Working parents, how does this childcare thing work?
August 27, 2013 1:39 PM   Subscribe

I am gearing up to re-enter the full time workforce in a few weeks and I am worried about childcare. How do people plan for the the gaps in the school child care? What other tips can you give me to make the transition go smoothly?

I've been lucky to freelance at home for a few years and now am returning to the working world and starting a full time job in a few weeks. The good news is that our school has childcare that goes until 7pm. However, I am freaked out about all of the resources I need to line up in case school is out or my child is sick:
* What I do when my child is sick? Who do you call--are there babysitters for sick kids? Is it normal to call in sick myself to care for my kid? Last school year, she had a couple of fevers and colds and was out of school a lot (maybe more than 10 days). My spouse can occasionally take a day or two but his job is much more demanding than mine and has very little flexibility.
* What do you do for those extra school holidays that aren't holidays for the working world?
* Has anyone used babysitter services such as Sitter City? I'm in LA if you have other suggestions for babysitting services.
* Are your kids in camp every winter break, spring break and summer? I will have 2 weeks vacation but I need to plan for all of the school breaks.
And I think this is my biggest worry...
* My child has been a real homebody up until now. How did your child adjust to being at school all day? Mine will be there until 6:30-7. That's almost 4 additional hours per day. I'm most worried about this part--does anyone have any words of wisdom here: how their kids thrived or benefited from afterschool care, etc? I know all kids are different but...

The thought of arranging childcare, planning and cooking dinners, homework, and somehow having a relaxing home life seems very daunting at the moment. I hope that she will do homework at school. I anticipate that I'll be picking up at 6:30-7 and coming straight home to cook dinner. I know I'll have to be more organized about pre-planning our meals. Any other tips to make this new arrangement go smoothly?
posted by biscuits to Work & Money (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
How old is your daughter? that makes a huge difference vis-a-vis sick days, summer breaks, etc.
posted by Oktober at 1:46 PM on August 27, 2013

When my co-workers with kids have kids who are sick, they take PTO or work from home, depending. For school breaks, they all seem to use a combination of daycare/nanny-share/camp/grandparents, as the season, finances and kid allow.
posted by rtha at 1:46 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and me, I was a latchkey kid from the time I was 10 or 11. Whether or not that's possible depends a whole lot on the kid, of course.
posted by rtha at 1:48 PM on August 27, 2013

Is it normal to call in sick myself to care for my kid?

Yes, this is what one does. Other than that, one thing that makes this go smoothly (and has never really been possible for us until the last year or so) is to lean on local family. If your kids can spend a holiday with a retired grandparent or a stay-at-home aunt or uncle it can be a lot of fun for them and a huge relief. When I was a kid and my parents both worked, for several years my grandfather would pick us up at school, drive us to our house, and stay with us (basically leaving us to our own devices) for an hour or two until my parents got home. Once we were older he would even leave early and let us stay home alone for a while if he had errands to run. If family's not an option for you, yeah, you basically have to throw money at the problem and work really hard to find excellent caregivers that you are happy your child is learning from. There will probably a certain amount of time per year that falls through the cracks, and you are going to have to manage your work schedules as best as possible.

biscuits: My child has been a real homebody up until now. How did your child adjust to being at school all day?

I'm not going to lie, it was tough at first, and there were occasional problems, especially because the population at before/after school care was small, and so any personality conflicts were heightened. You do the best you can, just like every other aspect of parenting.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:48 PM on August 27, 2013

1. When our daughter has been sick, either my husband or I take a sick day to care for her. If we both have stuff going on at work, we each do half days (eg husband goes in to work, comes home at 1, I go into work).

2. Either one of you takes a vacation day and stays home with the kid, or you find other parents who are staying home that day and see if you can do an all-day playdate.

3. We take a week together in summer, but otherwise, she's in camps all summer long. Make sure any camp you enroll her in has extended care (hours can vary). Winter break goes on a week longer than our time off, so we usually bring down grandma to come and spend the week with her.

4. We love our afterschool program. They have homework time, play time, reading and math time. They also offer optional (small fee) enrichment programs, such as cooking, art, science, woodworking, etc. Our daughter has been in it for 3 years now, and she enjoys it a lot; the kids usually don't want to leave when the parents come to pick them up, they're having so much fun with their friends.
posted by mogget at 1:53 PM on August 27, 2013

It is daunting. I am pretty much in your shoes. When my child is sick then typically either me or my partner takes the day off. We are lucky to have very good PTO benefits, and while he is in a more demanding job than me, he can do work from home whereas I am tied to my desk.

