Working Mom Diaries 4: Choosing Childcare

Long time no see! Things have been busy at my house and at my job lately. First of all, big news: Our second (and almost definitely last!) child is arriving in November. My due date is November 15th, but considering that our first arrived at 37 weeks, we are expecting any time during the first half of November. The baby’s sex will be a surprise!

As anyone with more than one child knows, as exciting as it is, it also throws a wrench into your routine. And we were surprised to have another wrench thrown in way before the baby’s arrival: our nanny-share for our older child came to an end due to circumstances in the family we shared with.

We had always planned for P to start daycare in January 2019, but now we were looking at starting in August 2018 on fairly short notice. Luckily, being a hyper-planner Type A, I had already toured every local daycare months ago, and chosen which ones to be waitlisted for. Unfortunately, our top choice didn’t have an opening for P until January 2019 anyway, so it was back to the drawing board.

We considered hiring a nanny, but the cost for a single child was astronomical. After looking everywhere for someone who might be available to work for less than $18/hour, I contacted a small in-home daycare that I had liked when I did my tours. I had kind of written it off because they didn’t take infants, but since P would only be at this daycare before his new sibling needed care, that didn’t matter (we wanted them in the same location). They had room!

So P has been at this little daycare since August 20th, and he seems to be loving it. It isn’t ideal, but it makes a nice transition from his nanny-share to a larger daycare center, and he is happy to arrive and be picked up every day. He will still start at our top choice daycare in January, right after turning two, and will probably remain there until kindergarten unless we move.

Obviously I am no expert, but I thought I’d write a little about my top considerations when looking at daycares, since I think I have visited and thoroughly researched more than fifteen facilities now, both centers and in-homes. These considerations are particular to where I live; for instance, I would be pickier about location if we lived in a larger metro area with more daycare options and/or worse traffic.

  1. Licensing/Violations: You can look up each daycare’s licensing history and their history of inspection violations. I was only interested in licensed and inspected daycares, both centers and in-homes. However, I did not write places off just because they had violations; I made sure to read exactly what the violations were. Some I didn’t care about (ex: the ground beneath a swing set was deemed too firmly packed at one inspection), but others were deal breakers (ex: over-the-counter medications and scissors were left within reach of toddlers at multiple inspections).
  2. Atmosphere: One of the most important things to me was how the daycares felt when I walked in and how I observed the caregivers interact with the kids. At some daycares, I observed mostly happy kids in a relatively calm, clean environment, and at others I observed mostly anxious and upset kids in a pretty chaotic environment that smelled like bleach. I noticed that this often correlated to teacher and kid turnover rates: places with high turnover rates generally felt worse.
  3. Turnover and ratios: I always asked how long caregivers tended to be employed and how long kids tended to stay. We focused on places where caregivers stayed for years and where kids tended to remain until they began kindergarten or even grade school. We also wanted places that met or exceeded the state expectations for ratio of teachers to kids. Some places we looked at had regular violations in this area (ie: not enough caregivers), and we wrote them off. Our first choice exceeded the regulations in every age group.
  4. Price: Obviously a huge consideration. Luckily—and I imagine this is true for most areas—to be competitive daycares need to fall within a pretty close price range. Oddly enough, one of my least favorite places cost way more than the others, and after eliminating that one, price ceased to be a consideration since they were all so similar.
  5. Structure: I definitely wanted a place that followed a consistent daily routine that included set mealtimes, set nap times, and plenty of outdoor time. P is a very routine-oriented kid and we’ve had a lot of success with very rigid wake and sleep times especially. Long-term, I also wanted a place that separated kids into “classes” by age. Right now, P is with a single small group of kids ages 18 months to 4 years, and it’s fine, but not ideal; there are activities he can’t quite participate in yet, for instance. Long-term, he’ll be in a small group of kids almost exactly his age. Our top choice also gives kids the most outdoor time of any daycare we looked at (2 hours per day, weather dependent).
  6. Toilet training: This is kind of a big one! We definitely leaned towards daycares that said they “take the lead” on potty training. Our top choice will take kids to the toilet every thirty minutes when they are ready to train, which is amazing. With another baby on the way, we really wanted maximum potty training support from P’s caregivers. It’s just not going to happen over a weekend at home.
  7. What’s included: Most daycares here include all solid food. Some include baby food. Some include baby formula. Some include wipes. None include diapers. Our top choice includes baby food, baby formula, all toddler and kid food, and wipes. They will also feed your baby packed breastmilk, but since our baby will be combination-fed from the beginning, the inclusion of formula was really appealing. This way we can just send along whatever breastmilk we have, and the teachers will take care of mixing the supplemental formula.
  8. Location: This wasn’t a huge consideration for us since we work in opposite directions; no matter where our daycare is, one of us will have to go a little out of their way to reach it. We ended up finding that the better daycares were all closer to my husband’s work, so I will typically drive out of my way to do drop-off or pick-up. Where we are, this isn’t that bad since we don’t have terrible traffic.
  9. Security and communication: I actually wasn’t too picky about this. I wanted to be able to text someone to check in on P, and that’s about it. We didn’t care about a totally locked-down building or about having cameras everywhere. It was a coincidence that our top choice has key codes, cameras, an app to view them with, and a whole text update system that tells you every detail of your child’s day! I am not sure how much of this system I will opt into; I really don’t want to obsess over it. But it will be helpful to know exactly how much P eats and sleeps each day. We currently get updates when we ask for them, but we don’t always get detailed information.

