How to Find a Good Nanny (and Keep Them)

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

We all know how challenging it is to find good childcare, especially since Covid has changed our lives so drastically. I decided to write this piece from a nanny’s perspective (I actually prefer the term childcare provider). I’m a professional childcare provider, with over two decades of experience. I’ve also worked as a firefighter. I have an advanced degree and am also a writer. That said, many incredible nannies don’t have degrees. I work full-time with one family.

I live in a large west coast city, and my job comes with all the benefits of a good full-time position: PTO, sick days, 2 weeks vacation, a healthcare stipend, a living wage (full disclosure, my pay is above $30 per hour), and snacks. Because I cook for my family (yes, I call my employers my family), I also take home dinner most nights. (I am actually what’s called a nanny/household manager, which typically has more than just “kid” duties).

Now, first I want to say that our country (U.S.A.) has a major childcare crisis. This article isn’t addressing that. Often when I state the work and pay conditions that childcare providers deserve, I am told that I expect too much, and that there’s a problem with childcare in the U.S. The latter is true, the former is not. Childcare workers have been historically underpaid and undervalued, and that’s not okay.

Burnout is common in childcare. The kids I work for rarely thank me for the things I do, and if their parents don’t show me appreciation, I can begin to feel taken for granted. Taking care of kids can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s also very draining. I have to be “on” all the time, and, unlike parents, I can’t lose my cool. Making sure the kids I work for feel safe and loved is something I love doing, but it’s also exhausting.

If you’re a family employing a nanny for either your singular unit or a share, These are some things you can do to make sure you find a stellar nanny, but most importantly to keep them employed with your family for years to come. Having a high turnover isn’t great for child development, and ideally you would find one person and have them blend into your family as long as you need them to.

But nannying is often a high turnover job, because families are unaware of the ways in which they undervalue their childcare providers (it can even be subconscious). Nannies experience what we call “job creep,” where the details of a position can be clearly stated at the beginning, but slowly begin to erode if the nanny isn’t constantly reinforcing boundaries (for instance: it’s stated that the parents arrive home at 5pm, but they are often late, and the nanny has to continually remind them to be on time). This is exhausting and often results in nannies starting a new job search.

In my nanny groups, some of the most common complaints are that the parents aren’t cleaning up after themselves, are overloading us with work, aren’t respecting the space we need with their children (especially with working from home), are passive aggressive communicators, forget to pay their nannies (yes, this happens often), and nickel and dime their nannies.

Micromanaging is a huge issue, as is not trusting your nanny— while it’s understandable that trust takes time, a continual lack in trust could be a red flag that it isn’t a good fit, or a red flag that the parents need to do some personal work in letting go.

Nannies often do the “dirty work” of family units, clearing space for parents to be present with their kids while they aren’t working. They also deeply enrich the lives of their children, and often spend more time with the kids than the parents do. Their work should be respected, and they should be valued.

I’m going to address the complaints that come up in nanny groups, and more, so that you can make sure you’re doing everything you can to be what us nannies call a “unicorn family.” That’s what we call the family we’ll stay with forever.

Nannying is not “babysitting.” Many professional nannies have advanced degrees and decades of experience. We should be paid accordingly, and treated with respect. Make sure you’re not taking your nanny for granted. It’s very likely that they’re doing things outside of their assigned hours to keep things running smoothly. If you try to cut corners with them, or complain about petty and/or minuscule issues, they may not be with you for long.

But if you treat your nanny like a member of your family, and show them that they’re valued and seen, they’ll probably stay with you as long as you need them.

If you’re looking for a more economical way to have a nanny, I suggest a nanny share.

Feel free to comment and ask questions on this article.

Stacy Selby is currently writing a book about her experiences as a hotshot & land development in the west. She’s a former wildland firefighter.

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