For the school-only holidays then typically my kid goes to a camp. His old preschool runs camp days, and also the YMCA (where he goes for afterschool care) runs them too.

I have not used any babysitting services, although I need to look into them. We have no family nearby, so we can't rely on grandparents or siblings to help out.

Yes, my kids are in camp every break, with the exception of family holidays. We do have one close friend who fills in sometimes if her schedule allows it, and we pay her.

The adjustment was perhaps easier on my kid since he has been in daycare/preschool since 5 months old. But it was still an adjustment, a major one because of the scale of elementary school versus his daycare/preschool. No real words of wisdom other than, it is an adjustment, there's no avoiding that, but since your kid is in the same place (I assume?) for school and afterschool, it is only really one adjustment.

The logistics are tough, and it will be rocky at first, but you soon fall into a routine. My kid does his homework at the YMCA afterschool, then I check it when he gets home, and we sometimes have to correct it. Kindergarten homework is usually pretty minimal (personally I don't think K should even have any homework), so if the amount seems excessive then we just do as much as we can in 20 minutes, and then leave the rest. I have emailed the teacher to complain if I think its too much, and they have reduced the amount.

6:30-7pm seems really late, assuming you need to commute home, cook dinner, check homework, eat dinner, bath/pajamas etc and try to get your kid to bed by 8pm. Is there any way you can shift your workday earlier? I work earlier than all my childless co-workers, all the other parents are in and out early like me.
posted by Joh at 1:54 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

What I do when my child is sick?

I call grandma.

Who do you call--are there babysitters for sick kids?

Sure. You can find a babysitter that will watch sick kids if you look.

Is it normal to call in sick myself to care for my kid?

This is what I do if grandma's not available.

What do you do for those extra school holidays that aren't holidays for the working world?

Same thing. Grandma, or take a day off.

I don't have answers to all of your questions because my daughter seems younger than your child seems to be, and I (for instance) have care all summer long.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:56 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband and I just ended up in this same place- where we are both working and my son is now living with us so we are suddenly working to negotiate school care with a 10 year old.

We have a few additional resources- like friends and a few relatives who can help out, but for the most part we are working on figuring out how to manage most of the things ourselves. We did summer camp that he really enjoyed for the summer, which helped out a lot there. My husband and I trade off the in school days and have worked to negotiate when we need to work from home or if we have someone else who can watch him when he's sick or out of school.

We have a schedule where I pick my son up, we go home and start on dinner. He and I work on homework together, and my husband comes home and works on finishing any dinner. We make lunches and get everything prepared for the next day. We also have a buffer in the morning if we need to get anything finished as well. Meals are streamlined, and we try to plan on Saturdays and Sundays to have as little extra work the rest of the week as possible.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 2:08 PM on August 27, 2013

Just to clarify: My child is in the 4th grade. And yes, it is a bit late. I'd love it if I could go in early and leave early or work from home, and hopefully I will eventually, but for now those are the hours plus my commute time.
posted by biscuits at 2:08 PM on August 27, 2013

By 4th grade I was walking home from school by myself, then occupying myself (Homework mom, I swear! The Nintendo is cold, you can check) until she got home from work around 5.
posted by Oktober at 2:17 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I was around that age and my mother's work hours started earlier than the school's, my mother asked if a friend's mom would mind taking me to school with her kids. We'd hang out, eat breakfast, and watch cartoons. As an introverted kid, that was much better for me than being in some sort of structured activity before school.

(I had similar set-ups after school until about 6th grade, at which point I was a latchkey kid.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:39 PM on August 27, 2013

I am not a parent, but based on my own/my parents' experience and experience of other parents I know:

- People absolutely call in sick to take care of their sick kids. My coworkers often try to work from home when they do this - how much this is tolerated/how much you can get done will depend on your job and employer. Also, if I was sick but not seriously ill (ie, I had a cold), my parents would leave me home alone, once I got to your daughter's age.

- 4th grade may be old enough for her to be home alone after school, depending on her maturity level. When I was in 4th grade, I did after-school programs a few days a week and was home by myself a few days a week (occasionally I'd go to a friend's house). I think this was really good for me - I probably watched too much TV, but I also learned how to be alone for a few hours at a time, how to make myself an after-school snack, how to manage my time (ie, start my homework a half hour before my mom got home).

- As for making evenings less stressful: your kid can help with dinner! Start giving her little jobs and go on as she gets more confident/skilled. In my house, the kids were usually responsible for setting the table, washing the dishes, and non-cooking meal prep like making salad. Also, the after-school program may have homework time, mine did.

