Child Care Choices: Weighing the Pros and Cons of Nannies and Day Care

Use this list to help you decide who takes care of your child after you go back to work.

nanny lying next to baby

While pregnant with her first child, Rori Malech of Potomac, MD spent a ton of time trying to make choices - the right crib, the perfect onesie, the best diaper brand. But once her son was born, she faced one of her biggest decisions yet: What would she do for child care when she returned to her high-powered job as an attorney?

Malech was not alone in facing this decision. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 66 percent of women with children age 17 or younger work either full or part time. That means more families than ever are exploring child care choices and weighing all the financial, logistical and emotional decisions that come with them. Here, experts Carolyn Stolov, M.Ed, family life expert at Care.com; Lawrence J. Cohen, PhD, psychologist and author of Playful Parenting; and Jennifer Kogan, LICSW, point out everything parents should consider when choosing between day care and nannies.

Day Care:

Pros

  • Builds social skills. With so many kids to play with and learn from, day care provides the benefit of socialization, says Cohen. This is especially important to children once they are three or four, and to children who like lots of novelty and stimulation.
  • Rich resources. Most centers offer a wide array of toys, games, enrichments, play equipment and more. They may have more materials one home could ever provide, ranging from art supplies and educational games to dress-up outfits and building blocks. Many also bring in experts for extra activities or lessons like music or gymnastics.
  • State regulated. Day care centers must abide by state regulations around safety, sanitation, staffing, space issues and more. Stolov points out a plus that states also require workers to have a certain level of education and experience -- including ongoing education. Of course, this also shouldn't be assumed. When visiting day care centers, be sure look for the most recent state license -- and ask if you don't see one displayed. Also, see if they have been accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Centers who go through this process tend to go above and beyond state licensing requirements.
  • Additional supervision. In most centers, teachers are supervised by a director and there are many families and teachers popping in and out of the classrooms, providing an extra level of safety and supervision.

Considerations

  • Your schedule. You are stuck in a meeting as the clock ticks toward the end of the day. Since day care centers have specific closing times, you may have to leave work before you are ready or pay the center hefty fines for late pick-ups. Not to mention walking in the door at dinner time and having to get you and your little one situated. (Get 6 tips for surviving the Witching Hours ?)
  • Your child's personality. Certain children may struggle with a multitude of transitions and stimuli throughout the day (while others may be fine). But every child's temperament is different, Stolov emphasizes. Know yours. Some children find group care overwhelming and are sensitive to too much stimulation, noise and teacher transitions.
  • Group realities. Other kids' behavior and development can impact your child's day. How will your child be influenced by a child who needs additional discipline? How do you feel about teachers caring for a few infants at one time?
  • Sick policies. Yes, germs and kids go together like macaroni and cheese. And daycare centers often have strict "stay home if you're sick" policy. That means you may get called at work to pick up your ill child or will have to arrange last-minute care if he strikes a fever.

Nanny:

Pros

  • You can call the shots. According to Kogan, some moms find this sense of control reassuring. Since you are directing one person -- your nanny -- about your child's day, you have more control over what your child does, when he does it and how he does it -- not to mention where he goes and what he is exposed to. And, you can keep your child on a schedule if you so desire -- from naps and snacks to meals and play time. You can also ask for detailed daily reports and picture texts during the day to make you feel part of their fun.
  • One-on-one attention and attachment. Nannies provide the benefit of a single attachment figure, Cohen says, which can be especially important to younger children and to those who have strong reactions to new and unfamiliar situations. The nanny is focused on your child's needs, and there's no competition for attention.
  • Logistics can be a lot easier. Some parents actually enjoy their child-free commute to work! There is a lot to be said for walking out the door with your laptop, on time and without a diaper bag or toddler's backpack. Dinner and the witching hour can be a bit easier; if you forgot to put the casserole in the oven, you can call home and ask your nanny to do it. When you need a plumber, you don't have to take off work to wait -- your nanny is there to let him in. Many nannies help with light housework, kid meals or the children's laundry.

Considerations

  • Depending on one person. You may be out of luck when nanny gets sick or has to leave town. A nanny coming down with the flu or needing time off can send parents into a tailspin. There's no group of staffers to step in. You'll need to have a backup plan or take time off work.
  • No regulation or oversight. The nanny is only regulated by the employer who hires her. Nannies aren't required to have certain levels of education or child development coursework (though many do). Screening nanny candidates and running background checks is up to parents (or the nanny agency).
  • The parent becomes the employer. Having a household employee who makes over $1800 a year means you pay taxes. It also means you can claim child care expenses toward dependent care flexible spending accounts (if you have that workplace benefit). "Making it legal" can often cost above the agreed to hourly rate. In addition, nannies are often full-time employees, depending on a weekly paycheck. So there is an obligation to pay them for sick time, vacation days -- and time you might take the kids to Nana's. It's best to talk this out up front and put your agreement in a nanny contract. Remember, you are the employer and you should commit to ongoing supervision and feedback for your nanny.

Let's face it, this is one of the hardest decisions out there. So, how do the experts think you should choose? Think about your child. What is his or her temperament, personality and experience with transitions? Does he have any special needs? What makes the most sense for your schedule and your finances? Which of these weigh most heavily?

All these factors can help you understand your options, but there is no one right answer. What one parent may see as a pro (she'll fold the laundry!), another may see as a con (I don't want anyone touching my stuff!). And some families decide to set up nanny shares (2 families, 1 nanny), Care.com Co-ops (free care swaps based on a point system) or have backup babysitters for day care emergencies.