That’s all I can think of at the moment. Childcare feels like a huge decision. I had a lot of guilt when we decided to place P in an “interim” daycare before January instead of throwing money at a nanny, but he adapted quickly and is perfectly happy and healthy. All of that to say, I think that as long as you provide safe care that you feel confident about, your child will probably be fine.

P will begin his new daycare right after he turns two in January, and the new baby will begin (part-time) a few weeks later in February! We are not going the nanny route at all for this second kid, and I’m actually excited about it. This baby will get lots of socialization and routine much earlier than P did, and if their personalities are at all similar, it will thrive on that structure.

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Working Mom Diaries 3: Real-Life Mom Friends

This is my biggest struggle right now. I’ll try not to be a downer in this post, but man, it is discouraging to have so much trouble finding working mom friends!

One thing I have learned about Utah, at least in my part of the state, is that most women do not work outside the home. In-home careers like hairdressing are pretty popular here… as are, unfortunately, the less legitimate in-home careers like multi-level marketing schemes. However, the average Utahn woman, in my experience, is a stay-at-home mom. When I take a day off or work from home and take my son to the park midday, I see dozens of stay-at-home moms with their children. Which is great! But it’s not the lifestyle that I lead on a daily basis (or want to). Meanwhile, at work, I encounter a grand total of two other working moms that I know of!

Several people have asked me, “Why don’t you just make friends with stay-at-home moms?” Well, I do have a few stay-at-home mom acquaintances, but to be honest, we just do not have as much in common as I need to have with someone to become really close. Think about it: while we’re all mothers, our daily lives are completely different, and that means that a lot of the things we want to talk about, need advice about, or are struggling with are totally different, too.

I doubt that I’ll really get my quest for working mom friends kicked off until after our second child arrives and settles in to a schedule, but here are some goals and ideas that I have for meeting people and making friends (probably in 2019!).

  • Start a supper club. This is an idea inspired by Carolina Charm’s supper club posts! I’m planning to ask the working women I know here—both moms and not moms—to start a monthly supper club with me. This would mean one of us hosting the group for dinner each month, or, maybe more likely, meeting as a group for a dinner out each month. The great thing about this is that each member could invite other working women from her own job or neighborhood and the group could (hopefully) grow.
  • Scour the Internet. I haven’t had a ton of luck with this, but I have found an online group for non-LDS moms in my area, and a group for working moms of Utah. I’m hoping to connect with some other women through these groups, although they’re pretty limited.
  • Reach out… and recognize other people reaching out. This is something I really need to work on. I tend to get “in the zone” at work and not socialize much or pay much attention to what’s going on in my office. Another working mom at my office recently reached out to me online and I really need to follow up with her and jumpstart that potential friendship. It can be hard when you’re really busy to put in the effort up-front, but I know that doing so could pay off in a big way long-term: I could make a great friend who I have a lot in common with.

