wooden tables and chairs for feedings. They must have really good hygiene at this daycare too. Last week's incident was the first time Minnow's been sick since starting
there, and she was sick all the time at her daycare in Utopia. So there are a lot of things I really like about where she is.

But of course there are downsides, too. She barely naps at daycare. Sometimes not at all, sometimes for 30 minutes, on really good days for 50 minutes, but always less than she should be getting at her age. She's just so excited by the activity around her. When Fish picks her
up in the afternoon, she usually falls asleep in her carseat and sleeps for 1-2 hours. She also doesn't drink very much milk - only 6-8 oz. all day. I think she should be drinking more than that, but if I send more it just comes back untouched. I don't think this is the fault of her teachers, but I know that on weekends she drinks a lot more during the day. It's probably a bottle versus breast thing. There have also been some food mix-ups, but they are supposed to be addressing those.

There are days when I miss her terribly. I really can't go visit her during the day. She's only about two miles from campus, but because of the campus parking situation, it would take me an hour plus to have a fifteen minute visit with her, and I'd rather get home a earlier in the evening and spend more time with her then. And when she's crabby from teething or whatever, I hate not being there to soothe her. I hate knowing that there are times when she'll cry and the teachers are too busy tending to the other children to meet her needs right away. I really hate that I am missing out on big chunks of her life. There's a strong possibility that I'll miss her first steps. Yesterday she learned to clap (she was trying to brush potatoes off her hands when she made the discovery) and it was so neat to watch her learn, but it could just as easily have happened this morning and then I might not have known for days that she could finally clap. Sometimes I feel like I am peripheral to her day-to-day life, but those feelings are enough for a whole other post.

In the end, given that I have to work and Fish has to work and Minnow has to go to daycare, we've done the best we can to ensure that she's someplace where she's safe, happy, well cared for, and loved. We've done the best we can for now, but our eyes and ears are always open for other possibilities. Depending on how she settles into the next classroom up we may re-evaluate the situation this winter, but there will still be no perfect solution, until we learn to be in two places at once.


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Thanks for the interesting post! Can you visit her on bike? Would take you quite some time as well, but you'd at least get some exercise. If you don't think this too personal: How much does the daycare center cost?

Tough decisions. My sister worked in a daycare (the 0-1 year room), and the teacher:child ratio was 1:6. Not good. And the teachers were there, of course, only for the money. But it sounds like you did your research, and I hope everything works out for you!

You are a professor so I'm curious if the day care center you use is ran by the university, if not, does your university offer one, if so why aren't you using it? Both institutions I did my undergrad and grad work at offered child care. I know it can be difficult to get into but you can't beat a location so close to work. At both institutions you could get to the center by the campus bus system.

I would LOVE to have Minnow in a daycare on campus. Unfortunately, there isn't one. Given the high number of non-traditional students on this campus and the administration's support of women in STEM disciplines, it's amazing to me that there isn't one. It's something that in an ideal world, I'd be pushing to make happen. But this year at least, I've got to focus on doing my job and then going home to my own little one.

As to how much we're paying for daycare: More than I ever thought we would. We're paying almost half the cost of a nanny, but the costs will go down as Minnow gets old and the kid/adult ratio goes up. There's no way we could have two infants in daycare. Fish would have to be a stay-at-home dad.

Can I visit her on a bike? That's an interesting idea and one I hadn't considered until I was writing the post this morning. I'd have to find a safe place to store my bike when I wasn't using it. It would probably take just as long as driving, but it'd be eco-friendlier and, as you said, I'd get some exercise.

We were reasonably lucky: the wait period to get a place for our now-5 son was 'only' 22 months. So after jumping on the wait list pretty damn near the moment of conception, he was 14 mo before we could get him into the Yale-run daycare. [It's become a lot worse since then. And we _never_ made it to the top of the list for the other Yale place!]

That place is superb, and not unbearably expensive, although the hours are set around nursing shifts and hence not really suited to anyone else because of a very early-to-early schedule. He's in kindergarten this year, but it was neat being only a 5 min walk away, too. But prior to that, he was trekking into New York with my wife each day, as we simply couldn't find alternative care of anything like decent quality and sensible hours closer. Yeah - yuck. On the plus side, he's really good at car trips!

[as for anyone anti-childcare: don't be silly. The data are pretty clear that kids who get the early socialisation turn out both smarter and better-adjusted. A was in daycare from 10 weeks of age; yes, another month or two at home would have been nice, but not how it works in the unenlightened US system..]

I got really lucky. F1-3 is in the same daycare where her older brothers were. She started at 4 months, because that's when the semester started up for me. It's a university-affiliated daycare, and that helps a lot. Because of it's association with the department of education, there are always plenty of volunteers and enthusiastic undergraduate students around. Until 12 months she was int he infant room, which has a maximum of 6 kids (which is the number of cribs they have), with two full-time teachers and steady contingency of volunteers. The kids were only in cribs or seats when they were sleeping or eating respectively.
She can't have been restrained much, she was walking by 9 months! I tell you, there are downsides to this. I suddenly had to scramble to baby proof the house.

