Which child care option is right for your family?

Finding the right childcare is an important part of being a working parent. The choices include family, babysitters, nannies, au pairs, in-home providers, child care centers…how do you know which one to choose? I have had personal experience as or with five of those, so I thought I’d break it down for you.


This can be anyone related to you who is willing and able to watch your children while you work. It is typical for family to do this for free, and that is a huge benefit to your family. Plus, your children get to spend more time with that extended family than you would in any other situation. Family has the flexibility to come to your home or you can take your children to their home; it really depends on how you all want to arrange your days and schedules. Some families are even living intergenerationally, so the family lives right in your own home!

Drawbacks: You may not agree with everything your family does or their value system. They may begin to feel taken advantage of by having your child(ren) in care for 40+ hours every week without any compensation, and even more if you also need them for additional times outside of work (errands, dates, etc.) It takes open and honest communication to maintain a positive relationship with your family and have them provide the child care support for you and your children.


A babysitter is someone who cares for your child for a brief period of time for payment. Often, babysitters are tweens, teens, or college students with flexible availability but not a predictable or set care schedule with you. You call them each and every time you need care and hope they are available. Babysitters are a great way to get a break from your children to do something necessary or fun, and it offers your children an opportunity to play with someone else for a change.

Drawbacks: Not all babysitters have their own transportation, so you may need to add picking them up and dropping them off to your scheduled time. Babysitters are not always available for when you need them, so keeping a long list can be helpful.


A nanny is someone you hire as your household employee. You create a contract and pay them their wage, plus you pay taxes and other benefits. Nannies are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act and must receive minimum wage. You can decide if you hire a live-in nanny or a live-out nanny (typically receives a higher wage due to not receiving room and board benefits,) part-time or full-time (full-time is entitled to overtime pay for anything over 40 hours each week,) and if their responsibilities will be focused solely on child care duties or if you will also need them to do household work such as laundry, light cleaning, and traveling with you when you take a family vacation.

Drawbacks: As a household employee, a nanny can be quite an expensive option with weekly pay, benefits, use of the car or mileage benefits if they use their own car, and additional bonuses or overtime pay. However, these are your children, and it can be quite a relief to have someone you fully trust and vetted working right in your own home, doing exactly as you wish with them.

In-home provider, also known as family child care

An in-home provider is a business owner who provides the service of child care from his or her own home. Each state has its own regulations and restrictions on how this business can operate. In Iowa, there are various options. You can read more about those requirements here on the Department of Human Services website.  

Family child care typically offers a small group with mixed ages of children, much like a sibling group. The continuity of care with one provider establishes a trusting relationship for both parents and children. Your tuition payment is going directly to the child care provider and their home business. You have the ability to interview the provider to see if their program and values align with your care needs and desires for your child(ren.) When you find the one that is right for you, you sign a contract and agree to the program and policies.

Drawbacks: Having only one provider can mean if there is any illness in the provider’s family then care is closed for the day or however long it takes for the provider to become well again; families must have reliable back-up care in place at all times.

Child Care Center

A child care center is the most common form of child care. Children are typically divided according to age and/or developmental stage and will often be in a large group (although adult:child ratio is still mandated and regulated by the State laws, that could mean your infant is in a class that is 3:12, for example.) Child care centers staff their programs for longer hours than many in-home providers, so families can have care for more time without paying additional tuition. Your tuition payment is going toward the center’s business overall and covering the costs of the space, location, all staff, and additional amenities provided in the program. Centers rarely close, though they do still uphold the State’s health and safety regulations, so having back-up care is recommended in case your child is ill.

Drawbacks: Child care centers often are the highest cost in child care. Large group sizes of all one age can be overstimulating for the children. Staff turnover is often high at a center due to lower wages yet high demands of the job. Your relationship will most likely be more with the director than your child’s caregiver.

While this is a very brief overview, I hope it gives you a better idea of what type of child care to begin seeking for your own family. Once you decide which style you prefer, begin with interviewing many different providers. It is important to go see for yourself who the people are that will be spending so much time with your children.

For additional resources for your area, contact the Parent Specialist at Child Care Resource & Referral for a list of in-home providers and child care centers in Iowa.  
To share your child care needs or find others providing babysitting, nannying, and child care services, you can join this Facebook group for the Iowa City area.


Dawn lives life to play! Wife to Bryan and mother of four (ages 17, 14, 12, and 8,) she finds what she most enjoys and does it. Bryan tells people she hates a blank calendar; Dawn says she loves a colorful one. With a BA in Theatre and a certificate in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship from the University of Iowa, Dawn has successfully run two business and volunteered on numerous community theatre Boards of Directors. She currently colors in her calendar with Youngevity confidence consultation appointments, Chamber Singers of Iowa City board meetings, strength training and kickboxing at NLXF-NL, managing the office at BerganKDV, and setting as many dates with friends as she can. Dawn is passionate about respect and intentional choices. She loves coffee with cream, a good wheat beer, seeing someone discover something for the first time, and listening to audio books while driving.


  1. Looking for someone that needs:
    Their house cleaned.
    Babysit for a date night.
    Need their dog walked
    Or just need someone to house sit while they are out of town


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.