Day Care Or Nanny — Which Is Better For Your Family?

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Jennifer Mayer
Jennifer Mayer10
May 25, 2024 at 8:41PM UTC
Countless working parents across the U.S. are faced with the dilemma of choosing a childcare provider for their children. As parents, we always want what’s best for our kids, and sometimes it’s hard to decide what exactly that is — especially when there isn’t a clear right or wrong answer.
In the realm of childcare, while hiring a nanny or enlisting your child in daycare may not be a clear-cut decision on what is empirically best, there is a way to analyze and decide what’s the right choice for your family.
This article provides you with an overview of the most common childcare arrangements: day care, a full-time nanny, a nanny-share, daycare co-op, and friends & family. We’ll access the general costs, as well as typical pros and cons associated with each. At the end of this article we’ll lead you through a series of steps to help you choose which arrangement is best for you.
What is a nanny? What is a typical nanny salary?
A nanny is a domestic employee who cares for a child or children in the family’s home. Nannies often live outside their employer’s home, though depending on the arrangement and needs of the family a nanny may live with the family. Typical duties of a nanny may include the care of the children, washing the children’s laundry, keeping the children’s area neat and tidy, preparing meals for the children, arranging play dates, taking the children to and from activities, classes, or school and other aspects related to a child’s growth and development.
A typical nanny salary depends on many factors including regional location, number of children, experience, and number of hours the family needs care each week. According to the 2014 INA Nanny Salary and Benefits Survey the national average hourly rate for a nanny was $18.66 per hour. Depending on a nanny’s experience the average pay ranged from $529-734 per week.
Lindsay Bell, the owner of The Bell Family Company a nanny placement organization in New York City, says:
“Many families choose to hire a full or part time nanny to help assist with all day-to-day involved with the children. Hiring a nanny creates an extra pair of hands for you and your partner. The nanny will follow your schedule for the day, take care of all tasks involved with the children: meals, nap time, help with the children’s laundry, arrange playtime, taking to/from lessons, appointments, etc. Unlike daycare, a nanny can arrive earlier if you need and stay later if you are in a jam. The nanny’s sole responsibility is your child(ren), he/she will be a consistent figure in your child(ren)’s life, offering them guidance and love when you are at work.”
What is a nanny share?
A nanny share is when two or more families employ one nanny to care for their children. The families typically take turns hosting the nanny and other child or children in their home, often alternating on a weekly basis. Families may choose to set-up a nanny share to provide built in socialization for their child, and save some money on the cost of the nanny’s salary.
A typical salary for a nanny in a nanny share is 33% more than the average going rate in a family’s area. This means each family will get a 33% discount on their nanny care compared to the local going rate, and the nanny will make a third more than she would if she cared for one family. An arrangement made in this manner is a win-win for both parties. For example, if the typical going rate for a nanny caring for one child is $20 per hour, each family in a nanny share would pay $13.33 per hour, and the nanny would make $26.66 per hour.
Legally each family must employ the nanny separately, so the nanny would receive two W-2 forms at the end of the year.
What is an au pair? What is typical for au pair compensation and salary?
An au pair is a young person from a different country, usually between the ages of 18-26, who comes to the United States as part of a cultural exchange program (or vice versa). The au pair serves as a live-in nanny. The host family provides room and board, transportation costs, and a weekly stipend and in return the au pair provides 45 hours a week of childcare.
According to Au Pair in America, the average cost for an au pair is $361 per week, whereas a full-time nanny is around $734 per week, making for a more affordable child-care option. For some families, an arrangement with an au pair provides affordable and oftentimes flexible childcare that works for their schedule. Working with an au pair also provides a cultural experience for the whole family, and the opportunity to learn about another culture from the au pair placement.
What is daycare? What is the typical cost?
A daycare center is a childcare option where parents drop off their child at a facility, and children are cared for in a group setting. Daycare is typically a structured environment, which can be ideal for early childhood, with set drop-off and pick-up times. Additionally there is a schedule to the day that all children follow, including meals, nap times, and activities.
According to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, the average cost of daycare is $972 per month. This rate can vary depending on location and amenities from $8,043 to $18,815 a year.
