Daycare vs nanny vs sitter
October 17, 2016 8:25 PM   Subscribe

My wife has recently started working full-time. We are struggling with the decision to enroll our little guy in daycare, hire a live in nanny, or hire a regular babysitter. For the past 21 months my wife has taken care of our baby boy while working from home. We have had some limited babysitting but he's never been to daycare or had a regular babysitter. Over the last month or so my wife has started working more and more and is now employed full time for the same company I work for.

We have found a fantastic local babysitter who is offering to help around the house cooking and cleaning. She has childcare experience and has a structured approach to caring for him. She's super sweet, but maybe a bit dim.

We also have the sweetest free spirit/hippie chick who would consider being a live in nanny. She is less structured but really shows him the "wonder of being alive". She's the type who goes on meditation retreats to India. She does yoga with him, and they stop and smell the roses, and she's so patient with him.

The other option is daycare. We have been on the waiting list for the "best" daycare around. We toured several different daycare options and this one came highly recommended and we disliked it more than the others.

We aren't basing our decision on cost. It's really what's "best" for him that we struggle with. We spent a couple of hours at the daycare with him one morning to test drive it. He was un-phased, actually he seemed to enjoy it. Mrs Karst and I both kinda panicked, though. Within a minute of him entering the room a kid ran up and snatched a toy out of his hand and yelled "MINE". 4 kids had crusty green snotty noses. One kid wore a shirt that said "My dad is a hero because he's a warrior. Navy" or something. Another kid just glowered from the corner, like a young Dylan Clebold (sp?). I know daycare is normal, but apparently so is supporting Trump, so normal isn't good enough. I'm not ok with my boy being a bully or being bullied. I don't want him to get hard. I don't want him to be sick for the next 2 years. I don't want just another kid. He's so sweet and smart and he's our unique little flower.

Am I wrong? Will he still be our sweet little boy? Are the benefits of daycare worth the downsides? I feel like we can get the socialization from reading hours at the library, or play dates, or swim lessons. Do we have to throw him to the wolves, Lord of the Flies style?

As far as the nanny vs sitter debate, the sitter is easy and local. She's sweet and has offered to cook and clean. She can pick up other work as needed, which is especially useful as we go away +/- one week per month). The hippie nanny, on the other hand, would have to relocate. She'd have to settle down. I feel like we'd be crushing her soul a little. She's a free spirit who should go to an ashram in Costa Rica if the mood suits her. But she is so engaging and seems to like going to where he is mentally (in a good way). She sees the world through his eyes and sees truth in that, I think.

My wife is SO happy being back at work, but we struggle with this. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.
posted by karst to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Would the sitter be available for random weeks if the nanny took off to Costa Rica?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:48 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

He will always be your sweet little boy, and all those kids are beautiful unique little snowflakes to their parents too – snot and all! That said, you don’t have to do anything. What exactly is the problem with the two babysitters? Picking between them? My only concern would be longevity and consistency of care, but staff turnover can be an issue at daycare too.

Daycare should not feel like a Lord of the Flies/wolves situation, goodness. It doesn’t matter how highly recommended it comes, it doesn’t mean it’s all it’s cracked up to be and doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

We both work full time and ours is in daycare – a small daycare with great staff and a homely feel. Their faces are kept clean, and they’re being taught to be kind to each other and responsible for themselves. I really feel my kid (an only) has been made sweeter and more thoughtful for it. All kids get colds, have bad moods, and my kid recently moved from the nursery to the toddler group and promptly learned the word “mine” (said hopefully… mine?). The question is whether you caught them in a rough morning or if this is typical, and whether or not it’s a good fit for you.

Also, you don’t have to choose between them. Pick two, or all three! Do a combo of the two sitters if possible. Use one as the primary nanny, and the other as a babysitter. Do two days at daycare (maybe a different one? Or wait until preschool?) and three with the nanny. Do what works for you. Attachment theory supports the idea that it’s good for kids to be securely attached to multiple loving stable caregivers.

On preview: if you go with the hippie chick make sure you're clear on how long you expect the arrangement to last and set really clear house rules, clear work contract, etc.
posted by jrobin276 at 8:58 PM on October 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think the benefit of a daycare is that no one is ever alone with your child, because no matter what you see when you're there, you never know for sure what happens when someone is alone with your kid.

Also, remember that while with the daycare centre you'd be enlisting the services of a company, with either the babysitter or nanny option, you're hiring an employee. That makes you subject to all the labour laws etc. wherever you are, so you shouldn't assume you can just "go away for a week every month" and it's the babysitter's problem that she's not getting paid that week and hopefully she can pick up other work, unless you contract her for two weeks a month, in which case it will be your problem what to do if you don't go away some month.

It's unclear why you seem to be considering only this one daycare centre. Who cares if it's supposedly the best? If you don't like it, it's not the best for you. Consider looking at others before you make your decision.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:03 PM on October 17, 2016 [26 favorites]

None of these decisions is likely to ruin your kid forever. In fact, it sounds to me like daycare might be more traumatic for you than for your son! I hope the rest of this doesn't sound harsh -- I know you want the best for your child. But these are my reactions to some of the things you wrote:

Within a minute of him entering the room a kid ran up and snatched a toy out of his hand and yelled "MINE".

