Confessions of a Home Day Care Provider

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Starting a home daycare is a great way for stay-at-home mothers to earn some extra money without having to work outside of the home. It is a time-consuming and arduous task, but it is worth it if you staying at home while still contributing financially is a priority for you. Your child will benefit, too, because he or she will have playmates that will become almost like siblings over the months. You will also be able to earn money without putting your children in daycare.
The pay per child per hour doesn’t even out to much, even if you are licensed, but if you have several children, the money adds up. Even if you only keep one child, you’ll make enough for a shopping spree at the mall, a car payment, or a small contribution to a college fund. The amount of money you can charge will depend on your location, your experience, and your credentials. A licensed home daycare provider can charge more typically, as can someone with CPR certification or prior teaching experience.

I am unlicensed, because I do not have a backyard, which is a requirement for licensing in my state. I charge $400 for one and $600 for two full-time. My part-time rate is $20 for an 8-10 hour day. My drop-in rate is usually $4 an hour per child. I am flexible on payment, because I know how expensive childcare is and want to be affordable for everyone. I feel like working with people on payment plans and rates helps me bring in more income than if I were rigid and unmovable.

State laws about licensing vary. I am unfamiliar with them, but they are easy to look up. In my state, you can keep children from one family without a license. Sporadic care on a basis that is not regular, otherwise known as babysitting, is also acceptable. I have kept children from several families before on a regular basis. I just make sure that the parents know I am not licensed from the get-go. Currently I keep boys from two families: a 12 month-old 4 days a week and a 2 1/2 year old 3 days a week. We are still getting used to the presence of the older kid, who has only been in my care for a week so far.

Caring for children is strenuous, both physically and emotionally. Younger children tend to exhaust my physical body, because they are always into something. Older children tend to exasperate my mind with incessant talking, endless requests, and bargaining. I would suggest keeping children who are close together in age. It is easier to care for two one year-olds than it is to care for a one year-old and a 2 1/2 year old. Keeping children that are close in age to your own will be easier, and it makes it more likely that the kids will be friends. (It also makes it more likely that they’ll fight over the same toy or get into mischief together.)

If you have older children, you might want to consider setting up a preschool. The older children will be potty trained, have better language skills, and possibly be more obedient especially in a classroom setting. You can become certified through various programs, such as Montessori. Usually you can charge more for preschool than for home daycare. It’s also possible to do more structured activities. Older children are also a little more self-sufficient than younger ones. They ask more questions though, which can be exhausting. (They love to ask “Why?” over and over.)

If you don’t want children in your home, try seeking a nanny position full-time. Most people are happy to allow you to bring your children along. A lot of times these positions will require light house cleaning. You will be watching children and cleaning someone else’s house, not your own, but typically you will be paid more as a nanny. Caring for the children may also be easier as a nanny, because they are in their own home where they are comfortable. You’ll also usually have a small number of children, who are siblings.

Doing part-time daycare or infrequent baby-sitting can also bring in some income, as you can usually charge more per hour for those positions. A mommy’s helper position will pay less but require less work. Typically you’ll come over for a few hours a day while the parents are home. Usually they will be studying or working from home while you are there. You may be asked to do some house cleaning and light cooking, but the work isn’t nearly as strenuous. The pay is not as high, but it is quite decent for the amount of work you’ll do.

A lot of people say “Home daycare? I couldn’t do that! I can barely keep up with my own kids.” The truth is that it’s really not that difficult, just tiresome. When you have one child, close in age to your own, you just have to do everything in twos. Small groups tend to need more stimulation from you, but you can be more laid-back on your schedule. Large groups of children entertain themselves most of the time, but you need a system that works for everyone. Getting two children to nap at the same time is difficult; getting four to nap at the same time is almost impossible. There are trade-offs.

