The pros and cons of nanny vs. daycare/school

At least a few times a month across all the mom/parent groups I am in, some flustered, frantic mom or dad will post that they are quickly approaching the end of their family leave with their company and will need to return to work soon, and they haven’t yet decided on whether they will choose to hire a nanny or put their child in daycare. And every single time a post like this comes up, the same answers in different tones and levels of exasperation or insistence will respond. Some are level headed and say there are pros and cons to both, then briefly highlight those pros and cons; others will be determined to convince you that only one path is the right path. And very, very occasionally, someone will try to shame you for even wanting to go back to work and say that “they’re only this little once,” and insist that the REAL best path is for you to simply quit your job and be a full-time, stay-at-home parent (never mind that 95% of these posts are in New York City, and specifically Manhattan, where the cost of living is extremely, extremely high, and most people with a child will need a dual income household just to pay the bills and ensure some level of savings is still happening. And to further complicate that last point: here in the U.S., employment is not just your source of income; it’s also in more cases than not your source of fully or partially subsidized healthcare, any perks you get, as well as, well, part of your identity. We do live in a country where people “live to work” as a culture.

After a week and a half of having Kaia at daycare/school, having started at about 16.5 months of age, this is generally what I’ve come up with for pros and cons:

Nanny pros:

Childcare comes to you; super convenient

Nanny acts as your backup care for nights/days out for dinner, theater, etc.

More personalized childcare (the nanny contract explicitly states that the nanny follows your instructions for everything from feeding, like baby-led weaning, to what activities the child will do, etc.). Granted, as discussed in previous posts about our ex-nanny, that was not always the case with insolent nannies, but at least “personalized care” is in THEORY what is supposed to happen.

If you work from home, you will still get to see your child come in and out throughout the day and not miss them as much

Nanny will take care of child-related tasks to relieve you from doing them, such as baby laundry, cleaning of playmat, cleaning the child’s bedroom/play areas, changing station, baby bath tub, toys, etc.

Nanny takes care of weekday baby bathing

Since your baby will be around fewer people vs. in daycare, baby is less likely to get sick as often

Nanny cons:

It’s EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE, at least in HCOL areas like New York City. Nannies will charge anywhere from $20-35/hour. The majority will expect that you pay for their monthly Metrocard, snacks, and by law, you also have to pay them for federal holidays, five days sick leave, plus at minimum 10 PTO days. They also require guaranteed hours per week since they rely on you solely for their income; this means that even if you choose not to use them for a given day or week, you will still need to pay them for the minimum number of guaranteed hours on their contract. So in other words, even when you don’t “use” their services, you still have to pay them like you are.

If you pay on the books, expect to pay a lot more than you originally imagined for things like household employer insurance, employer-side taxes. You will also have a lot more research and paperwork to do for them to have this set up and be legal. If you pay off the books… well, good luck to you for not getting caught. Plus, it will be massive sums of cash out of an ATM every single week for you — eeek.

Nannies are like the rest of us: they have opinions and preferences for the way things should be done, and oftentimes, this is not going to jive with what you want. Because of this, there can be a LOT of emotional labor done on the family’s part to ensure that the nanny is actually following the way YOU want to raise your child and teach them.. and handling your belongings as you want them to be handled. It can be extremely taxing and emotionally exhausting.

Nannies, for the most part, are not actual “educators”: the majority do not have an early childhood education background, and so baby may not do all the activities that she could do if she were in a daycare that does do them. Nannies may not always do things to help your child develop every step of the way. Because of this, some nannies are better suited for young infants, vs. others that are suited for older toddlers. Not all nannies can truly “grow” with a family.

You are relying on a single person to care for your child. If nanny gets sick and takes a sick day, you have no plan B or substitute to rely on. If she quits with zero notice (that sounds familiar), it’s on you to figure out backup childcare and the move-forward plan. You are also relying on the idea that they will be honest and report back what really happened. Even if you have cameras all over your house, you still can’t see what they are doing when they take your child out of your house, so you have to trust what they say is true.

You’ll always have a stranger in your home. While you may get used to having them around and they may become like family… guess what? They aren’t family. They are your employee. You have to be comfortable with this. That means that they may snoop, eat the snacks you reserved for yourself, etc., and you just have to suck it up.

Daycare pros:

Exposure to lots of other children of a similar age, and adults who are trained in all ways possible (early childhood education, CPR, etc.). Child is likely to be more socialized this way. They can also be “peer pressured” into things they may not have naturally done on their own, like building blocks, walking, etc., earlier, simply because they see other kids doing this.

Your baby will have a guaranteed network of “friends,” and you could build a network of parent friends, as well.

Set curriculum for learning: you never have to worry about your child getting bored because most daycares will have a set curriculum that is age appropriate for learning new skills and experiences. Every day will be guaranteed exposure to a variety of things without you constantly checking in and being prescriptive, like music, reading/books, learning new sounds, gestures, yoga, exercise, arts and crafts, science, etc.

Reliability/predictability: If your teacher gets sick, a substitute teacher will take her place. If that substitute gets sick, another teacher will come in and take their place. There are many backups here, and your child will never not have teachers there!

Accountability: If a teacher does something that disappoints you or your child, you can speak up to them and their managers/administrators, and these challenges will get addressed.

In most cases, daycare will be CHEAPER than having a nanny, if not all cases. It’s still expensive in our area, but it’s still cheaper than having our ex nanny.

Daycare cons:

THE SICKNESSES. Your baby will get sick. It’s inevitable. You just have to suck it up and look at the bright side: baby’s immune system is getting stronger with each illness!

Set times/hours mean less flexibility for your own schedule

You will have to do drop-offs/pick-ups

If doing things unconventionally, like baby led weaning, many daycares will not do this for liability reasons. Daycares are also notorious for not handling breast milk in the way it would be handled at home.

All items that go into daycare need to be labeled with your child’s name – like literally, every. Single. One. Emotional labor, much?

Daycare will not do any of your child-related chores, so you will need to do laundry, all of baby’s cleaning, baths, etc.

I think this adequately sums up how I feel? In retrospect, I think we could have put Kaia in daycare at 13-14 months to help with her growth and development. I was never that keen on her being in daycare and having the daycare teachers mess with my breast milk, nor did I want them shoving purees down her throat.

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