Some people are able to ask a friend, and we kind of had that option. We have a friend who watches a couple of other children, but she lives 20-30 minutes away from home and work. She's really awesome, and if it wasn't for that pesky location thing, she would be Jack's caregiver while we work. We also know a stay-at-home dad who was willing to, but again, location, location, location! So the friend option was out.
It was on to finding an in-home daycare or a daycare center. We choose a daycare center. Look, I know a couple of people that have lucked out with a stranger who runs a daycare out of their home (it was based on friend's or friend of friend's recommendation). But I just could not put Jack into a home where I did not know the person before hand. Fault me for having trust issues, but my comfort level of leaving Jack with complete strangers was at a facility that had tons of other adults, kids, and the occasional state inspector. Just because my level of comfort was with a state inspected daycare center doesn't mean it has to be yours-- it's cool if we have different comfort levels, and this will sound hippy, dippy, but your instinct on which daycare is right for you, it will be there. Just trust it.
So Bobby and I went from daycare to daycare center within a five mile radius while I was 32 weeks pregnant, interviewing the directors and teachers of each facility. That might seem really early to some people, but daycares in our neighborhood, especially ones that take infants, fill up fast. Plus Jack came 4 weeks early, so that moved up our need date for a daycare. If you're new to this finding a daycare or preschool thing, then talk to some other friends that have kids and that live in your town/city. You'll get a feel for 1) what the various daycares are like and 2) when you need to start looking and register.
Happy Jack at Time Tutor; picture text messages during the work day are the best!
So Bobby and I got the good feels off of 2 places. There was a 3rd where the infant teachers seemed great, but the preschool teachers, not so much. We definitely wanted a place that Jack could grow at and potentially graduate preschool from there (nope, not even thinking of when he goes to kindergarten; he still has 2.5 years; he's still a baby, la,la,la). When interviewing in-home caregivers or daycare centers, we used a list to ask questions about the centers' rules and practices. I can't find that list now, but this one from Child Care Aware is similar. So these 2 places both checked off most of the questions on the list, and we overall liked these 2 places.
One, let's call it Horizons Bright, I liked slightly more, but it was way more than what we wanted to pay. So number 2, let's call it Time Tutor, won out. Jack's been at Time Tutor for over 2 years now, and he's made some friends, learned some things, and overall seems content. We like that he gets feed there (we don't have to pack lunches or snacks, which is really nice as a working parent to not stress over what to pack in his lunch), that we can easily talk to the teachers and directors about fixing issues, that he gets to paint, read, tumble, play ground, craft, sing and other learning activities, that they send electronic updates throughout the day (see picture above), that he's made friends, and that he seems content most days there (separation anxiety on both sides comes and goes).
Of course there's been some hiccups. The first week leaving him there, I was a complete wreck, crying everyday. Maybe it was more than a week; I don't fully remember at this point. Then one of the aide's was forgetting to write down bottle feedings, so we thought 10 month old Jack wasn't being feed. Let me tell you that we talked to the director about that and that the director fixed that right away. Then there was the time, around 18 months, that Jack seemed to be picked on by another kid in the one year old class. We also raised concerns about the bullying (not sure what to call it when toddlers terrorize each other), and the kid got moved. Of course, then there was the time that Jack was the bully (shortly after his bully was moved). That got addressed too, and happy to say we haven't gotten a biting/punching/pinching report in over a year (knock on wood).
The point of all that no daycare is perfect, but a good daycare knows how to address issues and concerns. I'm pretty sure 18 month old Jack would be biting me if he stayed home with me. And that he'd be crying at daddy leaving for work/having separation anxiety. I hear all the stories from friends about their daycare experiences, and they've had their hiccups too. Of course there's a difference between hiccups and big issues that won't get fixed. For example, forgetting to write down a feeding vs. forgetting feedings (on more than one occasion) is a big issue. Repeated bullying where the director doesn't address it is a big issue. Anytime we've had a concern, it's been addressed and fixed. Big issues are hardly ever fixed.
Any daycare provider worth a shark will answer your questions and address your concerns. If the daycare provider can't calmly talk you through "well, this is kind of normal, but I understand your concern, so let's talk and work through it," then red flag, red flag! If you have that nagging little voice in the back of your head that it's time to leave, then leave. Sometimes it is hard to know when you're just being a narcotic, sleep deprived parent and when you're right that this place sharks.I think it's when the same concern never leaves your head; that it keeps coming back to you/you keep dwelling on it. I haven't dwelt on any of the above once we talked to the teachers and the issue got fixed. As Bobby and I kind of get the hang of this parenting thing (I don't think we'll ever have a complete hang of it, haha), we kind of get a better feel for what works. And to any parent trying to find daycare out there, you will too. You'll know which kind of daycare works for you and your family. Your instinct on which daycare is right, it will be there. You'll just know.
For more clarity and help on the "you'll just know": it will be a warm fuzzy feeling where you can picture your child talking fondly of Ms. Olsen or eating ice cream with grandpa or hugging teacher before leaving or making all kinds of baby friends or painting pictures with his/her tiny hands while your friend/caregiver sings "Wheels on the Bus" and so on. It's where you can envision your child spending his/her days, growing into a smart and beautiful jellybean and donning that adorable mini-cap and gown for preschool graduation. You'll get a little misty eyed when you have that vision, and you'll know, this is the place. My final thought here: I am so glad that I don't have to look for a daycare anymore (I hope never again, but things can change). No jealousy loss there. Happy daycare/preschool wishes to us all-- may we all have wonderful daycare/preschool experiences!
Here's practical advice versus my hippy, dippy "you'll just know":