Day care provides many benefits, including socialization, built in activities, and learning in a group environment with their peers. It is often less expensive than hiring a full-time nanny for many families. For children preparing to enter Pre-K or Kindergarten, daycare can be a good step toward children getting used to a structured learning environment.
What is a daycare co-op? What are the typical costs?
A daycare co-op is an arrangement between parents, where they alternate turns watching each other’s children. This is an economical way to keep childcare costs down for families who have the flexibility to watch other children. The success of a daycare co-op is often depending upon the group’s ability to agree on a philosophy and discipline; if members are punctual and reliable; and if parents are able to agree on activities and goals.
What does it look like when family or friends provide childcare?
Having a friend of family member provide childcare can be an economical way to save money, and a special opportunity for family members to bond with your children. Though, this does require being on the same page as family members in regard to caring for your child, discipline, and so much more. But for many families the pros out weigh the cons.
What are the pros and cons?
As with making any large decision, going through the potential pros and cons of different childcare situations is constructive and helpful. To give you a jump-start on choosing the childcare option that is best for you and your family, we’ve created this list of common pros and cons for different childcare arrangements. You can use this list to brainstorm the potential pros and cons of childcare for your family, depending on your schedule, budget, and other preferences.
  1. No pick-ups or drop offs
  2. Flexibility
  3. Late nights, overnights, early mornings could be available
  4. 60+ hours could be an option
  5. Light housekeeping
  6. Dog walking
  7. Car moving for street cleaning
  8. Cooking and meal preparation
  9. 1:1 ratio between caregiver and child
  1. Being a domestic employer
  2. Sharing space
  3. Only two eyes on your child during the day
  4. The extra cost of classes and activities
  5. Setting up play dates
  6. Needing back-up childcare if nanny gets sick
  7. Other nannies and children in your home for play dates
  8. Not always knowing the space your child is in
Nanny Share
  1. Some money savings
  2. Built in socialization
  3. On-going relationship with another family and child
  1. Coordinating with another family
  2. Drop offs and pick ups
  3. Sickness in either house
  4. Nanny loyalty
  5. Need to be on same page as other family
  6. Need to coordinate ages of children
  7. Coordinate the hours the nanny works
  8. Back up childcare needed if nanny is sick or if your child is sick
  1. More eyes on your child and what’s going on
  2. Built in activities
  3. Nap schedules
  4. Building immunity
  5. Making family friends and community building
  6. Pool of babysitters for non-work hours
  7. Plenty of socialization
  1. Sickness
  2. Back-up childcare if your child is sick
  3. For breastfeeding moms finding a daycare that understands the difference of feeding a formula fed baby and breast milk fed baby
Au Pair
  1. Affordable, and offers cost savings
  2. Hours can be flexible
  3. Cultural experience
  1. They need to live with you
  2. They may not have a formal background in childcare
  3. You many need more hours of coverage than the 45 hours per week they are legally allowed to work
Daycare Co-op
  1. Cost savings
  2. Built in socialization and community
  3. Less burnout of caregivers
  4. Different styles of education and parenting
  1. They require your time
  2. You may need to host in your home
  3. You may need to baby proof for other kids   
  4. Back up childcare if your child is sick
Friends & Family
  1. Cost savings
  2. Family bond
  3. Children and family remember
  1. Reliability
  2. Consistency
  3. Family expectations
  4. A lot of navigating with your parents or other family members and their parenting style
Using the list above, what child care option are you learning toward? As you can see from the list above, there isn’t one perfect childcare situation. Each arrangement has plenty of pros and cons. You may even be able to add more than what we’ve listed here. This list will help you start creating your own pro and con list for childcare, when you include the needs of your family and schedule.
Choices In Childcare: Building Your Parental Confidence
Now that you have a good background on the general childcare options, the ballpark cost, and some pros and cons to each, let’s help guide you even further through which arrangement is best for you. The exercise below is designed to help you evaluate where you land on the type of childcare for your baby and your family. It’s our hope this will help to continue to build your parental confidence and help ease the decision making of choosing childcare.
Examining your internal make up: regardless of how we feel about our past, it ultimately affects the way we parent in the present. These questions will help you reflect on the way you and your partner were raised, and how your own childhood may influence the choices you make as a parent.
