After much deliberation, April’s family chose to hire a nanny instead of the more traditional daycare setting. Today she still uses an awesome nanny for their 3 and 1 year old girls.
Yes I have a nanny. No I’m not a celebrity or rich. I tried daycare, but it just wasn’t for me. It was a great day care, excellent curriculum, yadah yadah– but it wasn’t a good fit. So I hired an extended family member to be our nanny. Then when she needed to move on, I hired her good friend. And when my work schedule became more demanding and thus hers did too, I hired her other good friend to help. Nowadays I reach out to a service that specifically helps with nanny placement.
This hardly qualifies me as a “nanny expert”, but let’s pretend that I am. I have had countless moms ask me what’s it like having a nanny, but they frame it as “Something I could never do/afford/arrange”. But why not? If it’s not your bag baby, I get it. But if you are interested in entering the kingdom of nannydom, explore it. As for me, I’m smitten. Even though I’m fortunate enough to have family in town, I wanted a nanny. If possible, I like to leave grandparents to be grandparents—that is how our extended family relations stay positive and strong. I realize it’s not an option for some, but it may be an option for more people than realized. My family made some changes, cut some stuff out, and made it work. I feel very very lucky that I didn’t have to pack up a sleeping baby, prod my toddler for not eating breakfast faster, and all the other struggles that accompany the need to leave early in the morning (though I’m sure I am in for a shock when my oldest starts school). As mentioned, we did try part-time daycare, though apparently my daughter’s super tiny Eustachian tubes stages a revolt. She got 9 ear infections in the short time she attended. That is, of course, not the fault of the daycare, but it further solidified my nagging feeling that I needed to try a Plan B.
But once we had a nanny, I was hooked. Though it’s not always rainbows and cupcakes, largely my love affair with nannies has been a heartfelt and wonderful experience. But as you may suspect, it’s an adjustment having a nanny in your home (and of course an adjustment for the nanny!). Yes you feel vulnerable and judged at times, and perhaps you are. You know how when you have a guest over, you run around the house and clean up? You do some mad dusting (dusting– what’s that?), vacuuming, inspecting the medicine cabinet in the spare bathroom for questionable material, and right before they arrive – use that time to get that old stain off the couch? Yeah it’s about a zillion times worse when starting with a new nanny. They will examine every cabinet (where is that frog sippie cup?), look at your food (is that High Fructose Corn Syrup I see?), and generally see all the workings of your inner sanctum. They know when you are late to work, when you didn’t clear the table from the night before, when you drank a whole bottle of wine at dinner, when you made the kids Mac N Cheese again etc. They see all the nasty shit you spend time trying to hide from others.
So yeah, at times you feel vulnerable in the beginning. But, well, get over it. I had to put on my big girl panties and get over it too. Will the nanny disagree with you sometimes? Yep. Will she suggest that your child is: too late to talk, too old for a diaper, or doesn’t share well? Eh, maybe. And those things are hard to hear. Us moms sometimes tuck those shady bits of our kids away so we don’t suffer the dreaded judgment of other moms. But I’m here to tell you—F that noise. If you want to try it, try it. You can always go back to the arrangement you had before. And if you don’t want to try it—that’s cool too. If you have something that works for you, keep truckin sister. None of us have this game all figured out. The best we can do is keep trying and changing until it “feels right”. And when that no longer feels right, change again!
So now you know some of the awkwardness in starting with the nanny. Now let’s talk about why I got addicted. I get up early for work, sometimes 5am. And the idea of waking my wee ones and getting them ready for the day is enough for a minor anxiety attack. In the winter, when the snow is unrelenting and the streets slippery as snot, I’d always feel so grateful that my babies were still sound asleep in their beds dreaming of ice cream cones and Dora episodes. Now with my current position, I frequently work from my home office upstairs. The fact that I know my girls are downstairs, being taught their letters or running around playing tag with our nanny, gives me great pleasure. Can many of these things happen at daycare? Sure. And there are several phenomenal benefits to daycare, but parenting is specific and personal. That is why I don’t want to do an extensive comparison of childcare options—because only you know what works for your family.
So now you know how it “feels” having a nanny. How about some constructive tid bits?
Where to Find A Nanny? There are many ways to snag a kick ass nanny.
· Spread the word that you are looking. Let friends, family, and others with similar aged kids know that you are on the hunt. They may have a recommendation.
· A current/former daycare worker can be a perfect fit. Did your child have a teacher in daycare they absolutely loved? Does the idea of that teacher showing up at your house at 7am so you can leisurely get ready for work, make you giddy? Ask them! And if they can’t, ask if they can recommend anyone else.
· Consider posting on job boards, perhaps at the university. Students that are studying child-related fields may be interested.