Welcome to the world of 2-year olds. This is part of something that we grownups call "learning to share".

4 kids had crusty green snotty noses.

If you send your kid to daycare, he will get sick more now and less later. Our immune systems are built by being exposed to pathogens and learning how to fight them. If having a snotty nose was a big deal, health-wise, our species would be extinct. Think of how often you blow your nose, and then think about what that would look like if you didn't know how to blow your nose.

One kid wore a shirt that said "My dad is a hero because he's a warrior. Navy" or something.

Yeah, people in this world are in the navy and that doesn't make them bad people. People in the navy love their kids just as much as you do, I promise.

Another kid just glowered from the corner, like a young Dylan Clebold (sp?).

You are likening a 2-year old to a mass murderer. That's what you are doing there. Seriously, relax.

If you don't want to send your kid to daycare, don't send him to daycare. No biggie. And if you do decide to send him to daycare, absolutely you should find one that you are comfortable with. If you have a bad feeling about a place, then listen to that. But it sounds to me like you are approaching this with a lot of stress and preconceived notions.

Our experience was that we had a nanny (not live-in) for a few months and then moved our son to a daycare. The nanny was great but was more expensive and her hours weren't as good. No fault of hers, it's just a different model. She was really sweet, and took care of 3 kids at a time so there were other playmates around. We were on the waiting list at a couple of daycares, and when we were offered a spot we took it.

It was tough on all of us for the first couple of weeks. He cried when we dropped him off at the new place since it was unfamiliar. We wondered if we'd made a mistake and briefly contemplated going back to the nanny, but decided to stick with it for a few weeks. Now we love it. When we leave he just hangs out happily with the other kids, and he loves his primary caregiver. Our daycare provides food also, so he gets to try tons of new foods.

What I'm trying to say is that if you find a good daycare it can be great. There's no right or wrong answer here. Kids are adaptable and will adjust to a lot of different routines. But, to reiterate, I think you will have an easier time of it for yourself if you stop putting your anxieties onto the other kids there. None of the 2-year-olds in there is supporting Trump or carrying automatic rifles under their trench coat.
posted by number9dream at 9:15 PM on October 17, 2016 [81 favorites]

I think it's very personal and we've had a nanny (she was great) and a Montessori-based daycare.

I did want to share that my son has a friend across the street...she was in daycare with him from when they were both under two. They are 11 now. They aren't exactly best friends, but they have each other's backs. The same is true for some of the other kids he was in daycare with who are now in his martial arts class or his swim class...whenever they pop up it is a bit like long-lost cousins. Daycare isn't a hoarde of people waiting to be cruel to your child, it's a community as well. With the good and the bad. But not just the bad.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:19 PM on October 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

The sitter sounds fine. However, if you are a man, is working from home for a while an option for you the way it was for your wife? One very good way to keep a sweet little boy from getting to be "hard" in an effort to be like the other boys is to show him that loving care is something grown-up men can choose to do for little children.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:20 PM on October 17, 2016 [20 favorites]

The hippy sounds like a disaster in the making. The babysitter and daycare both sound fine and experienced structured and steady is what you want. I will say one huge drawback to your kid having a single caregiver that they get very attached to is that inevitably the caregiver leaves and that can be pretty traumatic. Daycare makes it more clear to the little kid who is family and who is not and who can reasonably be expected to stick around forever.
posted by fshgrl at 9:21 PM on October 17, 2016 [23 favorites]

The other benefit to daycare over nannies and babysitters is that the employees will be trained/educated in early childhood education. You don't mention credentials for the nanny or babysitter. Obviously you don't need an ECE degree to take care of kids, otherwise parents wouldn't be able to parent their own kids, but someone with that degree will be better trained than someone without to spot developmental difficulties if any exist, will know what resources are available for addressing them, will be able to spot the areas where your kid is exceptional and know how to provide opportunities to build those areas. They're trained in providing a curriculum (albeit emergent curriculum in daycare, not like a set school curriculum) that can prepare your kid for school. They're trained in nutrition and you know the daycare will be providing healthy meals and snacks.

It's not absolutely necessary, but it's not nothing either.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:27 PM on October 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh, but a daycare might not be cool with your taking 1-2 weeks a month off. Even though they'd still bill you for the weeks off, they'd probably rather give the spot to a kid who will be there A) Because they may be required to do so and B) Because they are forming a community and it's hard to make community with part-time members.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:29 PM on October 17, 2016

Looking at your options, I would maybe think about what you're hoping to get out of whatever arrangement you choose. Not just "best for our kid" (which is kind of wide open as a concept). Like what does that actually mean/what outcome are you looking for?

Here are the upshots of all the things you mentioned:

1. Expanding the role of your current babysitter. Your kid gets to be looked after one on one by someone they are likely already comfortable with. You and your wife get some added convenience/domestic tasks taken care of. The term "dim" is hard to gauge. Like, are you afraid this babysitter is going to make a huge mistake which creates an unsafe situation for your child, or do you wish they were more erudite?

