Choosing Childcare for your Precious Little Person

As a mum of 7 and grandma to one little one who will soon be leaving mum and dad for the first time to go to a nursery I know how stressful it can be even thinking of leaving your precious little bundle who was just born, like, YESTERDAY with anyone else.

madmumof7's grandson playing with beach toys

Even if you have made the most of family babysitters or daycare it can feel very different to even think about your child going to any form of non-family childcare. So where do you start in deciding what childcare solution works for you and baby?

When I was pregnant with my first my sister-in-law was a registered childminder and I sort of assumed that she would take on my baby when my maternity leave was over. Turns out she got a better offer out of the industry and quite rightly took the new job and never went back to childminding. I stayed home longer than expected doing part time jobs which fit round my husband's working hours to help with the household income.

It wasn't long before number 2 followed and I was unexpectedly headhunted for a position back in print journalism with an editor I admired. The money was good and prospects even better so we started looking for childcare. My eldest was due to start school and his brother, preschool.

We live in quite a rural area so registered childminders were (and still are) still few and far between. I found one in the next village but she was reluctant to commit to doing school runs in our village.  I ended up with a young, newly qualified nanny who worked for us until number 3 was born and I once again left the print journalism industry going on to have four more children!

madmumof7 in hospital chair holding baby

This is a long winded way of saying you need to start by finding a practical solution which works for you. My son has found a lovely nursery for my grandson which is convenient for drop offs and pick ups and is very close to a friend who can pick up if they are delayed.

Some people like the idea of a home from home environment with a childminder. It can be a more affordable option, your child may have others to play with and there's likely to be trips out to the park, toddler groups etc. Always visit the childminder at home, check their certificates and ask for references. Ask about the ages and personalities of the other children who will be with your little one and think about how the dynamics will work. A big boisterous group of football mad children might not suit your gentle arty one's soul.

child crouched painting on paper on floor:Photo by Zaur Giyasov on Unsplash

Others prefer the reliability of nurseries where even if one person is off sick/on holiday/has a family emergency there are other members of staff to step up. There are obviously going to be more children so your child is more likely to find at least one or two playmates they gel with and there's often options of extras like ballet or modern languages, forest school, yoga or tots rugby.

Some nurseries like this nursery in Bulwell accept childcare vouchers offered by many workplaces which can make this a more affordable childcare solution for working parents. Like nannies and childminders some nurseries now offer before and after school care and may pick and drop children off at school for you.

A nanny works in your own home and is often a very flexible option. Mine was happy to come while the children were still in PJ's and I dashed off to work (my husband left at 6am) leaving her to clear up breakfast, get them dressed and do the school run.  She also babysat in the evening for us too.

Most nannies are happy to negotiate extra factors of their job. Some will shop for and cook meals for the whole family, some will clean and iron. Mine would do anything relating to the children - washing and changing their bedclothes for instance. She also took them out and about, often meeting with other nannies at soft play or music groups. Some nannies may want to bring their own child to work. My daughter in law is a nanny and my grandson has developed a lovely friendship with her "work children." 

Many nannys are NOT  self employed so you would be responsible as their employer for ensuring national insurance and tax is paid. Luckily it's quite simple to keep records and there are lots of reliable "nanny tax" payroll services available if you prefer to leave it to the experts. Bear in mind you may also be responsible for sick pay, maternity pay and even a pension. 

Au pairs are a relatively cheap option as they receive "pocket money"that doesn't have to match the UK minimum wage and they are not classed as workers or  employees. The hours they can work is usually limited to around 30 hours a week. They usually live with you as part of the family so will require a room and board rent free. 

My son (number 3 - pictured below with his nephew) was an au pair for a while and looked after pets, cooked and cleaned as well as helping out with childcare. You don't need to go through one of the many agencies to find an au pair but it's worth reading this useful guide to au pairs from the British government so you are sure you are complying with laws relating to visas and employment terms.

madmumof7's son with his nephew

Think about the bond your child will develop with a childminder, au pair or nanny. It's likely to be different to how children cared for in nurseries with changing staff are. Could you cope if when your child fell over when the nanny was there with you but ran to them not you? Maybe a nursery would be better for you. Or would you prefer your child(ren) to develop a  bond with one person?  I remember my childminder from 50 years ago with love and affection even if my actual memories are fuzzy.

Ask around to find out which childminders, nurseries and au pair/nanny agencies people recommend. Maybe a friend, family member or neighbour might consider a nanny share or help with drop offs and pick ups from a nursery. Always meet any potential carer and check the environment they will be in and observe how carers interact with the children.

And finally think about your own parenting methods and aspirations. Whether you are keen for structured, planned and recorded early learning or prefer more informal play-based learning it's important that you choose a child care option which reflects your beliefs and values.