That’s all I’ve got for now! I’ll be sure to follow up on this topic when and if things change.

Working Mom Diaries 2: Online Role Models

This topic is why I’ve begun this blog series. There aren’t many working moms writing and posting online—that I’ve found, anyway!—who I can really identify with and admire. And I’m focusing on online examples because 1) not many of my close friends even have children yet, and 2) where I live, full-time working mothers are quite unusual. I have to find my support online.

I have some specific issues with a lot of “working mom blogs.” Here are my biggest problems:

  • “High powered.” Vocal working mothers online definitely seem to skew towards “high powered” or “heroic” careers, like lawyers making $350k, surgeons, lab scientists, etc. This creates an atmosphere in which women feel like they shouldn’t work full-time unless they’re doing an “important” or extremely lucrative job. As a content manager, I just can’t identify with a working mom who is a trauma surgeon or who is completely financially unrelatable to me. It’s not that these women shouldn’t be proud of themselves! They’re amazing. But it’s also okay to have a “regular” job.
  • Pumping. I’ve found that working moms tend to put an intense focus on breastfeeding and pumping once they go back to work, and that it becomes a borderline obsession for a lot of women. This just isn’t important to me, and I wish it was less of a focus for working moms. I think we have bigger and more important issues as working mothers than pumping. Sorry. (In the past I might have recommended The SHUbox blog in my list below, but I would not want any other women to be affected by her recent pumping posts.)
  • MLMs. I just can’t with multi-level marketing schemes (also known as “network marketing” or “direct selling.”). This means stuff like Lipsense, AdvoCare, Young Living, LulaRoe, Mary Kay, etc. Go ahead and get involved if it’s your thing, but don’t call yourself an “entrepreneur” or “businesswoman” based on your involvement in an MLM. I personally do not count MLM sellers as “working moms.”
  • “Influencers.” Kind of the same thing as MLMs. If your “job” is running an Instagram account… it’s simply not the same as the type of job that I do, and I cannot relate.

Here is the short list of blogs and online presences that I like best (and even some of these have caveats):

  • julmarie: Julia has a blog and Instagram, and I found her via her writing on The Everygirl. She has a job similar to mine, her kids will be close in age to mine, and she even bought a house around the same time I did! Her freelance hustle is really inspiring to a writer like me, and yes, she works full time and employs childcare for her son. No caveats here; I find Julia extremely relatable and feel like I have a ton in common with her despite never having met her.
  • Carolina Charm: Christina has a blog and is also active on Instagram and Pinterest. I only recently found her blog, and have been reading some of her archives from when her kid(s) were the same age as mine. There are some really big things that I don’t have in common with her, like her affinity for girly stuff (like makeup and cute clothes) and her strong faith, but nevertheless I find her incredibly relatable and personable online. She works full-time and employs childcare for her two kids, who were “two under two” for quite a while! She gets super real about family life, food, exercise, and more, and I really love her honesty. She is also responsive on social media and feels like a friend whenever I have reached out. No caveats at all.
  • Sweet Tooth Sweet Life: I think that Courtney’s blog used to fall into the “healthy living blog” category, but I would say that now it’s a very general working mom’s blog, a lot like Carolina Charm’s, that includes Friday facts, recipes, meal planning, and life updates. She had a bit of an epiphany about “healthy living” in 2013, and revamped her attitude towards diet and exercise. I am not sure if Courtney’s two boys are in daycare or if they have family care or a nanny, but she and her husband both work full time and she’s very realistic about the challenges and rewards of that lifestyle. No caveats at all.
  • Rising*Shining and The Girl Next Door podcast: Rising*Shining is the blog of one of the co-hosts of The Girl Next Door podcast. Caveat: I can only recommend past blog entries and podcast episodes, because Kelsey recently quit her job to stay home with her two kids. But in the past, she was a very relatable full-time working mother who used childcare and worked as a science writer for a university. I still enjoy her blogging and am still subscribed to the podcast, but I was disappointed to lose a vocal working mom.
  • The Everymom. This is a new site from The Everygirl. I can’t really pass judgment yet, but I’m hoping that it will be a good resource for finding some other working mom bloggers. Caveat: There’s plenty of sponsored content, and the blog is not working-mom focused, so it’s a grab bag.

