If Alice’s recent post about daycare made you consider trading in your biweekly paycheck and dental insurance for the glamorous, milk-stained life of a stay-at-home mom, first you may want to consider hiring a nanny for your childcare needs. The nanny option generally means that a single, consistent person whom you have personally selected comes to your home each morning and whisks your offspring away on creative adventures. Basically they are all just like Mary Poppins, but instead of a flying umbrella most of them drive Toyotas, and I think the British accent costs extra, at least in Manhattan.
When I first became pregnant with C, I fully intended to put him in daycare when I returned to work after my federally mandated 12 weeks of unpaid family leave. My employer subsidized two highly reputable daycare centers in the area, including one next door to my office building. They weren’t free by any means, but they were less expensive than others in our city, and they offered one of those educational approaches that has an Italian name and teaches your toddler how to fold his own laundry. Seems perfect, right?
Except my child was born in August, and where I live, daycare centers of decent repute only enroll new babies in June. That left me with a 7-month gap in childcare that my dogs seemed ill-equipped to fill. My parents and in-laws are of that “we will work until we die both for professional fulfillment and to pay off your college loans” generation, and so we were left with one option: hire a temporary nanny.
Our temporary nanny turned into one of the best additions to our family and our lives that we could have imagined, and so after six months, when C received his acceptance letter to daycare, we decided to make the financially irresponsible but emotionally justified decision to have him remain in his nanny’s care. I have never regretted it for a second, even though it means I haven’t had my teeth cleaned in two years and we have to order our dogs’ immunizations on the internet from a shady sounding company in Arkansas called Dawg-Shotz 4 Less.
I have found that both a pro and a con of having a nanny is that you bring another person into your life, and suddenly all future childcare decisions become about more than schedules and finances, it’s about a relationship, both yours and your child’s. Our nanny is a valuable part of my ability to do my own job well, and she is a person that my child loves dearly. Yet she is also an independent adult with her own needs. If a better job opportunity comes along, she has to consider it, despite her love for my child. All of this to say that as with any familial relationship, there will be bumps in the road, and much like with family, those bumps are often only resolvable with money.
Whether you choose nanny, daycare, or staying home, keep in mind that none of these decisions is permanent. What works for you and your baby in the first year may change as he grows older and your relationship to work and family change. We started with a full-time nanny, went to having her part-time and me being home/working part-time, now have a part-time nanny/part-time preschool hybrid, and with a baby on the way we will soon go to full-time nanny plus preschool plus maybe a sous chef and a wet nurse, just to keep things interesting.
Pros of Having a Nanny:
- One-to-One Ratio: The one-on-one attention of a nanny can be a source of comfort in those early weeks of returning to work, and as your child grows it’s nice to know that he has the undivided attention of a single person holding a block in his face and saying, “Green, the block is green,” over and over until you get home from work and take over.
- She Comes to Your House: Other than the personal attention your kid receives, the biggest advantage to having a nanny is that she comes to you, thus relieving you of the responsibility of dressing your child in a weather-appropriate outfit every single day or packing bottles and food or generally being responsible for getting a second human being clean and presentable for the outside world.
- Duties Not Otherwise Assigned: Some nannies (and expectations should be stated clearly during the interview) will do other housework in addition to raising your child. While I made it clear to our nanny that housekeeping was not part of her job, she can’t help but empty/load the dishwasher and sweep up the mountains of pet hair that we allow to accumulate all over our house in an effort to build our child’s immune system. Other household duties up for negotiation include laundry, grocery shopping, meal prep, and pet care.
- Coverage for Sick Kids: Most daycares require you to keep your fevered or puking kid home while symptomatic and for 24 hours following. We all know that parents attempt to violate this rule constantly, but most will still end up using some of their own sick time to take care of sick kids at home.
- Fewer Illnesses: This one is kind of a myth, unless you keep your toddler in a hermetically sealed bubble in your laundry room at all times. Kids are cesspools of germs and illness regardless of where they spend their days. My child can catch a cold from his cousins over FaceTime—no childcare arrangement is safe. However, I do believe having a nanny forestalled the worst of the infant plagues until later in his first year, and he’s never had an ear infection, which I think qualifies him for some kind of write-up in the NEJM.
- Third Parent: This may actually be the best part of having a nanny, when you have a good one. This crazy endless acid trip they call parenting is hard, and having a third adult involved in the process, especially one with more experience than you who your kid actually listens to, is a tremendous bonus. I am pretty sure that without the help of our nanny, C would still only sleep in my arms. In some ways it’s like having your own mother there to guide you, but without all the tension and resentment and memories of that time she pretended to leave you alone at the park because you were throwing a tantrum but seriously, you were only six years old and you just wanted to swing for five more minutes, what kind of mother does that??
Cons of Hiring a Nanny:
- Cost: For a single child in most regions of the country, hour-for-hour a nanny is going to cost more than even the best daycare (for two or more kids, the cost differential changes as daycare rates double whereas a nanny’s hourly rate increases in smaller increments). In my area the hourly rate ranges anywhere from $12 to $20 an hour, and I know that in Manhattan a qualified nanny can cost around $150,000 a year plus dental. You also have to consider taxes, social security, and health insurance, depending on your nanny’s preferences and your own political aspirations.