2. Live in nanny. Your kid gets to be looked after one on one by someone who is on the premises at all times and, to an extent, is available around the clock. Note that most likely the tradeoff for this is that this person will not be expected to cook or clean for you. The hippie/yoga/meditation thing seems moot to me unless you and your wife think that this sort of thing is of utmost importance to your child's upbringing. (As a former nanny, I have a TON of issues with the concept of live-in help and what is typically expected and how such workers are typically compensated, but since right now you're weighing this among other options, I'll leave that aside for the moment.)

3. Daycare. Your kid gets to be around the kinds of people and situations they will be dealing with for the rest of their life, for example germs, sharing, and people whose parents do different things for a living than their parents do. Your kid will be socialized with other kids and used to a structured environment well before starting school. Unlike your other options, daycare centers typically are only open for certain hours during the day and are not really flexible; you'll probably still need a backup sitter of some kind of you need to leave your kid behind on a weekend or evening.

From there, you basically have to decide what's most important: preparing your kid for life out in the world, structure, flexibility, familiarity, meditating a lot, having someone available at all times, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 9:49 PM on October 17, 2016

I love daycare. My friend swears she can tell the daycare kids from non daycare kids - by 18months the daycare kids are putting on their own shoes, jackets, eating nicely at the table... Because it's just expected of them.

And kids need to learn how to deal with other kids - the nicer ones and the not so nice ones. Learning how to bounce back from injustice and have good boundaries and assert ones self are good life skills.

Also my kid has started sleeping much better at night thanks to the daycare routine and consistent schedule.

And I agree now is the time to build that immune system! So my vote is daycare.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:51 PM on October 17, 2016 [10 favorites]

this one came highly recommended and we disliked it more than the others

Is that a typo? I'm presuming that you wouldn't have chosen this one if it is the most disliked.

Do we have to throw him to the wolves, Lord of the Flies style?

Perhaps you said this for comic effect, but if the place was recommended, and you (?)liked it, then it seems unlikely that it can be all that bad (not impossible, I suppose).

My daughter just started kindergarten, and she has told us several times how fondly she misses her daycare/preschool. This is after years of her frequently moaning about having to go there, and us sometimes worrying that we were in fact throwing her to the wolves. The truth is that she made deep friendships with her classmates and teachers, even though it took time to ripen. I really appreciate the socializing she got out of it, and I'm skeptical that library hours, swim lessons, and play dates would foster the same connections. If the daycare is any good, then the teachers will help the kids learn to negotiate conflicts. Conflicts are something that all people of all ages have experienced always and forever, and I feel like it's a good idea to start 'em young on learning to deal with it.
posted by polecat at 9:52 PM on October 17, 2016

piggybacking on what St. Peepsburg said, I don't know how we would have figured out potty training if it hadn't been for daycare!
posted by polecat at 9:55 PM on October 17, 2016

I toured one of the "best" daycares in our town and really disliked it. To me, it seemed crowded and there was a room without any windows and super depressing fluorescent lights. So, I chose not to get on their waitlist and kept touring until I found a Montessori school that is working for our family. The kids aren't packed in like sardines, it has a really calm atmosphere, and they take the kids outside, everyday, rain or shine. They also are teaching my daughter about boundaries, respecting other people's space and speaking up when someone barges in on her "work." It's not perfect, but she's gaining a lot of independence.

That said, I work from home, so a babysitter here is not an option. However, if it was an option, I would love to idea of a babysitter at home. Personally, I think toddlers are better off with someone structured, if boring. They are creatures of routine and need to be given boundaries and limits in addition to stopping and smelling the roses. Everything is new to them, so they don't need a lot of help in finding wonder in the everyday.
Finally, I would be wary of the live-in situation. I think that labor issues get messy with live-in help. Your kid isn't going to respect work-hour boundaries, and how do you properly compensate for that?
posted by ohisee at 10:05 PM on October 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

There is definite research to back up the statement that kids who don't go to daycare get sick just as much, they just get sick more when they finally do go to school and get exposed to everything. So you can't protect him against snotty noses forever.

I think it's much the same for having to wrangle with other kids, learn sharing and social relationships, and learning how to deal with others who are different and coming from different backgrounds. I was a very sheltered child and I think there's something to be said for a degree of sheltering, but if you take it too far (and I fear from what you say that you might be), it's not going to serve him well in the future. Trust me.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:35 PM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Getting sick a lot does not leave one with a magically robust immune system. By this logic I should be skipping flu shots, and instead having infected friends sneeze on me every year, so as to build up an unusually robust immune system for my senior years. But, yes, I often could tell a young tot who went to day care over one who couldn't. I live near "the best" day care in the area. From about 6 months to 4.5 or so, my daughter and I went to the library storytime most weeks -- the woman who did it was a genius retired kindergarten teacher and could tell a story (and calm a kid; I learned loads from just watching her) like nobody's business.

The day care kids would -- to my amazement -- not infrequently see me sitting on the floor with my daughter, and boot it over to plop themselves down in my lap. That's not any sort of healthy attachment; that's outright desperation. (It was never the same kid twice, and the kids were very little and quickly rushed in and out holding on to ropes -- this wasn't a thing where a repeat acquaintance was happy to see me; I was a total stranger and they were affection-starved preschoolers. Very depressing.)