And that’s pretty much all! I would love to hear about more if you know of any! I’m sure there are plenty of great working mom bloggers who I just haven’t stumbled across yet, and I can’t wait to find them. I’ll write follow-up posts as I discover more.

Working Mom Diaries 1: Let’s Begin Here

This week, one of the very few outspoken, “normal” (not involved in an extremely high-powered or extremely high-earning career), visible-online, relatable working moms that I am aware of announced that she had quit her job to stay home with her children.

I don’t begrudge anyone this privilege or opportunity or choice. In fact, if it was important to me, I could also be a stay-at-home parent. But I couldn’t help feeling a wave of disappointment at the loss of one of the few online voices of working moms like me: moms who work because they prefer to, who aren’t trauma surgeons whose work is “heroic,” who are professionals but who aren’t earning super impressive $300k salaries, who don’t trudge to work longing to spend more time with their kids, who aren’t made miserable by their dual role as breadwinner and parent.

Laying in bed last night, I thought, “I may just have one tiny little corner of the Internet to write about this, but why not put it out there? I know there are moms just like me who might stumble upon what I have to say and feel a helpful, supportive connection.” So I’m starting this series about being a working mom, and my only hope is that it helps one other woman feel like she’s perfectly normal and not at all alone.

After all, we shouldn’t feel alone! Almost half of all American mothers are full-time working mothers. But see the rest of that article? We also get a lot of feedback that tells us that we shouldn’t be working full-time, that working full-time is bad for our children and our marriages, and perhaps most importantly, that we shouldn’t want to or enjoy working full-time. When I returned to work after my son was born, people made a lot of assumptions about me. I heard, “It must be so hard to be away from him,” “It must have been tough to come back,” and even, “You must be saving for something.” None of those were true for me. I was thrilled to return to work. Of course, I am lucky enough to have an employer that understands that it’s a process: I returned to work full-time immediately, but I worked from home three days, then two days, and now one day per week.

It’s easy to feel like something is wrong with you when you’re a mother of young children who wants to work full-time, enjoys working full-time, and doesn’t long to be with her kids while at work. But why is any of that considered unusual? Men are expected to work full-time, to enjoy it, and to be satisfied with the amount of time they spend with their children. So why not women, too?

know that I’m a great mother, but it took me a while to fully believe that in the face of feedback that told me that great mothers are with their kids 24/7 and don’t care about having careers.

For me, being a full-time working mother has more benefits than downsides. Here are the three biggest pluses:

  • More money. This is a simple one. It’s important to me to be able to go out for dinner, cook high-quality meals, entertain friends, dress well, improve my home, save for retirement, and go on vacations. With two incomes, all of these things are much easier to achieve, yes, even with the cost of childcare.
  • Higher-quality time. I’m not, have never been, and probably never will be someone who’s crazy for babies and toddlers. I love my child and I love spending time with him, but I get more out of that time when it isn’t 24/7. I enjoy my kid-time more when I also get time to not think about kid stuff at all and focus entirely on an editing project, producing a great piece of writing, or interpreting a tech white paper.
  • Changes for my child. We live in a small home, and we can only buy so many toys and travel to so many parks. When he’s at childcare, my kid gets a change of scene, some playmates, and caretakers who sing him different songs, talk about different items and activities, and play different games. This wasn’t very important when he was a baby, but as he grows older it’s really helpful. He’s excited to go to care and excited to be home.

And of course there are downsides:

  • Career limits. I feel limited both geographically and time-wise while I have very young children. Luckily I have a job that suits me perfectly, but if I lost it, I would not want to switch to a super long commute or to a position that might demand a lot of overtime or cause a lot of stress right now. Those options will have to wait a few more years.
  • The daily grind. Waking up and getting a kid ready for childcare in the mornings is definitely a chore! It takes a lot of planning and a very stable routine to get everyone out the door smoothly without forgetting anything vital.
  • Costs. Childcare costs money. So does having someone else clean my house and so do the occasional takeout meals, convenience food items, and lunches out that are necessities when both parents work. Luckily, at least where we live, those costs don’t come close to outweighing the financial benefit of two working spouses.