As a home daycare provider, you will feel overworked and underpaid. You will have longer hours than the parents whose children you watch, because they’ll need to drop them off half an hour before work and pick them up half an hour later. Children whose parents work full-time will be in your care about 45 hours a week. You will, however, earn significantly less than those parents working out of the home. Even in areas where childcare rates are higher, you will work more and get paid less than those who work out of the home. It is not as lucrative as people make it out to be.

You will be exhausted at the end of the day–maybe even half-way through it. Taking care of your own children is easier than taking care of someone else’s. You know your kids and are more in-tune with them. You can also let them run around naked through a cluttered house while you rest on the couch if you like, because they are your children. With other people’s children, however, you have to get to know them and earn their trust, which takes time. You also can’t be as laid-back with them, especially in the supervision department.

You will spend most of your time putting away toys that have been strewn about. You will have to break up little spats, discipline children for hitting or refusing to share, and do diaper changes. You’ll have to feed everyone snacks and lunch. Rounding everyone up for outings can take time. However, the bulk of your time will be spent making sure it is possible to walk through the playroom. Many states require that you keep toys put away unless they are in use. Parents or inspectors could drop in at anytime, so you can’t be lazy about clutter. Cleaning up messes will also take up a lot more time than discipline or meal-time.

It is not difficult to find clients; it is difficult to keep them. You can find clients by advertising in the newspaper, hanging up fliers, or posting on Craigslist. It’s not hard to book an interview and impress a parent enough that they will give it a try with you. Keeping a child for more than a month or so is what’s difficult. Your location and your rates will be a huge factor. If they find someone who lives closer to their home and charges less, they will probably switch daycares unless you are doing an amazing job with their child and truly impressing them. Do your best, but don’t strain yourself trying to be Mary Poppins. Finding a steady client with whom you really click is better than exhausting yourself trying to out-do your competition.

You will not have ample time for housework. You will get more done during the day than if you worked out of the home, but it’s doubtful that your house will be spotless at the end of the day. Make keeping the play area clean your top priority. Everywhere else can wait until the evening. You may not have time to do the dishes, but you’ll probably have time for a few little chores like laundry. Throw it in, swap it out, and then bring it out in a hamper and fold it while you watch the kids. Do simple tasks that don’t take very long and break all of your tasks into small steps.

It is okay to relax for a few minutes. Don’t feel like you cannot eat lunch or have a potty break. If you’re tired, rest. You can provide better care to everyone if you are feeling up to it. Don’t spend all of your time running around after the kids and cleaning. Take at least a 15 minute break every hour, when you have a chance. Don’t feel like you have to give-up every minute of “me” time. If you have a favorite show, watch it. Set up your schedule so that nap or snack time occur during the show. Work time for yourself into your schedule. Just don’t schedule a massage or have a bubble bath while you’re working.

Baby Einstein videos are amazing. I don’t recommend relying too heavily on them to entertain the children. Free play and structured activities will teach the children a lot more than the TV will. This is how they learn to solve problems, share, and grasp concepts. However, if you really need a moment of peace and quiet, throw in a Baby Einstein video. It works 90% of the time on babies and toddlers. They are fascinated by the pictures and will stare at the TV, usually like zombies. It isn’t good to let them watch TV all day or everyday, but these videos are great when you really need to distract the children to get something done. (Ok, I admit it: I’ve let the Baby Einstein video run on a loop for half of the morning before–only once or twice!)

A change of scenery can do wonders. It can be hard to get several children to nap at the same time. One trick I have learned, when everyone gets cranky, is to go for a drive. A lot of the time it will put the sleepy ones to sleep and entertain the others, at least. A trip to the park or McDonald’s play place can put everyone in a much better mood. While it is a hassle to change and dress everyone, strap everyone into their car seats, and pack up all that you’ll need, some time out of the house is refreshing for everyone. Taking the kids to a different room of the house can also have a similar effect.

