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Is it okay to “settle” for child care?

Categories: child care

8 comments

I knew it was coming. I knew it was coming a long time ago. I knew it was coming and I knew it would be bad, so I even warned YOU it was coming. What is it? Child care, the cost of.

A month before my son was born (almost a year and a half ago now), I wrote this post about finding child care–and then finding ways to afford it–and I brought up some important points and dished out some good advice (if I do say so myself). What I forgot to do, however, was actually take that advice, and so just a few days ago we found ourselves a week away from being a two-job household again but with no firm plan about who would care for our toddler when our work schedules overlapped three days a week. Uh oh.

I wrote about about dilemma in more detail on my personal blog (and then about the solution the next day), and as much as it makes me cringe to say it, we really did put more weight on the cost of different daycare options than I’d have liked to. Even though the place we ended up choosing–the less expensive place–was the one that also felt better, seemed more appropriate, and offered unique opportunities we’re really excited about, it was definitely uncomfortable to think that every time we pulled out the calculator to compare numbers, we were, in a way, putting a price on our child’s education, social development, and personal safety. (Not that we were deciding between a safe, stimulating expensive place and a dull, dangerous cheap place, but you know what I mean.)

Child care is one of those things that it’s hard to compromise on, even a little bit (you’re turning over responsibility for your child!), and yet sometimes the money aspect forces people to make concessions whether they like it or not. We’re lucky that we didn’t have to, but even the thought that we could put a price on something so precious made me feel heartsick.

Would you ever let cost prevent you from choosing the best child care for your family, or is that something you’d absolutely find a way to afford somehow? Is this an area of parenting where you feel it’s sometimes okay to settle for second- or even third-best? Is there such thing as good enough when it comes to finding a quality yet affordable caregiver?



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8 comments so far...

  • Well, perfect is in Heaven.

    Of course cost is a factor. However, the nice thing about that is that your kids will be hanging with people their families can relate to. We all talk about how wonderful diversity is in the abstract, but the reality is, if you’re in a roomful of people with whom you can’t relate, you want to be somewhere else.

    I could “afford” to put my kids in a more expensive preschool, but the one they go to is the one that best reflects my values. My values are a combination of my working-class upbringing, my higher education, and various other aspects of my personal experience. For example, the preschool is racially diverse yet has high academic standards. My kids’ teacher is mostly deaf, but she is outstanding at her job. I really don’t think more money could pay for a better fit for my kids. But, it is true that I didn’t even glance at any really “expensive” places, because I am an incurable cheapskate. Also, I believe my kids will benefit from being exposed to my “less is more” mentailty. (Or, they will hate me and write a book about it and get rich off me that way.)

    As you’ve noted, within each price range, there is a significant range of quality if you take the time to look around. I didn’t do a lot of research, but I did visit two nearby centers before deciding. With respect to most things that mattered to me and my daughters, there was really no comparison. Touring both did make me feel a lot better about the one I chose, though.

    Chances are, you will learn to love things about your daycare that you now merely like. And if not, you can always switch after you’ve had more time to research.

    SKL  |  May 20th, 2010 at 4:49 pm

  • The question that should be asked is “How do we get affordable child care available to every child?” The reality is that only a very small percentage of working families can afford the “best” (i.e. most expensive, or even moderately expensive) child care. We do our country and its children a great disservice by continuing to treat child care as a family problem instead of as a social problem. Is “settling” for a decent quality child care whose costs allow you to continue to pay rent and put food on the table a bad thing?

    Moreover, I’ve met the kids (and parents!) from the high-quality, super expensive child care in our town. I know for a fact that that is NOT how I want my children to be raised.

    LMJN  |  May 21st, 2010 at 8:46 am

  • “We do our country and its children a great disservice by continuing to treat child care as a family problem instead of as a social problem.”

    Interesting thought that could definitely spark a lot of debate. For example:

    1) You have many Americans who still believe that the best child care up to 1st grade is SAHM, and wouldn’t be agreeable to a tax increase / agenda to subsidize/regulate day care (and, as they would see it, harm more children).

    2) You have HeadStart and many other government-run programs already. The intention is (I think) for these to be high-quality (not extravagant but worthwhile) programs, but there is much debate on the actual curriculum/management, as well as on whether the whole program simply throws good money after bad.

