If you work outside the home, before your child is school age and you have to begin considering public or private, Montessori or Waldorf, there is a whole wide world of childcare options for newborns, infants and toddlers you must dive into. But don’t worry, I’m here to help you make some sense of it.
Option 1: Nanny
A nanny is typically someone with a breadth of childcare experience that may or may not come to live with you, but takes care of your child in the home. A nanny is generally someone who has, and may continue to make a career out of childcare.
Pros: The nanny’s sole focus is your child(children). If you have one child, there is a 1:1 ratio between your child and the provider. Nannies generally have lots of childcare experience, as nannying is/has been there profession. Your child also has the added benefit of getting to be in their home, with their things, where they are, perceivably most comfortable.
Cons: You are putting a lot of faith in one person (many times a person you did not know previously, read: a stranger) to come into your home and care for your child. Parental paranoia (albeit somewhat justified) about how children were truly being treated in the absence of their parents spurred the invention of the “nanny-cam.” Now, whether or not you choose to install cameras is a personal preference, but I would definitely suggest not only calling a host of references, but if possible, visiting with a family or two on your intended nanny’s former client list.
Option 2: Au pair
At first glance an au pair seems very similar to a nanny. However, there are a few distinct differences. An au pair is generally pretty young – between the ages of 18-26, and comes to live with you for a year as part of a cultural exchange.
Pros: Your child has most of the benefits they would have being cared for by a nanny (see above), with the added benefit, of the “cultural exchange.” Many parents ask that their au pair teach their child a second (or third) language during their stay with their family. Au pairs also tend to be a more affordable option, than nannies.
Cons: Along with the cons listed above for nannies, au pairs usually only have basic childcare experience, so that lack of experience can serve as a drawback.
Option 3: Family Member
I think the definition of “family member” is pretty self explanatory.
Pros: Again your child has the benefit of getting to be in their home, with their things. And you don’t have to worry about the “stranger danger” aspect of hiring a nanny, because your family member (I’m assuming) is someone you trust. Having a family member watch your child is usually more affordable (sometimes even free) than hiring a nanny or even an au pair.
Cons: It can be harder to “lay down the law” with a family member. With a nanny and even an au pair, your have an employee-employer relationship, which can sometimes make it easier to be very explicit about the dos and don’ts within your household. The family member relationship can be a little harder to navigate when you are not seeing eye-to-eye on an aspect of your child’s care.
Option 4: On-site Daycare
This kind of care is job-specific. There are companies that offer “on-site” childcare, which is a center with multiple children and the appropriate number of providers according to state provider:child ratio regulations, that is offered on location where you work. Day care centers typically offer loose structure (that becomes more formal the older the child is) with supervised free play.
Pros: Many on-site childcare facilities are subsidized by your employer, so the fee you pay is at a reduced rate, and day-care in general is less expensive than having a nanny or au pair. There is also the bonus of being able to “reach out and touch” your child. You will need to check the policies of the particular facility, but there are some on-site daycares that don’t mind if visit your child during the day, for instance on your lunch hour. One more benefit is that your child, when developmentally able, gets to socialize with other children while you are working.
Cons: The cons for on-site daycare (or any daycare) are the opposite of the pros for using a nanny. Your child does not get the benefit of being in their own home, and their provider’s attention will be divided between your child and the other children in the center.
Option 5: Off-site Daycare
Off-site daycare is the same as on-site daycare, only, as the name indicates, it is offered in a location separate from where you work.
Pros: Just like with on-site daycare, your child gets to socialize with other children while you are working.
Cons: In addition to the cons listed above for on-site daycare, there is also the added cost of off-site daycare (as compared to on-site), though some employers offer a child care benefit, and daycare tends to still be a more affordable option than having a nannie or au pair. When using an off-site daycare, you do not generally have the option of seeing your child during your work day, and you must also consider how far the day-care is from your job in cases of emergency, and also the time it will add to your morning/evening commute.
When it really comes down to it, no one option is better than another. It really just depends on what you and your baby are most comfortable with. Take time to explore your options, and trust your instincts!