Let’s begin there. In my next post, I want to talk about some of the online working mom role models and inspirations I’ve found so far, and how they’ve helped me navigate this role.

Home Ownership: Accepting “As-Is”

In 2017, we bought a house. It wasn’t the perfect house, because the perfect house doesn’t exist. It wasn’t even my favorite house, or the house where I could “see us” most easily, or anything like that. But it was a house that we had a good feeling about, and it felt like the universe conspired to make sure that we moved into it, despite a flood of other offers and a housing market flooded with buyers.

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We’ve been living here for a full year now, and I have completely fallen in love with this place. Here’s what I like best:

  • The location. We live downtown, just a block from a central street full of shops and restaurants. Our neighborhood is full of beautiful old houses, wide sidewalks, cute parks, and gorgeous mountain views, and our street doesn’t have much traffic.
  • The size. It’s cozy at about 1400 square feet. The average American home is now over 2600 square feet! Our yard is also just 0.10 acres, a little postage stamp that’s easy to maintain. The proximity to parks makes up for less outdoor space, although we do have a great front porch and two full patio areas.
  • The price. We went under budget on our house, and it’s been great making an easily affordable mortgage payment every month.

We’ve already done a lot to the house. Before we even moved in, we had the electrical system updated, all of the carpet replaced with laminate, one of the bedrooms painted, and all of the kitchen cabinets repainted. Since then, we’ve replaced the dishwasher, bought dining room furniture, hung things on the walls (although not as much as I’d like), and are in in the process of replacing a side door and having concrete landscape curbing done in the front yard.

But for me, owning this home is an exercise in accepting things as they are. As a constant “doer,” the number of changes, updates, and additions I would like to complete is insane. Some of them are extremely practical, like repairing and painting parts of the exterior. Some are functional, like rearranging the living room for a better layout. Others are totally superficial, like replacing the kitchen countertops. And still more are total pipe dreams, like finishing the attic space and installing a staircase to access it (in my dreams!).

I’m someone who likes to do things now. I hate putting things off, procrastinating, or waiting. Unfortunately, unless tens of thousands of dollars suddenly falls into our laps, home improvements absolutely have to wait.

At the very least, I like to have a very precise plan for exactly how everything will proceed in the future, and that’s what we’ve been working on lately. What’s an immediate priority and what’s just a “nice to have”? What could we afford to do now without any hardship and what do we need to save up a cushion for? What would dramatically improve our quality of life, and what would help to preserve and maintain this very old house? Which is more important? There’s a lot to balance. Sure, we could replace the kitchen counters right now, and they would give us a lot of pleasure every day, but in the long run fixing the gutters is more important.

It’s like investing in anything: the immediate investment of time or money can feel like a drag and garner you exactly ZERO reward or thanks, but you reap what you sow later on. Or at least that’s the hope.

Here’s my attempt at a prioritized list of home improvement projects:

  1. Finish and pay for side door work.
  2. Finish and pay for landscaping work.
  3. Small batch of interior repairs and replacements (handyman).
  4. Repair and replace problematic parts of siding, fascia, soffits, and guttering.
  5. Paint spare bedroom, master bedroom, hallway, baseboards.
  6. Install kitchen shelving and living room bookcase.
  7. Paint full exterior.
  8. Repair and re-coat concrete front porch.
  9. Replace kitchen countertops and add backsplash.
  10. Replace guest bathroom pedestal sink with vanity.
  11. Replace master bathroom pedestal sinks with double vanity.
  12. Re-do weird back porch.

Whew. Yeah. It’s a lot. And all of that has to happen in the midst of the usual house stuff to be accounted for: appliances breaking, toilets backing up, roofs leaking, basements flooding.

I’m working hard on accepting my home as it is, and accepting the limitations on how much and how fast we can turn it into the perfect space that I know it can be someday.