The 'there are witnesses' view of the delights of day care centres should surely have gone out with the bathwater ages ago given how often problems only come to light when a kid dies or is severely injured. For a little while I had a neighbour who worked at The Very Good Day Care. She wasn't placed in the same room as her kid. She quit in disgust with a lot of "never EVER send yours there" after too much of people just not giving a crap, too much of her using breaks to sneak a peek at her kid and finding her being completely ignored, and there was overwhelming pressure to not break rank -- your fellow employees came first; you did not tattle about unsanitary practices, being nasty to a kid, etc.

The very young women who brought the kids to the library were -- "dim" would not have covered it. These girls were just stupid. If you like working with young children, you can: get a BA and go to teacher's college and teach JK/K. If you like working with even younger kids but do not want to teach, you can: get some related education, and make okay money running a home day care. Consider the people left over to work in day cares: here, these are people who took bird courses in community colleges (if that!) in order to secure a salary just hovering over minimum wage.

I saw these girls be outright mean to their little charges, to the point where they'd frighten them -- and this was on good behaviour, in front of the librarians (who tended to be pretty eye-rolly and sigh a lot over this stuff) -- so much they frightened my own kid. Once, a kid injured himself, and the worker looked pretty much terrified -- she clearly had no idea what to do. She ended up -- I quote -- "putting some water on it." Of course she was there the next week; of course her co-workers didn't go back and says "Mrs Boss? Karina doesn't know even very basic first aid."

Statistically, most day care centres fare poorly when thoroughly inspected; part of the reason this is not more scandalous is because most parents wildly overrate the standard of care their kid is getting. Which makes even asking around the neighbourhood unfortunately useless. Very few people are able to fess up to "well, from what we've seen, he's not really getting the best care."

This thread has some anecdotes about how well a kid learned to X thanks to day care. My kid drank from an open cup at 9mo and was using cutlery at 12mo, toilet-trained herself just after 2, memorized Yeats for fun at that age, and was constantly complimented on her social skills. This is because children learn from adults and older kids, not from other barely verbal tots snatching stuff out of their hands or in groups of kids their age so large and with adults so scarce that they require ropes or five-infant strollers to leave the premises. My kid and I walked the same neighbourhood the day care kids occasionally did; the day care-ees were not getting random chat about the neighbourhood, not learning how to buy a thing at (fortunately quite unrushed and indulgent) local shops, and they definitely weren't being taken to museums and galleries. Even a weekly $10 afternoon involving a trip downtown and a stop at a bookshop and a bakery offers more by of socialization.

From the very brief descriptions I'm favouring the nanny. There are a lot of claims that kids 'flourish on routines/structure/schedule,' but at a young age the most vital thing is secure attachment with loved ones. Yes, some kids benefit from loose 'first dinner, then bath' routines, but the very common idea that very little kids "like" schedules etc is thanks to it making them more convenient in industrialized settings.

If neither the sitter nor the nanny are quite a perfect fit, I would press harder with looking for another sitter or nanny.

That there were 'four kids with crusty green snotty noses' is not easily explained away by 'kids get sick a lot!' (Mine didn't, still doesn't, at 9.) Crusty snotty noses are painful and unpleasant. That is four kids who had no adult there with the time or care to tend to very basic tasks like de-crusting a nose. I think that's awful.
posted by kmennie at 11:55 PM on October 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

Twenty-seven years ago, I chose day care over a sitter based on the simple fact that at the day care center there was always more than one adult caretaker in my baby's room at any given time, in addition to multiple other adults in the other rooms. I preferred not leaving my kids alone with anyone, especially in the pre-verbal years; I figured "more eyes" would be a deterrent to neglectful or abusive care, as well as a literal lifesaver in the event of an emergency that incapacitated a caretaker.

We happened to live about 1/2 mile from an excellent day care center, which included a kindergarten and afterschool care—my kids were enrolled for 10+ years. I understand that not everyone has this option.
posted by she's not there at 12:56 AM on October 18, 2016

kmennie, I appreciate that your local daycare does indeed sound pretty horrific, but I wouldn't agree that these experiences can be extrapolated to condemn all childcare establishments everywhere as neglectful and abusive. I am lucky enough to live in a country where regulation/licensing/qualification standards are high, and I've seen and experienced some very good-quality childcare settings. So they are out there - whether or not the OP's choices are among them is another question.

OP, I found when making childcare decisions that it really helped to be clear ahead of time about what I valued and why. It looks like you're tangling a lot of issues up together, and it would probably help you to tease those out a bit and separate what you can reasonably expect from what you can't. You say you're not okay with your kid being a bully or being bullied, and I hope most parents would say the same, but if you can map that on to specific things about the childcare setups you're considering it would help you clarify your thoughts.

For myself, in your situation:

- it wouldn't bother me that some of the kids at the daycare had colds - this is cold season. It would bother me if nobody was wiping noses.

- it wouldn't bother me if one 2-year-old grabbed a toy off another - toddlers will be toddlers. It would bother me if the staff weren't on top of that, and weren't in general keeping an eye out on encouraging good behaviour, valuing sharing, helping to explain the concepts of sharing and kindness and taking turns.

- it wouldn't bother me that other kids had parents whose career choices I didn't personally like. If that does bother you, then you're best going with one-to-one care, or doing some kind of nanny share setup with a family you personally know.

