Daycare v. Nanny v. Au Pair, what’s the right choice for your family- Part 1

Daycare v. Nanny v. Au Pair, what’s the right choice for your family?- Part 1
By: Paige Goodwin, Contributor

You’ve decided to expand your family or, or to return to the working world after some time on parental leave or as a stay-at-home parent. Exciting! But now it is time to figure out child care. Not so exciting.

With differing care options and large price discrepancies, it can be a challenge to find the right child care fit for not only your budget, but your family. Should you hire an au pair, a nanny, or enroll in a local daycare/preschool center?

Let’s cover the basics between each of the three options as well as their draws:

Local Daycare/Preschool Centers

Local daycare centers, or preschools, hire
trained professionals to watch your children. There are trained teachers, assistants on staff, and some centers also provide health or nursing staff for your young children. Kids get to interact with other children in their age group, so if you have an only child, early exposure to peers can help them foster friendships. Many preschools and care centers include daily curriculum, themed activities, and some even have field trips. From speaking with other parents, this socialization and educational element to day cares is the single greatest reasons to attend.

While parents must provide transportation to and from the center for their young children, many provide lunch or at least snacks for the kids.

Key Features

  • Exercise: Outdoor time is every kid’s favorite time of the day and is built into most daycare schedules (weather permitting). In addition to jungle gym time, many daycares offer classes ranging from baby yoga, to dance, and tumbling classes that make sure your kids gets up and moves throughout the day instead of sitting and watching a movie or simply partaking in stationary activities.
  • Education: Some daycare’s offer language, mathematics, spelling, art, music, and other coursework that is tailored to young minds. By offering these types of classes, your kids can get a head start on academics and expand their horizons before they head to school.
  • Socialization: As noted above, the top response we got from talking to parents when writing this article was that daycare or preschool lets kids learn how to interact with other kids. From sharing toys, to making friends, to learning how to nap when it’s not silent (no daycare class is ever silent), daycare can help give your children the tools to learn, have fun, and play outside of the home.
  • Safety: With lots of teachers, parents, and administrators around, parents who were interviewed for this article felt that having their kids at a daycare offered a higher sense of safety then leaving small children with a Nanny or Au Pair where nobody is around to watch how they interact with your children

Wait Time
Signing up for daycare often includes long wait-lists and applying to multiple centers. Keep in mind that many folks are on waitlists while still pregnant to ensure their infant enrollment at the three-month mark. Many daycare centers charge you to be on the waitlist.

Schedule Flexibility
Preschools and Centers operate during certain hours each day, making them them a great choice if you or your partner have a regular work schedule and can adhere to the center’s policies on drop-offs and pick-ups. Be aware: many centers charge for late pickup.

Provider Sick/Vacation Days
If one of the teachers is sick or on vacation that day, you won’t have to find a back-up, which is a huge advantage over a Nanny or Au Pair. That being said, many daycare and preschool centers are closed on holidays, weekends, and even for inclement weather.

Child Sick/Vacation Days
Expect to pay the tuition rate even if your child is out sick, or you go on vacation. Some centers do nott require payment if you are gone, but others charge to keep the spot open for your child upon return.

Many daycare centers have strict regulations on sick children being kept home for at least 24 hours after they initially went home to try and keep illnesses from spreading around. During flu season, this will help your little one (and your family) stay healthy, but remember that if your child has symptoms such as a fever or vomiting, they will not be able to attend that day. You are responsible for finding alternate care or taking time off of work.

Au Pair

Au pairs are child care providers who generally come from other countries to live with you and care for your child. If you currently live in a house that has a guest bedroom, an au pair can be a great addition to the family. Au pairs often can assist in teaching your children a new language and can provide cultural exposure. Au pairs are screened by a program and sign contracts to provide you with consistent child care.

Keep in mind that in addition to providing a room for your au pair, you also must provide all of the au pair’s meals, include them in family outings, and provide transportation and car insurance for them. Many au pair programs require that they take classes in America, so your au pair might be unavailable in the evenings, or even have to take a break during the day to go to class. Additionally, many au pair agreements prohibit the au pair from certain household duties, like general cleaning of your home. They are there to care for your child, not be a housekeeper.

Key Features

  • Time: Parents who use and love Au Pairs rave about that having someone in the home to help get the kids dressed, fed, and taken care of in the morning. This makes it easier for parents to get out the door quickly in the morning. This extra time results in getting to work earlier, which means getting to leave earlier too. It allows for more quality time with your kids in the evening.
  • Transportation: Many Au Pair agreements require you to provide a means of transportation to the Au Pair. While this seems like a large request, giving your Au Pair a car to use allows them to transport your kids to and from activities and even pick them and drop them off from school, which can be a large time savings for you.
  • Cultural Exposure: Many Au Pairs are not native to the U.S. so having your kids exposed to a caregiver with a different cultural (and possible language background) can help provide a more global understanding of the world.

Wait Time
In order to obtain an au pair, you must go through a screening and matching process that may take at minimum a couple months to go through. Au pairs cannot legally watch infants under the age of 3 months, so keep that in mind as you apply.

