Daycare vs Stay at Home Parent — Pros, Cons & Costs

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Raising a family takes money, so it’s understandable that you’re thinking about going to work. Financially speaking, two incomes are certainly better than one.

If you’re like me, though, you’re likely worried about how it will affect your child. Should you stay home with them or work and put them in daycare?

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Stay At Home Parenting vs Daycare

This is an important decision. Not to be overly dramatic, but it can potentially impact your family now and in the future.

Understanding what you’re facing is essential, but you need to know one thing before starting: there is no concrete right or wrong answer.

Whether you choose to stay at home or work is completely up to you and your family’s unique situation. No one — and I mean no one — can tell you which is better for you. You and your spouse are the only ones that know your own family and life.

While you can listen to opinions and recommendations, your decision should not rely solely on a friend’s, family member’s, or society’s thoughts. Now that we’ve got that settled let’s compare your options.

1. Financial Factors

Let’s start with the most common reason parents think about returning to work when their kids are little: money. It can be difficult to pay all the bills on one income, so going back to work is a reasonable consideration. 

According to childcare site Care, the cost of daycare is really high. Parents across the country reported spending more than $10,000 in 2020 on childcare. That’s nearly $900 per month — per child.

That, my friends, is a big chunk of money. If you’re not making a substantial amount over that, then working probably isn’t going to be worth it.

And don’t forget that working is going to cost you money, too. For example, you’ll have to pay for food, your wardrobe, fuel, and anything else you need.

If money is your only motivation for returning to work, keep these costs in mind. You’ll want to make a decent amount more than you’re spending for daycare and work.

There is some good news if you really need to bring in the extra income. You can find many opportunities for working from home online. You might even consider babysitting for some friends or acquaintances that need to work. You can charge enough to bring in an income while helping them save on childcare costs.

The cost of working is often forgotten when parents are doing this calculation.

Some things to keep in mind are the cost of going to work (especially if you have to drive a far distance), work attire, and the cost of eating out (if working means your family will be eating out more often).

For some families, the savings may be nominal. For others, the savings might be what tilts the numbers in their favor.

2. Educational Opportunities

Often, daycare centers have educational resources and tools. Kids can learn a lot while attending daycare thanks to the toys, equipment, and activities they have access to.

Kids can learn a lot at home, too, just from interacting with you and watching what you do. And one-on-one attention at home can provide a lot of learning advantages.

The biggest difference between the two is most often just the activities and how the teaching occurs. Some daycare workers have degrees or training in early childhood education, which can help influence the activities. 

If you’re leaning toward putting your child in daycare, look for one that provides good educational experiences. If you can afford it, Montessori daycares have been celebrated for their approach to educating children. (I compared the differences between Montessori and a traditional daycare in the linked article)

If you plan on being a stay-at-home parent, utilize games, educational videos, and puzzles. Also, consider reading together a lot.

Looking for a Good Quality Daycare?

Find an affordable and qualified daycare center that fits your needs.

3. Your Child’s Wellbeing and Future

There is a large differing of opinion with this factor. Many people think that being in daycare helps kids perform better when they start school. And they assume this performance remains throughout their lifetime.

Let’s start with acknowledging that daycare helps kids get used to not being with their parents all day. Therefore, there is typically less separation anxiety when they begin school.

Unfortunately, this may be where the positives end. Studies have shown the following:

These are just a few factors to consider, but they’re important ones.

Another thing to consider is germs and sickness. There is no denying that children who attend daycare get sick more often than those that don’t. Runny noses and coughs are commonplace, and the little ones can easily pass those germs back and forth.

If you do choose to send them to daycare, be sure all of their vaccinations are up to date and that you keep all doctor’s appointments. Also, keep some cough drops and cold medicine on hand.

Further Info
It’s true that kids who go to daycare do get sick initially more often than kids staying home with a parent, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

What’s also true is that daycare kids, after that initial season of being sick, tend to get less sick than kids who were staying home with a parent.

One of the reasons is that the daycare kid has been exposed to a lot more germs, and therefore their immune systems have been built up better than the stay-at-home child.

4. Socialization

One of the main arguments for sending kids to daycare is so they can be socialized. I’ll be honest, as a homeschool parent, I tire of hearing the word “socialization,” mainly because the common idea is that there is no way to be “socialized” than to go to a daycare or school setting.

That is simply not the case. Being socialized means learning how to behave in society and being social with others. I bring this definition up so that you can make an educated decision with this.

Going to daycare does provide your children with the opportunity to socialize with others in their age group. And, yes, this is a good thing. Being around others can help them learn to communicate, share, and play together.

At the same time, there are often complaints from parents about children in daycare with behavioral problems. Granted, there is always a chance of running across someone that does not behave well for one reason or another. It does not just happen in daycare.

The point is if you’re sending your children to be socialized at a daycare where behavioral problems are common, that means they’re learning how to behave from children who don’t behave well. Therefore, socialization, in this case, is not a good thing.

I am not saying that you should never send your child to daycare. I am simply stating that “socialization” should probably not be your deciding factor.

Stay-at-home parents, on the other hand, tend to have more influence over their child’s behavior. Before going off to school, they are at home with you during those formative years, learning your ethics and morals. You correct them when you notice them misbehaving. 

You can take them out to different places, such as the grocery store, the library, and the park. They can learn to be around others while you’re there guiding them.

Additionally, they’re often exposed to a broader group of people with a stay-at-home parent. They might play with kids around their age at the park, but running errands with you means meeting people of varying ages and more.

Think about it. It can be difficult to learn how to behave in society when the child is limited to people of their own age. So, in short, they might get greater socialization by being home and taking care of daily tasks with you.

