Some Tips for Finding the Right Nanny

Finding the right caregiver for your baby has to be one of the most stressful experiences as a new parent.

To make the prospect a little less daunting, I’d like to share some tips I sent to a friend back when she first started looking for a nanny.

1. Start looking for a nanny at most 1-2 months before you need her to start. Most nannies are looking to start work immediately or within a few weeks of starting their search. Unless you are willing to pay someone to hold them, or know someone who has a great nanny and is planning to let them go because of a move, finances, and so on., I would wait until close to the time you need them to start.

2. Parenting groups and word of mouth are the best ways to find nannies. Local parenting listservs are a great place to find excellent caregivers, because people who love their nannies will often help them find their next position.

When reading through posts about potential nannies, you should prioritize those that are posted by employers, as opposed to the nanny herself, and those that are genuinely glowing.

If you find someone you like, you can also search through the group’s archives to find earlier mentions of the nanny, which is a good way to cross check their references and employment history.

(Now, I am sure great caregivers can be found through agencies as well. I just think that parent groups and word of mouth provide the best initial filter for quality, dramatically reducing the number of nannies you have to screen before finding the right one.)

3. Looking for a nanny is a bit like dating. It is best to start with a couple of phone calls, one to the nanny and, if that goes well, one to her most recent employer.

For the employer interview, just like in the corporate world, be aware that people are hesitant to say anything negative. Fortunately, most people have difficulty lying outright in response to direct questions. So, I would ask specific questions about what her employer found challenging, how often she called in sick, whether she was punctual, and if she had noticed any safety-related issues. I would also what they especially liked about her, to make sure it matches well with your desires.

Another good indicator of quality is how long the nanny worked for her previous families, and if she continues to be in contact with them or babysits for them occasionally. People hate to let good nannies go!

If both of these calls go well, I would schedule an in-person interview with the nanny.

4. Lots of good nannies do not interview well despite being excellent caregivers. In some cases, this is because of language barriers. But often, it is because being an excellent childcare provider does not require the ability to articulate a deep childrearing philosophy. These are two unrelated skill sets.

To figure out whether the prospective nanny is actually good, there are a couple of common tactics. First, you can leave them your baby with them for a short but unspecified period of time. When you come back, you can see how your baby is doing. In a similar vein, you can have them do a week trial while you are still at home. Most people cannot fake competence and interest in your baby for a whole week.

If you like her at the end of the trial, then I would call everyone else she has been a nanny for. Most people do not want you to check their references unless you are seriously considering hiring them. This is understandable. Their references are typically busy moms, who do not want to be overloaded by random inquiries.

5. When I first started looking for a nanny, I was very concerned with their level of education and verbal ability. In retrospect, that was a mistake. For the first few years of your baby’s life, the most important thing, in my opinion, is to have someone who is warm, attentive, , patient, kind, and has lots of experience with babies and young children.

Healthy baby and toddler development rests upon emotional security. You want someone who will foster that.

The second most important thing: Find someone who is professional. This is her job. She should take pride in her work.

6. Leaving your baby with someone else will be surprisingly hard. You may be very paranoid about leaving your baby at first.

A friend at work told me that she first few days she went back to work, she was obsessed with the idea that her nanny was going to kidnap her baby. (Despite having a wonderful nanny, I still have a dropcam–highly recommended–for this reassurance purposes. These days, though, I rarely check it.)

But these kinds of feelings should fade quickly. If they do not, trust your gut. There may be something wrong. Even if the nanny is not harming your child or being neglectful, remember this: Yes, having a nanny is first and foremost for your child, but she is also for you. You have to feel secure and comfortable leaving your child with that person. There is no reason to subject yourself to unnecessary worry or to force yourself to interact with someone you find unpleasant. You will be seeing this person a lot. They will be with your child a lot. Ideally, with the right person,  your nanny will come to feel like part of your family.

7. Nanny shares can bring down the cost considerably, but they bring their own host of issues. If considering a share, you should agree with the other family at the outset about how you will handle hours, hosting, bonuses, raises, and vacation pay.

New moms often want to find a share with another baby close in age. These shares can be great, especially as the babies grow older and begin to play together, but they also bring special considerations. If this is the route you are considering, you may want to look for a nanny who has done a share with two infants before or who has watched twins.

The most difficult part of caring for two babies is managing naps. You may find that your baby is not sleeping enough, because it is hard for the nanny to get both babies down for naps at the same time. Or because the nanny is scheduling naps to get both babies to sleep at the same time.

Also note that if you share a nanny, she will have much less time to help you with laundry, dishes, picking up toys, and taking care of other household chores. And, depending on where you agree to host the share, you may have to factor in dropping off and picking up your baby into your already jam-packed days.

In short, if you are considering a nanny share, you may lose out on two of the major benefits of a nanny compared to daycare: (1) household help and (2) no drop off and pick up. You may want to visit some infant centers for the comparison point.

8. Once you find someone, be clear about your expectations. How do you want them to get your baby down for his/her naps? Do you want your baby to be outside for at least a couple of hours each day, weather permitting? Can the nanny talk on the phone briefly or not? How long of a phone call do you consider acceptable? What chores do you expect them to complete? Can they eat your food? How much paid vacation do they get each year? How much vacation notice do they need to give? (2 weeks appears to be standard in this area. Most nannies also get paid when you take vacation).

Write everything down in a contract, so that everyone is on the same page from the get-go.

9. Just my two cents, but I would look into daycare too. Waitlists for infant care centers tend to be long. If you want your baby to have the option of going to daycare, you need to put them on the list as soon as the idea occurs to you, often before your baby is even born.

Personally, I think daycare as an option gets an unjustly bad rap. Certainly there are bad daycares out there. But there are also a lot of excellent ones. Good daycares can provide a rich, social, stimulating, structured experience, especially for older babies and toddlers, one that is hard for a nanny, as a sole caregiver, to reproduce.

How did you find a nanny or daycare for your child? Was there anything you would do differently the next time around?

Author: Amy Kiefer

As a former research scientist and proud mama of three little munchkins, I love digging into the research on all things baby-related and sharing it with my readers.

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