I had no idea how much it cost to pay someone else to look after your kid. I guess Pickle's initial babysitters were super expensive (NICU nurses!) - the first several weeks of her life cost $10,000 per day in medical care and expertise. But aside from that, we've never paid money to have anyone care for our children - it's been us or it's been family. No money has changed hands.
So when I started looking at going back to work, I was a bit apprehensive - I knew that Minnesota has a reputation for being a very expensive state for childcare but when I added it up, I can't figure out how it works for so many families.
In-home daycares in our area run about $160 per week, per kid (~$17,000 per year). This is by far the cheapest option (aside from having a grandparent watch them for free, I guess, which we don't have as an option for full-time care). In-home daycares have the advantage of a home-based environment, a smaller number of kids (the max at the places I looked at was 10-12 of varying ages, and most places didn't operate at the max), and hopefully a long-term stable caretaker. The cons, for me, included having a single adult watching multiple children of varying ages with no one to check their behavior or give them a break, and often one or more of those kids was the caregiver's own child. Every place I visited either had a TV on in the background while I was there, or used the television to distract the other kids while I talked with the provider. None of the in-home daycares are allowed to transport kids in a vehicle, and I know how challenging it is to walk even two kids to the playground so I can't imagine that they get to go very often. It's a smaller number of kids than a daycare center, but it's still multiple kids and so there's an increased risk of sharing germs, plus the different ages were a concern for me. Pickle is very tiny and cute, and seems to get "adopted" by other children - I've discovered children younger than her picking her up and carrying her around, for example. She's not able to defend herself physically and freezes instead of telling the other kids no, so I wanted to avoid a situation where older children might be bullying or even just aggressively friendly towards her. I also didn't find a lot of places that had openings for my kids' ages - they are limited to how many children in certain age ranges they can take and most places could take one but not the other. I didn't want to deal with multiple care places for sure.
Daycare centers range from $2100-$3400 a month for both kids in our area. I liked having only kids of the same age in the same room, and all the centers that I saw had educational requirements for their teachers, safety protocols, varied menus with on-site kitchens, secure facilities with attached, dedicated playgrounds, and a staff schedule so that people could be given breaks. My big concern with daycare was illness - they are germ farms and I knew that we'd likely be sick a lot if they kids went there. At $25,000-40,800, the annual cost of daycare is pretty close to or below the net take-home pay of the jobs I've had and expected to receive upon going back to work. So it makes it a wash or worse for me to go back to work.
Nannies are even more expensive - $600-700 a week for their pay on the low end, plus additional fees as an employer - 7.5% FICA taxes, time and a half for anything over 40 hours a week, mileage reimbursement if they drive the kids anywhere, worker's compensation insurance plus potential insurance increases to our homeowner's policy, payroll fees if we use a service, and placement fees if we use a nanny agency. Paying $40,000+ a year for childcare seems pretty certain with a nanny, so I'd need to earn a lot more than I was expecting to in order to cover that cost.
Looking back on the options now, I'm not sure why I didn't do more research into home daycares. It's true that I didn't get a great feeling from the ones I visited but since these businesses are operated out of people's homes, it's pretty clear that each one is different and I might have found the right fit if I'd kept looking. As it was, we've wound up dipping our toes into both of the other options - Pickle and Baby Bear were in a daycare center for six weeks and are now home with a nanny. There were a lot of things I liked about daycare, but ultimately the dealbreaker for us was illness. We were sick - SO SICK - for all six of those weeks, and we were miserable. We probably could have stuck it out, but Pickle lost 10% of her body weight, which is the hard limit in terms of what she can safely lose at her size, so we just couldn't do it anymore. Since being home and getting well, she has started incrementally gaining again, so it was the right move.
Having a nanny is a little weird for me - I'm an employer! - but also great. The first day, I came home and the house was cleaner than it was when I left and both kids were eating dinner and there was something for me to eat too. I had hardly anything to do after putting the kids to bed and it was wonderful! It's the most expensive option for childcare right now, but you know, bargain-basement prices for the person taking care of my kids is not really in their best interest. In addition, I'm delighted to be in a job where I am paid well enough to pass it along to another person in the form of a living wage.
More soon about how we found a nanny and all the financial details of that!