Taking care of baby
Nanny, au pair, daycare or home-based? Deciding who will look after your baby is a tough call. So we asked four mums to explain why their choice of childcare works for them.
In the words of a…daycare mum
Lee Plummer, mum of one
I never planned on putting my baby into daycare. Then again, I never planned on getting made redundant while I was on maternity leave but I suppose you can't plan for that?
I used to work nights so I had dreamed of "having it all" - days at home with my gorgeous angel then working nights while he was asleep and wouldn't know I wasn't there.
Plans don't always work the way you want though.
My decision to put my son into daycare over home-based care wasn't made lightly. Initially I was more passionate about a home-carer, but a friend made a comment that really struck me: "At least at daycare there are many eyes watching." Macabre I know, but that thought stuck.
So the long search began for the right daycare. Many didn't impress me. In fact, most disgusted me and made me re-think my first option - until I found it! A brand-new daycare that follows the Reggio Emilia philosophy which focuses on children having three teachers. The first, his parents, the second, his teachers and thirdly, his environment. And this was the part that really inspired me. The daycare is gorgeous and beautifully decorated using natural products. And on a regular basis the rooms are changed to keep the kids enthused.
But if I'm being really honest, the reason I chose this daycare, was after seeing a teacher tell a child, who couldn't have been older than one, to, "Please pick up the coloured paper before we go outside to play."
And the child did it! I was amazed and impressed. I love the idea that they're learning responsibility at such a young age; it is all about respecting their environment.
The teachers have become an extended part of our family. My son adores these women, as do I. As much as I honestly would prefer to be at home with my baby, even if I miraculously won Lotto, I'd be loath to take my son out of daycare, because he enjoys it so much (and I couldn't do it to his teachers, they adore him too much).
There are a lot of bonuses to daycare. The children are socially comfortable and unflustered at being around others. They get exposed to games and activities you may not do at home, and they learn independence.
On the downside, daycare centres are a breeding ground for germs. There's no escaping it, the first year of daycare is hard work health-wise. And of course, that means when my son's sick, there's a 48-hour stand-down period where he needs to be kept at home, which can be difficult. But again, looking on the bright side to this, as our family doctor said, "It's giving him a great opportunity to build his immune system."
If you're considering daycare as an option for your child, do your research. Find out how long staff members have been there. A sign of a good daycare is when staff turnover is low. Also, keep in mind that good daycares often have wait lists, so it's worth researching early to ensure a place where you want it.
In the words of an…au pair mum
Jessica Wright, mum of three
For me an au pair is an extra set of hands, a loving person - flexible, affordable and enthusiastic. Until recently, our three kids were all preschoolers and having an au pair was a wonderful solution for our family.
We looked into getting an au pair four years ago when we did a large dairy conversion near a town that did not have many childcare options and our families were not living nearby. We decided to have an au pair and have not looked back.
We chose to go through an agency (Au Pair Link) because of its selection and matching process, the on-going support with monthly visits from family and programme managers and the fact that the agency is accredited in some areas for 20 hours free ECE.
First, we had a visit from somebody from the agency then we had to write a family letter talking about our lifestyle.
The agency sends us a list of au pairs who may be suitable, and after emailing and Skyping the candidates, we make our selection and offer the position.
When the au pair arrives in Auckland the agency organises an orientation for her before she flies down to us. I know the first few weeks are a huge shock for the au pairs. They come from the other side of the world, often from a large city, to our rural North Otago home on a large, busy, dairy farm. It is an adjustment for everyone. But with patience and openness things always settle down.
Having someone else move into your home has challenges for everyone, but we find that clear communication in the early stages resolves any issues.
Our first au pair did not work out and she ended up leaving us after four months. I don't think she realised how full on an 18-month-old boy could be. She was very shy and struggled to join in activities of any sort outside our home. Au Pair Link was great at helping us resolve the situation. She was eventually placed with another family in a city where she felt much happier, and we got someone new who settled in fine.
The support is a key factor for us. If there is ever a problem with the relationship - even a small one - we can engage the agency to help us solve it before it becomes a big issue. For instance, we often get our programme manager to remind the girls about inappropriate use of Skype and texting. If they use too much they use all my data allowance and I struggle to get my work done from home.
The au pairs all have a driver's licence and they also do a theory course as part of their orientation. I usually wait a week or two before letting them drive with the kids, just to be sure they're comfortable driving on the other side of the road. They pay for petrol when they take the car for their own use.
My favourite time is the tea-time rush. Usually our au pair, Svenja, bathes the children and I get tea on. Sharing the load is wonderful - one less stress!
We also like the fact that the children are picking up small pieces of another language and culture and they are starting to understand that there is a whole big world out there, away from our life in rural New Zealand.
