Families and childcare


Generally, parent plus work equals childcare. Some parents divvy it up between themselves, but for many parents - even those working at home - it's an inescapable equation.

So we've gleaned Mumsnetters' advice on nurseries, childminders, nannies, and how to choose between them, plus childcare for older children and childcare by a family member.

There are lots of questions to be answered once work looms on to your mental horizon. When are you going back? On what terms? Are you going back at all? Should you change your hours?

"Many women (even most according to some surveys) would like to do a bit of both (work and spending time with children) while the children are small without it being financially pointless or crippling their later career prospects." LadyG

A lot of us embark on motherhood with a vague plan along the lines of: stop work for three or six or nine or 12 months, then find a nursery/childminder/nanny/granny to look after our baby while we will return to our old job full of renewed vigour and vim.

But as the end of maternity leave approaches, the reality of handing over your baby into someone else's care can be anxiety-inducing. Not to mention expensive. 

And however much you want or need to work, it's hard to escape those qualms that what you're doing is not best for your baby, and worries about separation anxiety.

"I am off to cry some more tears into the bucket of guilt that is labelled Motherhood." Ghosty

Returning to work after having a baby is not just a matter of sorting out good childcare: your 'new' life of work-plus-baby is likely to require a level of planning unknown to you in your child-free state (or in your muddling-along-at-home-with-a-baby state).

You'll have to think about back-up childcare if your baby is sick and cannot go to nursery (or if his/her childminder or nanny falls ill) and how to cope if you run late at work or transport lets you down.

"Work out plan B (and C and D) if your carefully balanced child-care arrangements fail for any reason. A mate you can swap favours with? A creche near your office? Being able to work from home? Baby might not be happy all day with someone strange but it's reassuring to know that if you wanted to you could leave them somewhere safe for two hours while you did that one thing you really really had to do that day, which time obviously clashes with your partner's similar emergency." frisdayschild

You also have to figure out how to get you and your baby out of the house of a morning in a reasonably hygienic and presentable condition.

But, rest assured, you will manage. Look around your commuter train or bus and reflect that each of your fellow passengers has been conveyed from the precarious condition of infancy to fully-fledged, newspaper-reading adulthood by parents who worked or didn't work or worked some of the time and used all manner of childcare.

It's sod's law that just as you've girded your back-to-work loins, some study will hit the headlines comparing the childcare you've chosen unfavourably with another. So bear in mind:

  • Studies are just that, studies. Some are very small and actually show very insignificant differences in outcome, or arguably fail to have adequate control groups.
  • The results are often hugely exaggerated to make a news story. A news story which, funnily enough, often contains a dig at working mothers. There's not much mileage in a headline which says "Study shows marginal and temporary variation in outcomes between children in different forms of childcare."

Basic principles emerge from Mumsnetters' experiences of choosing childcare:

  • The quality of the care you choose is more important than the form it takes - a good childminder, a good nursery, a good nanny, a competent grandparent will all do a fine job.
  • You must do what suits your family. There is no one solution which is best for every family.
  • Childcare belongs to both parents and you must divide it in a way which best suits you all.
  • Some people, male or female want to work, and some need to.
  • There probably was no golden age when all children were cared for exclusively by their mothers who were able to stimulate them non-stop while baking scones. 

PACEY, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, suggests considering the following when choosing childcare ready for your return to work.

What are my child's needs?

You know your child better than anyone. Think carefully about what type of childcare is likely to suit your child. Would they feel more secure in a small, home-based setting with a childminder? Or are they ready for a larger, busier nursery setting?


How many hours of childcare do I need?

You may work traditional full-time hours and need childcare from 8am-6pm. Or you may work part-time and be in need of half-days or care for part of the week. And if you work shifts then you might find you need 'out-of-hours' childcare. There will be different childcare options in your local community that can meet these needs – you just need a clear idea of what pattern of care you think you'll need to make finding it easier. Don't forget that all employees are able to request flexible working and their employer must deal with the request in a reasonable manner, so consider if asking for different working hours might help you manage your childcare needs.

Can you access free early education in your area?

The government gives local authorities funding to provide a part-time early education place for all three and four-year-olds, and for two-year-olds from low income families. Your child will be able to take up their place from the term after their third birthday – for example if your child turns three in October, they would be entitled to take up their funded place from the beginning of the spring term (January). Early education can be delivered in any good or outstanding registered childcare setting, but it's always best to check that your provider can offer this.

Many nurseries and childminders are able to provide the free early education entitlement as part of ongoing care, meaning that the cost for those sessions is provided by the local authority, reducing your bill.

What learning and play opportunities do I want my child to have?

Using more than one provider may give your child opportunities to experience play and early learning in different settings.

Once you've considered these sort of questions, you should have a clearer idea of the type of childcare that's likely to best support you and your child. Don't forget that it's really important to think about the quality of the care and learning the childcare setting provides, too.

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Last updated: 3 months ago