Also, the daycare is about a 10-minute walk away from the lab, so I can visit her often. She had the same teachers until 12 months, and then she moved to another part of the room, where the older kids were. She still got to see her older teachers, and the transition is done gradually over about 2 weeks. She stayed in the next room until about 22 months, after which she moved on to the third section of the classroom with 2-year olds. She is getting ready to move to another classroom entirely, which is what they normally do at 30 months. I realize I am incredibly lucky to have her in that daycare. There is another daycare about a block away. I went to visit them, and I was shocked, shocked I tell you by the horribly condition in which they kept their children.

Sometimes I think about how I spend much more time with coworkers than family or friends, yet I know who is merely a coworker and who is family. I like to think that babies do too. So that even though they are spending lots of time with a teacher, they know you are mom.

Great post. It's cool to hear that Minnow really likes her teachers. I have another suggestion for a potential mommy monday: have you made friends in Mystery City, particularly with other moms?

My son, now 2.5, has been in daycare since 6 mo. He never ate enough or slept enough -- especially at first. It takes some adjusting, but they usually do survive and adjust.

Our university has a daycare, but only for kids 2.75 and older (and no, they don't offer a 3-year paid maternity/paternity leave), and it's almost impossible to get into.

His is a big daycare, and we're content with it. It's nice that they have enough staff to cover things even if a teacher is sick or on vacation. But of course all the kids get every cold that roles through. More experienced parents tell me that eventually he'll have a stronger immune system for it, but for now, we've always got bugs.

Occasionally there's a problem with staff turnover; we're unhappy when his favorite teacher leaves, and then the next teacher leaves after a few weeks, etc. We've looked around, and haven't found a place that seems better, though. And lately things have been more stable.

He went through a long phase where he'd cling to us and cry when we dropped him off; that could be tough. But now he's very happy to go to school and see his friends (some of whom have been there as long as he has), and sometimes doesn't even want to come home at the end of the day.

By Physicalist (not verified) on 12 Nov 2007 #permalink

My baby is in daycare just 2 days a week, since we are both still in school we can just trade the baby back and forth and both get enough work done (hopefully--it's only been a few weeks). It helps that I'm a theorist and don't need to go to the office to do work. Also I wanted to minimize his time in daycare, but now I've changed my mind. Maybe it's because he's only 3 months, but he loves daycare. He seems to be happier there than at home (not sure how I feel about that), and he drinks more milk there than the few times I've fed him by bottle at home. It's nice they have a webcam. There's a daycare on campus, but it is very hard to get into and only had full-time for babies. I think it's good for toddlers to have lots of friends their age to play with, and a recent study came out that suggested that, among kids whose mothers didn't graduate high school, the ones who went to daycare were less violent. It is hard to control variables in that kind of study, I imagine, but daycare obviously wasn't too bad for them!

P.S. In many places, travel by bike is faster for distances about 3-5 miles or less. Our commute is 5 miles and it is slightly faster to bike, unless you park at a meter.

When my girls were little, I found visiting them at lunch was not a good thing. They would really melt down. The sense I got was, when I dropped them off in the morning, they would think, "OK, Mom, I can make this work," and have a decent time during the day. But when I came, it was time to GO HOME. Not hang out and then have to have mom leave again.

LauraJMixon: That's kind of been my operating theory. I think it would be harder on me to have to leave her behind twice a day rather than just once. And I don't think she'd be too happy with me either. Back in Utopia, when she was really little, I'd occasionally go feed her in the middle of her half-day at daycare (because she wasn't drinking from a bottle very well) and she didn't always notice when I'd leave afterwards. But now she is *much* more aware.

Single working mom here. My daughter is now eighteen, so we're long past the need for daycare. But I remember those days well! Unfortunately, my university did not (and does not) offer daycare. On the other hand, teaching at a university meant that I enjoyed flexible hours. For example, I could grade at home while my daughter slept. Plus over the years the various chairs of my department have always made a point of asking faculty whether they have any 'dependent care needs' when they draw up teaching schedules. By my request, then, I was never given 8 am classes, which meant that getting my daughter to daycare, and later on to school, was a lot less stressful than it would have been otherwise. Also working to our advantage: for my daughter's first year she received excellent care from the wife of a graduate student who was trying to supplement her husband's paltry stipend. After she and her husband moved on, I found a mother a few blocks from my home who was also an excellent child care provider. We were extremely fortunate, I think.

This sounds a lot like Bean's situation. We picked our place for the same reasons you picked yours... consistent and well trained teachers, no swings or TVs or chairs. There are cribs for nap times, but Bean doesn't nap at school either... And ours, too, was the most expensive option we found, but the cost will go down significantly once she moves into the toddler room, and finding a place we were comfortable with was the only way I could have conceived of going back to work (not that we can afford for me to stay home...).

Well, I don't have a kid in daycare, so I can't comment on that. But I do have a bike! I so enthusiastically recommend getting one, just for situations like yours. Bikes can go (almost) anywhere, and in traffic can actually go much faster than cars. A good, sturdy lock and they can be parked anywhere, too. You'll get to visit baby, baby will be happy, you'll be happy, you'll get a little exercise, as you've said. And 2 miles is nothing on a bike.

Sorry to sound so effusive, but I think bikes are great. And your little one will probably think you look so cool coming to visit her on one.