Rachel is the birth mom in a two-mom household with boy/girl 18 1/2 month old experts at the word “no”. You can read more about them at Motherhood.Squared
I was supposed to write a post during our Childcare Week about childcare back in April, but the death of my grandfather scrapped my posting plans, and, as is the story of my post-kids life, I am just now getting around to certain things. Irreparably long-winded (you should know how much I struggle to twitter!), I’ve stream-of-consciousness written about our childcare journey, but if you are short on time, scroll to the bottom for the executive summary.
Technically, we have used childcare since the day they were born. We took advantage of sending the twins off to the nursery at night, bringing them in only for feedings. Bonding, shmonding. We’d have plenty of time for that later, said the veterans in my mother’s of multiples group.
Major high-fives to all the mom’s who did the newborn period and beyond without any help from family or hired assistance, and especially to those who did that solo while breastfeeding while also being a stay-at-home parent. I am not one of those people. BY FAR.
My mom stayed with us for nearly two weeks, and she was free. My mom, my partner, and I rotated shifts for feeding the kids round the clock while others napped. My mom was a huge support and help, but my sister and I joke that the experience aged her twenty years, and rendered her forever frightened of watching over any of her grandchildren alone. We think she’s afraid they’ll multiply.
Jennifer’s and my original intention was for me to keep the twins during the day until I went back to work (at 12 weeks), at which time they would go to group daycare. But we learned fairly quickly (around 3 weeks, I think?) that it was far too overwhelming for me (major twin reflux, wonky sleeping patterns (of course, they’re newborns!), and utter exhaustion), so we scrambled to find a part-time day nanny to help me during the transition back to full-time work. Through word of mouth, we found someone that we paid $10/hr. It was worth every penny, but not necessarily a bargain in the end.
Of course, as things go, the daycare we had planned to send them was delayed in renovations and suddenly did not have space. The daycare where we had been waitlisted a year before and finally secured two spots three months before birth, confirmed, and re-confirmed within two weeks after their birth. To this day, I still swear up and down that our “practice” day at the place, fueled with the kids’ reflux, scared the bejesus out of them and that’s why they suddenly couldn’t accommodate us. But anyway. Thankfully, the day-nanny was more than willing to work full-time. In fact, she wanted the job full-time, but we felt that for our family, group daycare was the better option. Plus, during the two months she was with us, she proved to be unreliable and I started tuning out her excuses (the bus was late, my kid had a teacher meeting, etc). The ones I couldn’t hear over the steam blowing out of my employer’s ears because of my “childcare issues”.
Scramble some more. Turns out there was a Montessori infant program at a place exactly 200 yards from my office building. Thanks to a second-sibling discount (always ask!), the cost of daycare leveled out at around $1600 per month and I dropped them off before work, and picked them up on the way home. It was perfect.
Until about a month later, when the ear infections began (five in three months for the boy, alone.) I would oftentimes stay home from work, or Jennifer would, but there were days with work that that was not an option. With no available family to help, we often had to use agency care (through an agency we were familiar with, at least that) at a cost of essentially $100-$150/day (averaging 3-4 days of illness per month between both kids), pushing our childcare bill up to an average of $2100 per month. And then add to that all the stress and anxiety of coordinating care and related arrangements. Suddenly, we just weren’t sure that group daycare was the best option. As it was, my work (mostly men who just don’t get it), was already becoming tense and layoffs had begun.
What with all the illnesses and up at nights and working full time, we found a night nanny to give us a few nights of relief the two week run of The Runs. Turns out she was looking for some day work through the holidays, and we were looking at any way to get the kids out of daycare, a stint that lasted from July 28 to Dec 5. We were glad it was a temporary assignment with her, though. As good as she was, she had kids of her own and there were school issues and illnesses for her to deal with. Oh, and that day that I had to talk to her about being on time and how she blew up at me, yelling and screaming, and then crying that she’s sorry and how her husband is traveling a lot and how she misses her kids and I missed the rest of it because my brain was writing “find. someone. else” 1,000 times on the chalkboard of my here-and-now. One thing about hiring individuals is that you have to be willing, able, and comfortable confronting issues as they arise. Having a nanny is not for the passive. Well, unless you are passive-aggressive, I suppose. Ha!