- kid in the corner "glowering" - that would depend. Did it bother you because the staff didn't seem to be engaging with him in the time you were there? Or because you didn't see any good interactions between him and other kids? It's hard to say from a brief description, although I do think jumping to comparisons with Dylan Klebold is a little far.

- it wouldn't bother me that the young nanny's soul would be crushed by taking the job. Part of her being a "free spirit" is that she gets to make her own decisions! It would bother me if I felt like I couldn't rely on her to stick around for the long haul, or worried that she'd struggle with the parts of childcare that are more frustrating and mundane.

I do think going with your git feeling is massively important when trusting who cares for your child. But in your case, your gut feeling seems to be leaping to extremes - your kid will stop being special, you'll crush your nanny's soul. Write down, for yourself, what you value in a childcare setting and what specific things you do and don't want to see that would let you know whether that's happening. Then see how you feel after that.
posted by Catseye at 2:38 AM on October 18, 2016 [11 favorites]

As an FYI, if he's not in daycare or regularly exposed to kids and gets all those niggly germs and petty colds and fevers now, he will get them in kindergarten. Most of the SAHP and parents who hired nannies that I know had kids sick constantly in kindergarten because their immunity wasn't built up compared to the kids who were in daycare. Eventually they grow out of that, but it's worth the consideration that you're just delaying the inevitable if you choose not to use a daycare to prevent will come up.

I will also say that I am a HUGE fan of in-home daycares. These can be harder to find, but my very first daycare for my kids was an in-home daycare and their standards and level of care were so high that it ruined all other options for me. It was really difficult when we had to leave them, and we wouldn't have if we hadn't absolutely needed to for reasons. You may find yourself more comfortable with an in-home day care option -- it's fewer kids, mixed ages together. It may have other issues, such as if they get sick, there's no floater teacher like at a center. But it may be the in between a nanny and a daycare center option that would appeal to you. In-home daycares are licensed as well, but as always, check the licensure of any daycare you visit with your state entity responsible for licensing them.
posted by zizzle at 4:07 AM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

(I'm assuming from context you are in the US, if not much of this may be untrue of your situation.)

All of these options will be good for your child theoretically. So focus on the practical - this particular sitter, this particular nanny, this daycare or others you may look at.

Don't underestimate the value of a stable local babysitter that you trust, who is willing to work part time (3 weeks out of 4) and do some light housekeeping. You may never find such a person again. The only concern is that you call her "dim". Does that mean she's not intellectual or that she's got a childlike view of the world herself? You will have to take care of all the employer side of things - tax withholding etc - but if you can afford to pay her enough to be able to work for you, this really is a hard thing to find and can transition into more occasional sitting later.

A good daycare is equally valuable and hard to find. I really love the one we send our kid to, and he loves it too. It will run through elementary after school care and he'll probably go to school with a majority of the other kids. But we saw equally well recommended and similarly priced daycares that were less pleasant, and felt like toddler jail and/or seemed exploitive of their staff. In the US it's a crapshoot, as far as regulations, inspections and quality. (I also find immune system argument weird. This is the least helpful part of daycare, because my partner does not have a good immune system and is sick all the time which reduces the effective hours of childcare we get.
It's worth considering whether it's better if your kid gets sick a lot now or at age 6.)
posted by sputzie at 4:33 AM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

My son was in daycare (not even the best by any standard! It was the local YMCA) from 10 weeks until school. There are, of course, upsides and downsides to any childcare arrangement, but I am a big advocate for daycare and find the idea that they are Lord of the Flies child jails a little insulting.

Yes, your kid will get sick more often (and you will, too, most likely), but those are germs they'll build up an immunity to early so hopefully they won't miss as much school later when it matters more. If taking a handful of sick days during the year for yourself and/or your kid is a problem, daycare may not be the greatest solution. Yes, there are interpersonal situations with the other kids that can sometimes be a huge bummer. My kid was bullied for a while in preschool, and we talked to his teachers about it, they worked on it, it wasn't a great situation, but it was a life experience, and it probably won't be the last time we'll have to deal with something like that. Our kid saw us step up to advocate for him and deal with the situation, and he knew we were in his corner. He learned some social tools to help himself deal with bullies.

Our son is a sweet, kind, creative, imaginative kid. He's also very securely attached to his dad and me, and he formed loving bonds with a couple of his daycare teachers who still babysit for him now. He runs to give them hugs when he sees them around the Y. He had an easy transition to regular school and was well prepared to deal with the structure and expectations of school. He learned things from his daycare that we never would have thought to teach him. You know the "it takes a village" saying, well, daycare was our village. Sometimes it's a messy village, and we had some real issues with some of the managerial things that went on with the administration of the place, but if I had another kid I'd do it again. Do what's best for your family, and that may not be daycare, but they're not horrible places that will permanently damage your child.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:04 AM on October 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Goodness, don't go with a childcare option you don't feel comfortable about, no matter how many other good reviews there are. At the same time, don't assume your experience with one center (or nanny, or babysitter) are typical of the entire category.

