Nanny vs Nursery – where do you stand?

nanny vs nursery

While I was on maternity leave last year I was adamant about two things. That (a) I would be returning to my two day per week job share, and (b) we would hire a nanny to look after the kids. We’d used a local nursery first and second time around, but third time hubby and I envisaged needing more assistance and flexibility than they could offer, because day to day we don’t have any help. I am completely estranged from my own family and my in-laws are a two hour drive away, plus hubby’s mum works on the same days I do.

Although we had planned on me taking a full year off, as I’d done with the girls, money was tight and I ended up going back to work when our boy was seven months old. Once we started looking around we soon realised that an all singing all dancing nanny (the one I had in my head) was likely to cost the same as my entire salary.

Seriously, what was the point in going back to work?

nanny vs nurseryAs all this was playing out we had a recommendation for a local nanny who wanted to work school hours around her daughter, and also had a baby my son’s age that she wanted to bring to the job. It felt like a call to prayer had been answered, and on paper it seemed like a fantastic opportunity for us to all get the best of both worlds. She got to work around her own kids, and we supposedly got a sole charge nanny that wasn’t going to cost us the earth. It made going back to work totally worth my while. 

Unfortunately it didn’t pan out as we’d hoped it would for several reasons. Mostly I was really naive to think that her having her own son on the job was fine, but in reality it meant that there were the needs of two babies to meet before my 3yo got a look in. Even though the nanny would get my son down for 2-3 hour naps, my poor girl was largely left to just get on with it from what I can gather.

My heart breaks to think about it if I’m honest, because it only properly came to my attention right at the end. When the kids came home after being looked after for the last time, my daughter told me that the nanny shouted at her, that she didn’t play with her, that she left my son to cry. It’s awful because I will never know what actually happened. Then again perhaps it’s best that way.

After tying myself up in knots over it that weekend, I knew we had to change things. Then out of the blue I got an email from the nursery asking if we still wanted a place for our boy, to coincide with 3yo’s pre-school hours starting two weeks later. We snapped up his place before someone else did, and bumped up her hours to cover my work days.

How to not F them up

nanny vs nurseryAlthough this nursery is Ofsted Outstanding, 5yo went from 18 months until she started school, and Hubby and I are confident they are in safe hands and have lots of fun, I’ll be honest dear readers, it still doesn’t sit right with me. Ever since reading Oliver James’ brilliant book How Not to F*** Them Up, I have been very uneasy about the idea of putting a baby in nursery. He talks about the importance of your children receiving as good quality as the care you would provide for them (ie. a grandparent, relative or nanny that treated like them they were their own). It made so much sense to me, and totally put me off the idea of nursery when they are under three.

It’s one more thing for me to have to suck up at the moment, and all the sucking is leaving a nasty taste in my mouth. We’re back to having no flexibility, no additional assistance, and me wresting with my own conscience. Then of course there are the astronomical costs involved – all £850 per month of them. Ouch. Thank goodness some of it can be covered with pre-tax childcare vouchers, it’s just a shame the whole lot can’t be.

Are your kids in daycare? Where do you stand on the nanny vs nursery debate?

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51 thoughts on “Nanny vs Nursery – where do you stand?

  1. Really interesting article. I am slightly late to read it but I am in a very similar situation – currently deciding on the best childcare. Having always said that I would never send my child to nursery under 2 (as I thought he would be best at home with me until then) my son is now nearly 1 and I am worn out! I miss my career which I have worked hard for. I just need a bit of a break from looking after a lively boy and be back in my own private world of work. I’m currently looking for work 3 days a week having left my full-time job and have started settling in at a mini-nursery. It has a fabulous reputation and after waiting for a place, I jumped at the chance to send him there for 2 days a week. I thought it would be a good compromise to a normal nursery. My son has now been plunged into a completely alien setting- noisy, with strangers and without his mummy. He was so bad in his settling in that the nursery had to call me back in to collect him as he was inconsolably upset. It broke my heart and I burst into tears when I saw him- it goes against all my instincts to leave him when he is so unhappy so I am now looking at childminders and nannies. However I have similar concerns to you in your post – how is it possible to monitor what a childminder or nanny is doing with your children when they are on their own? Secret nanny-cams? Personally, when I am working, I just want that time to focus on work and be relaxed knowing my child is in safe hands. I don’t want to have to spy on my nanny and the thought of it doesn’t sit well with me! It seems pretty impossible to find the perfect option- and there is no one size fits all solution. What’s right for one family is not right for another. I suppose this is one of the first of the many decisions we make in our child’s life and we just have to do the best we can for them at the time….as a parent I think that’s all we can do.