It’s worth noting that one of the pros of daycare is that it forces the child to socialize and start learning social cues.

If you’re at home with your child, you as the parent would have to make the conscious decision to make sure they’re exposed to a diverse group of people when they’re with you.

For most parents, that’s going to be hard to accomplish.

5. Your Wellbeing

Your main concern is your child, of course, so you might be thinking that your own wellbeing doesn’t matter. This is not true! Your wellbeing can directly impact your child’s wellbeing.

Your wellbeing can directly impact your child’s wellbeing.

Some parents choose to stay home, and they find great fulfillment in doing so. Others find themselves missing out on a career that they loved. Even if they try to hide it, kids can pick up on the unhappiness.

If a career is important to you, then it’s certainly worth factoring into the equation. You can choose to go back to work full-time, or you can work part-time. Depending on the career you want, you might be able to work it from home, so you can still be home with your little one.

If it’s not really the career but more that you want to be active outside of being a parent, there are several things you can do. You can trade out a day each week with a fellow parent to have a day off. You can have a girls’ or guys’ night, join a book club, or use a gym that provides childcare. You can also look for services like Parent’s Day Out (more commonly referred to as Mother’s day out).

The most important thing to remember when making this decision is that you’re not selfish. Choosing to take care of yourself is important for you and your family. Whether you do that through a career or other activities is up to you.

Looking for a Good Quality Daycare?

Find an affordable and qualified daycare center that fits your needs.

6. Society’s Opinions

We touched on this a little above, but it’s worth bringing up again. No matter which decision you make, someone is going to have something negative to say.

A century ago, it was understood that moms stay home with the kids and dads went to work. Over the years, women joined the workforce and started taking their kids to daycare. Suddenly, that became the expectation.

Now, many people think of stay-at-home parents as lazy. Others think that moms who work are selfish. And the truth is that neither of those things is true.

When you make your decision between being a stay-at-home parent or taking your kids to daycare, keep in mind that no one else is living your life. No one else is paying your bills or raising your family. You and your spouse have to make a decision based on what you feel is best.

Related: How to Afford Being a Stay at Home Mama

Comparison Chart: Stay at Home Parent vs Daycare

This article is summarized in the table below. Use this to help you decide if you should put your child in daycare or if you should stay home with them.

Points to ConsiderDaycareStay at Home Parent
MoneyThe average American family spends about $900 per month on daycare costs.The cost would be the income you’re giving up by not working.
Educational OpportunitiesIt varies depending on the childcare facility. Learning is not necessarily the focus unless you go with a Montessori-style daycare where learning is focused on.The parent provides one-on-one attention, which can be very beneficial when learning. Parents would have to put in the effort to teach their kids.
Child’s Wellbeing and FutureKids in daycare experience high levels of stress.

Daycare can cause or worsen behavioral problems. Kids in daycare get sick more often.

Daycare can decrease separation anxiety when kids go to kindergarten.
Studies show that kids with a stay-at-home parent get better grades. This includes high school kids whose parents stayed home with them in their formative years.

In short, having a stay-at-home parent positively impacted their grades years later.

Your child is more likely to get sick (because of less exposure to germs) once they start school.
Child’s Wellbeing and FutureKids in daycare experience high levels of stress.

Daycare can cause or worsen behavioral problems. Kids in daycare get sick more often.

Daycare can decrease separation anxiety when kids go to kindergarten.
Studies show that kids with a stay-at-home parent get better grades. This includes high school kids whose parents stayed home with them in their formative years.

In short, having a stay-at-home parent positively impacted their grades years later.

Your Child is more likely to get sick (because of less exposure to germs) once they start school.
SocializationKids learn to be around others their age. Can mean kids are learning how to behave from kids with behavioral problems.

Kids are socialized with a lot more people.
Parents teach their kids how to behave properly. Children have the chance to be socialized with a more diverse group of people, but the parent would have to put in the effort for that to happen.

Pick This One

Daycare or stay-at-home parenting? Again, it’s up to you.

Considering all factors, it can be more beneficial for you and your child to avoid daycare if you don’t make enough to cover the cost of daycare or you’re hyperfocused on you being the only influence in your child’s life.

Daycare is an excellent option if you’re a high-income earner or you value your career and would not like to stay at home. Depending on who you talk to, they could make you feel guilty or shameful for picking either option.

Ultimately they both come with their pros and cons, and as long as you love your children well, it will work itself out in the very end. Besides, very successful people have come from daycare or stay-at-home parents.

You don’t have to rush into a decision, though. Take the time to truly consider the pros and cons and how each would apply to your life.

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Frequently Asked Questions

If you don’t make enough money to afford the cost of daycare or if you have a strong desire to be home with your kids, then it’s a good option for you. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with enrolling your child in daycare.

Depending on your needs as a family having a stay-at-home parent can be a good option. If having a parent stay home with your child doesn’t work for your family, that’s fine too. Neither one is necessarily better than the other, just different with different pros and cons.

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2 years ago

Thank you for your balanced article. It was well thought out and well written. However, I think there is one significant element you are overlooking: God. If there is a God as the Bible (Old and New Testaments) reveals, who created us individually and uniquely, then indeed He is Someone who can tell us how we should behave in terms of the choices we make. He is the one, particularly according to the Scriptural book of Genesis, who designed the nuclear family unit as the basic building block of functional society. And while I agree that Daycare is not always a choice but sometimes a necessity, I would still challenge anyone who is “on the fence” concerning this decision to take a close look at what God has to say starting with these passages: Genesis 1-3, Psalm 139:13-14, Psalm 127:3, Deuteronomy 6:5-7, Ephesians 6:1-4, Proverbs 1:8-9, Proverbs 22:6.