Our two-year-old goes to a daycare center, and we've been happy with our choice. (Last weekend he randomly told us "[daycare room] makes me happy," and he mentions the names of his daycare friends regularly.) Regularly being around kids his age has been great for him socially, and has introduced him to concepts he wouldn't have learned as soon with just us (observing other kids is a great way for toddlers to learn). I like the added structure, additional layers of accountability, and network of other parents that we get with a large center. They're also open longer hours and for more days, so we haven't had to scramble for backup care. There was a point - after a string of illnesses - where I considered pulling him out altogether, but any group of little kids will have all sorts of communicable diseases, however meticulously hygienic the setting is.

I also know parents who send their children to in-home daycares and love them; they have the advantages of being with other kids, but in a smaller setting where you can really get to know the people caring for your kid.

I've also heard stories of nannies unexpectedly quitting, strings of flaky babysitters, daycare centers losing their license and closing with little notice. There are pros and cons to each type, and good and bad examples within each type. A good babysitter is better than a mediocre center; a good center is better than a mediocre sitter.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:17 AM on October 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

All daycares are different environments, they are run by different people with different philosophies. They all should adhere to state regulations regarding child:adult ratio and various health and safety requirements, but you might have to visit a couple to find one that you really like. Just because one is "the best" (perhaps from some sort of hothoused academic standpoint? Just guessing on this because that's usually what gets daycares labeled "the best") doesn't mean it's actually, you know, the best. We love our non-academic non-fancy-Italian-educational-philosophy nonprofit neighborhood community center based daycare. I feel 100% awesome about sending my kid there.

I'm a big believer in daycare just in general. My son is an only child and it's really invaluable for helping him learn to play with other kids, and behave when he's not the sole center of attention, which he kind of inevitably is when he's at home. He starts kindergarten next year and I'm confident that it won't be a serious shock to his system because he's already used to being in a classroom, having a schedule, keeping his hands to himself during circle time, sharing, relating to kids who have different types of personalities and interests and come from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, etc....
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:24 AM on October 18, 2016

Here's the thing. Your two year old will at some stage be a five or six year old who will need to go to school and interact with his peers. He's gunna need to learn how to deal with kids who take his toys, kids from different background to you, and kids who sit in the corner and glower (and frankly, that kid is just as precious a child as your son). A good nanny or a good babysitter is not going to be able to provide the same structured interaction with his peers as a good daycare centre will.

And to be honest, the things you disliked about the centre you visited are just things to do with other kids. I get it - other peoples' kids can seem really gross sometimes. Snotty noses? Kids get like that. I promise you your son makes snot too. Learning to share and to assert himself around stronger willed kids? Better to do it now than leave it till later. And the glowerer? Your kid needs to know that it's not the job of others around him to be pretty or smiley for his entertainment.

There's a lot of lessons to be learned at a well supervised daycare that a good nanny or babysitter can't provide. It was pointed out upthread that most centres are also staffed by people who are qualified child educators, not just nice sweet people.

I would suggest that even if you do find a good nanny or sitter that you still put your son into care a day or two a week so he can learn those things now when it's easier for good social skills to sink in naturally. My three year old has only just started going to care a few days a week for precisely these reasons and he frikken loves it. It took him a while to warm to it, but he asks to go on weekends now and gets really put out when we don't. So I get that you want to keep your kid to yourself, but you're not doing him any favours that way.
posted by Jilder at 6:31 AM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can also do Nanny + Pre-school for the socialization side of things.

Our precious three year old flower goes to pre-school five days a week from 8:45-11:45, although he stays on for Lunch until 1 a few a days a week. The Nanny takes him and drops him off and fundamentally that's who his caregiver is. Its basically a social activity as best I can tell, but he likes it and he plays well with others (of course its not exactly exposing him to people different from him unless you view parents in private equity and consulting as different)
posted by JPD at 6:41 AM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't have kids, but I don't see an option listed here that some of our child-rearing friends have used: the actual State Department au pair program. I'd always assumed this was a "rich people only" option, and indeed the first family in our circle to host an au pair was absolutely the most well-off -- but then my best friend and his wife, who are fairly normal middle-class people, went that route when she went back to work after their daughter was born. They're not splashy spendy people at all.

I certainly don't know numbers, but it might be worth checking out.
posted by uberchet at 6:56 AM on October 18, 2016

Oh, and one more thing:

I feel like we can get the socialization from reading hours at the library, or play dates, or swim lessons.

These sorts of structured activities are not the same as the largely unstructured play that is encouraged through the day at daycare. We were also doing regular library sessions and playdates with my son and the daycare has far and away provided him with more opportunities to develop his social skills than they ever did.
posted by Jilder at 7:23 AM on October 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

After reading kmennie's post I just thought I would expand a bit on our daycare experience. I was super-paranoid with my eldest son (and fortunately knew where I was sending my youngest.) I visited a lot of daycares and I read a lot. Here's why I decided on group care:

1) Relying on a sole caregiver can be great with the right one and our nanny was a real positive in my son's lives (we rehired her with #2 as here in Toronto a lot of daycares start at 18 months so there's a 6 month gap between maternity leave and them.) At the same time, when you're relying on one person things can go wrong on a variety of levels - they can get tired out, sick, and so on. They can't necessarily take a break the way they can in a good staff situation. There's no breaks and no supervision. It's a hard job that most nannies really are great at for sure. For us it was also expensive (we were paying about $17/hr. I did not feel comfortable paying badly or using an in-home model.)

