Since leaving my nine-to-five to have babies, I have been blessed with the opportunity to earn some extra income at home. Covering those work hours with childcare was initially ad hoc – I worked while babies slept, played with Grandma, ran errands with Daddy, or went on a walk to the park with enthusiastic young student friends who loved kids but didn’t yet have any of there own. Note: such young people are gold. Find some and get them in your life. Oh, and there was the odd Wiggles or Dora DVD on deadlines. Quite a few DVDs, if we’re counting.
But when my work hours grew longer and more formalized I soon began to appreciate how handy it would be to have set childcare arrangements regularly each week. And we quite literally bumped into the answer. Fabulous, lovely, patient, kind and delightful Doreen was handing out flyers at the kindy gala, promoting her home-based childcare. We arranged to meet at her place and over a cup of tea and a hunt through her extensive toy collection (tea for me, toys for the kids) we were sold.
Childcare choices are personal as childcare is not a one-size-fits-all sort of enterprise. There are such different options available, and all offer benefits to busy parents in need of more time. By all means, conduct the most in-depth research and investigation time allows, however - when it comes to actually placing your child’s hand in the hands of another caregiver, all rational thought can go out the window and emotions take over. The advice I was repeatedly given by friends who’d “been there” was – follow your instincts, you’ll just know what is right when you find it. Home-based childcare appealed to our family for a number of reasons, the highlights of which I will list here:
Feels like home
I love it that I drop my kids off somewhere that looks, feels and even smells like home. Cozy in winter, doors open with deck and sunshine beckoning in summer. The aroma of dinner already simmering away in the slow cooker perhaps, Christmas cards and heirloom decorations on display come December…
Home-based childcare offered us the sense of popping over to a friend or family member’s house for a while. We feel privileged to have such an open invitation into another family’s home - with all the warmth and life associated with this arrangement, it is also hugely beneficial for my kids to learn respect for another person’s space - that while they are welcome, they must still be careful and considerate.
And while home-based childcare is, well homely, you can rest assured that when going through an agency, any home used for childcare is thoroughly screened and inspected and must meet the health and safety standards required by any other childcare provider.
Doreen and her husband quickly became like a bonus set of grandparents for our girls. Having grandchildren of their own, they knew all the tricks of the trade and offered not only meticulous and experienced care, but also perspective and wisdom that my husband and I might not think of, being from another generation.
When Doreen retired, we remained with home-based care, this time with a Mum who looks after our girls alongside her own young son. The family feel continues, Leah (or LeeLah as our 2-year-old lovingly refers to her) is like a bonus aunty, and the girls have a brother for a day a week! I love how the girls are seeing first hand how other families operate, that people do things differently sometimes but that is what makes a family a family. I think the experience is incredibly valuable for learning about relationships, respect and boundaries.
The benefits of smaller numbers are a given with home-based childcare, yet the cost is more affordable than employing a nanny uniquely for your own children.
Our kids have to practice sharing not only with themselves, but also with their “brother and sister” buddies they share the day with in home-based care. And it is amazing how quickly they figure out that it is all more fun if they just learn to get along! Yet they are not overwhelmed by whole centre full of children, it is always just the 2, 3, or 4 of them.
Smaller numbers also mean the caregivers really get to know our kids – their interests, their personalities, their medical needs, etc. And our kids have quite obviously bonded with their caregivers. Like the day Miss 2 threw a massive wobbly when it came time to go home with Mummy. “No! I want Leelah, Leelah!” she called. Which would have humbling but manageable had it not been in the school playground witnessed by parents in all directions.
Out and about
With home-based childcare coordinated through an official organization we have benefitted not only from the previously mentioned cozy home factors, but also the outings, playgroups, resources and even funding (including ECE and WINZ subsidies) provided through the organization. Our caregivers have supervisors and programme coordinators who offer us all support. Our coordinator also knows our kids, regularly visiting them and contributing to their learning experiences.
We have found home-based childcare fantastic for its flexibility. While we are careful not to exploit, it is so reassuring to know that late drop-offs, early pick-ups, extra hours here and there, even switching days when meetings demand it are all within the realms of possibility. When it works well, both caregivers and recipient families can really help each other out with mutual flexibility and concern for each other’s interests. My favourite example of this was the time I received a call from our caregivers offering to go out of their way to pick up our eldest daughter from school, in case I couldn’t make it back from my meeting in the city by 3PM due to cyclone-like weather that had suddenly hit Auckland. Wow, I was so touched. I can only hope that the company of my pre-school children one day a week was of equal blessing to them ;)
Ellie Gwilliam has worked for OHbaby! Magazine since 2008 and is fortunate to leave her children in the care of delightful home-based caregivers, adored by Mum and kids alike!