When I finally stepped outside the family/friend pool, I used www.care.com and loved it. I was able to post a job (I did a one month subscription and it was more than enough time to find the perfect fit). I advertised exactly what I wanted, what our family dynamics were, hours, expectations, and pay range. Then I sat back and waited for the applicants to pour in. And they did! Then I weeded out all the applicants with super sexy profile photos… I’m kidding. No really I am (mostly) kidding. Okay I’m not kidding, so bare with my tangential public service announcement:
Dear 19 Year Old Trying to Break Into the Nanny Business— MOMS usually hire the nannies, not horny teenage boys. So word to the wise—leave the boobs out of the profile photo.
To be fair there was only about 4 applications I received that fit this description, but I found them hilarious. Yeah, I’m totally gonna hire Tits McGee to be my nanny.
But Are They Like Us? How to get a good fit for your family. It’s important to determine if the nanny will compliment your family’s manner. This takes some introspection, and I didn’t consider my own “family dynamics” until about 3 years in. My bad. I was behind the curve so make sure you are proactive about this. Do you want a nanny that is very independent and proactive? Or are you a micromanager and want to control their day entirely? Be realistic about how you function and what you want.
Also you may want to be cognizant of conflicting beliefs. A nanny doesn’t need to completely mirror your opinions/beliefs, but kids ask crazy questions—so make sure they are getting the answers you want. Examples of questions 3 year olds ask that may momentarily stump your nanny:
“Why is it so important that I eat veggies?”
“Why does Sarah have two mommies?”
“What happens when the grasshopper (currently smashed under a misplaced foot) dies?”
This is the heavy hitting stuff preschoolers toss around, and it’s a good idea to know if you want this addressed in a particular way. You certainly don’t need a PowerPoint presentation on your ideology, but some guidance is good. Having said that, my nanny batting line up included a hilarious evangelical Christian and a gluten-intolerant Atheist. Both worked out great, but we made sure we were on the same page. ***Side note—when writing this post, I asked nanny #1 if she minded being called an “evangelical” Christian. She replied, “As long as I don’t sound like I wear a suit and ask for money”…
So yeah, she’s not a “televangelist”. Think less Jimmy Swaggart and more Maya Angelou.
Plus there is the simple stuff like—my household is happy and lively. We play music all day and love to dance, sing, and be active. Both our girls are very outgoing and interact with everyone. A shy nanny is likely not a good fit for us.
We are also pretty particular about eating healthy at home, partially because we know they’ll have plenty of time to eat crap outside the home. Are we completely against cookies or ice cream? Hell no, I love that shit. But our kids eat a lot of fruits, veggies, nuts, yogurt, and quinoa (Oh God, maybe we are hippies?). If our nanny thinks this food is gross, it may come across to the kids. Again this isn’t always the case, but when I see our nanny unpack her lunch of sliced peppers, humus, and salad—my heart quietly skips a beat.
Take Your Time and Investigate. Take Your Time (Do It Right). Talk to the nanny several times to get a solid feel for their personality. Meet them for coffee, and do a few trial runs with your kids. Go with your gut. If something is nagging you about a particular applicant, but you don’t know why—doesn’t matter, don’t move ahead. Your mind has picked up on something that you can’t articulate but is no less valid.
And once your gut says yes, call their references, any families they worked for in the past, and pay for a complete background check. Though there still came a moment (on Day 1 with my new Care.com nanny) when I needed to take a leap of faith and trust her, knowing that I had overturned every rock eased the transition in my mind
Set Clear Expectations. This is huge, so give me a moment to step up on my soapbox. When I first entered in to being the “employer” of a nanny, I did not clearly set expectations. That’s because I didn’t know what I wanted either. I was a new parent, which meant I was a ball of hormones and frankly had no idea. I was scared of almost everything related to my child, and fear was not an emotion I was accustomed to. Since my first nanny knew me so well, I somehow thought she magically could read my mind and know everything I should/wanted to do. When we don’t set expectations, we are setting up all parties to be frustrated, disappointed or worst. That is far less likely if everyone is upfront with what they want and need, but that takes time to learn. If your nanny says they can live with $9/hr but secretly feels underpaid—NO BUENO. If you say they don’t need to do minor chores, but secretly wish they would do the dishes—NO BUENO. Yes it can feel a little uncomfortable asking for what you need at first (especially if you are the type to not express these things) but that is how we get out of life what we want. A potentially awkward conversation rarely gets less awkward with time. And if verbal communication feels weird, try email or text. But be very clear. Don’t hint and hope they get it. Often times that is a trait many of us women exercise, with lackluster results. No—people can’t read our minds. No—they shouldn’t “just get it”. Arrangements often go sideways because people weren’t clear of their expectations, not because people are A-holes.
