Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Choosing a Nanny: 201

I’m a consumer of nannies.  Separate from our fabulous list of one-off babysitters, we have had a host of regular individual caregivers over the past five years.  And now, with fall approaching, I’m about to begin the process of searching for and interviewing nanny candidates for after school childcare.  For us, this is like choosing a teammate for one of our most crucial positions.

This post isn’t about the “why” of the Nanny Choice, but briefly I will say this: since EB’s birth and after the birth of the other two kiddos I have always worked full time.  This decision has resulted in our agonizing over, trying, revisiting, reanalyzing, and ultimately settling into a childcare system that works very well for us. 

We are fortunate to live in a community with some pretty amazing group childcare options for day care, after school care, and summer care.  For our family, what has worked best is group day care (or full-day preschool), combined with an after-school nanny for all three kids.  (Read more about that solution here.)  And in the summers, because of some of the other activities the kids enjoy, we have had great success keeping them home with a summer nanny.

Whether for summer days or after school, choosing a childcare system is tough, and the grass is always greener in someone else’s backyard.  Because we have exclusively placed college girls in our nanny positions, I have come up with a few criteria that weren’t intuitive to me when I started this journey but now play a huge role in our nanny selection:

1.    Tough Talk.  Have the difficult conversations ahead of time.  While a normal job interview doesn’t (shouldn’t!!) typically involve matters of religion and morality, you just have to make sure you and your potential nanny are on the same page spiritually/morally/ethically.  You think the tough and sensitive, life altering questions will come only when you’re home at the dinner table or at bedtime.  They won’t.  If you would prefer that your nanny defer those questions to you, make that clear.  But also recognize that there will be times when she has to answer “where do babies come from” or “is God real” or “how old is Earth” or “why Jesus got died?”  Have a good idea how she will answer those questions.

2.    Carry the Flag.  Overall, is this a person you want representing your family in public?  Because she will be.  I cannot count the number of times a teacher at one of my kids’ schools or a dear friend or neighbor will recount to me a conversation he/she had with our nanny about something substantive related to my kids.  I have never been more pleased than to have one of Little Belle’s day care directors make a point to come to me and express how impressed she is with our nanny’s interactions with our children, other children, and day care staff.  And it is such a delight when one of EB’s friends needs to come home with us after school, and other mothers are just as comfortable with our nanny as I am.

3.    Teammate.  Early in my nanny search days, I thought previous child care experience trumped almost everything.  While that experience is important, one crucial character trait that has been the difference between a good and great nanny is the ability to think independently. Imagine this:  it’s 4:00, you’re stuck in a meeting, and you were supposed to pick up kiddos from home and get them to a soccer clinic by 5:00.  You realize it won’t happen, and the nanny is going to have to do it.  EB and Main Man need full soccer gear, which includes cleats, uniforms, water bottles, and an easily-digested snack.  It’s chilly out, so they’ll need a layer they can easily shed once they get warmed up.  Little Belle has to go to the clinic, too, but she won’t be able to make it until dinner so she needs a To-Go dinner and drink, extra diapers, and a jacket and blanket to sit in the grass.  What do you want to have to text your nanny to communicate those instructions?  Everything I just typed?  No.  When that situation happens (and it does) in our house, my text looks like this: “Hey!!  Sorry – stuck in meeting.  Please take kids to soccer clinic that starts at 5:00.  City field #5.  Will meet you there at 5:30.”  That independent thinker anticipates problems, even when you don’t, and solves them for you.

4.    Flex Flex Flex.  Bottom line – no matter how fabulous you think she is, do NOT hire someone who absolutely has to/wants to leave your house at 5:30 on the dot unless you have never in your entire professional life needed to stay at the office 15 minutes late.  You’ll need that flexibility more than you think you will, and while I don’t advocate abusing her flexibility, if you get called into a late meeting and your spouse/parenting partner is out of town the last thing you want is to be worried that your nanny is upset because she has to stay a few extra minutes.

There are obviously so many other important criteria that I've not discussed here, but I don't think I could force rank these four.  Each of them has played such a huge role in the success of our relationship(s) with each of our caregivers.  Hopefully this list is helpful to some of you if you're looking ahead to school year childcare.

**photo by skeddy in NYC


  1. I think you've hit the nail on the head with your points here Jaime - you need to take the bull by the horns when dealing with such an important hire.

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