One of my friends is 5 months pregnant. Instead of anticipating the arrival of her child, she has declared that she expects to have a nervous breakdown and has even started reading up on how to handle post-natal depression.
The reason? Her husband works long hours and her parents and in-laws have made it clear they have too many extra-curricular activities like mahjong to look after the baby. She’s freaking out about being left alone at home to fend for herself and the child, all while desperately searching for a new job. Paying for a confinement nanny or a full-time babysitter would be out of the question give her family’s current combined income.
If the above mirrors your own sentiments no matter how many happy pics you’ve posted in denial on Facebook, you’re not alone. Working parents especially have a lot on their plates, as without family support there is really no option but to pay for someone to mind the kid. Short of hiring a live-in maid, which understandably many mothers are wary of doing, here are your options.
Infantcare / Childcare centre
If you have a full-time job and are consistently unable to be around to look after your kid on weekdays, a childcare centre is probably your best bet in terms of value for money. While the cost of enrolling your kid at a childcare centre is certainly not low, it might still be cheaper than hiring a babysitter or nanny for the same amount of time—once your child is past the infant stage (ie. at least 18 months old). Infantcare is much more expensive.
Note that a childcare centre is usually not just a place where someone looks after your kid until you get off work. Each childcare centre usually has an educational component, meaning after a few months or years at childcare your kid is going to come home and start speaking in a crisp Singlish accent out of the blue.
Choosing a childcare centre isn’t easy, as despite the low birth rate childcare is quite a competitive industry in Singapore because nobody can afford to stay home and look after the kids.
How much you want to pay really depends on the brand of the centre and the educational methods they use. Here are some popular childcare providers:
NTUC: These centres tend to be some of the more affordable ones, so if you’re price-sensitive you’ll want to see if there are vacancies at one of these first. Price: $1,342.85 to $1,966.13
Churches: Some churches in Singapore offer affordable childcare services. Check out this link. You don’t have to be Christian to enrol your children. Average price: $600 to $700
Premium childcare centres: You might have heard of brands like Montessori and Blue House International and wondered why they were so expensive. Many premium childcare centres specialise in some special methodology that’s supposed to turn your child into a genius.
Average cost of full-day childcare: $700 to $750
If your baby is younger than 18 months old, you’ll have to send him or her to an infant care centre, not childcare. Infant care is more expensive. Many childcare centres have an infant care branch, but expect to pay 60% to 100% more for infantcare. NTUC’s My First Skool charges $1,342.85 to $1,966.13 for infantcare.
Average cost of full-day infant care: $1,500
*Note: Depending on your income level, you should be eligible for a certain amount of childcare or infantcare subsidies from the government of at least $300. If your combined family income is under $7,500 AND the mother works more than 56 hours a month you can receive an additional subsidy. Click here to find out how much.
If one of you is a stay-at-home parent or works flexible hours, you might be able to skip out on paying for childcare altogether, relying instead on a part-time or ad-hoc babysitter to fill in for you when you’re not around.
While there isn’t a clear distinction between a babysitter and a nanny (see below), we shall take the term babysitter to mean someone who just minds the child, while a nanny shall be taken to mean a lady who also helps out around the house and often stays overnight.
There are tons of babysitters in all shapes and sizes. Some are older and very experienced, while others are students hoping to make a bit of extra pocket money. Babysitters can be hired in advance or on an ad-hoc basis.
For instance, if you have to attend a class once a week, you can schedule a weekly session in advance. On the other hand, if your friends ask you out for a drink, you might want to hire an ad-hoc babysitter for that one night.
Also take note that some babysitters will travel to your place, while others want you to drop your kid off at theirs, where there might or might not be other kids waiting. You’ll want to ask if they have specific experience with infants and know how to handle breastmilk, sterilising of bottles and diapers.
Freelancers: Hiring a babysitter is very much like hiring a private tutor—you can go through a big agency or scout around for freelancers who self-advertise. Check out websites like Gumtree or Craigslist (if it doesn’t creep you out too much), or even noticeboards at supermarkets, and ask your friends for recommendations. If you’re uncomfortable about having a stranger in the house it’s advisable to engage the babysitter a couple of times when you’re around, only leaving her alone with the child when you’re sure she’s not a psychopath.
Agencies: There are tons of babysitting or nanny agencies on the web who promise Mary Poppins herself will show up on your doorstep, but if I were you I wouldn’t be so quick to believe their claims that they vet all their babysitters thoroughly. You’ll want to make your own assessment of the babysitter before leaving your child alone with her. Still, agencies can be a good way to get last minute help if your regular babysitter is out of action.
Cost: About $500 to $900 a month for 10-12 hours a day, 5-5.5 days a week at your house. Price is lower if your drop your kid off at the babysitter’s and are open to her looking after other kids at the same time.
Amah or nanny
If you’re sick of waking up in the middle of the night or want someone who can help out around the house in addition to looking after the baby, an amah or nanny might be the answer. Usually older women who have lots of experience looking after kids, amahs or nannies can help out with tasks other than simply minding the baby, such as cooking and cleaning. Be sure to define the scope of duties before hiring in order to avoid misunderstanding, and for the love of God please don’t try to exploit the amah by overloading her with household tasks unless you want your kid left unattended while she struggles to unplug the toilet.
Many of the channels through which nannies or amahs can be hired are the same as those through which regular babysitters can be found. Here are some other factors to consider:
Qualifications vs experience?: Not saying you should go all paper-chase-crazy here, but bear in mind that there are nanny qualifications (this is Singapore after all…) from two organisations called the Association for Early Childhood Educators (ACES) and Adventlinks -SAUC Education Centre. There are also confinement nanny qualifications from the Wings-KKH Confinement Nanny Training Programme and Thomson Medical Centre under a WDA-approved progrmame. Many older nannies won’t have these qualifications but might make up for it with experience. Your call.
Live-in or live-out?: Some parents have a nanny live with them for a period of time, such as during the confinement period or the child’s first year. This can be more convenient than hiring a maid as you won’t have to worry about training or handling work permits and documentation. Other nannies come over for 10-12 hours a day.
Part-time or ad-hoc?: Part-time nannies usually have set hours, while ad-hoc ones come over whenever they’re needed, although you might need to inform them in advance.
Other duties?: Nannies are usually capable of taking on other duties, which might include cooking, cleaning or even giving tuition to the kid and picking the kids up from school.
Price: Range is usually from $750 (day-time only, includes the cost of food) to $1,500 (overnight or live-in)