Daycare or Nanny? Experts Share the Pros and Cons of Each
Picking out a nursery theme, packing your hospital bag, and test-driving strollers can be fun ways to prepare for a new arrival. Deciding on childcare? Perhaps not so much.
But it's a dilemma many American families face. The United States is one of only a handful of countries worldwide that do not have a national paid parental leave. In March 2021, only 23 percent of American workers had access to paid family leave, while 89 percent had access to unpaid family leave, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We have a lot of work to do to help families. But right now, childcare is a necessary and important decision. And for parents that work part- or full-time or have schedules that require them to get regular help, daycare and nannies are often the best options. Here, experts share the pros and cons of daycare and nannies to help you decide what makes the most sense for your family.
How Daycare and Nannies Differ
"Daycares require children out of the home to receive care in a private provider's home or in a daycare center," Maressa Brown, senior editor at Care.com, says. "Additionally, daycares must follow the licensing and accreditation requirements established by their state."
Nannies, on the other hand, come to you. "They give more one-on-one personalized care to your kids and can help with household chores, such as children's laundry and light housekeeping," says Taran Conwell, host of the "Undomestic Mom Podcast," who has served as a nanny and head of an in-home daycare center.
Conwell explains that there are two main types of nannies: live-out nannies that come and go based on agreed-upon hours, and live-in nannies that live with the family, care for children, and may also aid with housework.
Daycare vs. Nanny: Cost
Care.com found the average cost of daycare for one child in 2021 was $226 per week. In comparison, nannies typically cost $694 per week. But these figures vary significantly by geography. In Washington DC, for example, the average price of a nanny for one child was $855 per week, 23 percent higher than the national average. It was also the most expensive place in the nation for daycare, coming in at $419 per week, 85 percent higher than the national average.
But there are ways of finding deals and compromises. Conwell says some families save on childcare costs through nanny shares, for instance. "A nanny share is when two families hire one nanny to watch their kids simultaneously," Conwell explains. "Families would decide on which house the nanny would watch the children in or if they'll rotate. Then each family would pay half of the nanny's salary."
Does a similar option exist for daycare? Yes, but it's limited.
"Part-time spots are sometimes available, but in my experience, they have longer waitlists and aren't flexible regarding days," Conwell says. "It's easier to find a nanny who will work part-time than a daycare with part-time spots."
Families could look into smaller home daycares to see if they cost less than a center, but it's not a guaranteed way to save. Doing homework is key as there are multiple variables.
"[It] depends on each establishment," Conwell says. "It doesn't hurt to call around and get quotes from several places to see their rates. It would be best if you also asked what the tuition includes, as some daycares provide more than others regarding meals, diapers, and formula. That should be factored into the overall cost."
Pros and Cons of Daycare
For families with one child, daycare costs less than hiring a nanny — but that's not its only pro. Families who choose daycare often cite state requirements for daycare centers as a major pro, says Shontel Cargill, LMFT of Thriveworks, who specializes in postpartum/pregnancy and maternal mental health and helps her clients make childcare decisions. Another benefit: consistent hours.
"Daycare may be best for families who aspire to have more vetted and licensed professionals to care for their children within a structured space with specific hours of availability," Cargill says.
The opportunity to be around other kids is also a plus, she adds: "Daycares are also great for parents who aspire for their children to have more social interactions with other children and have access to more than one educator or caretaker throughout the day."
But while the structure is a benefit, it can also be an issue for some families. "Daycares won't be ideal for families with fluctuating schedules due to set hours," Brown says. "For example, parents may encounter late fees if they run late from work and pick up their child after closing time."
Pros and Cons of Nannies
While daycare offers consistent hours, your child will be cared for by a team. With a nanny, your kids will be cared for by the same individual day after day, which Cargill says is a major bonus for some families. "What makes the nanny dynamic unique is that each child or children have the opportunity to have one-on-one, consistent care in a familiar environment at home," she says.
Cargill also notes nannies can be more flexible and convenient, as there's no need for drop offs and pick ups. Plus, families can text a nanny when they're running late and not have to worry about who will care for the child.
Still, daycare is still the more affordable option if you have two children. According to Care.com, the average daycare cost is $226 a week for one child and $429 per week for two children while nannies cost $694 a week for one child or $715 a week for two children in 2021.
But Conwell says nannies can become more affordable if a family has three or more children. Here's why: Say daycare charges $350 per week per child for full-time daycare without sibling discounts. Conwell says centers will do this "because they work with available spots for pricing, so the spot needs to be filled at the regular rate to keep their budget balanced."
Nannies, on the other hand, may charge $15 per hour for one child, $18 per hour for two, and $22 per three. Do the math: It's $968 per week for a nanny and $1,050 for daycare for three-child families. That's about $54,600 per year for daycares and $50,336 for a nanny.
Still, Cargill says other challenges can arise, too, so it's important to look at the arrangements holistically. "There is the potential for conflicts in parenting styles," Cargill says. Plus, if nannies are sick or taking time off, other childcare arrangements must be made for your child or children.
Daycare vs. Nanny: Which Is Best?
The truth is, there's no straight answer — it depends on your family.
"What's important for every parent to understand when starting their childcare search is that every family, and child, is different," Brown says. "While the options, evaluations, and considerations may seem daunting, once parents find the perfect caregiver fit for their family, they'll feel relieved knowing they've found the best support for their little ones."
And Cargill says whatever you decide is never set in stone. "You can always change to another option based on their unique needs," she says.