While I don’t really have to think about structured childcare anymore, lots of families with young children do. I still remember the nightmare of trying to fill a seemingly never-ending six weeks of the summer holidays with a carefully compromised combination of family and friends helping out, ‘fun’ football summer camps, time off work and days and days of activities that needed to suit a teenager who didn’t want to do anything and a small hyperactive child. There’s only so much money you can spend on Tango Ice Blasts at the cinema before you go a little bit crazy.
I was lucky enough that despite being a single parent, I’ve spent a lot of my children’s school lives working from home which made it so much easier on a day to day basis, not having to think about long term childcare or after school clubs. But lots of families don’t have that luxury, with both parents needing to work full time. It can be really daunting leaving your child in the hands of a childcare professional for a large part of the day, and you might not know which sort of childcare is right for you. What’s the difference between a nanny and an au pair? How do I know they can be trusted and have the right references? Will I need someone every day or just for a few hours a week? All these questions can have you second guessing your choices while deciding which childcare is right for you.
Nannies are in your home for up to 12 hours a day and in this way they form a special bond with your children, making them more of a family member than an employee. If you need to, some nannies take live-in vacancies which mean they live in the house and get their rent and food for free with a generally lower salary than live out nannies who have to pay for their own accommodation. Nannies are best if you have young children and babies who need constant supervision for the first few years of their life before starting school. Investing in the right nanny will mean having someone else your child can get to know, grow up with and form a bond with in your home. If you’re not sure where to start, an agency like Little Ones can help you find a nanny.
Having an Au Pair can be a great experience for your little ones if you only need childcare for the next year or so. Often, Au Pairs are 18-26 year olds with previous childcare experience who are on a cultural exchange for a year and are looking for work in a new country for this time. They don’t usually make a career out of childcare and don’t always have as much experience as nannies. However, having an Au Pair can be a great experience for children as they can often learn a new language and learn about a new culture as well as getting to know someone new.
If you have school or nursery age children, a childminder might be the way to go rather than an Au Pair or a Nanny. If you only need wrap-around care for a few hours outside of school time, sending them to a childminder may be more cost effective. You will probably need to collect them from the childminders home after work and there can be fees if you are late picking up, but the upside is you only have to pay for the hours of childcare you need and it can give children a chance to socialise and play with other children they might not see at school if the childminder looks after more than one child at a time.
If you only need a few hours a week of childcare rather than every day, a babysitter might be all you need for your childcare needs. For example, if you split school pick ups between parents and do two days a week each, the babysitter could cover you for the other day. Not all babysitters have experience or are registered, but they often don’t charge as much as childminders and can be paid ad-hoc whenever you need them. You may not even need to pay someone – why not work out a childcare arrangement with a friend where you pick up their children one week and they pick up yours the next?