  2. We always beat ourselves up and think we are not doing the right thing when it comes to little ones, but you have to do what feels right..My little one went to 2 nurseries before i was confident to let him go, it was so hard to find the right one that you and your little one are happy with..The staff are amazing and he have come on in leaps and bounds..

  3. Thanks so much for your lovely comment John. This is actually quite an old post, and in the end I was made redundant and have gone for no childcare at all. The end of last year and first half of this one are a complete blur, I think over time I will have completely blocked out the pain of knowing that the nanny we had wasn’t very good, and my youngest hated nursery as much as he did (hope so anyway).

    I can’t believe you were deemed a danger to women for saying that – some people really are a tad off kilter! Several of my friends were sent to boarding school very young and most (not all) are quite damaged as a result.

  4. Oh I got myself in so much trouble for writing about this subject. It was back in the days when I wrote for the Kiddicare blog and I made one passing comment that my wife and I had concerns about using a nanny in case the kids developed an unnaturally strong attachment to them. A female childminder read it and hurled all manner of abuse at me on social media. Amongst other things, I seem to recall I was “a danger to women”! Nice, yeah?

    At risk of getting myself in trouble again, I would go for a nursery. I have looked into nannies as we did once consider it (no family support for us either; one set lives 400 miles away, the others 100 miles away). If it’s a good nursery, the kids will receive good care and stimulating activities, even if it isn’t one-on-one.

    Give your conscience a rest. No, use of childcare isn’t ideal. That said, we all need a bit of a break. Even if it’s just a few hours a week. When I hear of this subject being discussed, I think of my own mother. She was sent to boarding school at the age of five.

    I’m not saying that was the correct thing to do; quite the reverse. I think she suffered as a result. When you think about what previous generations did with their kids, we’re good. We’re very good indeed. Let’s not forget that!

  5. It’s lovely that you’ve been able to stay at home with your two hon. I agree that nursery is fab for messy play and all the super fun stuff we might not get around to as often as we’d like…

  6. I think I know exactly what you mean here Jo. Our nursery is lovely, and small – there are only 14 kids in the baby room, but I’d still rather have him home with me. He’s not rating it at all, but hopefully he’ll settle soon xx

  7. A really interesting post. My son has been in nursery since he was 10 months old, one year was for 2 days a week and for the past 2 years only 1 day a week. I found looking for childcare heartbreaking.
    For some reason I never felt comfortable with a nanny or childminder and I’m not really sure why. I deliberately looked for a very small nursery so that I knew there would only ever be a handful of children in O’s room and our experience has been really positive. He went through a very short phase of not wanting to go but that soon passed and once I left he was always happy. He’s made some really good friends and I love the girls who look after him. I think childcare is such a personal choice and we all have different reasons for what we choose. For me it was important that O mixed with other kids as at present he is an only child. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience with your nanny. xxx

  8. I have never had experience with nannies for my kids but I went to them growing up. I think you do your best with what you know and what you got. My mom couldn’t afford full nursery and daycare from a nanny was cheaper where we lived. But I do think they get more from nurseries and being around a bigger group of children to learn with and from and socialize. I also think nurseries have to have standards and more schooling type activities so the kids are always doing creative great fun things. but only my opinion. My two go one day a week and Buba starts school in september and MM will go two days so I can work longer hours. I think it’s to each person experiences. Thank you so much for linking up to Share With Me. #sharewithme

  9. Try not to beat yourself up about it too much. I was a WAHM and sometimes I think would my kids be more sociable and less shy if they’d been to day care as children??? We can’t win, either way.

  10. A great post. I really didn’t know what to do either. First one went to nursery at 8 months and when I sent our second son to the same nursery at 6 months I just knew it wasn’t the right decision for us. We ended up having a childminder instead for a few months but ultimately I ended up having them at home with me. I know I’m very lucky to have been able to do that, and while we don’t have all the luxuries some working families have, I do think we did the right thing.

