Choosing childcare is one of the most difficult decisions a parent can make. What childcare options are best for you? Let's look at the options.

Choosing childcare is one of the most difficult decisions a parent can make. You have to weigh up pros and cons, along with affordability and what is right for your child and for you.  It is enough to make you go cross-eyed with overthinking. What childcare choices are best for you?

Here is a quick rundown of the different childcare choices:

  • Babysitters
  • Nannies (usually full time)
  • Au Pairs (usually full time)
  • Daycare center
  • In-home daycare (at someone else’s home)
  • Before and after school care
  • Family members
  • Switching childcare with other families 
  • Mother’s Help

I will talk more about those in a bit, but let’s start with the question, What is right for you? That is the million-dollar question. It can be so hard to know and maybe there will be some trial and error. With so many more families having both parents working, or with single-parent families having to work, there is a great need for quality childcare.  I honestly think this entire blog could be a list of questions that you go through in each of the types of childcare. But I won’t overwhelm you – though be warned, I will pose a number of questions, largely to get you thinking. 


WEIGHING UP THE COSTS

One of the first things you need to consider is the cost of childcare. There are times when it is actually cost prohibitive, or you may work full time and that wage covers childcare and not much more. Is it then worth the time? We have had to do that as a family. I could go back to work full time but the cost of 2 children in full-time care doesn’t really make the time away from them worth it for me.

I actually LOVE being with my girls, and I am so happy I get to be with them, homeschool them and get involved in activities with them. Honestly, I thought I was going to be happy to go back to work full time when the girls were born, but it turns out I was the opposite of what I thought I would be. Being home with them became a huge priority, and I am blessed that my husband will take on extra work so that I can be home with the girls. 

Let’s now look at all the different childcare choices and things to consider about each option.

outside a daycare center
One of the childcare choices is a daycare center

Babysitters

One of the first childcare choices we think of is babysitting. Babysitters can be teens, college students or adults. This childcare choice is great because of its flexibility. I tend to think of babysitters as part-time or as-needed care. Weekends and evenings can be a high use time for babysitters. It is the few hours needed while you have a date night or an appointment. It is the day while you get stuff done. Maybe it is on a regular schedule, but it’s not full time. 

What are some things to consider with choosing a babysitter? 

  • Personality: do they mesh well with your children? Are they caring and fun? Do your children get on well with them?
  • Playfulness: will the babysitter play with your children or just sit back and not engage?
  • Responsibility: will they follow bedtime and family rules in the house? Can you trust them to stick to the routine and correct your children as necessary?
  • Reliability: do they show up on time? Are they consistent in their behavior and communication?

Typical duties of a babysitter are:

  • Playing with the children
  • Simple meal or snack prep
  • Changing diapers/nappies
  • Helping to clean play areas
  • Getting kids to bed

What I look for in a babysitter is someone who will play with my girls and make them feel safe. They have a couple of people they love, and I will usually ask them first. One of them is a young guy, whom my girls adore! I know that I get looks when I say I have a male babysitter, but he is someone I trust wholeheartedly. I probably won’t get him to ever bathe the girls, but that is because I don’t want him to feel uncomfortable. Please don’t discount guys as babysitters as they can be fabulous male role models for our kids. 

I always encourage teens who want to babysit to go and get some training, especially to learn first aid and CPR. This can give great peace of mind to parents. 

Nannies 

The line between a babysitter and nanny is a fine one and there are many gray areas as to the difference. Generally, the best description of a nanny’s job is that it is a regular, usually full time position which often includes meal prep, housework, assisting with homework, driving children to activities and practices, and running errands. Nannies are usually paid weekly, do get paid vacation time and often have a written contract. 

There are different kinds of nannies, and Care.com does a great job of explaining them. Shall I just let them do the explaining here

nanny flying over a town - childcare choices
Don’t we all want a fantastic nanny?

