Michele was 8 months pregnant. She and her husband had just bought a house in Glen Rock and were moving there from Manhattan. She was eager to figure out childcare for their daughter, who was due any day.
“Coming from the city, I had mostly been exposed to the nanny option, but I understood that in the suburbs, a lot of people went the daycare route,” she says.
She was open to both choices, but leaning heavily toward hiring a nanny. But how to find one? “We had no family, no friends, no network of acquaintances,” recalls Michele. Still, she did everything possible to track down a good one.
“I asked every single person I met for referrals,” she says. “I posted on Facebook groups, Care.com, Sittercity.com—everywhere!” But she soon learned there was a timeline involved.
“Finding a nanny is kind of like finding an apartment: You can’t look too far in advance because they’re not available,” she explains. Eventually, Michele and her husband turned to an agency, and landed someone great. Background checks were taken care of, too, which made them feel more comfortable. But agencies aren’t the only way to find a sitter, and nannies aren’t the only solution to a childcare dilemma, so how do you decide who will watch your baby and once you decide, how do you find them?
CONSIDERING HIRING A NANNY?
With a nanny, you can make a schedule that suits your family’s needs, says Kathleen Webb, president and co-founder of HomeWork Solutions Inc., a household payroll company. “There’s no need for a ‘baby shuttle’ to and from the center everyday, you get the best caregiver-to-baby ratio, there’s no exposure to other sick children and your child is consistently cared for in his or her home environment,”she says.
Other advantages include tailoring every minute of the day to the needs of your particular kid (like taking them to music classes or the park they love) and also handing over some household duties like doing their laundry, washing their dishes and keeping their room tidy.
But there are downsides, too. One that Michele didn’t expect: becoming a one woman human resources department. “You’re an employer, so there are all the headaches that come with that,” she says. “You’re busy being a career woman, you’re busy being a wife, you’re busy being a mother, but now you’re also a boss.” Which not only means you’re responsible for things like determining pay, raises and time off, but you also may have to figure out what to do if your sitter’s performance slips. “I underestimated the responsibility… of personnel issues, performance issues and having those difficult conversations,” says Michele.
And while it’s true your baby won’t be exposed to as many germs as an infant in daycare, you do need to have a back-up plan if your nanny gets sick or can’t get to your house but you are expected at work. It happens—especially during snowy winters in New Jersey.
“Our best data shows that daycare is good for infants, toddlers and preschoolers,” says Kristen Walsh, M.D., a New Jersey Childcare Contact with the State of NJ for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “Having multiple caregivers seems to be most advantageous. That’s something a lot of parents don’t know.”
And while many parents worry about exposing their babies to germs in a childcare setting, Dr. Walsh says even that has an upside. “They do tend to get more sick in the first few years, but they also end up with less asthma and allergies over the long haul,” she explains. “Basically all these little infections give the immune system something to do.” Walsh points to socialization and caregiver oversight as other daycare advantages.
In many centers, for example, teachers take regular breaks and have help from co-workers in the classrooms. At home, by comparison, there’s nobody to relieve your nanny during the day (though naps give them some built-in downtime). What’s more, at daycare centers, caregivers may be required to have training in CPR and first aid, and then there’s the peace-of-mind advantage—you can usually lock in daycare before your baby is born.
Janel, a mom of two who began with a nanny but eventually switched to daycare, recognizes the pros of both options.
“They are loved and they are engaged all day long,” she says. “I like that at my particular daycare, all age groups spend time together, so the kids learn how to nurture the younger ones and look up to the older ones. The socialization skills they gain are fabulous.”
But, she acknowledges, “having a babysitter is also pretty great. Many nights I’ve come home from work to a tidy house and children who are fed, bathed jammied and just ready to play for a little while before bedtime. There is definitely something heavenly about that.”
SO WHAT DOES IT ALL COST?
Nannies tend to be the more expensive choice, though not always by a significant margin. Plus, costs vary widely according to where you live (urban and more affluent areas tend to be more expensive than other regions, for example), by how many kids you have and their ages, and by the sitter’s experience level and duties. Live-in caregivers are less expensive than those who don’t live with you, because room and board are included in their deal.
The average weekly cost for full-time live-out nannies for one to two children in New Jersey ranges from $10—20 an hour, or $400-800 for a 40-hour week, according to Care.com, though that doesn’t include extra costs like nanny taxes, paid time off, bonuses and other extras. On the other hand, the average rate for daycare centers in New Jersey is $12,638 (about $243 a week) for accredited centers for one baby under 12 months old, according to the New Jersey Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NJACCRRA).
Whatever you decide, the good news is that there is really no wrong answer.
“I’ve been happy with how it’s all worked out,” says Janel. “The cost of childcare is definitely something I won’t miss paying, but the ability for me to have a professional life, along with the social and educational benefits of both daycare and a sitter, make it absolutely worthwhile. Kids learning to take instruction from other adults is important. And kids need to spend time with other kids.”