Oh, and one thing my parents did that I only recently realized helped make weeknights easier and balanced the workload between my parents: my mother was self-employed, so she was usually able to leave work earlier than my father. So dinners were her responsibility on weeknights, but on Saturdays and Sundays, my father would make large, leftover-friendly meals, which made things a lot easier on my mother during the week. We also did pizza at least once a week, and occasionally other takeout.
posted by lunasol at 3:13 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lots of parents are in your situation - my guess is that it will be easy to find day care for school holidays. Many school based day care center are actually open for full day care on those special school-only holidays and in-service/teacher training days. There are usually many different options for summer daycare/day camps - it can be a bit of work to get everything just right but there are many, many options.

There are sitter services that specialize on coming to your home to take care of sick child but most people I know tend to just take time off from work or work from home and, if possible, split it with their partner.

If your kid is an introvert, he may need to have some quiet time to recharge. Being around people nonstop for 10-11 hours at a time can be exhausting. Talk about it with him and then get buy in from the day care - maybe some quiet time to read or listen to his own music in a corner or under a table. Maybe the homework time will be enough but it is something to keep in mind.
posted by metahawk at 3:14 PM on August 27, 2013

If your hours aren't changeable, perhaps your spouse's could be? If he could pick up your kid a bit earlier and have dinner ready when you got home, your evening would go a lot more smoothly.
posted by Margalo Epps at 3:49 PM on August 27, 2013

There are daycares for sick kids. They tend to be at-home providers, and they are expensive. If your neighborhood has a yahoo group, try to ask. If your city has a non-profit that keeps a childcare directory, try to ask them, too. You could also ask your child's teacher or other parents at the school. There might be a resource list that you could utilize.

By 4th grade, it's totally ok for your kid to stay until 6:30pm or 7pm afterschool. I find those activities a lot more enriching than what I did with my kids afterschool (hint: too much sugar and tv). Yes, it'll mean that you have to be a bit more organized and spend time on Sundays getting ready for the week, but your kid will not be hurt by it at all. Plenty, plenty of families do this or have kids in daycare even later. It's going to be ok.

And yes, there are plenty of day camps for summer break, spring break and winter break. The most high-quality ones tend to fill up quickly, so keep an eye out for them early. Over the summer, there are two approaches. You can either do "camp-of-the-week" (horses, welding, outdoors, etc.) or you can choose a camp that has 8 weeks. These tend to have a steady routine - typically academic-type-stuff in the morning with enrichment in the afternoons with field trips and the like. The "camp-of-the-week" options, I've found, tend to be more expensive than the other kind. But my kids grew up with lots of low-income options; your mileage may vary.
posted by frizz at 4:39 PM on August 27, 2013

Check to see if your daycare program offers summer care. Mine does and it is great to be able to keep the kids with the friends and leaders we already know and trust.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:53 PM on August 27, 2013

I'd check with the other parents at your school to see what they do. Since they're all on a similar school schedule and have been doing it for a number of years, I'd be surprised if there weren't already a number of alternatives for aftercare/beforecare, breaks, and all the other suff, either as official programs or ad hoc arrangements that other parents have set up. These are things that you may not have been aware of since you didn't have a need for them but it's pretty assured that a great percentage of the families at your child's school have figured a lot of this out.

You might also check with your employer to see if they have any dependent care benefits. Granted, I work for a huge public institution so there are a lot of benefit programs, but my employer has a lot of resources including reduced rates to a back-up care program that you can enroll in for emergency babysitters when your child is sick, and a whole bunch of camps for summer and spring break (at a staff rate).

We're just figuring a lot of this out now as our daughter enters kindergarten this year. Preschool was year-round and all day but piecing together all the coverage for school-age kids is different. So far we've done all sorts of things including enlisting friends and family, bringing her to her old preschool, babysitters, working from home, vacations planned around times when she wasn't in school, and bringing her into the office for brief appearances. She's a little young for camp, I think but by next summer, I'm sure we'll do more of that.

Sick days it's usually me that stays home with her and yes, I can take sick leave for that. Sometimes I work from home those days, sometimes I don't. And then sometimes my husband and I split the day where I stay home in the morning and he stays home in the afternoon so that we both share the burden. It's a little easier for me to work at home than it is for him.

So, in sum, there's no one solution, it's an ever-evolving constellation of alterantives, depending on the circumstances and need.

Our daughter has been in full-time daycare or preschool since she was 4 months old so I don't have much to offer on the transition to full days out of the house. At that age, however, your child may actually really like the stimulation and social life.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:56 PM on August 27, 2013

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