My childcare choice

We spoke to Linda, mum to 18-month-old Maria, about her childcare choices and her experience of returning to work.

Going back to work was a real shock to the system. The four months or so before I went back was an anxious time. Not only was I looking for childcare, but thoughts such as “can I still do this?, Will my colleagues accept me again?” were buzzing round my mind.

Looking back, my advice to anyone in a similar situation is to take your time and do your research.

To start with, make sure you’re up to speed with the policies and procedures in your workplace. Are you able to return to work on a flexible basis? Would your company support you working from home some of the week? Will you be able to work any keeping in touch (KIT) days during your maternity leave? Take any options that are offered to help you get into the swing of being a working mother.

Once you know what your working pattern is likely to be when you return, you can begin the search for childcare. Start your search with an open mind – you won’t necessarily know who’ll feel the right fit to care for your child until you meet them.

When you have found your ideal childcare solution, remember to read the contracts, policies and procedures and so on really carefully. Knowing in advance what would happen if you, your baby or your childminder is ill can help reduce some of the associated worry when it inevitably happens.

It’s worth remembering that all childcare settings are different, and they’ll each have their own payment structures, policies and procedures. Before signing your contracts, make sure you understand what the fees cover and when you’re expected to pay for the childcare service. Ask whether you can pay using childcare vouchers, tax-free childcare, or make use of free early education sessions if your child is eligible.

Don’t forget about deposits! Chances are you’ll have started your childcare search some weeks before your maternity leave ends. It’s a great idea, as knowing that your childcare is sorted will help put your mind at rest as you begin to think about going back to work. Budget carefully, though, as many childcare providers will charge a deposit to reserve your space. Make sure you know how much this holding charge will be, and whether or not it’s offset against later payments.

Make the most of settling-in days and your keeping in touch days at work. KIT days are optional, so you and your employer will need to agree that you can work them. They can be helpful for you to keep up to speed with what’s going on at work, but also give you a chance to get used to what getting back into the work routine will be like – for you and your baby. Settling-in days at your childcare setting are vital as they’ll help your baby and their new childcarer to get to know each other.

For us, surviving the first few weeks back at work was down to routines, schedules and lists. We have lists for everything. It means that even if we’re feeling bleary eyed and barely functional in the morning, the routines are rock solid – and that helps everyone!

Top tips for back-to-work survival

  • Cook in batches, and freeze in portions – not just baby food, either. It makes life loads easier if weekday dinners are just a matter of leaving food to defrost while you’re at work and then heating it up in the evening.
  • Welcome help from anyone! There’s a triple benefit, too – your family and friends get to bond with your baby; your baby grows in confidence as they learn to interact with more people; and you get a few precious moments to yourself!
  • Talk to your childcarer. It’s vital. Chat every day about what your baby’s been doing, how they’re developing and growing, and remember to share any information that will help. Are they teething? Did she sleep well last night? Is he interested in trying new foods? Ask them for their tips on encouraging crawling, or weaning. Your childcarer is an expert and will be able to suggest things that can help you with these key stages of your child’s development.
  • Know what your emergency cover plans are before there’s an emergency! Calling round local childcarers, friends and family at 6.30 in the morning to find someone to care for your baby because you have to be at work is no fun at all.
  • Make sure the baby bag is fully stocked at all times. Ours has a contents list so we (and anyone looking after our daughter) knows what’s where. And when we use something, we try to replace it as quickly as possible to avoid being caught short with no nappy and only one wipe left!
  • Try to roll with the punches. There are always new horizons approaching – whether that’s moving from feeding on demand to weaning, from nappies to pants, or from full-time care in one setting to a more patchwork provision, depending on your needs. Keep looking to the future, but not at the expense of the present.
  • Try not to listen to those voices in your head that have a habit of being less than supportive. Chances are, you’re doing just fine!

And how do I know it's all working out OK? I know that my child is in the best place she can be while we’re at work, and that helps us get on with providing for our family. In particular, I try not to get too precious about “firsts”. If I miss something, it’s OK. When my daughter takes her first steps towards me, or strings her first sentence together in reply to a question, it will still be magical!