Everything is your fault. Every diaper rash will be blamed on the diet you’re feeding them or an accusation that you’re not changing them often enough. Every new bump, bruise, etc. will be your fault. I recommend doing everything you can to prevent marks, rashes, etc. Check diapers at least every hour, more often if one has a diaper rash. Baby proof your house as much as possible. Checking for marks at the morning and end-of-day diaper changes is a good idea. This way you’ll know whether or not a bump appeared on your watch–or their parents’.

You will need to change clothes at least once a day, but you’ll have trouble finding time. This is the reason I wear my PJs until noon. Then I can usually just get dressed one time and throw my pajamas in the wash. You will also have to dress the children at least once a day, especially younger ones. Even regularly clean children will find ways to get messy at your house. They will usually need outfits again after mealtime and snack time. Kids in your care will also suddenly develop green and blue colored drool for no apparent reason. I theorize that kids have special color glands next to their saliva glands that activate when they’re at daycare.

You will get unwanted parenting advice, especially if you tend to do things differently. I’ve been advised many times to wean my child and transition him into his own bed in his own room. I’ve had parents suggest ways of doing this, including just tossing him in the crib and letting him scream all night for a week until he learns to go to sleep. That’s called crying it out, and Dr. Sears as well as Harvard scholars don’t recommend it. It’s not gentle, and it’s unnecessary being that our lifestyle is fine as is. I’ve also had parents recommend spanking when I mention that I try to refrain from it. Of course I just nod my head and smile, rather than debating parenting philosophies. I try to at least gracefully let them know that we’re happy with the way things are.

Your children need to be on a sleep schedule that is close to your own. It took me some time to accomplish this. I had to wake him earlier and earlier each morning until he was up about an hour after me and down an hour before me. When my schedule changed, his sleeping habits became very erratic. It got to where he was falling asleep at 2 AM and waking at 9 AM! Again, I had to work with him, and this time it only took a few days. He now goes to bed between 10-11:30 PM and gets up between 9-10:30 AM. While that may seem odd for some, it’s perfect for me. I usually get up at 8 on my work days, so even if he goes to bed late, I still get enough sleep.

Some parents will want to get to know you. Some will drop their kids off and leave immediately. I recommend trying to develop a relationship with each parent, which can be hard if you have one that likes to run off right away. I try to keep them at my door at least 5-10 minutes in the morning and the evening. I like to go over what we might be doing that day in the morning and in the evening to talk about the highs and lows of the day. Some parents don’t seem to care, which always makes me sad, and some do. Don’t give up on the ones that are reluctant to chat, though.

You will not agree with all of your client’s parenting choices. You will not feel like you are ‘raising someone else’s kids.’ A lot of mothers stay home so no one else raises their kids. Daycare providers don’t do that. We try to teach them how to get along with the other kids and be obedient. Mostly we just feed them, change them, and keep them out of mischief. We entertain them all day. We don’t decide whether they’re breast or bottle fed, how they are sleep trained, what shots they receive, or if they are spanked. We aren’t the parents. You will feel close to your daycare kids, but you won’t feel like their second mother. Sometimes you will abhor some of the things the parents do or say, but you have to bite your tongue.

It is unlikely that you’ll have an abused child, but please keep an eye out anyway. Look up the tell-tale signs of abuse for every age group of children that you watch. Talk to the kids now and again about their moms and dads and life at home, casually. Keep an eye out for mysterious marks and bruises, especially recurrent ones. Remember that toddlers fall a lot, so not everything is cause for concern. If you witness or suspect abuse, report it anonymously. You are required by law to do this if you are licensed. I’m not licensed, but I still watch out anyway. It is my job as a mother to protect all children. Likewise if a parent is doing something dangerous, you should politely point it out.

Remember that you are an influence on every child in your care. You must be careful even around children that don’t speak or understand yet. Refrain from any behavior that their parents might find offensive. If you have a different religion, keep your mouth shut about it. Don’t curse or walk around naked, obviously. You also must set an example in how you treat others and the diet you follow. Be aware that little eyes are watching you, learning from you.

