The hidden costs of daycare

I took my son out of daycare the week I had my daughter.  He had been in daycare for a little over a year and he had a great time there.  We paid a lot of money to have really great care, but no amount of money could really change some of the drawbacks to having him in that setting.  So for those of you contemplating using a day care facility for your little one once you go back to work, here’s my lessons learned.

First, the positives:

  • For kids with no close relatives (geographically, or in age) or siblings, day care helps them learn to share and live with others.  My son LOVES his sister and I think it’s because he was around lots of other little kids all the time.  He’s also great playing with other kids.
  • I could always rely on day care being available.  It was my responsibility to get him there, not to wait for someone to show up at my house.  And I could rely on them having plenty of supervision and qualified caretakers available.
  • My son learned things he wasn’t learning at home, like baby sign language, which has been a huge help.
  • For me, I got to hear advice from other moms and teachers, which was helpful as a first-time mom. They taught me about mum-mum cookies, showed me it was ok to fasten a diaper tightly, and reassured me about normal baby behavior. I am grateful to his early teacher for sharing their stories with me, supporting me, and showing him as much compassion as they did.
  • My son loves his sister and plays well with others. He was always a social baby and I think he did well in the day care classroom environment.
  • I didn’t have to think of clever activities to do – his teachers did that for me and he came home with projects and art work, and sometimes a card made of his hand and footprints that made me cry.

The negatives:

  • My son learned things he wasn’t learning at home, like throwing his food off his tray when he was done with it.  I know he picked that up from other kids at school.  It has taken a month to unlearn this habit – now he politely pushes his food away and says “Done,” or sometimes signs “done.”
  • My son was constantly sick.  While it took almost six months for him to develop his first ear infection at day care, he had three ear infections within a period of six weeks and was on antibiotics throughout the holiday season.  He had a runny nose… always.  We went through a box of tissues a week – and that’s just with mornings, evenings, and weekends!  He was never a fully healthy kid.  Everyone says it gives kids a greater immune system later for school, but…
  • I had to leave work to get him when he was really sick.  Because he was sick a lot, I had to use a lot of my own sick time to pick him up, rush him to the doctor, and stay home with him while he recuperated.  Some weeks I only worked one day and struggled to keep up with my job.  I might as well have been a stay at home mom those weeks!
  • In addition to the monthly fees, there were always fundraisers or other things happening that required additional money.  From candy sales to book sales to holiday candle sales, there was always another ask for cash.  Then twice a year there was staff appreciation collections done by the parent council.  Not to mention things we had to purchase for class parties (such as food, valentines, cards, books, etc.).  And whenever we switched classrooms or celebrated a major holiday, I bought something small for his teachers.  There was something every month.
  • It was downright expensive.  Really, really, expensive.

I wish someone had told me about how much my son would be sick.  I knew what I was getting in to with the tuition of managed day care, but I wasn’t counting on the stress of getting that phone call to pick him up.  I had one hour to pick him up from the time of the phone call; one time the poor guy was in quarantine because of a goopy eye which they believed was pink eye.  So I usually had less than an hour to find or call my boss and explain the situation, send emails to anyone with whom I had meetings later that afternoon to inform them I’d cancel and reschedule, leave notes or sign timesheets if needed, let people in the office know how to reach me, and call the pediatrician and get an appointment.  (Oh, and if you’re pumping at work, don’t forget your breastmilk).  I wish I was better prepared for it.

So there you have it.  If you’re considering going with the option I did, instead of a babysitter, nanny, or relative and you’re returning to work, here’s some things to ask about when you visit the facility.  And be prepared.

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