2) I thought about the dayhome model quite a bit. It sounds idyllic but the thing is you're still in the sole caregiver model (unless there is staff) and you're also dealing with drop off and pick up, and your child is in someone else's home -- not a professional, child-only environment but a home that other people are visiting, has hazardous items, etc. I felt like this was in some ways the worst of both worlds despite the cosy feelings about it.

3) There are definitely lousy daycares. I visited quite a number - over 25 - and there were some that I just didn't have a good feeling about. But the one we selected had a great feeling from the start. The staff are well-paid and long-term and see themselves as the professionals they are. We do pay a premium for that.

I feel like I gave my kids a home, and daycare gave them a broader world. I really do. I was very balanced on the edge of feeling like I had to quit my job to be a SAHP (which is great if you want to and can afford it but I did not) and instead we got so much more. I remember rolling my eyes that the daycare was teaching my 3 year old anatomy...and then about a year later he got appendicitis and knew what that and his intestines were. This is something I wouldn't have thought to introduce to him, just one of zillions of awesome things.

Because good daycares are really good and get amazing at introducing things to kids, plus the kids build on each others' interests. So do nannies and babysitters who want to do that for sure, but I just wanted to share our experience.

The idea that a child is starved for affection if they sit on your lap in a library made me laugh a bit. My son did that after we took a trip to visit a lot of relatives before he went into daycare because he'd absorbed an idea that everyone we met was a relation!

But also...that actually has been one of the greatest benefits of daycare to our family. As an abuse survivor I tend to look at everyone in terms of potential threat. My children have learned from daycare that the world is actually full of adults who will help them. From reading Protecting The Gift, I learned that being able to proactively ask for help from people around us is a huge safety bonus. My kids have absorbed that well and are able to do things like ask for help at a store in in class that would have given me palpitations in my youth.

Just some more information as you make the decision that's best for you!
posted by warriorqueen at 7:30 AM on October 18, 2016 [12 favorites]

I think these all sound like fine options, but I would challenge you to really think about the assumptions you're making about daycare. Are you really saying you think it's bad for your child to be around the kid of a member of the military? That you never want your child to have friends with different political beliefs (or whose parents have different political beliefs -- because a two year old does not have political beliefs!)? Of course you should absolutely ask any daycare how they deal with conflicts among the kids and bullying, because a good place will have a solid plan for how they teach kids about those things and deal with it when problems arise. But if your plan is that your child never has a bad or challenging experience, that's honestly kinda sad...challenging experiences are how we grow. Now, it still may make more sense in your particular situation to choose the nanny or babysitter option. But, I would make that decision based on what is right for your family, not a sense that your child shouldn't get to experience the world.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:03 AM on October 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

He's so sweet and smart and he's our unique little flower.

Nope, and the more you communicate that you don't believe that to who you entrust your child to, the better the feedback. They don't trust you either if you say anything resembling that. Convince them you won't breathe fire if dream of perfect child gets debased by events and you'll get something more informative out of caregiver at the end of the day. They'll actually feel free to care more about your child if they think you won't sprout rotors and pods of rockets.

My kiddo and I toured 7 preschools and he picked one. Director pushed open a door so I could see a standard activity and boy slips in and shuts the door on my finger then finds a place in the circle. He abandoned me and I teared up as I completed the tour. That sounds backwards and co-dependent.

He got in some trouble there. I doubt I would have had the tools I needed to work with boy if staff hadn't told me everything and trusted me not to blame them for this thing that is half me. He'd be crossing the Rubicon and heading right towards you over a lost frisbee with armored elephants in the lead. I didn't have observations from others and I never would have had that data if I had blustered on about my special snowflake.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:08 AM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jilder: A good nanny or a good babysitter is not going to be able to provide the same structured interaction with his peers as a good daycare centre will.

Just a note on this... I was a full-time (live-out) nanny for over 5 years (1st family 2+ years, 2nd for 3+) and there may not be the exact same opportunities, but planning visits to the library during weekly storytime, making playdates with other nannies, regular visits to playgrounds and joining in an occasion community toddler group does give a fair amount of structured interactions with their peers. I imagine the nanny you are considering would plan these types of things, but if not and you are concerned about your child not socializing with other children, then you could always ask her to.
posted by Laura in Canada at 8:08 AM on October 18, 2016

We love daycare. What we especially love about it is how flexible our kids are. They are really (mostly) well behaved and have no abandonment issues. The people who I know who use nannies have issues with behavior in their toddlers. Anecdotal I know, but still.

Some practical considerations: If you choose a nanny pick one who understands child development and has some training, not one who merely seems like they'd be fun. They should have at least read as many child care books as you have and know how to discipline (or not discipline) a baby or toddler.

Are either of your job's flexible enough to allow you to stay home when a kid gets sick? Kids get sick a lot and day cares won't let em stay.

Are you planning to have more kids soon? A nanny might be more practical then, though only a very very trustworthy and adept one. Day care for two young children is expensive, though in some ways pretty convenient, especially since the younger one will go through the same situations and teachers that the older one does.

