Nanny, nursery or childminder? Adventures in choosing childcare

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Whether you want to keep your precious firstborn nestled to your bosom forever or you can't wait to get the hell back to work, choosing childcare is HARD. Isabel Mohan explored all the options…

When you’ve recently had a baby, people will relentlessly ask you what the plan is re: “work”. Those are their inverted commas, not mine, because they don’t think freelance journalism is a real job.What they’re really asking is: do you still give a shit about your career or do you prefer Row Row Row Your Boat?

Or, in the words of my father in law (he won’t read this, will he?), “When are you getting back into the swing of things?”. Dear reader, my baby was less than a month old. I was still wearing maxi pads and two pairs of knickers.

But I dutifully “got back into the swing of things” when my little boy was ten weeks old. By which I mean I started #havingitall and #leaningin by writing X Factor reviews for a broadsheet newspaper while trying to ignore my dripping boobs and the sound of my baby crying on his dad upstairs. Yes, I would like a medal, cheers.

This way of “working” went on for some months. But I knew the time would come when I would need to do more than just write bits and bobs during his unreliable naps. So, the reluctant search for childcare began.

Our first stop: the nearest nursery to our house

Nursery pros:

* All the boring but important stuff: they’re generally open 51 weeks a year, everything – food, hygiene, learning –is very regulated, the staff have lots of certificates which you pretend to know the meaning of when you look around. “Oh, a Level 18 GQWTF in SensoryWaterplay and Montessori Sandpittery With Merit? Brilliant, that’s a real priority for us as a family, where do we sign up?”.

* Generally an economical option. I mean, obviously all childcare is extortionate unless you’ve got willing grandparents (my folks are extremely doting but they live two hours away and spend most of their time swanning around on luxury train holidays, so only ad hoc babysitting is an option). But nurseries are always cheaper than nannies, and often on a par with childminders.

* The kids get to “socialise”. I’ve never really understood this, most kids socialise plenty whatever their childcare arrangements (unless they’re that kid from Room). I never went to nursery and my social skills are JUST FINE. That’s why I shun office work and… oh. Yeah, the social bit’s probably quite good.

Nursery cons:

* If your kid is sick, they won’t want them there. And they will get sick, a lot, because they’re suddenly licking the same toys as 20 other Arlos and Orlas. You and your partner will then have a hideous argument about whose job is most important.

* Fixed hours. Fine if you’ve got a 9 to 5, not so handy if you’re freelance scum like me. And you WILL be penalised if your train is delayed (or you went for a quick one after work).

* Long waiting lists. Some people go and look at nurseries before they’ve even changed the conception bedsheets. Waiting list scare-mongering is rife. Don’t panic: places come up more often than you think. But it is a good idea to go and have a look while your baby’s quite little.

We decided nurseries weren’t for us. So, next stop: some local childminders found via childcare.co.uk and the local council website.

Childminder pros:

* Home from home environment. Want your child to have access to home-cooked food and cuddles while never missing an episode of This Morning in a room that smells just ever so slightly of wee? Childminders are the way forward. OK, this is unfair, many of them have a set-up as slick and well-equipped as a top nursery, but they’re still more homely and (slightly) less shrill.

* More bonding opportunities. Your precious babe will get to know one carer, as opposed to dozens of nursery staff. There will be fewer kids too, which is a big plus for children of a nervous and/or attention-seeking disposition.

  *Usually the cheapest option – but flexible too. Lots of them do half days (handy for those of us who often shirk from home), they don’t mind if you’re a bit swappy with your days and will generally look after your child even if they’re sick.

Childminder cons:

* Good ones are hard to find – and highly sought after. If, like me, you judge people on their spelling and grammar (*furiously spell-checks article 72 times to avoid embarrassment*), you will not enjoy reading many of their advertisements, even though none of it matters as long as they’re nice to your kid. Word of mouth is the way forward. Hey, you could ask some of your new pals on Mush!

 *Although childminders are good at taking their brood out and about, your babba will also inevitably be dragged along on multiple school pick-ups and could get overshadowed by rowdy older kids. Plus, many – but not all – childminders operate term-time only. Great if you’re a teacher though.

 So, then we decided to look into: nannies (and nanny shares)

Nanny pros:

* Fancy yourself as a bit posh? Like the idea of casually dropping the words “my darling nanny Luisa is a whizz with quinoa” into conversation? Then this option will appeal to your ego. Only the best for little snookums.

* You don’t have to worry about drop-offs, pick-ups or getting your little one fed and dressed before you go to work. In fact, a good nanny won’t care if the entire family are wearing only a thin layer of pear puree when she (or he, if you hired a lesser-spotted manny) arrives, because she is paid (pretty well) to deal with this mess.

* Major bonding. Between baby and nanny, that is, not between spouse and nanny (this only happens in Hollywood, and your husband isn’t even the best looking man in the IT department, so don’t worry about it).

Nanny cons:

* Expensive. But this is where the option we eventually went for – the nanny share – comes in. I was lucky enough that one of my existing mum chums lives 30 seconds from me and was in a very similar position, but otherwise I totally would’ve asked around on Mush. Sharing a nanny only costs a few quid more than nursery but is so much more convenient - not to mention more sociable, for those still obsessed with turning their child’s early years into one long freshers week.

* More admin. Any decent nanny will need to be properly employed by you, meaning you pay their tax and NI on top of their wage (there are lots of companies who deal with the paperwork for you though; we went with Nanny Matters). Don’t trust the cash-in-hand brigade with the most precious being in your life - if anything goes wrong you won’t have a leg to stand on.

 *It’s less regulated than the other options. We interviewed about eight nannies and found they largely fell into two categories – disillusioned nursery workers seeking a way out, and free-wheelin’ creatives looking to supplement their passion (acting/painting/getting to the final 12 on X Factor – true story) with a steady part-time job. The nursery crew had all the certificates, but the creative types attracted us with their vibrant personalities and promises of puppet shows in seven languages. Eventually we found someone who was qualified AND fun. We win. But it took a while, and we encountered a lot of seriously flaky nannies, including one who was several hours late for her interview due to “a family emergency” but blatantly turned up straight from the tanning salon.  

@mushmums @isabel_m_rene