Full-time live-out nanny:

  • Works “full-time” (i.e., five days a week, usually 45 to 50 hours)
  • Focuses exclusively on childcare (e.g., play, bath time, meals, activities, homework, transportation, etc.)
  • May have extensive training or education in childhood development, which makes them a valuable asset
  • May work extra hours or use their own car to help with nanny duties (such as picking up kids from school), both of which will affect their rates
  • Gets paid a weekly or salaried rate, which you can negotiate during the initial interview
  • Does not reside in the family’s home or perform any non-child-related cleaning or housekeeping

Full-time live-in nanny:

  • Shares the same responsibilities as live-out nannies, but they reside in the family’s home
  • Receives access to a furnished room, private bath and sometimes a cell phone and a car, in exchange for reduced care costs
  • Maintains specific boundaries around work and non-work hours

Nanny housekeeper:

  • Handles the same childcare duties as a live-in or live-out nanny, but also performs housekeeping duties during nap or quiet time, or while the children are at school
  • May charge more (whether hourly or salary) than other nannies because she’s providing additional services

Part-time nanny:

  • Cares for kids regularly but for shorter time periods — could be a few hours a week only Monday through Wednesday or only after school
  • Will be more involved than a babysitter

Au Pairs

An Au Pair is like a nanny and fulfills the same duties but there are some main differences. An Au Pair is arranged through a service and is a young person (between the ages of 18-30), who goes abroad to live with a native family and learn (or perfect) a language in exchange for childcare. They come with a cultural exchange visa which lasts a year but can be extended. Au Pairs must live with the family and you are required to cover room and board, provide a weekly stipend and allow them to go to language lessons.

For some families, it is a cheaper option to have an Au Pair and for many they enjoy the cultural exchange. There are a number of stringent requirements to be an Au Pair and this can give you peace of mind, also knowing that there is recourse through the service you use to employ your Au Pair.  I have friends who have loved having Au Pairs and found it to be the best solution when it came to childcare choices.

Daycare center

One of the main options for families is a daycare center. Many centers offer great care with full licensure, trained caregivers and both an educational and social environment. If you need full-time care for your children, daycare centers can be a better option as it is usually cheaper than hiring a nanny. 

Things to consider when looking at daycare centers:

  • Safety and security: are they a safe facility and do all they can to keep your children safe? Are they open about their policies?
  • Cleanliness: Is the facility clean? What are their policies on sick workers?
  • Environment: Is it a kind and fun place for your children to be? Are conversations respectful? Is it a rich environment where your children will be nurtured and have their needs met?
  • Engagement and stimulation: Are children actively engaged in learning through play? Do the teachers engage with each child? Do the toys encourage exploration, imagination, and interaction? Is there equipment outside for running and climbing? How often do the children go outside?
  • Staffing: Are all the staffed trained? What is the turnover rate like? (You do not want a facility where the staff is constantly quitting.) Do they have enough adults per children according to State guidelines?
  • Communication: Do the teachers regularly communicate with the parents? On what issues? Is there a parent handbook with all the policies? Is there consistency with following all policies (like late drop-off or visitors to the facility)?

This is a fantastic list of things to look for in a daycare center. It is always helpful to have a list of questions to ask because, especially as first-time parents, it can be a daunting task to choose a place for your child to go. Don’t forget to ask around to see what places are recommended and what ones are red-flagged. 

daycare center large room
daycare centers are great childcare choices

Home-based Family daycare

Family daycare is a viable option for many families when looking at childcare choices that work for them. Usually running a daycare allows a parent to look after their children while also earning an income. It is more than babysitting and there should be activities for the different age groups. Family daycare is generally allowed up to 6 or 7 children per provider, with no more than two children under the age of 2. There are also State regulations about how much space is needed in the home/play area for each child. Many parents feel comfortable with the smaller group size and the family-like environment provided. 

Some advantages of choosing a Family Childcare are:

  • a home-like environment
  • fewer cases of illnesses since the child is exposed to fewer children
  • mixed age groups (great for siblings)
  • fewer children per teacher/caregiver
  • usually more flexible in accommodating family needs like vacation and drop-offs/pick-ups
  • lower tuition rates (usually)
  • a caregiver who often becomes part of the family

I have heard some people say that a big disadvantage of a family daycare is that there might not be a strong education program. This would depend on the person who runs the daycare. And if a strong educational focus in the early years is important to you, then this is something you will need to address when looking for a family daycare or childcare center. For me personally, I am less worried about the educational aspect (yes, even as a teacher) than the play aspect so I would probably lean more towards a family daycare due to size, play possibilities and mixed ages. But again, we all have to do what works for us and what we are comfortable with. 