Nevertheless, during the few weeks she was with us, we were able to take our time finding someone to be a full-time nanny, specifically an agency-provided live-in. That was most definitely the least expensive option (only $400 per week). I took a vacation day to show her the ropes, and the next day Jennifer had off from work to do the same. But she was a tiny Nicaraguan who didn’t speak much English (language barrier issue for my partner), she was too short to reach over the crib, my son was almost as heavy as she was, and we have a two-story house that requires constant up-and-down. She was great with the housekeeping but lacked confidence with the caretaking and that made me nervous. I felt horrible for letting her go after only one week, safety first and all.
But what now? Well guess who called a few days into live-in nightmare: flaky unreliable nanny from the beginning. She was great with the kids, when she showed up. I was like “Ok, but this is your last chance. You HAVE to be on time because we HAVE to get to work.” WE WERE DESPERATE! So we rehired the original flake. And then after a couple weeks of stellar performance, she no-call no-shows. And proceeds to not answer her phone for several days. More last-minute agency paid childcare.
Finally, in mid-January of 2009, we were happy to find a full-time nanny, someone who was old enough to be responsible and have experience with multiple children under her belt, young enough to be able to keep up with the kids, and had no children of her own (a HUGE bonus because then there’s none of their kids’ issues to interfere with your own, ironic as that is). We knew what we were getting because for 5 months she had often babysat for us once a month on Saturday mornings so that I could run errands and cook (my partner works on Saturday’s).
Most nannies’ hourly rate for twins runs about $11-18 per hour. I work in a business-hour office, having to leave at 7a and getting home around 6p. At an hourly rate, that can get expensive. My partner is an independent contractor (a golf instructor) and has more schedule flexibility. We wanted an arrangement that would better suit our needs, and we were able to negotiate a weekly rate with our nanny for a fixed amount. Some weeks our nanny works 60 hours, but more often she works far less, but gets the benefit of a steady income stream. Which means we pay right at around what we were paying with daycare + sick day care, but without the anxiety, stress, and hassle of juggling it all. Plus, she does all the kid-related housework. The kids are happy, she sends me pictures and text messages and videos, and we all think we got a deal. It hasn’t been perfect, but it’s the best arrangement we’ve had thusfar. Plus? NOTHING MORE THAN OCCASIONAL COLDS since December 2009. Knock. On. Wood.
We even get out to dinner every once in a while. Most babysitters in our area want $12-15/hr for twins. EVEN IF THEY ARE SLEEPING. So instead, we either ask our nanny to stay (we’ll buy her dinner or some other form of payment), swap with other parents in the neighborhood, or ask our neighbors if they’ll come over and watch TV (and then they borrow our SUV for moving stuff around, or I give them greens for their compost bin, or whatever we can barter).
Is this forever? No. We definitely want the kids in at least a part-time day program at some point. But first, we want to get through this winter/flu season. I still have anxiety over last fall’s experiences. So maybe closer to their second birthday. After crunching numbers a couple weeks ago, we I know that we can’t afford a full-time nanny/housekeeper AND part time programming for two children (for the purpose of expanding their days and play and experiences past our home). We’re not sure our nanny will want part-time work, though she does want to go back to school. Even so, we’re not ready for someone else to drive our kids around. We’re also contemplating a part-time program with one parent working part-time. We’ll see what the future brings.
Our Family: two full-time, out-of-the-house, working parents
Kids: boy/girl twins, 18 ½ months at the time of this post
Average cost of childcare in area (Houston, Texas):
Night nanny – $17-25/hr (the higher range tends to be through an agency)
Non-Agency Day nanny – $11-17/hr (to depend on the level of English fluency, whether or not the nanny has a vehicle, whether or not they are picking up your kids, the nanny’s experience, age of nanny, ages of children, who is paying taxes, and whether or not the nanny is also doing any combination of cooking and housework.)
Our childcare progression: nanny, daycare, ear infections and stomach viruses ensued, back to nanny in home.
Biggest pro: If they’re sick, they’re still home. Very reliable. No rushing out the door. It’s smooth. I’m not on a hit list at work anymore, at least not for childcare reasons.
Biggest con: we are paying more than we ever expected to spend on childcare, but at least it’s predictable.
Factors in our decision: remaining employed, stress, availability of a nanny the kids and we, the parents, are quite happy with overall.