  • What was the style of care you received before you were school age?
  • How does this affect your current view of your role as parent?
  • If you have a partner, what was his or her style of care before school age?
  • How as that effected his or her style of parenting?
Timing: The evaluation of your schedule and needs for childcare has a big impact on your decision of what kind of childcare you need. The following questions should help you determine what these needs may be.
  • What is your current work schedule? Are you working part time or full time? Business hours or non-traditional hours? Are you working from home or out of the home?
  • What is your partner’s current work schedule?
  • When do you need coverage for childcare?
  • Are there other times of the week other than during work that you need childcare? (ex: weekend dates, hobbies, organization commitments, etc.)
Once you determine your childcare needs, you can begin to see if a nanny, day care or baby sitting coop would be a good fit for your family and work schedule. A large portion of choosing child care depends on you and your partner’s work schedule. If you have traditional work hours you’ll likely have more childcare options. If you are on-call or work nights, you’ll need to find a childcare provider who can accommodate this.
Budget: One big consideration when choosing childcare is your budget. What percentage of your salary can you dedicate to childcare? It’s important to consider everything that is included in your childcare fee. For instance daycare will likely include some food, and lots of activities. Though if you have more than one child, hiring a nanny could be a good cost savings.
  • What is your monthly budget for childcare?
  • Will this cover a nanny or daycare? If not are there options to do a nanny share or babysitting coop?
Interviewing: This step is crucial. Whether you’re researching daycare centers or hiring a nanny you want to be sure to conduct an interview and come prepared with questions. In addition to being prepared with questions you’ll want to ask the daycare if you can speak with any past or current parents. When you’re interviewing a nanny you’ll want to ask for professional references and conduct a background check. Here are some examples of question you can ask when interviewing a day care provider or a nanny.
  • What are the daycare center’s credentials?
  • What are your hours, and holiday schedule?
  • How do you communicate with parents?
  • What is the ratio of caregivers to children?
  • What are your staff’s qualifications? What is your vetting process?
  • Is your staff trained in CPR and First Aid?
  • What activities do the children do during the week?
  • How do the teachers discipline the children? What is your philosophy?
  • Does the daycare center provide meals or do families bring their own meals?
  • What is the nap schedule?
  • What is you vaccine policy?
  • What is your sick child policy?
  • What is the tuition cost?
  • What is your childcare experience? How long have you been a nanny and what were the ages of the children?
  • Are you trained in CPR and First Aid?
  • What is a typical routine for your day with the children?
  • Can you give an example of a challenging day as a nanny and how you handled it?
  • How do you discipline children?
  • Are there any skills (art, dance, etc) or languages you can teach the children?
  • How would you handle an emergency?
  • What is your availability? Is your schedule flexible?
  • What’s the best part of being a nanny?
  • What is the most challenging aspect of being a nanny?
  • What activities, programs, or community events would you be able to take my child to?
  • What are you salary requirements
Trust: Trusting your child’s care person can be one of the hardest things a parent can do. You’ve done your homework and research and now it’s time to let the childcare professional do his or her work. Communication, as in any relationship is key. Early on, it’s important to establish a system for communication so you can rest assured that your child is well taken care of while you are away.
Congrats! If you’re still with us, we hope this article has been helpful for you in beginning your search in childcare. Choosing the childcare for your children is a large responsibility. By taking your time, completing the necessary research, conducting thorough interviews, checking references, and even doing a trial with your child are all important steps that will help you build your parenting confidence.
There are so many factors that go into finding the right fit for you in the nanny vs. daycare debate. Our final advice is to take your time, be thorough in your search, and trust your gut in whatever you decide. Your child is going to thrive. No matter which arrangement you choose for childcare, you as a parent are still the main influence on your child’s growth and development. The way you structure your home, offer encouragement, choose discipline, and plan activities together outside of work will be the basis of your child’s growth and development. You’re doing great!
Jennifer Mayer supports parents through pregnancy, birth, new parenthood and the transition back to work. Shes the founder of Baby Caravan, a birth & postpartum doula agency and Baby Caravan at Work, a corporate consulting practice based in New York City. Jennifer lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.

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