Arguably, there’s never been a more confusing time to make childcare decisions than during Covid-19. What’s physically safe? What’s emotionally nurturing? And equally important: what works for YOU? Fortunately, our friends at Vivvi, an organization reinventing child care and early learning for today’s families, is all about meeting parents where they are.
“I collaborate with our leadership and teacher teams to think about everything from communication with parents to milestones to events, so that throughout their journey with us, parents have everything they need to feel like superheroes at work and at home,” says Gretchen Richer, Vivvi’s head of parent experience.
Richer, who worked for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group for 17 years, does everything from welcoming a new family into the schools, to connecting current families with prospective families, to writing monthly newsletters and organizing parent programming. In her own words, she shares what she considers the nine most important things you should ask when considering childcare options.
1. Consider everyone’s opinion, but only focus on yours.
Whether you’re a current parent or a mama-to-be, you’ve probably learned by now there are 1,001 “best” ways to do things and everyone has THE right answer for you. Make sure you know what you want and drown out the rest of the chatter. While it can be a challenge sometimes to separate the helpful advice from the noise, find some time and space to really think about what factors matter to you. Make a list of non-negotiables and determine what’s a “nice to have” versus a must-have. Start your journey from there.
2. Boil down the logistics.
Don’t downplay the unmovable, constant factors in your life. Be realistic about how they’ll affect your selection of childcare options. Obvious things to take into consideration would be to understand your spending threshold, if/how far you’re willing to commute and whether adding a nanny into a work-from-home situation would cause you to implode. Once you define your boundaries, you can start to identify realistic options.
3. Determine your level of comfort around having (or not having) control.
I read the The 5th Trimester by Lauren Smith Brody when I was preparing to go back to work and found it to be super helpful and real. I specifically appreciated the section that talks about the pros and cons of group child care versus a babysitter/nanny/relative situation. It speaks to the importance of getting honest with the realities of how much you will or won’t be able to control – and how comfortable you are/are not with that reality. Specifics to think about: how you feel about employing a nanny or if you want to manage a family member. Also, determine if you feel strongly about setting the rules or if you’re more comfortable leaving that for the team who cares for your child. Control is a big topic to mull around while you do your research.
4. Get with the (health and safety) program.
Whether it’s group care at home or at school, or one-on-one care with a nanny, babysitter or relative, it’s important to be aligned, aware and transparent about Health & Safety Process and Protocol. If you’re hiring someone to come to your home, be prepared to come to a shared agreement around your health and safety expectations. And if a school can’t readily share their plan with you, it’s cause for question.
5. Love the ones you’re with.
I know it sounds simple, but this basic emotional factor is often the make or break moment in your childcare decision-making. You want the people who are caring for your child to truly care – not only about your child but for everyone else in their world. Try to tap into this intuition at each and every step of the process. Did you get a “wow these people really seem to like one another” vibe during your meeting? Or an “oh my goodness those children looked really happy” moment during the virtual tour? Did you want to keep chatting and learning more about that nanny candidate as she warmly smiled into the zoom camera? If you don’t have that emotional connection, you should probably keep looking.
6. Ask: What do you want out of your caregiver?
Are you looking to get basic needs met or are you also interested in infusing the day with curriculum? Is learning a second language a priority or are you just hoping your child’s day is filled with lots of play and fun? Make a list of what’s important to you in terms of day-to-day care and learning expectations for your child and then you can start to customize your search (and the qualifications of your caregivers) from there.
7. What type of environment do you think your child would thrive in?
So I realize that you may not have a clear answer to this one, especially if you are mom-to-be or still learning about the needs of your infant. But it’s still a good exercise to go through. As you tour schools or interview caregivers, considerations such as how the days would be structured, the learning environment and philosophy, class size and age, and the physical space are all factors. Imagine your child’s day through this lens and consider what options might help them thrive.
8. Are your values in alignment?
These days, many of us make purchases and choose social interests by working with people and businesses that are “values aligned.” As it relates to your childcare decision, it’s helpful to consider things like the parent community, how employees are taken care of, or if there is a larger mission behind the work. (For example – At Vivvi we partner with employers to offer childcare as a benefit for employees, and all of our teachers are full time, salaried employees with benefits and career growth opportunities.)
9. Trust to your gut.
Easy to say, often harder to put into practice. But remember, you know your child best and you’re one smart mama. Do the research, ask the questions, and then try and follow your instincts. If you’re taking all these things into consideration, you’re going to make the right decision. And remember, you always have the power to make a new plan.
Watch Vivvi’s Gretchen Richer talk Child Care 101.