How's the commute where you live? If the daycare is at all out of the way it could add 20-30 minutes to your commute both ways.

Do you value your kid encountering children and adults from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities? We do, and our suburban daycare is awesomely diverse.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:15 AM on October 18, 2016

Sitter, sitter, sitter. No contest here. My advice comes from a lifetime of experience with my own kids and grandkids. I know daycare is fine, because all three of my kids went, at least for a little while. But you can get the same socialization, etc, with a once or twice a week mother's day out program, which I would highly recommend.

You need a situation that is flexible. The live-in nanny is not, once she's there it will be very, very difficult to change, especially with her living in your home. I would go with the sitter, knowing that you can make any necessary adjustments along the way. And believe me, there WILL be adjustments!
posted by raisingsand at 8:33 AM on October 18, 2016

Your question makes me uncomfortable. Why does this daycare, your least favorite, represent all daycares for you? Why are the only other options a babysitter who's "dim" (how offensive!) and a free spirit who whose sould you would be "crushing"? (That's super offensive too - this woman is so dreamy and so perfect that I can't hire her.) And that was all before you compared a small child to a mass murderer.

I worry that these are the words of someone who doesn't want anyone but his wife to look after his child. Your wife who is "SO happy being back at work". I hope you're not trying, consciously or unconsciously, to hijack her career.

All three options (babysitter, nanny or daycare) can be excellent options. This particular babysitter, nanny or daycare may or may not be excellent options. But there are others, which you know, because you're toured other daycares and liked them better.

As for opinions, I think this daycare sounds great: it will expose your child to a kid whose father is (gasp!) in the navy, and another who is (gasp!) sometimes grumpy. But it doesn't sound like you like this daycare. So go find one you do like. This whole question is a straw man argument.
posted by MangoNews at 9:15 AM on October 18, 2016 [36 favorites]

I think you should focus on pre-school. If your preferred pre-school has a toddler daycare, do that. If your preferred pre-school does not have daycare, then do the sitter until pre-school.

Our 12 month old is in daycare, but it's part of a school that goes from infant to transitional kindergarten. They work on room to room transitions, which are hard on kids, which is why you should look to future transitions.
posted by vunder at 10:03 AM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you have not found the right daycare. I think you should look at more daycares, until you find one that feels right.

Daycares don't call in sick and don't take vacations. They are available from 7:30 to 6pm. You can hire a housecleaner or whatever on top of that and it will be cheaper than a nanny. Daycares have access to extra programs more easily if your child needs speech therapy, special needs support, assessments and so on.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:10 AM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, I toured our daycare twice before committing: The first time it seemed chaotic and overwhelming. But I'd also just come from touring a very calm, very high-end school.

After a space opened up, I toured a second time and it seemed so much different. Much calmer, more personable. Now that we've been there for 6 months or so, and I visit every day at lunch, I understand a little more the rhythms of the day/week/year/different levels - sometimes its mellow, sometimes it's more chaotic, but it's never out of control.

On the topic of sickness: yes, daycare kids get more colds. In our experience, a single cold tends to travel through the room each 3-4 weeks, so it would make sense that 4 kids would have runny noses at once - it's all the same cold - if your kid is in the room, she'll probably get that cold, too. In 6 months we've missed maybe 4 days of school. It's a pain, but it's not that big of a deal unless your kid has other complicating factors like asthma, allergies, chronic ear infections, etc. Most likely, he'll just also get a cold from time to time and also have a crusty/runny nose sometimes.
posted by vunder at 11:54 AM on October 18, 2016

Don't send your kid to a childcare center that you feel uncomfortable with. Just don't. As many noted above, there's no one size fits all for childcare.

Our experience was that sharecare nannies worked really well, until life intruded and the nanny/babysitter person got another job/got married/moved out of the area/got sick, etc. Daycare centers were a big relief, as they took all of that uncertainty out of the picture. We also live in an area where there has been a lot of interest in professionalizing childcare, which means that teachers get credentialed, centers get accredited, salaries are higher, etc.

Having a child makes you feel more vulnerable than you've ever been, so I totally get how scared you are for your little one's well-being. And it might be that you were trying to be amusing with your observations. But your statements about those two-year olds made me wonder whether some childhood traumatic event might be being triggered for you. Many of us have had painful experiences of being bullied and/or abused in some way. And those fears can come out when you're considering some person / place to care for your precious little one. I don't mean to make assumptions about you - it's just something I've encountered and I thought I'd pass it on.
posted by jasper411 at 3:21 PM on October 18, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for all the awesome feedback. I want to set the record straight, the daycare we chose was the one we disliked LEAST, not the most. Missed that on preview...

From reading the input it seems like daycare is the hive's consensus. My wife and I sat up until 2am last night discussing this. I think our takeaway is that we will enroll him in daycare (Accckkk!! Tomorrow!!!) for 2 days a week and continue using the sitter as well. We will do another round of daycare visits in search of something that seems a better fit for us (and him), and maybe switch. We'll tell the hippie that she's welcome to come for visits when it suits her or to join us for travel care. I guess there is no decision, really, just a bit of all 3. Belt and suspenders.

As always, thanks Mefi.
posted by karst at 8:05 PM on October 18, 2016

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