by Ann Douglas
Choosing childcare is one of the most difficult decisions you'll ever have to make as a parent-but also one of the most important. That's why it's important to learn as much as you can about your various childcare options so that you can make the decision that's right for your family.
As you are no doubt aware, when it comes to choosing childcare, you have two basic options: having someone come into your own home to care for your child or finding your child a space in either a childcare center or home daycare program. Before you get your heart set on either childcare option, it's important to understand the pros and cons of both in-home and out-of-home childcare.
•It's convenient to have someone come into your home to care for your child. You don't have to drag a sleeping baby out of bed at 7:00 a.m. in order to make a pit stop at the daycare center on your way to work.
•Your child can stick to her own schedule when it comes to eating, sleeping, and playing-a degree of flexibility that is sometimes difficult to find in a large group setting.
•An in-home caregiver is generally better able to accommodate your schedule at work-a real bonus for parents who work anything other than nine-to-five hours. If you have to travel out of town overnight on business or attend an after-hours meeting at the office, your in-home caregiver may be willing to provide these additional hours of care.
•Your child won't come into contact with large numbers of children, as would be the case if she were cared for in a childcare center. This can help to minimize the number of illnesses she picks up and, consequently, the number of days you end up missing from work.
•In-home care is the most expensive type of childcare. You may not be able to afford it.
•Because you are technically the caregiver's employer, you need to make your way through government red tape galore.
•Your in-home caregiver is unlikely to have a backup caregiver lined up to fill in for her on days when she is ill. If she can't make it into work, you're stuck.
•You may not feel comfortable sharing your home with a stranger-particularly if you decide to hire a live-in (rather than live-out) caregiver.
•If you only have one child, you will have to make an effort to provide her with opportunities to socialize with other children-something that is particularly important during her preschool years. You might need to encourage the caregiver to take her to a weekly playgroup, for example, or to sign her up for swim classes at the community pool.
•You don't have to share your home with a stranger-something that is a major issue for some families who are reluctant to have a third party intrude on their privacy.
•Out-of-home childcare is generally a more affordable option if you only have one or two children. (Once you have more than that number of children, the reverse is often the case.)
•Your child will have the opportunity to be with other children her own age-a big plus if she's a real social butterfly.
•Out-of-home childcare is a lot less convenient than in-home childcare-particularly on cold winter mornings when you have to wrestle a sleepy toddler into a snowsuit.
•Your child is more likely to pick up pink eye, colds, and other illnesses if she's around a large number of children
•Because most childcare centers and home daycares have policies that require that sick children stay home, you'll have to make alternative childcare arrangements if your child becomes ill-a problem that you wouldn't have to deal with if the caregiver were coming to your home instead.
•It can be extremely difficult to find infant care in a childcare center. Even if you put your name on the waiting list the moment your pregnancy test comes back positive, there's no guarantee that there will be an opening when you need it.