It was my first pregnancy, and I knew I’d be returning to work full-time after my son was born. There were a million things I needed to do to prepare for his birth, but near the top of the list was finding good, safe, reliable, and affordable childcare.
At the time I was fortunate to be working at a place that had a childcare center on-site. It was a nice facility and I had a close personal recommendation that made me confident it was a great place. It was convenient; I could nurse on my lunch break and my baby could be my second passenger so I could use the carpool lane to work. What wasn’t to love?
It seemed absolutely perfect. I got on the wait list the second I became pregnant and crossed my fingers that I would get in.
And a month before I returned to work, I finally got the call that a space was available for my son.
I arranged a visit and high-tailed it down the freeway for my tour. It was everything that I expected: clean, nice, well-staffed.
But it wasn’t quite right. While I remain confident that the care would have been wonderful and my boy would have been perfectly happy, my mama-heart wasn’t comfortable. My interactions with the director made me feel like nothing more than a checkbook, and my son was just another member of the herd.
I called the next day and told them to give my spot to someone else.
I had put all of my eggs in that basket and been on the waiting list for nearly a year. And then, with four weeks until the end of my maternity leave, I had to scramble and find something else.
I was one of the first in my circle to have a baby so I didn’t have friends who could give me referrals. The waitlists for the other local centers were months long. A nanny sounded wonderful, but was impossible with our budget.
I was lost.
So out of desperation I typed in “childcare” on Craigslist. And a bunch of options came up.
I ruled out the ones that sounded completely unprofessional or were full of spelling and grammar errors. I started calling and emailing the rest. Do you have an infant opening? What is your rate? Can I schedule a visit?
And off I went. I can’t remember how many I visited, but I’ll be honest, it was awful and discouraging. I pulled up to many unkempt homes whose dirty basement had been converted into a childcare center. One house smelled overwhelmingly like cigarette smoke. There was no way I was putting my kid in any of them.
And so I remember sitting in my living room, about to head out for my final scheduled visit. I was exhausted and hopeless and nearly canceled. But I pushed through, loaded up my baby, and headed out.
I pulled up to a well-maintained home with a well-maintained lawn. The atmosphere was calm and care was provided in the main living areas of the home rather than a basement. My son would play in the living room and eat lunch at the kitchen table, like he was going to an auntie’s house. My mama-heart finally felt peace.
But ladies, my work wasn’t done. I had only completed the first step. After finding a place I was happy with, I needed to dig deeper. I called references and spoke with them about their experiences. How long have you been using her for childcare? Was your child ever unhappy or hesitant to go? What concerns do you have? How often was she closed due to illness? And so on…
And once I was convinced from other parents’ experiences I made sure everything was in order with the licensing. Here in Washington State you can look up any licensed childcare provider online, figure out who their licenser is, view their licensing reports to determine if there were any deficiencies and ensure all background checks are current, and see if there have been any allegations or violations. If you live in another state, I’d recommend contacting your local childcare licensing agency to see if you can gain access to similar information.
That is how I found my childcare provider on Craigslist. And while I would never recommend that you simply find and hire someone to watch your child that way, with a full vetting process I believe it’s a perfectly legitimate tool for finding childcare.
You can’t rely solely on reputation, recommendations, or even your own gut feelings. You need all of them to make sure you’re finding a safe, appropriate daycare for your little one. It’s a lot of work and can be draining and exhausting, but the end result is worth the peace you’ll feel.
Do you have any advice for women searching for childcare? How did you find yours? Or do you use grandparents or other relatives to help you out?