Then do your homework. Before you take time to visit a day care center, think about its location and if it's on a logistically realistic route to work. Tour a center to observe how the staffers interact with children. Interview nannies. Make a list of pros and cons as you imagine each choice fitting into your life. Then, given all these considerations, you can do what's right for your family and child -- and make the arrangement work best.

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Comments (11)
Wee Care Day Care
I would like to see a fair comparison of Family Child Care in the article. Not just Nannies and Centers.
Posted: June 09, 2014 at 11:11 PM
Debra P
I don't generally do hourly sitting,but I did today and didn't know what to chg. so for 2 kids i ask 10.00 hr.and she was back in 2 hrs. for 20.00 What is the rate for 2 children hourly.? I have cared for babies in my home for over 15 yrs. but people don't care to pay for your experience. I think there needs to be another catagory for inhome services. I don't think people really know what a Nanny is compared to someone that cares for kids in their own home. They don't seem to get it cost all your time and gas to come to their home.They don't want to pay what that is worth.
Posted: June 10, 2013 at 5:52 PM
Laura P.
I find many parents post their ads stating they will pay $5.00-$10.00 per hour.
Then when I respond and say that my rate is $10.00 per hour, they say I charge too much? I cannot believe that they expect an adult with 20 years of infant care experience to work for just $5.00 per hour! I see other caregivers must be landing these jobs, but to take such a low wage only under-cuts the rest of us. We must insist to be paid what we are worth. I pay for my own insurance, as well as pay for my up to date CPR and First Aid Trainings. I reach out to the other caregivers to stand your ground, and insist on getting paid at least $10.00 per hour MINIMUM. These parents need to know that we need our pay, and they cannot pay us just $40.00 per day! The last time I put my dog in a kennel, the rate was $40.00 per day! We are talking about the responsibility of caring for someone's child, (not a pet)... Please pass this along, and I do believe Care.com needs to tell parents that a wage of $10.00 per hour should be a minimum rate! In Illinois the minimum wage is almost $9.00 per hour for working at a fast food place. Let's insist we are paid our worth! Thank YOU!
Posted: May 20, 2013 at 10:53 AM
Photo of Denise M.
Denise M.
I hear you ladies! I will never ever be taken advantage of again! I was treated poorly and under paid at my last job! Please mom's and dads if you would like to hire a nanny, make sure you can afford to pay a decent wage or enroll your child in a daycare center! For gosh sakes you should see some of the ignorant posts from parents I see on care.com. One woman says "willing to pay $35.00 for up to 8 hours of care". I would love to send her an email and ask her if she would work for under 4 lousy dollars an hour! Even though care.com reminds parents about federal minimum wage laws they still post this bogus amount!
Posted: April 22, 2013 at 12:22 AM
Photo of Tabitha W.
Tabitha W.
Totally agree Carol! I am at the other side of the spectrum. I work at a wonderful daycare, and its so crazy the amount of specific care certain parents want. We do our best to accommodate, but its not a one on one atmosphere... If you want a very specific thing to happen, you need a nanny, and you need to be willing to pay for it.
Posted: April 18, 2013 at 6:19 PM
Photo of Subrina C.
Subrina C.
Quality care for children is top priority. A child's mind is very precious. Therefore exposure to tactful environmental surroundings that will enrich and enhance their proper intellectual growth and development is a must. So parents put your child(ren) first.
Posted: June 08, 2012 at 1:41 PM
Photo of Nicole P.
Nicole P.
i only clean up after the children and myself not the parents my meals are included and im a live in so i dont mind some house work as long as the kids did it 275 a week i make for 2 children i believe this is fair i have an associates degree in early childhood education
Posted: June 04, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Experienced Nanny
I have also found that many parents who say they desire to hire a nanny also want a full time housekeeper for the same money. Many want to pay minimum wage for a housekeeper and you are also keep track of the child or children. They feel that if the child falls asleep, the nanny should be cleaning their entire house. In our area a housekeeper makes considerably more than a nanny does, even an experienced one like myself.

I feel fortunate that I am with a family that values me as a child care provider. I take the time to read with their children, and get down and play legos with them. I also am a good cook and know how to keep a home tidy.
Posted: May 30, 2012 at 4:54 PM
Photo of Carol P.
Carol P.
I find that many parents who desire to hire a nanny think they can pay less then minimum wage for one on one childcare, "specialized" to meet over and beyond standard childcare request such as standard "daycare" and require many services that are not included in standard " nanny" duties. I take my job seriously and consider myself a professional. They want to pay you 5-10 dollars a hour and deduct the salary you are paid in their taxes which in the end leaves the nanny collecting slave wages. I find this offensive. You get what you pay for. I have seen "these" parents repost the position several times because if you want a qualified professional, you need to pay for it. If you are not willing to compensate fairly- put your child in a standard daycare facility.
Posted: May 20, 2012 at 6:16 PM
Photo of Annemarie T.
Annemarie T.
I am in desperate need for a job If anyone could help me please let me know.
Posted: May 14, 2012 at 6:36 PM
Maryellen M.
Finding the "right" child care solution takes time; check with friends and family members for references...If there is a YMCA in your area, excellant choice, so many activities and appropriate ratio of provider to child, with definitive age brackets so each child is properly cared for...many are open early and late...Also, have a couple of back up sitters lined up for those "sick" days and emergencies which never fail to pop up...when you find your ideal caregiver, treat them with respect and deepest courtesy...your children are your most precious possessions
Posted: May 02, 2012 at 10:56 PM
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