Also understand their expectations & challenges. What makes being a nanny easier or harder for them? For example, I know it can be challenging for my nanny when I come home but she’s not officially “off” work. The kids want to be with me, only listen to me, etc. and it can make her role awkward or ineffective. Understanding that, I try not to linger at the house if possible. Additionally a major challenge for nannies is parenting inconsistency. I shouldn’t tell my nanny the kids can’t have ice cream until they eat their lunch and then bend the rules myself. I can’t tell her no jumping on the bed, but then let my girls do it after hours. I hadn’t given it much thought, until my nanny had a chat with me and I understood her dilemma. Have an open dialogue so everyone can stay pleased as punch.
Written Agreements and Rules. How to document what was agreed. This is as easy or complicated as you want. It can be two lines, or two pages. It can be: “Ms. Mary Poppins agrees to work as our nanny for an average of 30 hours/week for $11 an hour until either party agrees to terminate the arrangement.” But I recommend something more specific. Again I did not do this at first, but now I have a little packet I give with lots of info in it. See “Nanny Book” below.
Emergency Plans. Give them the resources to respond. I make sure to give our nanny a list of (far too many) people to call should the S hit the F. I call it my Reference Sheet and post it on the fridge and also in a 3 ring binder. It also has the age and weight of our girls, doc’s name and number, allergies, and the home address should they need to call an ambulance. Plan ahead and the rewards can be life savings.
Cash vs. On the Books. Addressing the “under the table” deals. I believe it depends on your state, but there is a cap for the amount you can pay a house hold employee without needing to officially declare them on the books (and thus deal with taxes etc.) If you hire a nanny, most likely you will surpass this yearly cap. Having said that, statistics show that many nannies get paid in cash or “under the table” for a multitude of reasons. Talk to your accountant for advice on how you need to proceed.
My Nanny Book. Stuff I’ve learned to include in my packet to our nanny. Again give them ideas, suggestions, and the general lay of the land. Here are some things I include:
· Sample Day, which outlines our average times for naps, lunch, snacks, outdoor activity etc.
· Food Ideas—examples of what we usually eat for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
· Fun stuff we do—simple stuff like painting rocks in the garden, playing with the parachute, egg hunts, etc.
· Discipline—let them know how you’d like them to discipline your little angels when they are acting like heathens.
· House rules—again simple ones are just fine. No feet on the table, no touching plugs, etc. But if in your house you have very specific rules—make sure to let them know. Example no shoes on the carpet, no opening fridge. Every family has rules, take the time to write yours down.
· Chores—list the things you’ve agreed upon that go above and beyond childcare. My nanny changes the sheets on the girl’s bed, changes the diaper pail when it’s full and puts dishes in the dishwasher. I’m not going to lie—I LOVE THIS. Of course it is far more important to me that she love on my girls, but it is so nice to come home and see a beautiful kitchen or picked up toys.
Love Your Nanny. Show them you love and appreciate what they do. This is something I can forget at times, and then I beat myself for not doing something that I know is sooo important! We all know, it can be hard and exhausting watching kids all day, and it is important to let your nanny know how much you appreciate what they do. When your nanny shows up happy (though they may be fighting with their spouse), sits on the floor and plays dinosaurs with your toddler (even when their knee hurts from the weekend), makes holiday cards with your kids (even though they could use nap time for Words with Friends) etc. this is what makes them special. Tell them sincerely and repeatedly how much you appreciate what they do. When driving back from the office, buy them Starbucks or a smoothie just because. Send them home 30 minutes early one day just so they have time to study for their test. I also want my nanny to feel like she can relax (or in my current arrangement—do homework) while the girls are napping. Yes there are other things she could be doing with that time, but it’s an emotionally taxing job at times, and I want her to enjoy some down time and splurges. It is one of the perks of being a nanny.
How to Save the Gs When Nannies Seem Too Pricey. Ways to drive the financial burden down. On average it seems nannies get paid around $8-$17/hour depending on number of kids, expectation of cooking/cleaning, special needs, errands, etc. That can sound like a lot when you look at how many hours you may need them, but many things can be tried to squeeze your dollar. Brainstorming with your partner or a friend can give you great and random ways. Here are some we’ve used:
· Is there any way to work from home (thus cutting out your get ready/commute time)?
· Could a family member cover a day or two, so the hired nanny would be paid less hours (this would obviously need to be arranged ahead of time with the nanny).
· Anything that could be traded/bartered? Use of the family car, helping with a service/skill you have (translating, writing, carpentry, etc.). Think outside the box.
· Talk to a SAHM and ask if she’s interested in making some extra cash, though think this through, as you won’t have nearly the say-so a traditional nanny arrangement usually provides.
NOTE—while brainstorming, never entertain the idea of paying an existing nanny less money. Any employee, if given a pay cut, feels undervalued and resentful in this situation (we all would). Find another way!
In summary, there is no right answer to this, just trial and error. But when we do hit the nail on the head, it feels oh so good. I wish you all the luck, patience, and wine you will need for your parenting journey!