Q&A: daycare crisis

Corinne writes:

"Sigh. I’m looking for some suggestions here on how to fix a daycare meltdown for our 1 year old son. This is my second week back to work, and our daycare provider (very sweet older lady who looks after another boy about 16 months old) told me this morning that she’d like me to look for another caregiver for my son. The issue is she can’t get him to take naps, and then he is cranky (of course) and difficult to deal with. At home, he takes 2 – 1.5 hour naps a day. I think the issue may be that she doesn’t have enough time to spend quietly with him to get him down. I had been taking him there for the last few months to get him slowly adjusted and he did fine – but her husband was home on leave and there to help with the other one. Now that he’s back to work, it seems that things have gone sideways. I think the two very young boys are just too much for her.

So, needless to say, I’m at a loss. Returning to work is of course guilt-addled and difficult. I tried my best to set things up so that the transition would be easier for my son by getting him used to this daycare provider, and now everything has been thrown upside down. I love my job (I mean really love… dream job… kind of job I went to school for 10 years to land) but I’m left wondering if I need to just quit and be a SAHM. So now for the advice ask: do you have any suggestions on how to fix the current daycare situation (how she could possibly get him to nap/multi-task with 2 kids under 18 months), or do you think that I should just accept that this isn’t going to work out? The follow up is, do you have any experience with nannies? Is the live-in arrangement horribly awkward and difficult? Is it like slave labour to import someone from overseas (I live in Canada and we have a live-in caregiver program that makes it very easy to secure a work visa for a nanny)? Are the costs out of control?"

Oof. This bites all around. It sounds like your provider doesn't want to be your provider anymore, so I think you have to accept that it isn't going to work out. I can't imagine taking care of two kids under 18 months at the same time, and I'm not an older lady, even. It sounds like she just bit off more than she can chew, and you guys are the ones who are having to pay for it. If she was direct enough to tell you to find someone else, then it sounds like her mind is made up, and you don't want someone who's not really committed caring for your son every day anyway.

I can't really speak specifically to having a live-in nanny. Is there a reason you're thinking live-in instead of having a regular nanny who goes back to her own home at the end of the work day? Or is that not done where you live? There are different kinds of daycare situations that seem to vary by region. Where I live in NYC, people use daycare centers or live-out nannies, and occasionally live-in nannies, but home-based daycares aren't common. In the city I grew up in, home-based daycares are the norm, and a live-in nanny is something from the movie "Mary Poppins," not real life.

So I'd start asking around at the playground or wherever you talk to other parents about what type of care they have and what made them choose it. (If you don't see lots of parents in real life, there's got to be a Google group or Yahoo group or some kind of parenting message board somewhere for your area.)

The other parents will also be able to answer your questions about cost. Again, costs are going to vary by region, but also by situation. For example, two kids in daycare might be more expensive than having a nanny in some areas, so parents of two pull kids out of center-based daycare to go with a nanny. Or it might be possible to find a nanny share situation, which would make the cost lower. So there's probably more flexibility in configuration of care and cost than you realize.

About the "slave labour" question: It depends on how you treat the person. If you see this person not as an individual with rights and thoughts and feelings but as a job function, then, yeah, it is like slave labor. But if you see your nanny as a person with whom you're contracting for her talents and services, then you'll be able to work it out. My assumption is that people applying from other countries for nanny positions in Canada are doing it of their own free will in an effort to find a better life for themselves. It's up to you to accept your role in helping your nanny pursue a better life.

(It's a really, REALLY good idea to write out a contract that you and the nanny sign outlining expectations and responsibilities on both sides so everything's clear from the get-go. There will still be stuff you have to deal with as it comes up, but if you have a basic outline that you agree to, things will go more smoothly.)

I'm sorry that this is happening now, right when you went back to work and are dealing with that emotionally. (But you love your job, and that's awesome!) It sounds like you want a caregiver who can give your son the one-on-one time that he needs to be able to nap well. So I'd explore the idea of live-out nannies, live-in nannies, nanny shares (sharing a nanny with another child of the same age would give your son a playmate, while sharing a nanny with a child in school would give you plenty of one-on-one time for your son but also some mixed-age socialization with the older child) and nanny arrangements. To me it sounded like you were suggesting being a SAHM out of frustration, but if you did decide to try it for awhile it doesn't have to be permanent--plenty of people spend a few years caring for their kids and then go back into the paid workforce, so it might be another thing to consider if it feels comfortable right now.

Once you know what you're looking for, start asking around for recommendations. (It's too bad you're not in NYC--the economic crisis here is leaving tons of great nannies out of work so you could find someone great within a week.) If I had to trust either recommendations from friends or from an agency, I'd go with friends every time.

What are the childcare norms in your area? How did you find childcare? Are you happy with your situation? Are there any cost anomalies that flummox you?