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.

  1. Be clear with your schedule and work needs when going through the hiring process. Often families won’t be entirely clear about what they need when they’re looking for a nanny. Take some time to create your dream childcare scenario. Are you looking for five days a week, 9–5, or would you rather have four ten hour days? Are you looking for someone who is going to cook for you? Make adjustments in your pay-range and ask for what you want. Make sure you’re offering pay that’s typical for your area- but if you want a stellar nanny, you may need to be willing to pay more.
  2. Trust your instincts: This goes for nannies and families. When you’re hiring, always trust that gut feeling. If something feels off, it’s probably not a good fit.
  3. Have a (paid) trial day: Whenever you ask your nanny to meet (other than the initial interview) pay them for their time. Have a trial day, and then keep the first month as a trial, to make sure it’s a good fit. Never let a nanny go without paying them. If something comes up and you don’t need them anymore, give them a week’s pay. All benefits should kick in on day one, though.
  4. Have a contract: There are tons of templates online. Writing up a contract protects both you and your nanny.
  5. Don’t try to negotiate down from asking pay: When hiring, always offer a nanny pay within their pay range. For instance, if your favorite candidate is asking for $33-$38 per hour, offer within that range, and preferably on the upper end. If you can’t afford the nanny and it feels like a great fit, most nannies will negotiate down. But if you afford to pay the nanny what they’re asking, do it. Your nanny will quickly find out that they’re being underpaid, and this will likely start both of you off on the wrong foot.
  6. Give your nanny guaranteed hours: For most of my nanny career, I was at the whim of my families. Some families wanted to bank hours (which means that I’d work 40 hours a week, but if they only needed me for thirty one week they could “use” the other ten hours whenever they wanted. This is now illegal), and families who, when they decided to go on vacation or take a day off, simply didn’t pay me. This made it difficult to budget and plan. Figure out how many hours you need your nanny for, and then pay them for their hours no matter what. Even if you don’t need them. If you want to be extra generous, give them time off when you take time off.
  7. If your nanny is live-in, don’t pay them less: Having a live-in nanny is a luxury for you, not for the nanny. The boundaries between work and home are blurred, and your nanny can end up being on call. Giving them a place to live doesn’t mean you’re doing them a favor. It’s actually the other way around. Pay them accordingly.
  8. Give your nanny health insurance: This should be common sense, but unfortunately it’s not. Either provide health insurance (and dental) for your nanny, or give them a stipend that will go towards it. Even if it doesn’t cover the whole sum, your nanny will be grateful (but also, make sure it covers most of the cost).
  9. Don’t try to wiggle out of paying overtime: If your nanny works over forty hours in one week, you need to pay them time and a half. There’s a reason people get paid more for overtime. If you try to wiggle out of this, your nanny will start to resent you, and feel undervalued.
  10. Paid time off: The standard for PTO is two weeks, with an additional hour accruing for every forty worked. If you can offer more, do it. If you can find ways to give your nanny an extra day off here and there, or let them leave early sometimes, do that too. It’s very likely that your nanny would gain a lot from an offering like that, and feel appreciated.
  11. Pay extra if you’re asking them to stay low-risk: If your nanny is unable to do certain things (like go to the store or see family) because of your Covid comfort level, make sure to compensate them accordingly.
  12. Travel Pay: Traveling with your nanny is a luxury. Most nannies require round-the-clock hourly pay if they’re not given a room of their own. If traveling for an extended period of time, an off-site apartment, fully equipped, is necessary. If that’s not doable and the nanny has to share space with your family even on their days off, they should be paid a daily stipend (from $25-$150 a day) to make up for this inconvenience. Imagine if your employer asked you to leave home for more than a week. How would you be paid and accommodated? That’s how you should treat your nanny.
  13. Snacks: Find out what your nanny likes to eat and provide it. This doesn’t mean. you fill your refrigerator with foods they love, but it does mean keeping a few things in there you know they’ll enjoy. It takes a lot of energy to take care of kids!
  14. Gifts and thank yous: You certainly don’t have to shower your nanny with gifts, but if they go above and beyond, a thoughtful gift or cash bonus every once in a while would be greatly appreciated, even if it’s just sharing a company discount.
  15. Holidays and Birthdays: The most unicorn of unicorn families always gives a holiday bonus. This is something that your nanny can’t ask for, but deserves. Giving them a little gift is nice, but cash is even better. Many families give their nanny the sum of one week’s paycheck as a bonus. Some give a couple hundred dollars. Some give fifty. No matter how much, your nanny will be appreciative, and it’s very like that they spent a lot of time and thought (and possibly money) on the gifts you received from them.
  16. Ask for what you want, and speak up if there’s an issue: This is huge. If your nanny is doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable, or they’re doing something wrong, communicate it immediately (with tact). Because nannying is such an intimate job, parents sometimes let things go. First, figure out (with your partner, a trusted friend, or a therapist) if it’s worth addressing, and if it is, make sure to address it. Create an open path of communication.
  17. Listen to your nanny’s feedback: Make time every month to sit down with your nanny and discuss how things are going. Make sure that, within that time, you ask your nanny if they’re happy, or if there’s anything they’re having trouble with. Definitely make sure you say thank you if your nanny is doing a good job. When given feedback, practice attentive listening and try not to react with defensiveness.

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 their experiences as a hotshot. They live in Seattle.

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