One thing my wife and I have discussed and debated with regards to our baby girl is how we want to handle childcare, considering we both work full time jobs. And I’m guessing we’re not alone in trying to figure out the best childcare options (for infants especially).
Our general debate was “daycare or in-home nanny” because those were really the only viable options to us, especially at an age when our daughter isn’t yet going to school.
However, there are obviously a lot of other options available that we first considered before narrowing it down to the two options that seemed most realistic to us. So before I get into my specific analysis of the best childcare options, let’s go through the different types of childcare available, and the pros and cons of each.
I promise, this isn’t as difficult as it seems.
So What are the Best Childcare Options for Working Parents?
For some people, this is easy to figure out, but for others (including myself), it took some time and analysis.
After all, you’re leaving your baby in the care of someone else – sometimes a stranger. And that can be pretty scary when you’re a new parent. The one thing you have to keep in mind is, when you look back on this experience years from now, you’ll probably be happy with whatever option you chose.
But for right now, I know, that doesn’t help you.
And it’s more than just finding a warm body to be in the general proximity of your child. You want to find a balance between what’s best for you, and what’s best for your child. With that in mind, let’s dig into each of the possible childcare options.
Option #1: Traditional Daycare
This is a pretty popular option because it’s one that’s at least available to most people (I say this as someone who lives in a major US city…your location may be different). You drop your child off in the morning, pick him or her up in the afternoon…pretty simple. Very similar to going to school, in terms of logistics.
With that said, I feel like this one can be one of the more polarizing options. It almost seems like for each of the benefits of daycare, there’s an equally compelling reason to choose something other than daycare.
- Your child gets to socialize with other kids – This always felt to me like the most compelling reason to choose daycare over another option. Learning to get along with other kids and strangers is obviously a good skill to build at an early age, and I think a traditional daycare offers that.
- Convenient (if it’s nearby) – You can drop of and pick up within the hours that they’re open, and assuming it’s nearby where you live, it makes for a relatively convenient option.
- Reliable (open every day) – Holidays and weekends aside, most daycares are open every day. No having to deal with finding a backup plan if your caregiver is sick, for example.
- Built-in vetting – Assuming you’ve done your research on the daycare facility itself, you can generally trust that they will hire qualified people. No need for you to do interviews and background checks yourself.
- Cost – One thing you’ll find with most childcare options is that they aren’t cheap. Daycare costs can vary widely, but I know in my city it’s very common to see monthly daycare costs (5 days a week) at a rate of $2,000-2,500 per month. Even a 3-day a week option can be around $1,500 or so per month. You can certainly find less expensive daycares depending on your location, but either way it’s a significant expense.
- Little ability to monitor – Once you drop your child off at daycare, you generally don’t have a ton of visibility of what’s going on during the day. Many daycares will keep you in the loop (i.e. provide some kind of report on feedings, naps, behavior) but you usually can’t check in real time without actually calling them.
- Time lost with drop-off/pickup – If your daycare isn’t nearby, you’re probably going to add 30-60 minutes to your round trip daily work commute because you’ll have to drop off and pick up your child (unless you can get someone else to do it for you!).
- Flexibility (if they have a hard open and close time) – Most daycares have a pretty rigid schedule; I would guess the average open/close time is 7:00 am to 6:00 pm (and this of course will vary). If that timing doesn’t fit with your work schedule, a traditional daycare may not be for you.
- More exposure to illness – Kids in daycare get sick more often. That just seems to be a fact of life, like death and taxes. They’re around other kids, everyone’s putting toys in their mouths, and naturally germs will spread. If your kid gets sick, expect him or her to have to stay home (most daycares won’t let you bring in a child who’s clearly sick).
- Adult-to-child ratio – This could actually be a pro or a con, depending the daycare. But in general, you will never have a one-to-one ratio in a daycare, so it’s here as a con. Anyone looking after your son or daughter will typically be watching 2-4 other kids (depending on age).
- Daycare Options from Care.com – Browse different daycare options available in your area.
Option #2: In-Home Nanny
The in-home nanny is exactly what it sounds like. A nanny comes to your house every day to care for your child. Although “in-home nanny” could also include live-in nannies (i.e. a nanny who lives with you), this section is really focused on nannies who come to your house in the morning and leave in the afternoon/early evening.