Schedule Flexibility
Au pairs must have at least one full weekend per month off, and can only work up to 45 hours a week. Many au pair contracts also include that au pairs must have at least 1.5 days off per week. However, daily au pair hours can be negotiated, and if you or your spouse work on-call or sometimes work weekends, you can work within your au pair contract to find coverage. Au pairs are a great choice if your work hours are not the typical 9-5, or if they vary per week.

Provider Sick/Vacation Days
Many au pair contracts require a week of paid vacation, in which you would provide your au pair with their full weekly stipend. In that week, you would have to find alternative child care. However, many au pairs and their host families schedule to take vacation at the same time. Because au pairs’ week-to-week stipend is less than the cost of tuition at a daycare center or nanny salary, it is less expensive for their vacations.

Au pairs, when ill, should not be expected to work that day and therefore you will need to find back-up child care. The weekly stipend must still be issued in full, but, if needed, it is possible to negotiate hours on the au pair’s typical off-day that week so you can work an extra shift if needed.

Child Sick/Vacation Days
Au pair contracts include 51 weeks of stipend, so if your au pair isn’t simultaneously taking a vacation, you might either want to take the au pair along, or keep her/him at home so the house isn’t empty. In all three circumstances, you will still need to provide the stipend.

If your child is sick, many au pairs can bring them to doctor’s appointments or provide care for children with colds or bugs. However, if your au pair’s class schedule conflicts with the sick care you need, unless you offer higher pay and they accept it to miss class and care for your child, you must find alternative child care.

Young children who are very ill or have vomiting bugs may also be very upset to have you leave for work while they are sick.

Remember too, that by exposing your care provider to a contagious kid, there is a chance you will have to grant a sick day in the near future… However, by living in the house already creates exposure to the germs.


Nannies come in all varieties in terms of experience and availability. Nanny schedules can often be flexible and they can work varying hours each day so long as you keep the work consistent. Because of the flexibility of nannies, it is always wise to keep a contract with them that outlines pay, expectations, hours, and any sort of on-call care you might need. Additionally, while services like can provide background checks, it is up to you to check driving records as well as legitimacy of certifications.

Nannies can take children to enrichment activities, or nannies with educational training can provide their own learning opportunities for children. They are often responsible for feeding the children all of the meals that will be eaten while the nanny is there. In return, you also provide food for the nanny for those meals.

Since nannies work in your home, there is no need for you to get your child ready in the morning. Additionally, children with weak immune systems may benefit from staying at home with a provider. For infants, many parents have peace of mind knowing that the baby is at home with a trusted provider who can keep to the family routines without interruption.

While nannies can provide differing services, or even weekend babysitting, make sure to outline what is normally expected of her and offer extra compensation for requests that are outside of those duties.

Key Features

  • Time: Much like au pairs, having a nanny helps you get out of the house for work more easily. You do not have to feed and dress your child. Unlike an au pair, a nanny does not live with you so weather and traffic can impact possible time savings.
  • Household Support: Unlike au pairs, many nannies also provide domestic household support in that they will do laundry for your kids and even clean around the house during the day which gives you more precious time to hang out with your kids.
  • Cost: As you will see in Part 2 of this article, nannies are usually the most cost effective option for child care (especially when you have more than one child).

Wait Time
Since it is up to you to provide your own background checks, it may take a while to find a nanny. Depending on how busy your area is, you also may have to wait until the start of summer or the school year to find a nanny, as many families tend to change childcare during those times.

Schedule Flexibility
Nannies can work virtually any time of the day, and so long as you are providing proper compensation, can work overnight or only a few days a week if you are working part-time. Keep in mind that many nannies who accept part-time jobs are also students or have other commitments, so be sure to outline your possible needs for other coverage in your contract.

It is common to take nannies on vacations, or even just to hire one for a summer if you’re transitioning between care providers.

Provider Sick/Vacation Days
Depending on how many hours a week your nanny works for you, you can negotiate whether or not you will pay your nanny for her/his own vacation. Full-time nannies should have fewer breaks in payment than part-time ones do. Like au pairs, many nannies and families coordinate vacations so there are no breaks in child care.

If your nanny is sick, you will have to find back-up child care. It is not realistic to expect a nanny to come in sick, even if it requires you to take leave from your job. Based on what you agree upon in your contract, you might not have to pay sick time.

Child Sick/Vacation Days
If your family takes vacation, anticipate to pay your full-time nanny the normal weekly salary. Do not expect your nanny to house-sit for you, and if she/he does, there should be additional compensation. In the contract, you can decide if your part-time nanny is compensated during your time off, but keep in mind that many families do pay even their part-time nannies, so it might be expected.

If your child is ill and contagious, it might be wise to keep the nanny out of the house until the bug passes over so that you do not have to find care when the nanny is sick. Many nannies do not provide sick care, or provide limited sick care (they will take care of your child if they have a cold or a small bug, but will not provide care if your child has the flue or stomach bugs, etc.).

Teething fevers, reflux that looks like vomiting, and other non-contagious bugs that might keep your child out of daycare will not be a problem for the nanny. However, if she calls and insists that the child is sick with more than that, and sick-care is not in her contract, you’ll have to take leave from work.

If you are sick, you can have your nanny come and take care of the children, but remember that taking care of you is not part of the contract. You will not have to worry about getting the kids ready for daycare, and the nanny can keep them occupied while you recover.