Child-Care Options

Along with deciding whether you will finance your family's expenses on one income or two, you need to decide who will care for your baby during the day. If one of you is going to stay home, who is it going to be? Even if you both want to continue working, there are still options that allow you or your partner to care for your child, or you can choose from some other types of child-care providers.

Who Will Stay Home?

When one parent stays home, it is often the mom. It does seem that more and more mothers work outside the home, either because of economic necessity or because they enjoy working and want a career, but there are still many stay-at-home mothers. Recent statistics show that about 30 percent of children in two-parent families have a mother who stays home to care for them.

Although often viewed as a “dream job,” staying at home can be hard for many new mothers. In addition to the sometimes unappreciated work of caring for their kids and their home, the lack of contact and communication with other adults can be too much for some mothers. A helpful dad and a good support system can make it easier for a stay-at-home mom who is struggling.

The traditional roles of a career dad and stay-at-home mom also are sometimes reversed. More and more dads are staying home and caring for their kids while mom goes to work. Sometimes this continues until the children are grown, while other times mom and dad take turns staying home for a few years at a time.

There are many reasons why dads will stay home. Sometimes it is out of necessity, when dad loses a job and can't find work. Or maybe mom has a much higher paying job and it makes more sense for her to be the “breadwinner.” But often, the reason is simply that dad wants to stay home, care for his kids, and have more time to spend with them. As more and more dads stay home with their kids, this should be viewed as a good option for families who don't want to put their kids in day care or hire a nanny.

Paternity Leave

Depending on how large a company you work for, you may be entitled to up to twelve weeks of leave when you have or adopt a new baby. This paternity leave is mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but it has many restrictions and mainly applies to people who work in government jobs or for larger employers. If you work for a company that has fewer than fifty employees, you may not be entitled to paternity leave at all.

In addition to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, dads living in California have another option to help them stay home when their baby is born. The California Paid Family Leave program allows workers to take up to six weeks of partial paid leave to care for a newborn baby or adopted child.

Unfortunately, even when you do qualify for paternity leave, that time off will likely be unpaid or at partial pay. Can you afford to take three months off of work? If not, consider taking just one or two weeks of leave or use some paid vacation time instead. If you plan for it in advance, you may be able to take more time off when your baby is born. This might mean saving up sick days and vacation time, or working extra before the baby is born and saving up some money to get you through your paternity leave.

Working at Home

Staying home and caring for a baby is a full-time job in itself for most parents. That makes it hard to understand how anyone could stay home, care for the baby, plus have another job on the side. Especially in the first few months and years, when your baby is going to demand a lot of your time, working at home can be difficult. However, some people have been known to make this work for them. For example, working at home may be an option if you have a very flexible, part-time work-at-home job and you have extra help around the house. Be sure to carefully consider the demands of this option before deciding whether you or your partner can make this kind of commitment to an employer. Be realistic with yourself about what the job requires, and whether it will be possible to meet those demands as well as the needs of your infant.

Opposite Shifts

Another way to avoid day care or a nanny, even when both parents are working, is for parents to have opposite work shifts. With this type of arrangement, one parent may work at night, while the other works during the day. Or one parent may just work a few shifts on the weekend, when the other parent has time off.

Having different work schedules allows one parent to always be home with the child, but it can put a big strain on the rest of family life. Because one parent will likely be coming home as the other is leaving for work, it doesn't give the couple much quality time together.

That big drawback makes this type of arrangement most useful for families in which the parents already were working in opposite shifts when they had their baby. Maybe one parent has a traditional daytime office job, while the other works the night shift as a nurse, police officer, or in tech support. These new parents are probably already used to their arrangement. It may not be as good an idea for new parents unfamiliar with this arrangement to start working opposite shifts after they have their baby.

Day Care or a Nanny?

If you decide that both parents are going to go to work each day, next you will have to decide who is going to take care of your baby. This decision will be easy if you have a trusted family member who is willing to baby-sit each day. If this isn't an option for you, the usual choices are enrolling your baby in a group or home day care or hiring a nanny to watch your baby in your house.

Each option has it own pros and cons, so be prepared to do some research. For example, a nanny is the most expensive option and it means trusting one person to be alone with your child, but your child will be around fewer kids and will probably get sick less often. A group day care will expose your child to a lot of other kids (and their germs). While he might get sick a little more often in a group day care, these facilities are also often thought of as being the most well supervised, as there are many other people around and your child isn't usually alone with just one caregiver. Check out the options in your area carefully, and don't hesitate to ask plenty of questions before signing up anyone's services.

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