- Save time in mornings and evenings – This is a big positive point for me; because the nanny comes to you, you don’t have to drop-off/pick-up before and after work.
- Trusted resource for the family – With a daycare, you don’t necessarily get to know the various caretakers of your child. They may come and go without you ever knowing. With a nanny, you build rapport with that one individual who, in turn, can become a trusted resource for your family.
- One-to-one care – Unlike at daycare, your child will get the sole attention of your nanny (assuming you don’t have other young kids, of course). Depending on the needs of your child, this could be a major point that would drive you toward pickng a nanny over daycare.
- Hours more flexible – As stated before, a traditional daycare tends to have rigid hours (something like 7 am to 6 pm). Depending on the nanny, hours can be quite a bit more flexible.
- Cost – This is the big reason people often can’t choose nanny over daycare. It’s just too expensive. With that said, the cost can vary pretty widely. $10-20 per hour is cited as the average wage of an experienced nanny who doesn’t live with you. Assuming you’re gone at work from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm (10 hours), that’s $100-200 per day, or $2,000-4,000 per month. Easily more expensive than most daycares.
- Need backup plan if nanny is unavailable – If your nanny gets sick or can’t work for some other reason (death in the family, etc.), you need a backup plan in place. This is different from daycare, where there would be other people who cover by default.
- Need to spend more time vetting – Considering you’re going to be leaving the wellbeing of your child in what is essentially the hands of a stranger, it’s important to do your homework before you hire a nanny. Not only are background checks recommended, but you should probably also interview the person before hiring. All of these things take time and effort that isn’t necessarily required when you’re looking at a daycare.
- Less socialization compared to daycare – If you’re just having a nanny come to your house, your child probably isn’t getting too much exposure to other kids. It’s not always a bad thing, but if you do go the nanny route, you’ll want to encourage the nanny to take your kid to the park or other kid-friendly public places.
Option #3: Shared Nanny
A shared nanny is an interesting option where you actually would split the nanny with 1 or 2 other families. The nanny typically goes to one family’s house, and the parents of the other kids would drop their kids off at the house with the nanny. While the overall cost for the nanny is typically higher (as he or she has to care for more kids), it’s split among the 2-3 families.
- Mostly same as in-home nanny – The benefits of a shared nanny can be the same as an in-home nanny; you’re simply sharing those with another family. In most cases, the family you are sharing with is nearby, so if you have to drop your child off somewhere, it’s not far away. The biggest difference is that you lose the one-on-one care.
- Some socialization with other kid(s) – Another big difference from an in-home nanny is that your child will be able to socialize with at least one other child.
- Reduced cost – Because the nanny is shared, this option is typically cheaper than an in-home nanny. Depending on the nanny and the circumstances, this can even be cheaper than some daycares.
- May not be at your house – This can be a big drawback, especially when you consider that one of the best benefits of having a nanny is the flexibility and convenience offered by the fact that they come to you.
- Need to find other family to share – This was a big drawback for us when we first looked at this option. If you don’t have a family that you already know with a child in need of a nanny, you have to find one. There are places to do this online, but ultimately you’re still coordinating with someone you don’t know. Add in the fact that you may be sending your child to someone else’s house, and you’re left with a situation that probably requires a little bit of exploration. Not only do you need to interview and run a background check on the nanny, but you may also want to see the other person’s house before sending your child there.
- Other cons as in-home nanny – The other cons of a regular in-home nanny still apply. You still need a backup plan, you still need to vet the nanny, and it’s still less socialization when compared to a daycare.
- NannyShare – find a family to share a nanny with
Option #4: Family (parents, grandparents, etc.)
This is definitely one of the best childcare options if it’s available to you. I wish we had family nearby who could watch our daughter during the day, but unfortunately, it just wasn’t a realistic option for us.
- Cheap or free – This really is #1 for a lot of parents who go with this option. Professional childcare, no matter what option you choose, is a lot of money. Being able to avoid that cost can relieve a potentially tremendous financial burden.
