Of all the things you can hack in your life as a parent (IKEA, cleaning, happiness) childcare remains defiantly unhackable. It’s not as if you can take a cue from marsupials and wear your kid to work all day. Also, “the man” won’t allow you to leave your child home alone with Alexa or Google, even though they are clearly nice and super helpful. So that leaves you with the hackless options you’ve always had: Nannies, Au Pairs and Daycares.
But it can be tough to decide which of these options is best for your family and wallet. After all, each childcare options has its pros and cons. So it’s time to place them back to back (to back?) and see how they measure up.
This option is often the first thought for most parents. It includes both private-residence “family” daycares and corporately-controlled daycare centers. Increasingly, daycare feels like the first step in your kid’s educational journey. That said, it’s pre-preschool and there is often little education happening (unless you consider learning how to take group naps educational).
Studies show that the group dynamics of daycare can be a huge boon to your kid developing language and social skills. That benefit is particularly pronounced in financially challenged families. However, every daycare is different in terms of their educational rigor which means you’ll have to do some pretty serious comparison shopping.
Daycares are also fairly reliable. If a daycare employee gets sick (they will) there will be someone there to take their place, like viral cannon fodder. God bless ‘em.
There is research suggesting that kids who spend at least 30 hours a week in daycare are generally more aggressive and less agreeable than kids who receive one-on-one care. This effect persists into elementary school (and maybe even adulthood considering some of the winners you’ve met).
Daycares must meet certain safety regulations. But studies show abuse is more likely for kids in family daycares than those in daycare centers. Additionally, kids in daycares will be sick more often than kids who are receiving some kind of home care. This might leave you scrambling for someone to stay home with them. Oh! That someone is you.
Finally, daycare hours tend not to be particularly flexible. Which is more of a drawback for you when you have to scramble out of a late meeting to get your child before the daycare leaves them on the curb (they won’t, but your boss doesn’t know that).
Cost for daycare fluctuates wildly. What does that mean? How about $14,000 annually in Washington D.C. versus $4,000 annually in Mississippi. The upshot? Maybe move to Mississippi?
Of course some of these costs can be defrayed by any number of tax credits available to parents. You just have to do your homework.
Hollywood portrays them as playful but practical Julie Andrews types. Other times, casting directors make them cynically dismayed but terminally hot Scarlett Johanssons. Either way, nannies remain a cultural fascination. But nannies are neither magical saviors nor objects of desire (you will convincingly tell your partner). They are private childcare professionals and employees. Plain and simple.
Because a nanny will ultimately have just a few kids under their watch, your kid will receive the benefit of constant one-to-one attention. They’ll also be in the warm, safe confines of their own home, away from the germ-infested toys of the daycare setting.
Additionally they receive the benefits of your diminished stress. Having a nanny means you won’t be yanking your kid out of bed early in the the morning to rush them to daycare drop off. It also means they see you coming home a bit more relaxed knowing that most of the crap is taken care of.
A nanny must focus on opportunities for social interaction if your kid is to avoid entering Kindergarten as an unsocialized weirdo. There will likely not be as much opportunity for language acquisition or deeper educational opportunities.
Another possible downside is that you can be left in the lurch if your nanny can’t work, for whatever reason. That will leave you at home or finding an emergency babysitter.
There is also not a tremendous amount of oversight for nannies. So in order to keep your kid safe, you’ll have to go to a reputable agency or get very serious about background checks and interviews. You don’t just want to go picking up a nanny on a random street corner. Mostly because ladies you might hire on street corners aren’t technically nannies.
Because a nanny is a private employee, you’ll need to pay at least an hourly minimum wage. But that rate can change drastically based on your needs (and whether or not your kid is a piece of work). Given current median rates of $16 an hour, you might be looking at close to $2,500 a month.
But keep in mind that having an employee in your home also requires that you take on the role of an employer. That means you’re responsible for navigating all the employment tax regulations. Good luck with that.
These mysterious foreigners are basically slightly older and highly specialized foreign exchange students. You provide room, board and a relatively small amount of monetary compensation. They provide 45 hours of childcare a week, light cleaning duties and a killer accent.
Au pairs really offer the same kind of benefits that you would see from a nanny. But they also provide a kind of explicit cultural education for your kid. Your kid will be able to pick up a bit of a new language (making you constantly wonder if they’re swearing at you in Chinese). Or maybe Gustavo (yes, they can be dudes) will expose them to new customs. Either way, get ready to be driven crazy by the clomp clomp of wooden shoes.
Au pairs are expected to generally act as a member of the household. That includes taking on a share of light household chores. Though, no deep scrubbing for Inga.
The U.S. government has a great deal of oversight of au pairs. They receive vetting before entering the country. And they also undergo hours of childcare training.
Au pairs can only stay in the country for up to 2 years. That means that your kid may get very attached and have to deal with saying goodbye to someone they’ve come to view as part of the family. That could be pretty dang rough.
Also, know that you’re sharing your home. Any conflicts could be a bit difficult to extricate yourself from should they arise.
Au pairs are shockingly affordable. Estimates land around under $400 a month. That said, you will have to deal with an au pair agency that may have a set of processing and setup fees that will set you back a couple grand.
There are some additional costs, too. You will have another mouth to feed, and if your au pair is driving, you’ll need to add them to your insurance.
In the end, the manner of child care you choose depends not only on your financial and time capabilities, it also depends on how much of your space you’re willing to share with another person.
But whatever you choose, know that your kid will likely turn out fine regardless. After all, it’s their day to day relationship with you and your partner that will set them on the path to becoming competent and healthy adults.