No matter how much you decide to work, you'll almost definitely be in the market for childcare. Once upon a time, grandparents, aunts, or cousins handled childcare for working parents. But fewer and fewer new parents today live close enough to their parents or siblings to make this a viable option, so you'll probably have to find someone to care for your baby when you can't be home with him. Whether you and your partner are working full- or part-time, you will basically have three child-care options available to you: a nanny or baby sitter, a home day-care provider, and a day-care center.
Despite all the horror stories you may have heard, childcare doesn't have to be a nightmare. For every notorious day-care institution, there are hundreds of adequate ones and dozens of good ones. For every baby sitter caught beating a child on camera for the evening news, there are dozens of sensitive, caring sitters who would never dream of harming a baby.
If you do your homework-by conducting interviews, visiting day-care sites, checking references, and so on-you will almost certainly find one of the good ones.
Nannies and Sitters
Any paid childcare is tax-deductible as long as it allows both parents (or a single parent) to work or look for work. Ask your local IRS office for Form 2441: Child and Dependent Care Expenses. Because the form requires you to provide the Social Security numbers of any child-care workers you hire, it may give you the incentive to put your nanny or sitter on the books.
Having a nanny or sitter come into your home to care for your baby has certain advantages. Your baby remains in the environment that's most familiar to her and doesn't have to get comfortable in new surroundings. In addition, your child only needs to get used to one new person (rather than an entire staff). Your baby will also probably get sick less often because she won't have daily exposure to other babies (germ-carriers all-all except yours, of course).
Because childcare comes to you, you don't need to lug supplies and clothing back and forth from your home to the day-care site. Also, you don't need to make special arrangements or stay home yourself if your baby gets sick. A nanny or sitter often offers much more flexibility in terms of hours because you get to set them yourself. Finally, during your baby's naps, your sitter may be prevailed upon to do some light housework, an invaluable blessing.
If you have a spare room in your home and need full-time childcare, consider hiring live-in help. You can usually offer a lower salary if you add room and board. Au pair agencies can find you young adults (usually 19 to 24 years old) from other nations who will provide childcare in return for room, board, and a token salary (plus a hefty agency fee).
In-home care does have some disadvantages, too. It makes you entirely dependent on one caregiver. If your sitter gets sick, gets caught in traffic, or-aaargh!-quits with little or no notice, you're stuck. A single caregiver has a greater potential to spark feelings of jealousy or rivalry on your part, too. Also, because sitters are neither licensed nor subject to supervision, you'll need to work hard at building a relationship with your baby's sitter just to find out what they've been doing all day.
A major drawback of in-home care is the cost. Hiring a full-time nanny or a part-time sitter is the most expensive childcare option. In addition to a decent salary, a full-time caregiver may expect (and really deserve) medical benefits, vacation time, and periodic raises in pay. Also, by law you are required to withhold federal, state, and local taxes as well as half of the Social Security and Medicare "contributions" of any household employee. You have to ante up the other half of your nanny's Social Security and Medicare payments yourself-and if you ever hope to hold an elected or appointed government office, you'd better do so.
If you've decided you'd like to hire someone to care for your baby in your home, start looking early. Finding a good one is not always easy. Holding onto a good one, whether the person works full-time as a nanny or hour by hour as a sitter, is even harder. Adult caregivers often find that they need more money than child-care workers are usually paid. Teenage caregivers often have busy social lives of their own. So if you find a good caregiver, treat her or him like gold.