- People you can trust – Most people inherently trust their family more than they would a stranger. (I’m saying most people, because everyone has that family member who they wouldn’t trust to take care of a goldfish.)
- Possible convenience, especially if they come to you – This one kind of depends on the situation, but if your family member is willing to come to your home, it’s very convenient.
- Guilt for burdening a family member with this responsibility – This one is kind of self-explanatory; although you may have family members more than happy to help you out, being a full-time caretaker of a young child is not an easy job. They may feel obligated to help, but you may also feel some guilt for giving them that responsibility.
- Could hurt your relationship with that person – Going along with the first point, you are asking a lot of any family member who cares for your child on a full-time basis. This isn’t going to be an issue for a lot of people who rely on family, but it is something to keep in mind if you have a sensitive relationship with that person.
- May not be as reliable – Reliability can suffer when the person is doing it for free, out of the kindness of their heart. Whether that means they randomly can’t help a day here or there or they show up late / need to leave early, family generally isn’t as reliable as a professional caregiver who’s getting paid to do the job.
- May not be as “good” or attentive as a professional – This doesn’t apply to everyone, but depending on the family member, they may not be a good with kids as a professional caregiver.
Option #5: Parent Quitting Job and Staying Home
In a two-parent household, the general reason that childcare is even needed is because both parents work. So, naturally, one solution may be that a parent needs to quit his or her job and stay home with the child. And if your personal finances allow for it, this can easily be one of the best childcare options for you.
- Better bonding time with child – The obvious benefit to this option is that you or your spouse gets to spend more time with your child, which is always a good thing at a young age.
- Childcare savings (but see the con below about “opportunity cost”) – Similar to having a family member watch your child, you don’t need to hire a nanny or enroll your child in a daycare. Lots of money saved.
- Probably the “ideal” way to raise a child – This is just my opinion, but one that I think many people share. In an ideal world, I would think you’d want an infant to spend nearly 100% of the time with at least one parent. Sure, you want to mix in some socialization with other kids and whatnot, but for the bulk of the time, having a parent around is definitely a good thing. And in situations where it’s the mother, there are added benefits, like being able to continue breastfeeding (depending on age).
- Opportunity cost (lost income from job) – Quitting your job to care for your infant child may seem to be “free” compared to a nanny or daycare, but we all know that isn’t exactly true. If you were making $50K/year and you quit your job to care for your child, the cost of that care is really the $50K/year you are giving up. It’s one reason stay at home moms like to start blogs and do other things at home that can allow them to continue earning money while caring for their child.
- Parent’s sanity – If you or your spouse is used to working 5 days a week, quitting your job to stay home and care for a child can be a drastic change. Getting to spend so much time with your infant is a wonderful thing, but many parents will admit to going a little crazy. There are ways around that, of course – play groups where you can socialize with other parents, walks to the park, etc.
- Parent loses some social life (always home, etc.) – This really goes along with the point above; in addition to the loss of sanity, you may find a loss of some social life, to the extent that your work was a big part of your social life (for many, it is). You go from interacting with friend, co-workers, clients, etc. to sitting at home with a little human being who can’t talk and requires complete supervision.
My Overall (Personal) Analysis of the Best Childcare Options
So what’s the best childcare option? I think any of the above can be, depending on your personal circumstances and how you weight each of the pros and cons. For some people, money isn’t an issue. Others have parents who live 5 minutes away who are willing to watch their children.
At the end of the day, we went with the traditional daycare option. As I said at the start of this post, daycare and nanny were our only options, as we don’t have family nearby and it doesn’t make sense for either us to quit our jobs.
Fortunately our jobs are flexible enough where our daughter only needs to be in daycare 3 days a week, which saves a little bit of money (though not as as much as you might think). We’re paying $1,450/month, in case you’re wondering, for the 3 day/week option. That’s pretty typical in our area (Chicago).
We could have just as easily gone with a nanny, but for us that probably would cost more money and involve more work (interviewing nannies, etc.).
I actually like the shared nanny option a lot, and it’s something we would have definitely considered had we known of a family looking to share a nanny.
What about you? Which option do you like best? And is there an option that I didn’t discuss here (I’m sure there is) ? Leave a comment below!