Why do so many U.S. parents work outside the home? It’s simple: the American Dream. Most US parents want their children to have more than they did when they were growing up. That means many U.S. families depend on the incomes of both parents in order to provide for their children in the way in which they want to have them live. For others, it’s more about necessity than any dream of material wealth. Some families must send both parents out into the wage-earning workforce just to put food on the table and gas in the car, something that is getting harder and harder to do every day.
So when both parents must work, the question of “Who is going to take care of my child while I work?” has to be asked. Some US parents are lucky enough to have family members, such as grandparents, who can “baby-sit” their children all day while the parents work. This is probably the ideal solution: leaving your children with someone who loves them, whom they trust and who will provide the care at no cost.
Other US parents don’t have that option, however. Some of them choose to take their children to daycare centers, where a staff of caregivers watches their children. Others are fortunate enough to have the means to afford a nanny or other caregiver to come to their home to provide one-on-one care to their children.
Whatever childcare choice US parents make, it has its upsides and downsides. The daycare setting can be beneficial to the socialization of children because they spend their days playing together and learning from each other. However, daycares can’t afford to hire an adult to take care of each child. So one caregiver has to keep her eye on several children at one time. This means less individual attention for each child and more chances for the child to get hurt if another child distracts the caregiver.
As far as having a nanny or au pair goes, the individual attention is there if you have the financial means to secure it. The question here is whether or not you have the right person for the job. If you do, it can be a wonderful solution. The children are allowed to stay in their own comfortable home environment, and someone whose job it is to interact with them and keep them out of harm’s way watches them closely. Many U.S. parents find that hiring someone they already know is the best way to find a good in-home caregiver. Others consult with nanny agencies and interview many candidates before they locate just the right person. And sometimes it takes more than one try to find the perfect fit.
There’s no easy answer as to what the best childcare option is. It depends on the family’s situation, for sure. But one thing is certain: finding the right childcare is one of the most important challenges of parenting in the United States.