- Sick Days/Vacation Time: Most daycare centers are open 50 to 52 weeks a year, and closings are scheduled far in advance. A nanny will probably need some time off, both scheduled and unscheduled, for vacation and sick leave. Vacation time can typically be planned in advance and you can sometimes schedule your own family vacations to coincide, but when a nanny gets sick, you’re on call. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you and your spouse decide ahead of time whose career is more important, because that’s not a fight you want to be having at 6:30am on a Tuesday when your nanny texts to tell you she has pink eye.
- Hiring & Retention: We first met our prospective nanny when C was about 6 weeks old, and given that she came highly recommended from a trusted source, I am pretty sure our interview went something like this:
Me: “Can you make him stop crying?"
Me: “You’re hired."
However, the process of hiring and retaining someone you trust and who meets your family’s evolving needs can be arduous. You may interview 27 candidates and finally find the nanny of your dreams, only to have her quit after two weeks because she decides she’s afraid of your pet turtle. Or you may think you have found The One, until you discover that her idea of doing laundry is burying it in the back yard for six weeks then soaking it in vodka and hanging it from your neighbor’s swing set. Human beings are weird and fickle and finding the right one to help raise your child is not—and probably should not be—easy.
As I said, my interview and hiring process was deceptively simple, in part because our nanny came as a referral from a trusted friend whose ideas about parenting and childhood are similar to my own. However, reflecting back on what has been important to our successful relationship over the past two years, I can recommend a few things to consider during the hiring process.
Things to Consider While Hiring a Nanny:
- Hours/Flexibility: If you are expected to be at work by 9am, your nanny probably can’t arrive at your house at 8:45 and facilitate a seamless departure. She needs time to settle in and drink your last cup of coffee, your baby will need time for the transition (especially in the toddler years, trust me), and you will need time to change out of your husband’s sweat pants and into your more work-appropriate Lululemons. The same goes for the end of the day. Can you rush out of the office at 5pm like clockwork every single day, or are you dependent on a boss who likes to dick around on Facebook all afternoon then suddenly gets the urge to schedule conference calls at 4:45? Some nannies have more flexibility than others, so assess your own employment situation and set your expectations accordingly.
- Age: Do you prefer a twentysomething college grad with a degree in child development who has a great deal of energy and academic knowledge yet lacks the confidence to undermine your own parenting philosophies? Or do you prefer a grandmother of twelve who believes a little brandy can aid in sleep training and will never, ever figure out how to use your Apple TV?
- Philosophy: Attachment Parenting? Cry-It-Out? Free Range Organic? If you feel strongly about certain areas of parenting, it’s important that your nanny respect that. On the flip side, if you hire someone you trust, her experience and knowledge may influence your own approach. Your own philosophies and beliefs are important, but try to keep in mind that this is a bit of a partnership and be flexible and open-minded where you can.
- References: Ideally, you can get recommendations for nannies from people you trust—friends, colleagues, friends’ nannies, etc. If you use an online service or other source, call her references. Not only to determine whether she is more of a Julie Andrews than a Rebecca De Mornay, but to determine whether her past employers have similar attitudes about childcare to your own. Even if you’re a first-time parent of a newborn with zero experience with kids, you can usually tell over the phone if you’re decently compatible with another person. If all else fails, ask about their favorite television shows. Fans of Orange is the New Black? Excellent, can’t wait for Season 4. On a TV strike since TLC pulled 19 Kids and Counting? Move along, quiverful-of-crazy.
Suggestions for Starting Out with a New Nanny:
- Trial Days: Plan to have either you or your partner home for the first few days with a new nanny. Try to stay out of the way as much as possible, but be available to answer questions and observe behavior. A nanny that asks a lot of questions the first few days is a good sign because it means she wants to do things right. If possible, staying home for more than one day is ideal—as my mother pointed out to me when our nanny first started, anyone can fake it for a day or two, but it’s hard to fake the energy and confidence required to take care of young kids for an entire week. I’ve been a mom for two years now and I still haven’t managed to make it to a Friday without losing my shit at least twice. That’s one of the many reasons I’m paying someone else to do it, just like my own mother did before me.
- Daily Log: Ask your nanny to log your baby’s daily naps, poops, and food intake, as well as anything else you may want to know (health stuff, activities, etc). This will help make your evenings and weekends smoother, and give you and your nanny a chance to discuss routines, behavior changes, etc. We used this simple sheet to cover the basics: Baby's Log.
- Chill Out: Here’s the thing—no single person is going to fulfill your every heart’s desire for a nanny, because no single person is going to do everything exactly the way you would do it while also exhibiting superior house-keeping skills. Our nanny is a creative thinker, but the downside of that quality is that she’s a little scatter-brained. We’ve lost a few sippy cups and indoor-playground punch cards over the years. Pick your battles and your deal-breakers carefully, and accept that just as you are not perfect, no one else is, either. Your child’s health and safety are non-negotiable, but whether or not his outfit coordinates with his socks probably is.
Ideally, choosing a nanny means you will end up with a competent caregiver who will form a unique and loving relationship with your child, and you really can’t put a price on that peace of mind… except in Manhattan, because that place is just ridiculous.
Written by: Kathleen