  11. Yowza- I had no idea how much nursery’s cost! We’re really luck that we can afford for my wife to be a SAHM. We live in Thailand so the cost of living is cheap enough for us to scrape by on just my teaching salary. Just as well as I’m not sure we could afford child care in the UK!
    Don’t feel bad, though. We beat ourselves up that our son isn’t being socialized as he would if he was a member of a nursery or playgroup. Us mummies will find something to fret over, regardless!

  12. Ooh hon that is a tricky one. Nannies do sound ideal but I guess it is difficult to know how good they really are or what they are doing, whereas at least nurseries have to meet a certain standard, and sounds like yours is a fab one. I understand the lack of flexibility would be rubbish, but I don’t think worry about it badly affecting your kids as ita just a whole road of guilt you don’t need or deserve. You and your husband are working hard to provide foe your kids and you have arranged for them to be looked after by trained people while you are doing that. You are constantly doing what is best for them and I think you are an amazing mum by the way you are always evaluating yourself and trying to be the best you can be. Xx

  13. Oh now then! I’m totally of the opinion that little ones actually thrive in the care of other adults. We have been extremely fortunate in finding a pair of wonderful childminders who work together, are ofsted registered and treat our little bear like one of the family. She went to them from 8 months old for only a day at first. There is absolutely no doubt that she has thrived in so many ways from going to them. We’ve never looked back. You do hear horror stories though (like yours unfortunately) and like I said, we have been unspeakably fortunate to find our childminders. Childminding is a different environment to nursery and nannying though… My comments are not exactly on your line of thought I don’t think Renee. But then, isn’t that beauty of online communities, blogging and ultimately virtual friendships that you can voice your opinion? x #TheTruthAbout

  14. It’s a tough decision to make isn’t it and there are pros and cons to both really. Going back to work is so hard and leaving the kids not knowing exactly what goes on is hard. I think we found the best of both worlds after a couple of recommendations from friends and my LO goes to a childminder who is cheaper than the nursery – it’s a couple who have about 5-6 preschoolers a day so she gets to see the same faces every day and they’re like family really! They don’t ring me at the slightest illness and mixing with a variety of ages is doing wonders for her speech, she’s already putting words together and counting to 5 aged 18 months. The only downside though is that one of the couple sadly became seriously ill a month ago being admitted to hospital and the lady has been forced to continue (it’s their only income!!). She has help some days from family but I do worry sometimes as they’re not trained and I hope she’s not battling on and doing more than she can cope with. At least in a nursery illness would be covered. I think whatever option you choose you’ll always feel guilty about something and doubt you’re doing the right thing. It sounds like your phone call from nursery came at just the right moment like it was meant to be. Great post!

  15. Ah there is no right answer to this question! I have sent both my girls to nursery from the age of 2. I just don’t like the idea of the lack of accountability with a nanny – as you say you just don’t know what happens when you aren’t there. I don’t love sending mine to nursery but I work from home and need a bit of time to do that and I think nursery is great for structured activities, socialising and messy play. Mine had lots of fun there and as they have only been from the age of 2 I was happy that they would be able to tell me if they were unhappy there.

  16. Oh goodness, this is such a tough one 🙁 I too have read an Oliver James book (They Fuck You Up), and I remember reading about the nursery thing in there, which is always going to make you feel bad if nursery is the most viable option! Whether there is any truth in what he says I have no idea. I think there are pros and cons with both nurseries and nannies. My Sister-in-law was a Nanny for a family in Hampstead until she had my niece last summer, and she was a really great Nanny and was with the same family for nearly 6 years. If you get a bad one though, it’s must be awful as you don’t really know what goes on as it’s just them in your home, looking after your little ones. With nurseries I often worry about how young and dedicated staff are, but again, you get great ones and at least there are lots of people to keep an eye on what’s going on, and the children get to socialise too. I really don’t know what the answer is, R, it’s so bloody hard being a parent and having to make these decisions. What about a recommended childminder who could do school pick up for P too? Cheaper than a Nanny and good word of mouth could be worth its weight in gold. xx

  17. Ah such a tough one. My family live in another country and in laws two hours away so similar situation. I have four children. I am pro nursery but anti-the cost of childcare BUT in the same breath the girls at the nursery are not paid much for the great work they do. My preference is nursery largely because of the variety and interaction – I don’t like the idea of a nanny because it would be one person replacing me #sharewithme

  18. Sadly, there is no perfect solution. As much as it is difficult to use the word compromise with your child’s care, it is. I know what you mean about sending a baby to nursery, but a good one will genuinely care for him. And from what you’ve said you work 2 days a week? So for 5 days out of 7, baby is getting more Mummy-time. Sounds like you’ve found something that works for you all. Try not to beat yourself up about it.

