Finding the Right Childcare Solution for You

mother and child playing together.

Practical tips for life as a young mom.

In 2017, the majority of moms don’t have the option of staying home with their children. It is even more unlikely for mothers under the age of twenty-five to be able to provide full-time care for their young children, with only 23% of young mothers able to do so according to the latest US Census data. In the U.S, nearly 11 million children under the age of 5 are in some kind of child care every week.

Unfortunately, the cost of childcare continues to rise, quickly exceeding the wage of the average earner. That means that many parents have to get creative to find quality care for their kids. From family care to daycare, we break down some of a parent’s options here.

Occasional Care

If you are only looking for occasional childcare, something under five hours a week, the most traditional choice is a babysitter. It is usually easy to find a babysitter by asking other parents or friends for recommendations, but you can also consider posting an advertisement on your neighborhood listserv, in a church bulletin, or using a website like Care.com. You’ll find dozens of options at various prices and with different availabilities.

Although finding a sitter can be easy, you will want to make sure you have found a good one. Before hiring a babysitter, it’s important to ask whether they have previous childcare experience, and check with references. Find out if they have CPR certification, or have had it in the recent past. If you are going through a website like Care.com, take advantage of the premium features that allow you to run a criminal background check. This is a valuable resource even though it costs some extra money up front.

Childcare Swapping

Starting a childcare swap system can be a great money-saving solution. For instance, a student mother might agree to babysit every Tuesday morning during her friend’s biology lab in exchange for babysitting on Wednesday afternoon during her history class. If both parties are happy with the arrangement, childcare swapping can be a great way for mom to get a bit of a break financially.

This is also a wonderful way to find childcare for a regular date night. If you and your partner are close friends with another couple, consider offering to watch their children one Friday and asking them to return the favor sometime in the future. You can enjoy an evening without the kids, while your children enjoy themselves with their friends. Plus, knowing you saved money on a sitter will make your date even sweeter.

Preschool Cooperatives

If your child is preschool age, participating in a co-op preschool can be a great way for young children to get a quality education at a bargain price. In exchange for a more affordable tuition rate, parents commit to doing different jobs at the co-op, ranging from teacher’s aid to librarian to accountant. Parents do not assist fulltime, but are usually expected to be available to help a certain number of days per month, and often also to volunteer for some of the routine maintenance jobs.

There are several preschool co-ops in the Washtenaw County area, including the Glacier Way Cooperative Preschool, the Dexter Cooperative Preschool, and the Triangle Cooperative Preschool. Each have different policies regarding parent involvement, but all hire qualified teachers and offer dramatically lower monthly tuition rates than private preschools.

Headstart Program

The Michigan Headstart program is a free, quality preschool program for low to moderate income families. Research shows that attending a high quality preschool program in the year or two before kindergarten leaves kids better academically, socially and emotionally prepared to handle kindergarten. Because of this the Washtenaw County Quality Preschool Partnership collaborates with the federal Head Start program to provide a free, quality preschool education. To see if you qualify visit this page.

Family Care

Given the rising costs of tuition, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that nearly 40% of children are being cared for by a grandparent or another close relative. Having family provide care can be a wonderful advantage at times since they are free and love your child in a way no one else does, and grandparents are often available at all times. However, family care can come with its own set of challenges.

If you are going to ask a family member to watch your child regularly, sit down ahead of time so that you can both clearly discuss your expectations. Can you call anytime, or should you give them a certain amount of advance warning? How are you going to handle discipline issues? How can you show your appreciation for the caregiver? Be sure to regularly meet and discuss how things are going as well. Make sure issues don’t fester and damage your family relationships or your child’s care situation.

Daycare

If you need full time care for a child under five, often daycare is your only option. Unfortunately, the prices can be staggering. Some mothers reduce the costs by combining daycare with one of the less expensive options above. But even if daycare is your only option, you may not have to shoulder the entire financial burden alone. Financial help with childcare is available to parents who meet the eligibility requirements under state law. Visit this Michigan Department of Education webpage for more information on how to apply.

The Michigan Department of Education also compiles a list of all licensed childcare providers. These include child care and preschool centers, as well as family child care homes, and group child care homes. To search all licensed and registered providers in Michigan visit the Great Start to Quality website.

Live with love, not guilt

It’s always hard for a mother to leave her child. You might even find yourself missing the tantrums. Just remember that most moms have to use some kind of childcare, and the important thing is to find the best solution for you. Embrace the moments you do have with your children. By letting go of guilty feelings you can be more present and joyful in the moments you share with them. One day they’ll understand that you loved just as much when you were doing homework as you did when you were pushing them higher and higher on the swings at the park.

Iris Proctor
Iris is the director of ArborWoman.