The words of toddlers are difficult to decipher, so you can save yourself if you slip up. Your husband asks “What’s on Dr. Phil today?” and without thinking, you reply “Crack whores.” Someone inevitably repeats that, and it’s time to be smooth. “Yes, crackers. I think I’ll have some.” Toddlers have a short attention span and will usually just move on if you do. If the word is still in use at the end of the day, try a preemptive strike. Announce proudly to the parents, “Timmy learned to say crackers today!” The best thing to do, however, is just watch your mouth!

Most of the children that have been in my care have been in daycare since they were infants. There are used to being one of many children in one adult’s care. In my experience, many kids in my daycare have craved attention, more so than the children of SAHMs that I know. Don’t be surprised if some of the children that you keep seem to want constant attention and seem to be more sensitive or talkative than usual. Some mothers who work out of the home admit, on message boards or anonymous surveys, to feeling guilty and trying to make up for it when they are home. They allow the kids to do or have most of what they want, then you then have to say “no” to and discipline a child who isn’t used to that. While many of your daycare kids will be delightful, not all of them well be perfect little angels. Try to be understanding and compassionate with them, because they need that.

Have specific work days and hours. If you agree to watch one child from 8-5 and another from 12-9, as I do, you’re working from 8 am to 9 at night. That’s a lot. Daycare hours vary. Arrange your schedule around your clients, but try not to regularly work more than ten hours a day. The typical client will need you about 9 hours a day. Military personnel usually need you 10 hours a day. (They are overworked and underpaid, too.) Have days and times that you will not work, and turn down new clients who want you at those times unless you have dire need of the income. Save that time for family, housework, errands, and possibly occasional babysitting. (Most of the time I use it for naptime and TV watching.)

I have gone to the store during the day to replace a lost sippi cup or one that the dog has devoured at least twice. I keep extra outfits in my home for the really messy ones. This way I can change them twice, but the parents think they only needed one change of clothes. Parents rarely will bring you more than one change of clothes, and you’ll probably need two on some days. I therefore recommend a trip to the Goodwill for some gently used outfits. I have also learned to keep extra sippi cups, similar to the ones the daycare kids bring with them. Now I don’t have to go to the store for replacements (as often).

I try to use the playpen sparingly, as when taking out the trash. I occasionally use it so I can lay on the couch for ten measly minutes, relax, and enjoy my recently decluttered living room. I sometimes plop them in there at the end of the day when I’ve finished cleaning, so that the playroom isn’t messed up again when the parents arrive. Mostly it is a nap area for the younger toddler that I watch. Unfortunately my son likes to shake the playpen to rock him, which wakes him up. I’m considering a second playpen to put the awake one in when the other is asleep. Soon the closet won’t be an option anymore, because they’ll have learned to turn doorknobs. (I’m kidding!)

There have been days where I have spent most of my time on the couch, getting up only when the kids need something and picking up once at the end of the day. There are times when I want to scream “Get these kids away from me!” and lock all of them, or perhaps a specific one, away in a closet. I haven’t, though. When running low on wipes and diapers for my son, I’ve used those of my clients before. (Likewise, if they’re running low, I’ve had to use my own supplies.) I try to give the kids finger foods that they can feed themselves, so that while they are confined to their high chairs, I can relax or wash the dishes.

Being a home daycare provider certainly has its ups and downs. I enjoy it because it puts me in charge of my career. I have to schedule my life around my clients, but I do get to chose who my clients are. I don’t have to leave my house to earn money. I can do my housework while I watch other children, so I have more time for family in the evening. It also keeps my own son out of daycare and allows me to continue spending my days with him. There are annoyances involved, but overall home daycare is a very rewarding job. Instead of one little boy who loves me, I have several (well, two at the moment). My son gets to socialize, and I get experience caring for more than one child. I get to witness special firsts, teach, and be a part of who the child grows up to be. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s very fulfilling–if you’re up to the challenge!

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