  19. I’m so glad I haven’t had to wrestle with these decisions yet! It’s been a bit of a juggling act finding the time to write whilst looking after Arthur full time, but like you I would just rather he was with me whilst he’s so small. I know I’m extremely lucky to have that choice though xx

  20. Like many parenting issues, I don’t think it’s about stating whether you’re for or against something. I’m for whatever is right for an individual’s child or family. So I’m not going to dictate what someone else should do.

    We have used a nursery for various reasons since my LO was 1. He loves it and thrives, that’s just his nature. I grew up with a live in Norland nanny from the age of 6mo – 12yrs and I have a lot of issues and concerns about the impact this had on myself and my sister.

    Equally I couldn’t stay at home with my son full time, I need to work for me, which enables me to be a better mum. Many mothers don’t have the option not to work or equally can’t afford the childcare to go to work. It’s almost a luxury to work.

    I’ve not read the Oliver James book but I do wish authors would think much more carefully about their prescriptive advice when it comes to mummy guilt. We do what we think is best in our particular situation. And chances are, someone will tell us it’s wrong. But right now, it’s right and we have no way of checking what will happen in the future.

  21. This is such a tough decision, and I’m sorry that nanny didn’t turn out so well. I think you should decide based on how comfortable your children are. Sometimes, nursery is not a bad thing, because they have the added advantage of interacting with other kids. #sharewithme

  22. Whichever you choose, your child will be fine. 🙂 That said, I think the best options in order for during-the-day child care are: (1) a parent (2) a relative (3) a nanny (4) a daycare center. Please don’t rip my head off for saying and of course there are exceptions to that rule. Thanks for the thoughtful post!


  23. My daughter did day care and I felt just like you. Luckily, I got pregnant and she was out again (sounds like prison!) a year after.

    With hind sight it was great and I didn’t f her up but at the time, it was super tough

  24. If I’m honest I’ve always been pro-nursery (anti the cost) but we were lucky enough to have my OHs parents wanting to look after Miss G like they already did her cousins. When my hours changed before Christmas we decided to put Miss G in nursery just 1 morning a week but being 18months old and in a routine she struggled to settle and hated being there. She now goes 2 mornings a week and it’s really helped get her settled and she now loves going. I know we are lucky to have the best of both worlds – 1 day at nursery and 3 with grandparents/cousins but I do think nursery has helped development wise, given her different opportunities and some more friends. I like to think it will make going to school easier too.

  25. I haven’t read the Oliver James book myself but I was initially against the idea of nursery for similar reasons to those you say he sets out. We had thought, when I was pregnant/Gwenn was little that I would work three days, my dad would have her one day, in-laws another, and husband on the third (if I arranged it so I worked one weekend day a week). As it happens, the in-laws made it clear they wouldn’t be helping out and we made it work until Gwenn was 18 months at which point we decided we’d have to put her in nursery 9-5 one day a week. I felt awful at first but now I think it was 100% the right thing to do as she is an only child, has no cousins her age and doesn’t go to any toddler groups. My mum has now retired so technically we could take her out of nursery, but it’s only a year until she’s 3 and would get a free place anyway, so I want to prepare her for “nursery nursery” as I call it so we’re keeping her in. We can’t really afford it but she really enjoys going now. I can understand why a lot of parents don’t want to go down the nursery route because I was one of them but I also realise that a lot of us have to even if we have reservations. xx


