We Are Both Right

I’ll Take Day Care, But Hold the Weekend Babysitters

Have you ever been in a restaurant with someone who orders the barbecue chicken salad but says hold the barbecue chicken? (Makes me crazy). Well, that’s me when it comes to child care by outsiders.

Each of my two children have spent the majority of early childhood in a licensed day care center while my husband and I both worked full-time. And yet, I won’t use a babysitter who is not a family member under any other circumstances.

No nannies, no au pairs, no local high school student on Saturday date night. Even when my children have had a day care teacher who also did home babysitting on the weekends, I never considered it an option.

You see, child care by outsiders was not part of my parenting plan when I first thought about having children. My parents never used babysitters when I was growing up. And I didn’t want to either.

Then came the reality check. The baby was due, none of the grandparents were retired, and we had a choice to make. Either my husband and I could spend every waking moment with our children living in a tent somewhere, or we would both work and find the highest quality child care we could afford.

Eight years later, and still at the same day care center, I have been pleasantly surprised. In some ways, I am even happier that we found ourselves in the situation of using child care by outsiders (bloated budget aside) because there are many more positives to the arrangement than I ever imagined.

Most importantly, the teachers and day care center directors don’t feel like “outsiders” any more. Even though my son is now in third grade, his infant and toddler room teachers still dote on him when he comes with me to drop off his little sister.

They share memories of cooing over him when he was one of the first babies to start at the center (he was only there a few days a week at first because my sister was good enough to watch him along with her two toddlers until he was 10 months old). Now that he’s five feet tall, L.’s former teachers find it amusing to stand next to him and joke that he’ll be taller than them by the end of the school year. And the same “lunch lady” who talked fishing with him all summer is also quick to remind us that before he could even speak, he used to clap his hands when she wheeled breakfast into the room (his second meal of the day — and the kid is still a beanpole, explain that).

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Socially, nothing beats having your child exposed to a group of children of the same age on a daily basis. Sure they share germs, but they also learn to take turns, follow classroom rules about respecting others, and work together. I love how my youngest runs into her classroom every day and readily joins a group of friends putting a puzzle together or guiding each other through a counting program on the computer. Kindergarten will be a breeze — just like it was for her brother.

My introverted self also secretly admires the fact that they are both adept at making new friends, and how cultural diversity has always been second nature to them.

I could go on and on about the unique experiences my children have been exposed to by being at a day care center — like running around in diapers and using their feet, hands, and knees to paint on a rainy day (not exactly something I would do in my house, but hey, if you want to clean it up, go for it). Come to think of it, I probably could not have done a better job myself. Their daycare teachers are able to be more creative and give them more undivided attention than I would have with things like laundry, dinner, and bills hanging over my head.

So why is all of this OK, but babysitters make me squirm?

I guess it’s that there are multiple adults (trained as educators and certified in CPR and first aid) who watch over my children in the day care setting. A form of checks and balances, if you will. Two teachers in a room, with video monitors linking to the director’s office, makes me more comfortable than a single babysitter alone in my home with my child. Nothing’s ever fail-proof, but choosing a quality day care center with protocol for screening staff and building security systems in working order does ease my mind.

And at all other times, we’re lucky enough to have a group of grandmas and grandpas at the ready if there’s somewhere we need to be sans kids. So, sorry high school babysitter with your boyfriend waiting in the bushes, we are just fine for now.

What is your comfort level with child care by outsiders? Do you prefer one setting over another?

Outside Child Care? Thanks, but No Thanks

© Walt Disney Productions

© Walt Disney Productions

My mom ran a licensed day care out of our home. As a tween and teen I spent a lot of my weekends babysitting for neighbors and some of my parent’s friends. Both were incredibly positive experiences — I became great friends with many of my mom’s “kids” and was able to make quite a bit of cash while eating other people’s food and watching their television (after the little ones were asleep of course).

So why, in over the course of ten years have I only once hired a babysitter to watch my kids?

Because I’m a crazy person, that’s why.

Hiring an outside babysitter would allow me so much freedom — unencumbered errands, dates with my husband, heck I could even take a nap! It all sounds wonderful.

Still, I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve never left the kids with anyone. My parents, my husband’s parents, my grandparents and my sister have both watched them on many occasions. And my friends and I help one another all the time. All three of my children have been cared for by people other than my husband and I. They’ve just always been folks that they know well.

I think part of it is our family situation. For the last ten years I’ve been a work-at-home mom. I take care of the kids, I give them what they need. And besides from my husband, their father, no one else can do it as well as I can, certainly not some 13-year-old with a cell phone and a penchant for potato chips. And from a practical standpoint, we’ve never needed to set foot into a day care center, although every time we pass one, my eldest son C. looks at them longingly. “Those look like such fun places,” he’ll sigh wistfully and I shake my head, thinking about all we’ve sacrificed (and gained) so I could stay at home with him and his siblings.

Part of it is the kids. When C. was small he had terrible infant eczema that required the application of various creams and ointments all over his body. My daughter A. still has eczema and a variety of food allergies. And S. is a toddler — a handful at best, a screaming, wild banshee at worst. It’s a lot for me to juggle and think about, much less a teen who has never had to do it before.

And certainly finances play a role too. I think the going rate in our area is somewhere  around $15 an hour for three kids. If I’m gone for four hours — five if T. and I treat ourselves to dinner and a movie — we are out $75 and we haven’t even looked at a menu or screened the previews yet. I could make some joke about how cheap I am, but $75 is a lot of money. I love my husband, but I’d rather order in Chinese food and watch the Mad Men season 1 DVD that we haven’t gotten around to yet.

Also, maybe I’m just crazy.

Who watches your kids when you need to go somewhere without them?