The five stages of finding daycare

For such a mundane process, why is sorting out daycare such an emotional rollercoaster? From denial to acceptance with a lot of anger in between.

dad and baby hug

If you are a parent and a worker the moment will come sooner or later that you discover being able to competently handle one precludes managing the other.

For all the talk of multi-tasking and ‘having it all’, the fact is that you can either type or you can bounce a child on your knee, and trying to do them at once means missed deadlines and a screaming infant.

As a freelancer who works from home I had gotten very used to the clean air offered by having my son in childcare three days a week.

But then we moved interstate and I realised I had to start the whole search process again. (To punctuate this realisation, my beaming son chose that moment of distraction to gleefully pour his water bottle over my hard drives.)

We had already accepted that daycare had to be in the mix unless we scored a massive inheritance and/or some very effective internet scams.

But daycare has benefits for children too, with Australia standards some of the highest in the world.

The socialisation, the early education, making friends in the local area, running around outside like a mad thing — all these seemed like great experiences for our little boy.

Plus we’d asked a bunch of local parents about what the daycare situation was like and they all said, “Oh yeah, it’s great — you won’t have any problems at all”.

Dear reader, they were telling us filthy untruths. But to discover this, we had to work our way through the Five Stages of Finding Childcare.

1. Denial

There was a certain amount of this inherent in the assumption that lobbing into an entirely new city and finding a daycare that was close, affordable and high quality would be straightforward and fun, not least because it involved very deliberately not remembering what it was like the previous time. Spoiler: the first time was also neither straightforward nor fun.


Like so many things connected with having children, the brain is gentle and kind in filtering out certain memories, since there’s no way you’d go through all that again otherwise.

And in a way I was grateful, since I was already too far committed to the process of getting on waiting lists, booking in site visits, and dredging up paperwork still sitting in unopened shipping cartons by the time my will to keep struggling had evaporated. Thanks, denial!

2. Anger

We checked out several places based on recommendations of geographic proximity and there was certainly no anger — just meeting a lot of enthusiastic, dedicated people with a clear passion for working with kids. Who doesn’t love that?

The anger kicked in at the end of the tour of the facilities, once we’d seen our boy playing on the equipment and idly wondered which of the other children would become his first lifelong friend.

That’s when the administrator would casually mention that actually there weren’t any places for at least six months and the waiting list was pretty crazy, but we’d be welcome to pop our names down once we’d registered.

Seriously, childcare industry. If you try to check into a hotel they don’t give you a run through the gym, show off the ocean view, and run through that week’s dinner specials before mentioning that they’re booked out. It’s a more time saving model which we would very much encourage you to explore.

3. Bargaining

You’re looking at anywhere between $80 and $200 a day, depending on location and what they offer. So this stage didn’t involve trying to cut deals so much as trying to convince ourselves that maybe we were too ambitious with looking at somewhere local and convenient, and that we should compromise by expanding our search to everywhere in the time zone that wasn’t on fire.

We are not a religious family, but by the third walkthrough we were already promising the Forces of the Cosmos that we would be forever good people if only it would see fit to make them have a three-day-a-week window in the right age bracket.

The Forces of the Cosmos, however, were not willing to barter with us. At least, not yet. There were two more stages to come, starting with…

4. Depression

There are two distinctly disheartening moments in the childcare search. One is when you sit down and crunch the numbers on what you feel you can realistically afford versus what you’re actually going to have to pay.

And just as an aside on that, fellas, if you did the thing of working out what your other half was going to make returning to work minus the cost of childcare, then maybe give yourself a little slap.

(It’s not her expense, it’s a joint one that you take on. Chances are you both have careers that you don’t want to lose ground in, or maybe neither of you feel completely satisfied doing all the unpaid labour around the house. In any case, any dad who utters the phrase “pfft, it’s hardly worth you returning to work if it’s going to cost us this much” deserves every bit of furious what-the-actual-hell abuse they get in response. Seriously, guys, don’t be jerks.)

But even doing the number-crunching feels like a birthday lottery win compared with the most soul-destroying part of childcare: that inevitable, unavoidable, inexorable wait on hold to Centrelink to sort out the childcare rebate. Oh dear god.

And sure, in theory that is done through your helpful MyGov portal, except there’s invariably something which can’t be done online or which needs to be dealt with via a human being.

And in order to get to a human being, you’ll be hearing a loop of “Theme from Centrelink” interspersed with suggestions that you try MyGov so frequently that by the end you’re going to be convinced that they’re mocking you. Which they are.

5. Acceptance

And then we got The Call. The place we liked most had days available when we wanted them, and a place for our boy at the end of the month. The rates were reasonable. Centrelink said it was all fine because we were already on the system. All our son’s paperwork was up to date.

And thus I write this piece in part to counter stage six — the inevitable forgetting, when someone asks about childcare in our area and I blithely say “oh yeah, it’s great — you won’t have any problems at all.”

RELATED: Development milestone: 12-12 months 

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