  26. I think Oliver James must either be very rich or very unrealistic! Unless you want to/can afford to be a stay at home mum or have family members on hand no child is going to get the same kind of one on one care as they would get at home. I think one way to f**k them up is by over-thinking it, just because the less relaxed you are about it, the more they will pick up on that. JJ went to nursery (which became pre-school) from eight months to 4 and a half and it’s not Ofsted Outstanding but he is just fine and absolutely thriving at school. (Having said that he only went there one day a week as Nursery and two and a half days as pre-school). EJ now goes one day a week to a child-minder (cheaper option). It’s a husband/wife couple who are also my friends and he is very happy there. I trust them and as childminders are subject to inspections and have to provide a certain level of educational foundation too. Good luck with your decision, I think your little boy is likely to be a sociable soul being one of three and will enjoy the company of other children. Thanks for linking to #thetruthabout Xx

  27. Will the guilt ever stop?! Probably not… I hope you managed to find another solution equally as good for Spiderbaby hon, I’m sure we’ll be fine once I get used to it all. Being back in the nursery loop does take some adjusting to xxx

  28. I get this Renee – I had childcare sorted until #3 came along and threw everything up in the air. What had worked with two of them (a combination of husband, nursery and my Mum) just didn’t work out once Spiderbaby came along – as this coincided with #1 starting school. Finding a solution that works for you and your family is tough, but I’m sure you’ll get there in the end xxx (And probably feel guilty, because that’s just what we do!!!)

  29. Very true – some kids thrive in a group setting, and others just get drowned out by all the noise. I’m glad you found the right solution for your little family. Only time will tell for us, but I’m sure it’ll be all good. Thanks for dropping by.

  30. This is a controversial one. In my experience it depends on the individual child’s personality and needs. For me, I have experience with both as my daughter used to go to a child minder / nanny and my son attends a nursery. My son loves attention and the fact there is 6 women at the nursery who he can get this from, pleases him no end. He loves being kept occupied and at the nursery they do activities all day long. Where as my daughter was shy and quiet and preferred to play quietly, she gained more from being in a smaller group.
    Its a hard one and puts allot of pressure on already stressed parents.

  31. Thanks Maddy, you are fast becoming my voice of reason!! I don’t feel guilty because of the book, I just hate having to suck things up that I would rather not. I’m totally fine with my 3yo going to the nursery, and for the most part she’s enjoying it. With the baby though, as you know when you have three and it’s your last they just seem so much younger than their siblings did at the same age. I’m sure it’ll be fine once I’ve got used to the new routine. Thanks for your lovely comment xx

  32. That’s so true Charlotte, there are more eyes in a nursery setting whereas a nanny has the ability to do whatever she pleases. Ours is the closest one, and just a fortunate coincidence that they’re outstanding.

  33. I’m glad you found what works for you Jenni, sounds like you’re enjoying being home with Boo which is great 🙂

  34. Oh wow sounds like your SIL had a terrible time of it. I can console myself that it was less than six months and will hopefully be forgotten real soon! I’m glad nursery worked out for Monkey my lovely xx

  35. I agree that socially they are better off at nursery, but under three I would rather they were home with me… can’t always have it the way we want it though can we. I’m glad you got all that time with your girl xx

  36. Thanks lovely, it will definitely be fine. I just don’t like feeling forced to do things I don’t want to do…

  37. Thanks hon, it will be fine just need to get used it all! One of the hardest parts of them starting nursery is that they go off their food which leads to even more night wake ups… happened all three times for us.

  38. Thanks so much for your kind comment lovely, I know it will be fine once we get used to the new routine. Really pleased you found what worked for you 🙂

  39. That sounds great, it’s fab that you have good childcare. I know my kids are well cared for at our nursery, but after the nanny situation I’ve been left feeling a little burned. It’ll be fine once I get used to the new routine I guess. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  40. So sorry you had such a bad nanny experience, I can imagine that would be really painful. It sounds like nursery is an excellent option for your son though. I’d quite an advocate of nursery care, as long as the nursery is a good one (and by ‘good’ I mean caring and nurturing). All mine have gone to nursery a couple of afternoons a week from the age of one upwards, and then a couple of days a week from two upwards and they’ve all been happy there. They do a fab range of activities there, make friends and get plenty of cuddles when they want them (an essential for me when picking a nursery). Honestly, I think it helps with their socialisation. Oliver James has had plenty of criticism levelled at him over his views and I hate to think that reading his book has made you feel so guilty when you are such a loving and nurturing parent. xx