Au Pair Link also supports the au pairs in creating excellent learning experiences for the children and they are supplied education kits to help with this. They keep a lovely record of the children's development, in books that will always be very special to us. Au Pair Link also organises playgroups for the local au pairs and children and there are au pair outings, so they have some wonderful experiences around our country.
The au pairs build a wonderful relationship with the children and really get to know them. I know they go home with a special connection that will last a lifetime. They all stay in touch and the kids love the parcels they receive and their chats on Skype. It hasn't been too hard for the kids to say goodbye, I guess because they're so young they don't completely understand. The au pairs, on the other hand, can be heartbroken at the end of the year when they have to leave "their" kids.
The au pairs know what we think is important with the children and know our expectations and views on discipline and other values. This means our children get to have fun at home, they are secure, happy and enjoying life - the most important things to us as parents.
In the words of a…nanny mum
Emma Fahy, mum of five (now)
Initially, our decision to hire a nanny was purely a financial one - with three children under five, it worked out cheaper than having them in daycare. However, in hindsight, the benefits of having a nanny extended far beyond saving a few dollars.
Renata started with our family when Sienna and Mercedes were five months old and their big sister Maya was four. We hired her through Home Grown Kids who took care of all of the paperwork for us which made the process really simple. We were even able to access government childcare subsidies.
We interviewed a few nannies before we met Renata, as we wanted to make sure we found someone who would work well with our family. I think finding the right person is the most important thing, after all, you're trusting her with your precious little people.
The twins were quite sensitive babies, I think they would have struggled in a daycare setting, but they bonded with Renata almost immediately and definitely benefited from being in their own home where they felt secure and comfortable. They had an established routine and were able to have their daytime sleeps in their own cots. Renata took them to play group and Mainly Music, and, as they got older, on play dates with their little friends. It was the next best thing to being at home with them myself.
As well as caring for the children, Renata also prepared the evening meal and took care of the washing so, when I got home from work, I could spend the time playing with the girls and not worrying about getting dinner on the table. That's one thing I miss now they're at school!
Mercedes has an immune deficiency which means she is more susceptible to illness than most children, and having a nanny meant that I didn't have to take time off work every time she got sick, which was a lot! She also spent quite a bit of time in hospital and it was reassuring to know that the girls were in good hands while I was at the hospital with her.
Renata had been with us 18 months when our fourth baby arrived, and she continued as our nanny even when I was on maternity leave, as with three children under two, I definitely needed the extra pair of hands! If not for her, I don't think we would have ever left the house.
Having a nanny turned out to be the perfect arrangement for us, with Renata's help I was able to balance work and family, and in the end, Renata became part of the family - we even asked her to be a bridesmaid at our wedding last year.
In the words of a…home-based care mum
Mary-Ellen Prendergast, mum of two
I've been both a daycare mum and a home-based mum. When I returned to work after having our first baby, he went to a daycare. At the time it was fine, the ladies were lovely and he was well looked after. But I admit I struggled with it because he was doing very long hours, and I found it hard dropping him off when he was upset.
I didn't really know about home-based care at the time, so hadn't really considered it. But when we moved and Kingsley started at the local kindergarten, one of his teachers told me about a local lady who is a home-based educator for PORSE. She said she was absolutely amazing and I was thrilled that I could get her to take our second child, Madison.
Barbara started looking after Madison when she was about nine months old. I immediately warmed to her and appreciated her giving me a real sense of security when I dropped Madison off in those early days. If Madison's upset at all, Barbara will ring or text me afterwards to let me know that she's fine and settled.
It's that personal touch that I really like and I think you can get that with a home-based educator because they have only three or four kids to look after in a day.
Barbara has a friend who is also a PORSE educator who lives nearby, and they often have play dates with all the kids together. They'll also help each other out if one of them is sick or away. But that said, Barbara is never sick!
PORSE is firm on the kids staying away when they're unwell. It can be difficult when I'm busy at work and need to organise an alternative, or take time off. But that's only a small frustration.
At the beginning I used to send Madison off with a packed lunch but Barbara said she'd happily supply the food because if all the kids eat the same thing then they tend to eat more. That's great for me - another job I don't have to worry about on a busy work day.
Barbara used to be a kindergarten teacher and when you go to her house it's like a mini-daycare. She's got as many toys and books as a childcare centre, and a covered outside area with a sandpit.
Going through the PORSE agency also gives me peace of mind. They take care of payroll and paperwork and a programme tutor visits Barbara regularly to make sure the kids are getting the care and education they need. PORSE educators are also required to write a daily journal for each of their kids which is great, because it lets me know what Madison has been up to, what she's eaten and what she's been learning about.
Madison may need more of a preschool education before she turns five. But for these younger years, I think home-based care is a great choice, and I'd thoroughly recommend it. At the end of the day, though, it comes down to the right person - home-based works for us because Barbara works for us.