    3) You have studies showing that poor kids are going to have problems with literacy no matter which schools they go to - so what is the real root of the problem? Can an out-of-home program really counteract what isn’t working at home? At what point have we spent enough money trying to find out?

    4) Then, of course, you have folks who feel it is indeed a family problem (or non-problem aka choice). Which is another way of saying that the government is not equipped to determine what is best for each individual child, hence a government solution will lead to waste and even create new problems. For example, with the free breakfast program, fewer parents bother to get up with their kids to get them off to school, so would kids be better off with a cheapo bowl of generic Cheerios and a little mom time? (And don’t get me started on the school lunch program.) I really don’t think our govenment comes anywhere close to being competent in these areas.

    I’d rather focus on making sure our economy works so that most people who want to pay for “quality” daycare can find a job that allows them to do so. And that in turn would be a great incentive for private daycares to compete to be the best.

    SKL  |  May 21st, 2010 at 12:58 pm

  • I do think cost can’t help but be a factor in determining child care choices, but it’s one of a whole host of factors. I work for a national group of child care learning centers, and while we are competitively priced, parents who choose our programs are typically also looking for a philosophy that fits with their parenting styles, a focus on health and safety, learning opportunities and positive interactions, and lots of fun and room to play! A program that costs a lot less but offers a lot less is probably not worth it. A program that is hugely expensive doesn’t mean that it offers a higher level of care or greater opportunities. I think cost should be one (important) consideration, but also look at what you are getting for your money.

    KATwinmom  |  May 23rd, 2010 at 4:53 am

  • Interesting topic. I had a list of criteria that were mandatory:

    Not in-home (I’ve known too many negative things that have happened in in-home care to even consider taking my child to one)
    Clean facility
    Learning curriculum
    Locked facility that only parents can access and all others had to ring a doorbell

    After that criteria was met, I went with my gut. If two gave me the same “feel” and one was less expensive, I considered that one more heavily, but ultimately went with my gut and paid a bit more than I would have liked. My little guy was only 16 weeks old and I was willing to bite the bullet to have the benefit of a webcam to check on him. I could let it stream all day and be sure that he was just fine. I do tend to be a bit over protective, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s my right as a mother.

    Stacey  |  May 24th, 2010 at 10:40 am

  • Of course, cost is one of the main limitations when selecting a daycare. Of course, you have to be able to afford it. Also, more expensive daycare does not mean better care. First and most important it has to be a safe and loving environment where the child feels comfortable.

    Stickers  |  May 24th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

  • People kept telling me that good daycare couldn’t be as “cheap” as I had found it. I was breathing huge sighs of relief because I found something I could afford that would still allow us to afford health care & an apartment as well.
    In retrospect, I don’t think I could have given her a better start. It was a smaller, family-run center, a loving environment, there was another girl one month younger who also lived in our neighborhood (the daycare was not in the neighborhood). My daughter was happy to see me every evening but she was happy to go to daycare every morning.
    She started PreK with all the basics and had had enough writing practice that she could legibly write her name by the end of the 1st week well ahead of many of her peers.
    I think a lot of what is best is what you want for your child. If you want classrooms and enrichments, you need a center. If you want a more homey feel, you need a small home-based daycare or an in-home caregiver. It has nothing to do with price, high or low, but about how that arrangement works for your child.

    Mich  |  May 25th, 2010 at 7:03 am

  • I’ve gone to the other extreme and organised childcare 8 months before I go back to work, before I’ve even had my part-time working request approved, which is foolish in its own way, as it could all fall into tatters if I don’t get the hours I want, leaving me weeping because waaah, we can’t use the lovely childminder.

    The childminder I’ve found seems fabulous and is luckily very reasonable in price, so I’ve not had to turn my mind to compromising on cost. Would I? I don’t know. Sometimes there just isn’t the money to make something affordable, you know? If the lady I’ve found was expensive, chances are we just wouldn’t be able to use her.

    But the childminder’s house is not local and not straightforward to get to and from. So in a sense we are compromising- on ease and convenience and non-nightmarish mornings and hometimes- to get our ideal care. I’m not sure how we’re going to make it work- relying on grandparents, I imagine!- but yes, we’re willing to work around the shortcomings to make it work.

    bokker  |  May 28th, 2010 at 10:05 am

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