  41. What a great post. I really admire your honesty in admitting how badly things went wrong with your nanny- I’m so sorry you had this experience. I’m afraid I don’t have an opinion as I’m lucky my husband is a stay at home parent. I have heard great things about the wrap-around care associated with our pre-school so this would be our go-to for our daughter if hubby started work. I’m sorry you’re feeling so torn and I hope things improve – you sound like a great mum 🙂

  42. I was lucky enough to be able to stay at home so I only sent my daughter to nursery from when she was 2 (a few hours per week) – it was more of a social thing for her to meet other kids and play with others. But I do know I would have found it hard to leave her with a nanny – in a nursery as you say there are many adults around and somehow that makes me feel better.
    I feel for you but don’t let yourself feel guilty (us mothers are great at that!) – just know that you are doing your best as a mother.

  43. That’s such a difficult choice. I’m so sorry that your nanny experience was so terrible but it sounds like your local nursery is a very good one and not having to go full time sounds like your son has a good balance with time with you too.

  44. Gosh that’s a tough one a a personal choice. Both have their advantages/disadvantages. I would always ay go with your gut feeling, maybe if the nursery worked for your daughter, it’ll work out ok for your son. good luck chic and thanks for linking up to #AllAboutYou

  45. So sorry to hear that your nanny experience wasn’t great. I have to be honest, I never considered a nanny or a child minder, I wanted the social aspects that nursery brought, and both my boys were in full time from six months. I’ve never regretted it, although I am grateful to have been able to spend the last three years with my little girl. However, she will be going to preschool 4 days a week from September, and again, it’s the social aspect that is key for me, she needs more than I can give her! I think though, that like most things, it does depend on the child. Both my boys loved nursery and thrived there, but I have friends whose children never settled at nursery at all, and were happier with a child minder. I know that you are doing the best you can for your two though, and nursery is only part of their week x

  46. Interesting post and so sorry to hear that things with the nanny didn’t pan out. TBH as soon as you mentioned she’d be looking after her own son too, alarm bells started ringing but only because my sister-in-law had a similar situation with her childminder and my nephew and he was often neglected over her daughter. I didn’t want a childminder or nanny, only because I preferred a more structured environment and for Monkey to interact with more children. Again my sister-in-law’s experience frightened me a little. I put Monkey in nursery for four days a week at 9 months. It broke my heart at the time but he really flourished there and I felt the care was very nurturing. He’s since moved but only because I had to place him in a nursery attached to the school he’ll be attending. I’m happy with my decision. Hope he settles in well. xxx

  47. Interesting post and so sorry to hear that things with the nanny didn’t pan out. TBH as soon as you mentioned she’d be looking after her own son too, alarm bells started ringing but only because my sister-in-law had a similar situation with her childminder and my nephew and he was often neglected over her daughter. I didn’t want a childminder or nanny, only because I preferred a more structured environment and for Monkey to interact with more children. Again my sister-in-law’s experience frightened me a little. I put Monkey in nursery for four days a week at 9 months. It broke my heart at the time but he really flourished there and I felt the care was very nurturing. He’s since moved but only because I had to place him in a nursery attached to the school he’ll be attending. I’m happy with my decision. Hope he settles in well.

  48. Boo went to nursery, I didn’t really consider a nanny. We had a local Osted outstanding nursery which had had a few glowing recommendations from people we knew. Boo went their two days a week from 7 – 4 from 10 months (for the first month it was a settling in period) I did like Boo going to nursery and she seemed to like going and I was sad when she stopped going to nursery (when I gave up my job) but it was best for us as a family. I think it’s important to feel comfortable with the people who are looking after your child, I couldn’t have left Boo otherwise.

  49. I’ve always been on the side of nursery for the exact reason you’ve outlined. If a nanny is distracted by something there’s no one looking after your child, whereas in nursery there are lots of staff so there’s always someone to keep an eye on.

    Daniel was in nursery from 10 months old. His nursery was not rated outstanding by ofsted but I loved it because you could see that the staff genuinely cared for the children. I avoided “better” nurseries because I didn’t get the right feeling about them. I’m glad I sent him as I think he developed a lot from not having me around all of the time. I’m now a SAHM but I’m planning to send Josh to nursery soon so he can get the same benefits (although for fewer hours)

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