Summer is on the way, and many parents are thinking about childcare options. Last month, I wrote about some of the great summer camps here in the Iowa City area, and I’ve still got summer care on my mind. For many families who need full-time care over the summer, a summer nanny can be a great option, especially in our college town where many students are looking for summer work. And, beyond summer care, nannies can be a great option all year!
Before my family found and fell in love with au pair care, I hired half a dozen nannies for our kids. Some were with us for as little as three months while others stuck around for a couple of years. During that time, I learned what I should always do and what I should never do when hiring a nanny. After talking to other moms who are nervous about hiring new nannies, I’ve realized that I shouldn’t keep it to myself – we moms have to help each other out! So, here are a few tips for interviewing nanny candidates.
My first rule of hiring a nanny is to hire someone your kids like. One of my favorite and my son’s favorite nannies were one and the same. We had barely introduced ourselves before I was pretty sure we were going to hire her. My incredibly shy two-year-old, who frequently cried when faced with new people, actually asked to sit in her lap. This kid had been known to walk the perimeter of the room to keep his distance from his own grandmother, so I knew if he wanted to cuddle up with her, it was meant to be.
Don’t worry about childcare degrees and certifications. While these can be a plus, they aren’t necessary. Smart young women with interests in other fields have been tons of fun for our family. We have had nannies with a couple of years of human services coursework, all but 6 credits of a BA in psychology, a master’s degree in organizational communication, a certified engineer, one fresh out of high school saving up for college, and a BS in biology who went on to dental school after her time with us. It doesn’t matter what field she is most interested in as long as she is bright and interested in learning. She’ll share her unique interests and love for learning with your kids.
Choose the person you think is a good personality fit for your family over the one you think is more experienced. Say you have someone with 5 years experience as a nanny versus someone who has babysat a lot, but never had a full-time nanny gig. The personality fit is more important. This is a mistake that I made once – I went with a more experienced nanny candidate over one that I felt like we had bonded with. While my son really enjoyed the one that we hired, she was my least favorite and the one that caused me the most frustration.
Really think about your parenting and childcare philosophy and find a nanny who agrees with your style of parenting. Do you like to let kids follow their own interests or do you like a scheduled, planned out day? How do you discipline your kids? Are you strict or do you let things slide? Whatever is important to you about your style of caring for your kids, make sure you talk to your nanny interviewees about it. You want to find the best match. And, when you ask questions about this stuff, don’t feed them the answers you want to hear in the way you ask your questions. Ask neutral questions that force them to talk about their own philosophy and give examples from their childcare experience.
Decide whether you want a nanny who takes the lead or you want them to follow your lead. Personally, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want them to follow your lead, but some parents want a nanny to come in and handle everything without a lot of guidance from them. That’s not for me. One nanny candidate went around inspecting our home for safety hazards while lecturing me about the importance of feeding kids organic foods. She then proceeded to tell me which private school I ought to enroll my children in when the time came, all within the first 10 minutes of being in our home. I knew right away that this person’s childcare approach was a little more intense than I could handle and not a good fit for us.
Benefits and Expectations
Once you do find the right fit, you’re going to want to keep her. A nanny is more than just a babysitter. This is their real, full-time job. Going by the golden rule, I tried to give them the same thing that I want from my full-time job: a fair wage and as many benefits as we can manage. Spell out what you are offering. That means not only your standard pay rate, but also what you can offer as far as vacation time and other benefits.
With our first nanny, I made the mistake of not being clear about expectations regarding holidays. The poor girl thought she was going to have to work Thanksgiving Day because I never specifically told her she had it off until she asked the day before. I assumed she knew we wouldn’t need her and she assumed I would have said so if we didn’t. Learn from my mistake and be clear about your expectations.
You’re probably wondering what’s the going rate for a nanny, and that really varies by region. If you live in New York City, the compensation and benefits you offer will be very different than what you will find in rural Iowa. Check out ads on craigslist, care.com, sittercity.com or similar sites to see what seems like a typical wage for your area. Here in Iowa City, $10-$12/hour seems to be the minimum and it can definitely go up from there. If cost is a limiting factor, you might consider a nanny share, where you and another family share the cost of a nanny and she cares for both families’ children. When my oldest was two, we had a great nanny share that made childcare affordable for us, gave my son a new best friend, and brought our families closer together. It was a great experience!
Aside from pay scale, wherever you live, there are some important things to consider if you are hiring a nanny for the long-term, especially someone who is full-time and with you all year. Think about sick and vacation days. We arranged with our nannies to offer a certain number paid sick days per year and paid holidays and vacation whenever I had time off. If we couldn’t make our schedules mesh regarding vacation and they needed time off when we still have to work, then that vacation time was unpaid.
Another important consideration is health insurance. Even if you can’t swing an expensive health insurance package, a monthly stipend towards them purchasing their own health insurance policy or paying for a $50/month emergencies only policy will help them out a lot and make them feel more secure.
We also offered a longevity bonus. If a nanny sticks with you for a set period of time, say, for the whole summer or for an entire year, we gave a bonus of one week’s pay. It’s incentive for your nanny to stay and shows her that you appreciate her and want her to keep being part of your family.