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Deciding between daycare or a nanny: What is the best choice for your family?

Baby lying on back home with nanny

You have been on parental leave for weeks or months and now the time has come to return to work. The decision over the type of care option for your most precious person will always be one of the hardest to make. Why? Because, frankly, no one can completely replace you. Fortunately, there are options out there to help you balance your work and home life. We’ll explore two of the most common options parents end up using to make sure their children are cared for while they are working: daycare and nannies.

The most important thing to remember when deciding between having your little one in daycare or with a nanny for your childcare arrangements is that there is no right or wrong choice. There are pros and cons to both options, but it really comes down to what is best for your family. With that said, here are some key factors to consider:

Flexibility. If you work long hours or odd hours – it can often be much more convenient to have a nanny, particularly one who is able to come early or stay late if needed. Most daycares require pickup by 6 or 7pm, with no option for care past that time. It can be awkward to leave mid-meeting or having to drop off a call unexpectedly because you have to rush to the daycare center before they start calling you. Having said that, it may be possible to find daycare centers that can accommodate those needs, or potentially a babysitter who can handle drop off or pick up for you, but this can come at a cost.

Reliability. While many nannies are reliable, you will definitely find yourself in situations where your nanny is sick or on vacation and cannot care for your child (see backup care options link). This can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, particularly if neither parent has work flexibility. If you do decide to go the nanny route, make sure you have a plan in place for days when your nanny can’t be there. Daycare centers, on the other hand, will normally close on some holidays, but reliability is otherwise not something you will need to worry about given that the centers are responsible for their own staffing.

Socialization with other children. Depending on your child’s age, this may be of more or less important to you. If your child is in daycare, other children and care providers will surround him or her all day, providing great socialization skills. This is certainly something you can achieve with a nanny also, but it will require the proactive organization of classes and play dates for your child. Alternatively, you should ask your nanny candidates whether they know other nannies in the area, and how they would typically socialize the children they care for on a day-to-day basis.

Routine and consistency. The first few months taught us, sometimes the hard way, that a set routine often seems to solve many, many of our problems when it comes to our little one. This carries on to your childcare arrangements. When your child is with a nanny, you set the routine and the expectations you have. If you used to get your son or daughter to bed twice a day at 10 am and 2 pm, in their crib, then that is what you would expect your nanny to do – same goes with meals and activities. But in the daycare center setting, the rules are slightly different. Centers will usually have their own schedules in place and the child needs to adapt to it. Now, there may be benefits to that approach at some point in their lives, but it may not suit them all, and they may not all be at that stage in their lives yet. If you do decide to have your child in daycare, then we’d urge you to check with the different centers to make sure their schedules (and, really, their whole philosophy) is in line with yours or deviates as little as possible. If you intend to have your child there for a few years, it may be wise to check on the schedules for future levels too. After all, we all know that as soon as you have some kind of routine down, your little one is bound to change it!

Price. This may very well be the key deciding factor! On a part-time basis, the cost differential between hiring a nanny and putting your child in daycare is fairly small – as many daycare centers charge more per day for a part-time schedule. However, when it comes in full-time care (5 full days a week from 8am-6pm), then the cost difference is substantial. In the New York City area, you will likely pay approximately $1000-1500 extra a month to have a nanny. Depending on where you land on the above factors, it can certainly be worth the extra money – we personally felt it was. However, it is definitely worth considering both upfront and on an ongoing basis, to make sure you really feel like you are getting the benefit of that added cost.

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