We’ve been having some problems at Riley’s daycare lately. Nothing overly traumatic, just some ongoing things neither of us are happy about. Like the fact that he never seems to consistently be in the same classroom, the classes always seem chaotic and bursting with kids while only one or two teachers are present to try and manage everyone, and the last two days in a row he’s had a massively neglected poop-filled diaper at pickup time.

I’ve been told that the center is short staffed at the moment, and I guess I can cut them some slack for that. But our experiences over the last couple weeks are adding up to an uneasy feeling. Sometimes when I drop him off in the morning, I feel like I’m just tossing him into this completely disorganized environment where he’s left to fend for himself all day. On the one hand, I like that the kids are usually enmeshed in some sort of activity—drawing, doing crafts, being read to—but on the other, I don’t know if I can trust that he’s getting the attention he should. I settle Riley at a table with what seems like fifty other children, kiss him goodbye, and walk away. Who is left in that room to care for my child? I know those teachers are all good people, but oh, there are just so many kids now. It was different in the infant room, and the early toddler room—now it’s like he’s at a kindergarten, only he’s just two years old.

We are going to talk with the center manager and I’m hopeful I’ll get a better understanding of what’s going on: are they really understaffed and hence unusually distracted, and if so what’s the timeline for improving that situation? Are all the teachers suffering from olfactory disorders and unable to detect when a diaper has been filled with shit for hours on end? OR WHAT.

As part of the whole worrying-about-daycare thing, we’ve talked a bit about hiring a nanny. I see a LOT of upsides to going that route, downsides being the trust issue, the fact that you have to rely on one person, and the potential lack of social interaction for the kids (although I think that could be addressed). Nannies are expensive, though. But hell, so is daycare.

Even if I wanted to be a full time stay-at-home mom, I couldn’t in our current situation. Our mortgage, car payments, insurance, savings, and basic bills are too much for one salary. For the most part we have chosen a lifestyle that requires a certain income level, and my salary—reduced as it is by my part time schedule—is a necessity. Even when I subtract the costs of childcare for two kids.

It’s not just about the budget, though, there are lots of reasons I like having an office job. I don’t think I’d be happy staying at home full time. Unless I could hire a nanny to watch the kids for part of the day while I do freelance work, but I don’t have enough freelance work to make up for that lost salary. JB thinks I should try and work for Workplace from home, but at the moment there’s no way I could make that happen in a manner that’s beneficial to my office or me. Oh, and there’s the issue of Workplace moving in a couple months, potentially transforming my commute into something utterly unmanageable.

We’re experiencing some glitches in our previously-smooth system right now, and I don’t know what the long term effects are going to be. I want to do the right thing for my boy. I want to do the right thing for me. I want to do the right thing for our family as a whole. I’m just not sure what the right thing is. Or if there ever is an answer that feels completely, 100% right.


61 Responses to “Life decisions: tastes like uncertainty”

  1. Michael on November 7th, 2007 2:29 pm

    Oh, this is so familiar. Our two-year-old son was in daycare too, up until a few months before his sister was born. Then they were home with mom for awhile (maternity leave) and now we’ve got a nanny. By all means, work with your daycare to sort this out, but I bet you’ll end up with a nanny before long.

    If you decide to go with a nanny, good news is that Northwest University in Kirkland generates a ton of local nannies, bad news is that local demand for competent child care workers is astronomical and (combined with the explosive growth of high-paying jobs in the area) keeps prices very high. Although in our case, an expensive nanny is still cheaper than two kids in expensive daycare.

    We went through several nannies and agencies before finally finding a good one. There’s a placement service based in Kirkland that I can recommend, if you need one. There are also free resources online and locally if you want to search yourself. (We went that route for over a year, but never got any good candidates that way.)

    A nanny gives your kids more attention, keeps them on your schedule, and generally follows your instructions regarding their care. There’s less conformity to a least common denominator and more personalized care that accounts for your kids’ personalities. And your kids will still have plenty of social interactions if your nanny is any good, because they’ll go on plenty of play-dates. In my experience, your kids get sick less often than at daycare.

    However, there are also drawbacks, like: If the nanny is sick or on vacation, there is no backup (unless you arrange one somehow). You get to deal with all the employer fun (hiring, taxes, managing). They’re in your home more, which means more utility/food consumption and whatever destructive mischief Riley’s into. And of course, it’s still someone else watching over your kid, and they’re not you and they don’t do everything the way you would. There is no magic bullet.

    Our current nanny is awesome, great with the kids, great with us. My wife is traveling for work right now, and our nanny has shifted her schedule and is working more than usual to reduce the impact on my work. We couldn’t have done that with daycare. However, it took us awhile to find this nanny, there were times when we doubted our decision to quit daycare, and if she quits for any reason we’ll be in a tough spot.

  2. warcrygirl on November 7th, 2007 5:25 pm

    I know you don’t want to hear this, and I have no idea if it’s been addressed in a comment above but you guys may have to re-do your lifestyle until you can get back to that smooth balance you had. Cutting corners will suck but not as much as that possible commute you could be facing. And it won’t be forever, ya know? Then again, my lifestyle is pretty boring so what do I know?

  3. Melissa on November 7th, 2007 5:30 pm

    Sorry if I’m repeating anything from the comments above. Tough decisions…I think you guys can just take it one day at a time. Talk to the daycare people and see if they have a solid solution that you and JB are comfortable with. If not, pull him out of there (in my opinion)and try another place. Then address where you will be working if your commute will be too much. I know you need to plan, especially with baby coming, but try not to stress too much. Sometimes the right solution presents itself…goofy but true in my experience. If it makes you feel any better, almost everyone I know struggles with childcare options. There is no easy answer.

