Childcare. Until you have a kid, you have no idea what a weighted topic this is. Everyone has opinions on who should do the caring of the child, how the child should be cared for, how much someone should be compensated for said care and on and on. There is so much to unpack when considering childcare options, I had a hard time deciding where this post should focus. While we’re now entering the throes of pre-school applications and will soon face the fun challenge of figuring out childcare when your kid is only “in school” three half-days a week, I’m going to save that drama for another post. Instead, I’m going to share my harrowing childcare experience as a cautionary tale. I hope it will help someone following in our parental footsteps to avoid the mistakes we made.

talking childcare on apartment34

Our kiddo was born in early April (he’s almost 2, ahhh!) and thankfully both I and my husband had substantial parental leave. So those first few months were nothing but sleep deprived baby bliss. I did manage to blog during that time (which truthfully, I now regret – I wish I could have just let it all go and cherished the fleeting moments of the newborn phase. But it can be hard to surrender, especially when this space is kinda like my first baby…but back to my story).

In what felt like was a blink of an eye, both the hubs and me had to go back to full-time 9-5 work. While I was sad to leave my little dude, I was also excited to have a part of me back – but that’s a different topic that we actually discussed right here. Having no immediate family in the Bay Area, we had to look for outside help. At only four months old, Carter seemed too teeny for the daycare route (though I know many moms who did it and loved it). We decided to hire a nanny – and quickly. The timing kind of snuck up on us. Luckily we had a referral, who we interviewed briefly and who seemed great so we hired her on the spot.

Now, choosing who is going to care for your kid is a major decision. It impacts all factors of your life. It affects your stress levels, your peace of mind, your ability to work, even how you parent. If you have someone who comes to your home, you’re essentially welcoming someone into your family. They’re going to see all the warts we usually try to hide – how long we leave dishes sitting in the sink, your underwear hanging on the drying rack, what you look like with bedhead! You’ve got to get real comfortable with whoever is caring for your kid real quick. I should know this – I was a nanny all through college!

Unfortunately, I learned finding said person is a lot easier said than done. I quickly discovered that while caring for the child is a nanny’s primary job, so many other factors are of critical importance. Are they reliable? Are they on time? Are they thoughtful? Do they pay attention to details? Do they communicate effectively? Are they open to feedback? Are they respectful of your home and possessions? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you’re likely in trouble. To rely on someone to help your life run, only to have them be constantly late, or not show up at all, break things, lose things, lock themselves out of the house, lock themselves out of the car, be incapable of adhering to schedules or to follow instructions – that all adds copious amounts of stress to an already overloaded mom’s plate. To boil it down: it’s really hard to have your shit together when you’re a working new mom, so you really want to make sure your childcare provider has their shit together – otherwise everything turns into a stinking hot mess.

Without getting into the details too much, let’s just say our first nanny did not work out. So then I was back on the childcare hunt, frantically asking friends for referrals, getting on all kinds of mommy listservs and jumping on all the babysitting websites and apps. San Francisco is a very competitive market for nannies. Good ones get snatched very quickly.  After interviewing multiple candidates – which is nearly a full-time job in itself mind you – I thought I’d finally found a good fit. Someone a bit older, with a bit more experience, good references. We even did a trial run to see how everyone felt. I thought we were golden – but we were also leaving on vacation. So I paid this potential nanny in advance to retain her while we were away for two weeks. Upon our return, she promptly quit, claiming a job closer to her home just happened to come up and she just had to take it. She did not return our money.

Second lesson learned: sign an employment contract. Employment contracts with childcare providers solve a lot of problems. They help lay out very clear expectations. They make sure everyone agrees upon responsibilities and job duties, on payment schedules and sick leave etc etc. While we had in fact negotiated one with this second nanny candidate, we only established verbal agreements, rather than ensuring everyone signed on the bottom line before taking our vacation. Leaving us with no legal leg to stand on. And out a boat load of cash. Big mistake. Huge, as they say.

And so there I was, back to square one yet again. Needless to say, I was both panicked and super anxious at this point. Could I not trust my own instincts? Did I not know what was best for my kid? Am I that bad of a judge of character? Probably not. It’s just that finding really good, reliable, honest, loving, caring people is hard! So in desperation (because I’d been without help for a month now and I did have this little ole blog to run and my husband couldn’t take time off work. I can’t image what a mom who doesn’t work for themselves would do. Our childcare policies in this country are a travesty. But that is yet, another post. So back to my story). For our final go-round, I turned to the pros – a nanny agency. They do a lot of the legwork for you including initial screenings, background checks, interviewing references and ensuring all candidates are highly qualified and who they say they are!

Thankfully, the third time was the charm. After diligently interviewing multiple candidates (with interview questions the agency helped us with that really got into how a person reacts to crisis, conflict, and their personal philosophies on childcare), checking references and doing an in-home trial, we found a wonderful nanny who our son loves. While not everything is picture perfect all the time, I have identified my childcare deal breakers: be reliable, be trustworthy, try your best and help my kid learn and grow.  With all those boxes checked I can go to work feeling good. And that is quite the relief. We have to remember that Mary Poppins is in fact, a fairy tale.

So how about you? Anyone else have a harrowing childcare story to share? I’m sure some of the other mamas do – living scattered around the country and with different aged babes – we’ve been through it all. Check out their posts below!

Alex | Jen | LeahHeyMama | Cyd | Natalie | RebeccaCatherine | Sarah | Caitlin

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  1. What search agency did you use? We are beginning to look (in SF).

  2. You are lucky that you had the means to even consider hiring a nanny, as difficult as that was.
    Society tends to forget that children are the products of both fathers and mothers. The more generous the benefits for mothers, the more moms will face discrimination. There must be pressure on the dads to do their fair share. (Not a statement about your situation—more general!)
    That said, I see how it is in France, where I live, and where there’s free public preschool from age 2–all day if need be. And it’s high quality. Plus day care before and after hours, state-subsidized, on site at school, so there are no transportation issues.
    When I had a baby (in NYC at that point), my employer let me work from home so I could breast feed, even though I lived only a few blocks from the office. I worked way more hours just to show that I wasn’t slacking. But I totally appreciated being on call for my baby. It’s too bad more employers aren’t more flexible.

  3. This sounds like such a nightmare, but I’m glad you found a great nanny in the end! I think this is exactly why I’ve avoided the whole thing so far and juggle work and the baby (sixteen months) full time right now. Which also, by the by, doesn’t always work that well. 😉

  4. We are moving to SF in June from Chicago. My 1.5 year old has been in a daycare we love but we may need a nanny for our work schedules. What agency did you use? thank you!