Four and six years ago I wrote posts describing what we had tried for childcare. Now that the kids are older (7y and 5y), I can ask them what they liked and didn't. Both of gave the same order:

  1. Us or someone else (au pair, nanny, housemate, friend) watching them.
  2. In-person school.
  3. Virtual school.
  4. Watching themselves.

Anna has only just started Kindergarten, and so has very limited experience of school. She did a small amount of virtual preschool, because she didn't like that only Lily had calls, but she didn't like that and we stopped.

They really didn't like watching themselves:

Anna: "When Lily was on a [school] call Lily couldn't play with me, so there was basically nothing that I could do that I wanted to. And the only thing I wanted to do was play a game that needed at least two people. And, in particular, it needed to be two kids. And there were no other kids who were available to play except me.

Lily: "I liked all of these except watching myself. It was just boring."

(I've gone back and added a note to my post.)

I asked what they thought about having lessons with us. Lily put it between virtual school and watching herself; Anna put it between someone watching them and in-person school.

I also tried asking them to imagine that they'd been sick, and weren't allowed to go back to school yet because they might still be contagious. Would they be sad to stay home from school or happy not to go? Lily was sad to stay home; Anna wasn't.

I asked them if they'd liked all of their childcare providers and they said yes. I asked if there were parts they didn't like:

Lily: "[one of them] mostly lied down on the couch and sometimes made us go to parks even when we didn't want to and sometimes had us stay inside when we wanted to go to the park".

Anna: "when [one of them] would brush my hair, she also thought she was supposed to brush my ears!"

What we did when:

Ages 2y5m to 6y9m / 0y6m to 4y10m: au pairs

We had a series of four au pairs. Typically an au pair stays for a year, and may renew for a second. Our first au pair stayed for three months (homesick), the second for a year (ineligible to renew), the third for two years (renewed), and the fourth for a year (planned to renew, but pandemic).

Overall, this was a really good experience. I liked all of them, and so did the kids. We're still in touch with them through our kids pictures facebook group. Especially during the pandemic, having live-in childcare was really helpful. There were also some downsides: one stole some money from us, and we couldn't expect to find someone who would be as good fit for the house as a counterfactual housemate.

At the end of this period Lily was in Kindergarten and First Grade: in person, then virtual, then back in person. Virtual school was ~2.5hr/d of calls, and the rest free time (with schoolwork that was nominally required but we ignored).

Even counting the cost of providing a room, food, and a phone plan, (and, in the one case, their stealing some money) having an au pair is the cheapest option we've tried.

(Julia has also written some about au pairs, and specifically the question of who benefits from the au pair program.)

Ages 6y9m / 4y10m to 7y1m / 5y2m: housemate + on their own

For the four months at the beginning of 2021, one of our housemates watched them three days a week and they watched themselves the other two. Lily was in virtual school (~2.5hr/d). This worked well, though they didn't like watching themselves much (see above).

Ages 7y1m / 5y2m to 7y3m / 5y5m: friend

As things opened up with vaccination, our housemate was going to go back to work full-time and Lily restarted in-person school. I posted on Facebook:

Is anyone interested in watching Anna and Lily, at our house in Somerville? 5/10 to 6/11, potentially additional days before then if you're free. We're flexible in terms of hours: full time is good, but so would be just 11:30am to 2:30pm Monday-Thursday, or anything in between. We've been paying $20/hr.

Lily will be in school in person until ~2:30pm; Anna will be home and want someone to play with. The only scheduled pieces are getting Anna her lunch, putting her down for nap, and picking up Lily at school (walking distance).

I asked the kids what they're looking for, and they said they wanted someone who would, ideally:

  • Take them outside every day
  • Help them make art projects
  • Have a dance party once a week
  • Expect that the kids will sing
  • Expect that the kids will be silly, especially Anna
  • Build things with them out of cardboard
  • Understand that Lily is vegetarian
  • Understand that Anna is not vegetarian

One of the adults in our house is fully vaccinated, and by late April I think all will have had at least one shot and some will have had two. We're either looking for someone who will be fully vaccinated, or who is willing to carefully sort out covid precautions until they can be.

Several friends were interested, and we lined things up with one. They had some other commitments in parallel, but because we were both working from home and the kids were comfortable watching themselves this wasn't a problem. We ended up averaging ~34hr/wk.

Ages 7y3m / 5y5m / 0y0m to 7y5m / 5y7m / 0y2m: ourselves

When Nora was born we both took time off work. Julia took 8w sequentially, while I did something more complicated. With Lily and Anna I'd taken most of my leave as a single 10w chunk after Julia went back to work, minimizing child care costs and maximizing time getting to know the new baby. This time I decided not to do that: I wanted to take a good part of my leave while Lily and Anna were off from school, and I didn't want to have to spin back up after an extended leave from work. I ended up doing 2w off, 1w on, 1w off, 1w on, and then 3w off. I'm planning to take another 2w when our current childcare provider visits her family in November, and I'll take the remaining 4w at some point before it expires in June.

This means that I've had less extended solo time with Nora than I did with Anna (when Julia was working, but in the same house), and much less than with Lily (when Julia was working elsewhere). I wouldn't want to have taken this approach with a first baby (more), but with our third it feels like an acceptable compromise.

Ages 7y5m / 5y7m / 0y2m to present: au pair back as nanny

One of our former au pairs now has permanent residency and work permission, and we were very glad that she was available. She's watching all three kids five days a week, though the older two are now at in-person school 2/3 of the day. Especially with Nora being just 2m, we've been really lucky to have someone who already knew us, our parenting style, the house, and the kids.

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I really like that you talk with your kids about their ideas and expectations and take them seriously. It takes some time and a lot of awareness and communication to get there but it is totally worth it.

PS. It would be cool if you could crosspost your blog post Equal Parenting Advice for Dads on LW too.

Congrats on the new born!