When you’ve recently had a baby, people will relentlessly ask you what the plan is re: “work”. What they’re really asking is: do you still give a damn about your career or do you prefer Row Row Row Your Boat?
Whether you want to keep your precious firstborn nestled to your bosom forever or you can’t wait to get the hell back to work, choosing childcare is HARD. There are so many options, and none of them will seem good enough for The Best And Most Important Baby Ever. But, if The Best And Most Important Baby Ever wants to continue to wear clothes, play with toys and have a roof over its head, chances are you will need an income at some point. So, what do you do? Here’s a rundown of the most popular three options (we haven’t included au pairs, since they’re generally for school age kids, and we haven’t included your baby’s grandparents, because we’ve never met them).
* All the boring but important stuff: they’re generally open 51 weeks a year, everything – food, hygiene, learning – is very regulated, the staff have lots of certificates which you pretend to know the meaning of when you look around. “Oh, a Level 18 GQWTF in SensoryWaterplay and Montessori Sandpittery With Merit? Brilliant, that’s a real priority for us as a family, where do we sign up?”.
* Generally an economical option. Obviously all childcare is extortionate unless you’ve got willing grandparents, but nurseries are cheaper than nannies, and often on a par with childminders.
* The kids get to “socialise”. OK, so most kids socialise plenty whatever their childcare arrangements (unless they’re that kid from Room), but seeing them play with other little ones in the same age in a neutral environment (rather than having turf wars over pieces of Lego) is nice.
* If your kid is sick, they won’t want them there. And they will get sick, a lot, because they’re suddenly licking the same toys as 20 other Arlos and Orlas. You and your partner will then have a hideous argument about whose job is most important.
* Fixed hours. Fine if you’ve got a 9 to 5, not so handy if you’re one of those trendy self-employed types. And you WILL be penalised if your train is delayed (or you went for a quick one after work).
* Long waiting lists. Some people go and look at nurseries before they’ve even changed the conception bedsheets. Waiting list scare-mongering is rife. Don’t panic: places come up more often than you think. But it is a good idea to go and have a look while your baby’s quite little.
* Home from home environment. Want your child to have access to home-cooked food and cuddles while never missing an episode of This Morning in a room that smells just ever so slightly of wee? Childminders are the way forward. OK, this is unfair, many of them have a set-up as slick and well-equipped as a top nursery, but they’re still more homely and (slightly) less shrill.
* More bonding opportunities. Your precious babe will get to know one carer, as opposed to dozens of nursery staff. There will be fewer kids too, which is a big plus for children of a nervous and/or attention-seeking disposition.
* Usually the cheapest option – but flexible too. Lots of them do half days (handy for anyone who often shirks from home), they don’t always mind if you’re a bit swappy with your days and will generally look after your child even if they’re a bit sick.
* Good ones are hard to find – and highly sought after. If you judge people on their spelling and grammar, you will not enjoy reading many of their advertisements, even though none of it matters as long as they’re nice to your kid. Word of mouth is the way forward. Hey, you could ask some of your new pals on Mush!
* Although childminders are good at taking their brood out and about, your babba will also inevitably be dragged along on multiple school pick-ups and could get overshadowed by rowdy older kids. Plus, many – but not all – childminders operate term-time only. Great if you’re a teacher though.
* Fancy yourself as a bit posh? Like the idea of casually dropping the words “my darling nanny Maria is a whizz with quinoa” into conversation? Then this option will appeal to your ego. Only the best for little snookums.
* You don’t have to worry about drop-offs, pick-ups or getting your little one fed and dressed before you go to work. In fact, a good nanny won’t care if the entire family are wearing only a thin layer of pear puree when she (or he, if you hired a lesser-spotted manny) arrives, because she is paid (pretty well) to deal with this mess.
* Major bonding. Between baby and nanny, that is, not between spouse and nanny (this only happens in Hollywood, and your husband isn’t even the best looking man in the IT department, so don’t worry about it).
* Expensive. But this is where another great option -– the nanny share – comes in. If you have a like-minded and conveniently located mum friend with similar childcare needs, sharing a nanny only costs a few quid more than nursery and is dead handy – not to mention more sociable than the solo option, for those still obsessed with turning their child’s early years into one long freshers week.
* More admin. Any decent nanny will need to be properly employed by you, meaning you pay their tax and NI on top of their wage (there are lots of companies who deal with the paperwork for you though). Don’t trust the cash-in-hand brigade with the most precious being in your life – if anything goes wrong you won’t have a leg to stand on.
* It’s less regulated than the other options. When interviewing nannies, you’ll find a mixture of disillusioned nursery workers seeking a way out, free-wheelin’ creatives looking to supplement their passion (acting/painting/getting to the final 12 on X Factor) with a steady part-time job, plus career nannies, who will fulfil all your Mrs Doubtfire dreams but likely cost the most. The dream nanny will have all the certificates AND wow you with their vibrant personality and promises of puppet shows in seven languages, but they’re tough to find, and going through agencies can be pricier still.