Nanny, grandma, day care, au pair: Which childcare option is best for you?

So here’s the good news: You have a lot of options when it comes to childcare options for your little one.

But each has its pluses and minuses—and the cost can vary wildly depending on where you live, so start asking around now about pricing. (Here’s a breakdown of average day care cost by state.)

We rounded up the 4 most common childcare options to help you decide which is best for your family.

The nanny

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The upside

Your little one gets the undivided attention of a childcare provider, and you can set the terms that work best for your family. Your nanny can come to your house, making it easier to get out the door in the morning. Since she’s around, you can negotiate light housekeeping duties when your baby is napping, which can help you stay on top of dishes, meals and even some errands. Lots of moms love knowing that their little one is in stable, loving hands. You can also try a nanny share, splitting the cost and coverage of childcare with another family.

But you should also know

You basically now have a full-time employee, which can be a big expense. ? Plus, you’re the one responsible for her training and all HR matters, so you’ll need to run a background check, make sure she’s first aid/CPR certified, file her taxes and provide cash for any enrichment activities (classes, toys, etc.) inside the home and out.

A family member

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The upside

COST. Although some parents pay a family member for childcare, it’s almost always at a reduced cost, making this a seriously affordable option. You get the comfort of knowing that a family member is caring for your little one, which makes it a lot easier to stay focused at work.


But you should also know

When a family member, like your mother-in-law or sister, watches your child, things won’t always get done your way. Your mom might feel like she’s the farthest thing from your employee, so it can be more emotionally fraught to pass along your preferred menu options for baby or to suggests some activities other than another episode of Sesame Street. Try keeping things a bit more professional when you’re talking about childcare, and set ground rules from the get-go.

A day care center

The upside

Baby gets the benefit of lots of socialization, lots of stimulating activities and lots of loving caretakers. Since you’re sharing the cost of the facility and the ratio of children to caretakers is higher, this can be a more affordable option for a high-quality experience. Even run out of a home, a good day care center should be licensed (you can find ratings in your state) and should have guidebooks of policies and procedures to make it easier to deal with any issues that arise.

But you should also know

The quality of day care can very wildly, and so can the cost. It’s important to do your homework by checking Yelp reviews and licensing status, randomly dropping in and talking to parents in your area for the behind-the-scenes scoop. The churn of teachers at some day care centers can be off-putting to some parents looking for a more stable option for their kids. Some facilities can be more expensive than nanny care in some cities.

That au pair life

The upside

At $18,000 a year for 45 hours of childcare a week (regardless of where you live), this can be a more affordable option to parents in some high-expense areas. Au pairs, through a program run through the Department of State, are international young people (largely women) ages 18 to 26, who match with American families through agencies like Cultural Care. An au pair lives with you for 12 months and shares their culture and life with your family. It can feel like having a big sister watching your kids, and the flexibility is unmatched.

But you should also know

You have to provide a separate bedroom for the au pair, and are expected to treat her like a member of the family (paying for all her meals as well). This is an added expense, and can be a burden to families who wish to have more alone time after the au pair’s work is done. Some families won’t be comfortable with having another person living in their home, and if for some reason it doesn’t work out with the au pair, you’ll have to go through a rematching process, which can be awkward and painful for some families.

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