Choosing Child Care: The Infant Center Surprise
For a lot of parents, it seems impossible to even consider the night and day of being at home with your baby vs. having your baby go to child care or a child care center while you are at work. But these days, thanks mainly to forward thinking employers who wanted to retain high performing moms in the workforce, infant centers affiliated with businesses are often standard bearers of high quality child care. The Working Mother Magazine makes an annual list of the 100 “best” companies to work for, and their list of benefits often begins with the child care center.
There are problems, of course, so I might as well give you the downside before you presume the wrong thing and assume ALL infant care centers are the “best of the best.” Since mothers of infants are the fastest growing segment of working moms the main problem finding a high quality infant center is that there are not enough of them to meet demand. The cost is very high, owing to the standards of care they are expected to provide. Based on data from Child Care Aware, the typical middle income family with an infant spends from 13% to 15% of their earnings on childcare for their infant. The least affordable state is Massachusetts at $15,000/year.
Another problem, according to Zero to Three, a group that develops resources for parents and child advocates, is that many centers are not really tuned in to the needs of babies. There should be a real difference in the look and feel of an infant room compared to a preschool or elementary school. The infant room is designed just for babies, and usually a small number of babies (6-9) per room. The atmosphere is more about being soft, warm, inviting, loving, quiet, and just for your very special little one. In addition the staff are much more concerned with being nurturing and comfort oriented, mainly interested in talking to and playing with your baby. Both Zero to Three and Child Care Aware have checklists and posters on their website to help you navigate a site visit.
Of course when is comes to child care provided by anyone other than a family member, you may have standards higher than you would expect of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. In fact you may expect more from your mom or sister than you expect of yourself (I’ve been in that position!). But overall, your greatest fear, that your baby might love the caregiver more than you will not be confirmed. As Mom and Dad, you are the first persons your baby saw, slept with, or experienced the warmth of skin to skin contact. The mutual attachment is secure and intense, continuing to increase even more over the coming months. Even if you use child care on a full-time daily basis, your baby is YOUR BABY. If you can afford it, the center may be your best option: intimate, organized, well supervised, and child-focused.