Before and after school care

When I talk about before and after school care, I am not actually talking about after school activities, like robotics or drama, where children can sign up for it, but rather a supervised program which more and more parents are utilizing for caring for their children outside of school hours. Here is an opportunity for your children to be with their peers, get their homework done, and be supervised as they play. Before and after school care programs keep kids safe outside of school hours, especially the older children who are not yet old enough to care for themselves. Many programs will let you sign up just for the days you need it – so you do not need to have your children there 5 days a week if you only need it for 2 or 3. 

I worked at an out of school hours program while in university and I loved it. The kids ate a snack, did homework and played outside. Some days we would do an art or craft activity, others we would play board games together. I loved that it had experiences other than just homework. It was beautiful to watch some of the older children step up and play with, even mentor, the younger children. We did not separate by age but kept them all together like one big family. 

This can be a great option for families that need it for older children in the afternoons, or mornings, whatever is needed. It is a great social, academically supported environment. Cost is also a great benefit, especially if you are only paying as needed.

Family members

Some families are blessed to have other family members who can step up and do regular care of your children. For us, this is not an option as all my family lives in Australia, and my husband’s family lives in Germany. But I truly see the benefits – for both relationship and cost. I have some friends who still pay family members for their time – to cover the costs of driving the children here and there, for food, etc. Other friends who say that they could never take money for looking after their grandchildren or nieces and nephews. I think it is entirely negotiable and needs to be what works for everyone involved. Family members can be there for regular needs, or as needed. It’s a bonus, really.

But you need to still trust your family members in caring for your children. Your family members still need to follow schedules, expectations, behavior, discipline, etc. You don’t want to leave your children with people who disregard your wishes. I know this can be a source of contention for some families. Do what works for you. If you love your family and trust them, then go for it. The relationships your children will build with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc is a wonderful thing. 

Switching childcare with other families 

When it comes to childcare choices, this is a fun one, and cost effective. We do this with a couple of families, the ones who have children my girls love to spend time with. It really is a win-win. Your children get a playdate and you get the help you need without having to pay for it. As we have seen, childcare costs can quickly rack up. It’s a thing of “I give you time and then you give me some time. Thanks so much!” I love it when I can help friends out by taking their children for them. And I am so grateful when friends take my girls so we can have a date night, or get some work done, etc.

It makes my girls so happy. And, honestly, 4 children (or even 6) can be so much easier. They are all busy playing – you might only need to intervene in any little disagreements. And then just provide snacks, and lots of them, because when one is hungry they all are and they seem to get so much hungrier when playing with friends. 

Mother’s Helpers

This is another childcare choices option I absolutely love. It is where you have someone come over, usually a pre-teen, to play with your children while you get stuff done. Because these helpers are not of babysitting age, you cannot leave them at the house without you, but it is such a great option. We have a couple of girls who love to come over and play with my girls. Like, I get messages of “Please can I come and play with your girls?” or “When can I come over?”

My girls adore this option. They have “big friends” to play with and generally twist arms to play games over and over and over again. I get so much done – whether it is work or housework. I have been known to do some self-care and withdraw so I can watch a movie without little bodies climbing all over me. It truly is a brilliant option. I have some homeschooling friends who utilize mother’s helpers really well. Theirs tend to be older and can either help with supervising school tasks or assisting with housework. Whatever the age, or whatever the task, it is wonderful. You also get to help these pre-teens with building their confidence and child care abilities. 


THE END

Phew, I think we have made it to the end of the list of childcare choices. So many options. SO. MANY. DECISIONS. I hope this has been helpful and hasn’t overwhelmed you. I know that it can feel overwhelming at times, especially as you want what is best for you, your children and your family as a whole. Have I missed anything? If so, please tell me. What works for you? What do you look for in a babysitter? Do you have any other tips or thoughts? I would love to hear them.

Michayla Best

For over 30 years I have worked with children in a variety of capacities, whether as a teacher or tutor, a babysitter, a camp leader, or family advocate. I have always found a way to connect with children, to help them understand themselves and the world around.

I am Mummy to trinational twincesses who keep me on my toes with their questions, their commentaries, their shenanigans and acts of spontenudity.

Wife, world traveler, musician, crafting queen and self-proclaimed nerd; I love to take what I see, glean, know and help families to find their groove and be successful.

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