  4. Elizabeth on November 7th, 2007 6:39 pm

    You know, if there’s a university nearby that has a child development program, they likely have a very good daycare. My son goes to the daycare at the university my husband and I attend and the infant room always had 8 kids and at least 2 workers, usually 3-4. The toddler room has 10 children and at least 2 workers, although I haven’t seen fewer than 3 this school year. The preschool classes have 12-14 children each. The teachers are all professionals, but they have lots of student volunteers from the child development program. We have had really great experiences with ours, but I don’t know if there’s a program like that near enough to you to be useful.

  5. Melissa on November 7th, 2007 7:20 pm

    I think an important factor to consider is how Riley is doing at the current daycare. Does he seem happy to go in the morning or are there squeals of protest? Has he formed any strong bonds with any of the teachers there? Or is there just too big of a turnover for that to happen?

    My 18 month old has been in a home childcare setting since he was 4 months old and it has been ideal for us. We are expecting numero-2 in April/May and things may change though…new babies bring lots of change!

    Good luck! It’s never an easy decision when it comes to the welfare of your little one…

  6. Alyson on November 8th, 2007 9:01 am

    Never used one, but think about the nanny thing. I have known a couple people who were former nannies, and they were wonderful people. A parttime nanny, or a nanny-share situation may be the way to go. Honestly, I really don’t think it could be any more expensive than an infant and a toddler in daycare. Check with BCC or UW or one of the other colleges for a student who is looking for a parttime/flexible situation. And don’t discount young men as nannies, either. One of the parents at my youngest’s school has a college-age manny for her boys. It is a good relationship for them both, as far as I can see. I know a boy who would likely be a wonderful manny for you, if he wasn’t going to college out-of-state next fall. He is my youngest’s favorite babysitter (over his own 16 year old brother!)

  7. Jessica on November 8th, 2007 2:21 pm

    I just decided to go back to work part-time (I start Monday, eek!) and I had a mere week to find suitable care for my kids (4 years and 17 months). Most of the large centers were too…LARGE, and expensive. Some of the women I found wanting to “babysit” some kids in their home were kind of scary. One smallish center typically took only 2-4 year olds but told me my 17 month old would be “ok” as he toddled over to a bin of small wooden beads and tried to eat one. In the end I found a small, licensed home daycare run by a loving, competent mother of two. It’s the best fit for us financially and offers a similar experience to having a nanny, except a bit cheaper and it doesn’t include someone in my house! I would maybe try to go that route. I had my oldest in a hoe daycare when he was a toddler and it worked out wonderfully. I am hoping it does this time around as well. Good luck!

  8. E. on November 8th, 2007 4:08 pm

    I am an early childhood educator, and what I would encourage you to do is to stay for an hour or so and check out how the room runs. My room might look chaotic upon first glance (and to parents who just drop-off/pick-up without hanging out long enough to know what’s really going on) but actually runs really smoothly.

    (Also, to those parents who’ve commented about the cost of daycare should keep in mind that the “gobs of money” they spend on daycare is generally not going to the staff; the average daycare worker makes about $8-$9 an hour for a job that is worth much, much more. I work for an amazing center where families actually organized last year to raise money to increase the staff salaries.)

    Valuing the people that choose to work in such an underappreciated field is step one to increasing the quality of the care that’s available to you. Daycares and preschools are often only viable if they max out their room ratios; 1:7 for Riley’s age, for example.)

    Would you have Riley and 6 of his friends at your house for a 9-hour playdate every day? What if you were being paid $8 an hour? How would you feel at the end of a week of those? It’s a really hard job with really high expectations, but the pay is poor.

    On the upside, this means that people that are doing it usually really believe in what they’re doing; on the downside, it means that even those people who love their jobs sometimes can’t afford (literally) to stay in the field. Tturnover is crazy high as a result, which means staff changes are frequent.

    Of course, there are situations that aren’t ideal. I would choose a center that’s NAEYC-accredited and has satisfied staff members (ask questions! how long have they been there? why do they choose to work in childcare? what’s the diaper-changing schedule?) and by all means, hang out and see how Riley’s day is.

    Drop-offs and pick-up time are inevitably the most chaotic times of the day in any center, too, so keep that in mind when making a judgment about the room–those are the flux times, and likely not the norm for the whole day.

    Sorry for all the rambling, but this is my field (I’m doing my Master’s degree in ECE) and I feel pretty strongly about it!

  9. Sundry on November 8th, 2007 4:49 pm

    E: thanks very much for that comment. I definitely appreciate the teachers at Riley’s daycare and fully understand they aren’t seeing much of the $$$ we pay each month, although I sure wish they were. It’s also good to get some perspective on those chaotic times of day from someone in the know.

  10. Samantha on November 8th, 2007 6:32 pm

    I worked in a daycare and had a class of little ones ages 18 months to three years. The most I had on my own was 6. Even if they are understaffed, there should be a schedule for diaper changes, and they know what time they should expect you, so there should be NO EXCUSES.

    If I had a kiddo poop in his diaper right before his parents picked him up, I would change him while the parents waited. That was just one of those things that was unacceptable to my director. She did not want the kids in poopy diapers longer than a few minutes.

    You could look for a place that is NAEYC accredited, it accreditation is very hard to get, so if a center has it, they tend to charge a lot more, and there are almost always horribly long waiting lists. There are quality centers that are not NAEYC approved.

    I would also look into a child development program at your local community college or university. At the center I interned with, the deans of the child development program were on site, and visited and supervised the classes multiple times throughout the day.

  11. foodmomiac on November 9th, 2007 8:40 am

    So, the idea of someone living with you might freak you out, and with the baby you probably don’t have an extra room, but… we just got an au pair, and it’s been awesome. The cost works out to less than $300 a week, and that includes 45 hours of care a week, no matter how many kids you have.

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