By Katie Chaine • June 20, 2007•Other Issues
Many two-professional families confront the issue of what is the best solution for childcare. There are the options of a live-in nanny, a live-out babysitter, care in somebody else's home setting, childcare centers and, the most coveted "relative care" choices.
Personally, I have never had the option of having grandma or auntie take care of the kids so I have had to choose among the other less-desirable options. We've always gone with the live-in option. We choose the live-in option because of the flexibility. When the 6 year old was little he was usually sleeping when I went to work and I loved that I didn't have to pack him up and take him somewhere in the car in the early morning. I have never had a job when I know precisely when I'll be home at night and I'd hate to have to say to the partners or clients in the middle of a late afternoon meeting -- "If you'll excuse me I have to get my kids from childcare" as I bolt out of the conference room. At the same time, I'd hate to be late to work because the nanny is stuck in traffic in the morning on her way to our house.
Nannies are most common in the Northeast region of the United States but as somebody who hasn't lived in the NE since college, I have found that I am usually on my own when it comes to finding good live-in care. For that reason, I thought I would pass along some practical tips that have served us well.
As a caveat, let me throw out my qualifications for this advice. We have two kids ages 4 and 6. We have had live-in care since the oldest was 2 months old. That comes to a total of 5 different live in nannies. Among the first four, 2 were awesome and continue to be close to us, 1 quit and I fired 1. The fifth is with us now and so far, so good.
Tip #1: Go with a reputable agency. We have had good luck with Nanniesplus.com and AllAmericanNanny.com. Nanniesplus is pretty much exclusive to the Northeast and DC but we were able to find a nanny willing to live in North Carolina from them 6 years ago. AllAmericanNanny.com places live-in nannies all over the country. There are also other good agencies out there that I have heard of but can't personally vouch for. Do not try to do it alone by using one of those internet placement agencies or your newspaper. The agencies cost a pretty penny but they really do a lot of leg work for you. They spend effort matching expectations and personalities and it makes all the difference in the world. Also, they all have satisfaction guarantees which you might want to use if things don't turn out so great. The nanny that I fired came from an online placement agency that I had to use when my agency did not have any good nannies available and before I found AllAmerican. She was a disaster and not a good match for our family.
Tip # 2: Check references. Personally call them with deep questions. Don't rely on the agency to check them for you. You can tell a lot from voice inflection and uncomfortable pauses when you ask questions personally.
Tip #3: Hire an American or a person that is legally able to live and work in this country. First, hiring an undocumented worker is against the law. You are required to fill out an I9 immigration form on any employees and this requires checking to make sure they are able to legally work in the US. This may show my political bias but I am a law-abiding American who is staunchly against breaking US immigration laws under any circumstances. Hiring a legal worker is the best thing for the country and for you personally -- You don't want to expose yourself to added liability just to save a few bucks on childcare.
Tip#4: Pay employment taxes and otherwise comply with household employee laws. This will require you to submit a schedule H with your personal income taxes. I use a program called Nanny Pay and it doesn't get any simpler than that. This is just smart advice especially if you are young (like me) and not sure where life is going to take you. Who knows, maybe some day you'll want to be a federal judge or political office holder and you don't want to have to answer to questions of tax evasion and the like.
Tip #5: Make a very detailed contract with your nanny right from the start. This conversation may be uncomfortable because it will talk about your expectations and employee-employer type things. If you are like me, you want this person to be a part of the family so it is uncomfortable to put things in writing like paid holidays, overtime compensation, and approved discipline tools. Get it in writing, make it detailed, and send to the nanny before you offer her the job. I have found this to be extremely useful and our nannies have really appreciated it. More than one has told us that she'll never take another job without a similarly detailed contract up front. We list the aforementioned items but also: base pay, eligibility and criteria for raises, household chore responsibilities, vacation time, car and medical insurance responsibilities, access to phone, internet and the car, and anything that is considered a job responsibility. It doesn't have to be formal or approved by a lawyer but should be thorough. Most agencies have form contracts for you to use but even if they don't you should make one with as many details and you can think of.
Tip #6: Make childcare the top priority. Some may disagree with this but I think the nanny's main responsibility should be the kids and not the housecleaning. Make sure the priorities are clear from the beginning and be reasonable. Otherwise, you'll find that your toddler is watching TV so the nanny has enough time to mop the kitchen and you would have been better off sending him/her to preschool all day.
Well, those are the main pieces of advice. You'll have to think personally about what you want the relationship with your nanny to be like and what is reasonable and unreasonable to expect from the situation. For example, I have always hired nannies that are younger than me and without their own kids. I figure this will make it more likely that they will raise the kids in the way I want. Again, this is a personal choice and you'll need to take some time to figure out what you are looking for.