Figuring out who will take care of your little one while you’re at work is no easy task, and the complexities of living in a dynamic city like San Francisco seem to make it harder. We’ve shared our favorite apps, websites, and online groups here for researching and connecting with childcare providers and families looking to share care. Below, we dive deeper into the pros and cons of different types of care arrangements and some tips and truths to keep in mind as you figure it all out.
Nanny vs. Daycare
Nannies are typically more costly than daycare. At the time of this publishing, you can expect to pay a nanny in San Francisco $18 to$20 per hour for one child and $25 to $30 for two children. A daycare is less than half the cost at $1,200 to $2,000 per month for an infant. However, entering into a nanny share, where one nanny watches children from two families, helps offset this cost. For example, if a shared nanny charges $25 per hour to watch two children, then your family is paying something similar to the higher end of the daycare costs: $12.50 per hour ($2,000 per month for a forty hour workweek).
STYLE OF CARE
With a nanny, your baby gets personalized attention, you have convenient in-home care and more flexibility in scheduling childcare coverage (hello, parents working long hours and/or traveling for work). Plus, nannies will typically take care of children who are sick with a common cold or other non-serious illness. Daycares have strict policies about sick children to prevent (as best they can) the spread of illnesses around the facility.
However, nannies may not always be as reliable as daycare. If your nanny calls out sick, or, worse, quits on short notice, you’re scrambling to find someone to watch your baby. On the other hand, if a daycare worker calls out or leaves, it’s the director’s job to figure out coverage. Also, childcare centers are a built-in way to socialize your child and expose him or her to early childhood education (and germs, lots and lots of germs). Having a nanny usually means paying extra for enrichment classes or preschool down the road.
Then, there are home-based daycares, which can offer a nice middle ground between a nanny and larger daycare facility. Children of different ages often mingle more in these environments than at larger centers, which can be viewed as a positive or negative, depending on your preferences and the way in which the daycare handles the dynamic.
It can be difficult to find placement for infants at home-based daycares because state regulations require a smaller ratio of caregivers to infants than for older children, which means fewer infants can be accommodated. If you manage to get into one, the owners will have fewer total children to watch, so they may come to feel more like an extension of family over time than at a larger center. It’s important to do your homework on the licensing and safety of these set-ups, since it can be easier for them to fly under the radar of state and local regulators.
Au Pairs and Live-In Nannies
If you have a spare bedroom, hosting an au pair can be an affordable option. Au pairs are young women, typically in their early twenties, from overseas who live in your home full time as a caregiver for your child(ren). You’ll pay roughly $1,600 per month plus room and board to host an au pair. This arrangement offers the opportunity for flexible childcare coverage (although they do have a maximum amount of hours they can work each week) and exposes your family to a different culture and language. Besides needing a certain sized home to accommodate an au pair, you’ll have to become comfortable having another person living with you and sharing your space.
Because housing costs are so high in San Francisco, you may also find a local nanny, like a current college student, who is willing to live in your home in exchange for a discounted rate of pay for their part-time nanny services.
When Family Offers to Watch the Baby
If you’re really lucky, you may have local family or friends who will watch your baby for free or at a less expensive rate. It may give you comfort to know that your child will be taken care of by a loved one, but, if you’re not happy with certain aspects of care, it can be more awkward to address them. Plus, your child might miss out on being exposed to creative or stimulating activities that they’d get with someone trained to engage with children.
Truths & Tips
Start early. Daycares can easily have a waitlist of over a year, so it’s smart to start that search as soon as you can. Finding a nanny won’t require as much lead time because nannies are often looking for more immediate positions. About three months before you’re ready to go back to work, start putting out feelers through your personal connections, Facebook groups and places like Golden Gate Mothers Group. Parents of children transitioning from the nanny years often try to help their current nannies find new positions by posting in these places. Use sites like Care.com or placement services as you get closer to hiring.
Expect growing pains. One of my friends went through two or three nannies in the first year to find the right fit, even after conducting extensive initial interviews. Another one went through two or three nanny share families for similar reasons. These types of arrangements aren’t easy to predict until you’re in them. The same thing can happen with daycare arrangements. Maybe making it on time to pick up is harder than you thought it would be, given you or your partner’s schedules. There are so many reasons your initial childcare plan might fall through, but, if you’re prepared for a bit of instability, it’ll be easier to accept it and figure out a solution.
Have a Plan B. Daycares close, kids get sick, and nannies take days off, which means you will definitely find yourself scrambling for childcare coverage periodically. Preparing back up plans before you’re in crisis mode will let you be calm, cool, and collected when it happens. Sensible Sitters and Trusted offer emergency babysitting services with sitters who have been prescreened and are willing to care for sick children.
Think opposite. If you’re willing to sacrifice convenience and broaden your search to places in the opposite direction of your commute, your options may increase. When I applied to daycares near our home in SoMA, I faced stiff competition from, not only other local families, but commuters who worked downtown and wanted their children to be in daycare near them. Had I been willing to go out of my way to drop off and pick up, I may have had better luck.
Be polite and persistent. Keep in regular contact with your favorite daycares to make sure they knew how interested you are in their facility. You don’t want to pester them, but occasional phone calls or emails to check on the status of your application and re-commit your desire to enroll your child there helps personalize your family to the staff and may give you an edge, so that you’re not just another number on a long waitlist.
Accept the possibility of patchwork childcare. Until you get into the daycare you want or find the perfect nanny arrangement, you may have to weave together a variety of solutions, like hiring multiple part-time babysitters, brining in out-of-town family to help, or arranging temporary, flexible work schedules for you or your partner. It’s better to put up with some short term inconveniences and prevent settling and feeling uncomfortable with your childcare choice.
Childcare arrangements may not fall into place as easily as we’d like, but don’t lose hope. Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained her experience of balancing work and family this way, “Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law studies lacked.” It’s not easy being a working mom in San Francisco, but the value you bring to your job and to your family is real and important (whether you’re excited to go back to work or not), and it’s worth the effort to find the childcare arrangement that’s right for you.
Do you have other tips or words of encouragement for fellow working moms? Leave them in the comments below!
Editor’s Note, June 11, 2017: An earlier version of this post included the emergency babysitting service Wondersitters in the section “Have a Plan B.”