For some working moms, the idea of hiring a nanny is anxiety-inducing, but necessary to having some sanity. But how does one go about finding the perfect nanny? With the help of CARE Academy, we called in an expert to answer some of the most pressing questions moms have about hiring a nanny.
Keyanna Barr has worked as a full-time nanny for seven years. Barr got her start providing childcare for her pastor and loved it. Realizing she had found her calling, she secured a full-time position and has been a nanny ever since. Two years into becoming a nanny, Barr started chronicling her experiences on Twitter with the hashtag #nannymafia, which soon caught on with other nannies. The hashtag blossomed into an online network of care professionals, which Barr created and now manages.
mater mea sat down with Barr to ask for advice for parents looking to hire a nanny.
What are red flags parents should look out for when interviewing a nanny?
I know a lot of parents like to interview without their kids there, but I’m really an advocate for having the child there for at least part of the time. The first thing the parents need to look at is how the nanny interacts with their child when she doesn’t know them. Lots of people can be comfortable with children they already know, but I think it’s important to see how she talks to them right away.
If you’re someone who has small children, an immediate red flag is if she does not get down on their level, [or] if she always stands and looks down on them. That’s a person [who is] not going to dive into their world. You want to see [the nanny] get down and talk to them eye-to-eye in a way that is age-appropriate.
[This is] not [necessarily] a red flag, but a yellow flag would be timeliness. You need someone who is going to make punctuality a priority. Especially in our line of work, lateness can cause quite a ripple with people’s jobs and meetings.
I also think someone who right away lists things that they will not do would be a red flag. You really want someone who is a team player and can be flexible. It’s a job that’s not the same everyday.
You need someone who is going to make punctuality a priority.
And what are some things that are just too good to be true?
Someone who says they will work 24 hours is a problem. I have worked a 24 hour shift before, and while it can be done, your quality of care declines—and that’s just the truth. Nannies are human, even though we sometimes like to pretend we’re not. Everybody needs a break. Everyone needs to sit down for a minute in peace and quiet.
A person who asks for a really low wage is also a flag. That’s someone who might be desperate for a job. If they’re working for a really low wage, they’re going to continue searching for a job, and will leave you when they find something better. They’re also most likely not going to work very hard; a fair wage works best for both sides.
How long should a trial or probationary period with a new nanny last?
I would say at least a week, especially if you’re a family where each day looks different, particularly [for those] with multiple-age kids. If [on] Monday your kids have nothing, and Wednesday they have gymnastics, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and church, you want to see your nanny tackle those things at least once, or maybe a couple of times.
I know nannies who have had trials as long as two months because their employers really wanted to see them melding into their family, and they wanted to see them in their ups and downs—on a tired day and on a great day. It’s definitely an individual decision, but you want to see her in a few different situations before you settle down and say, “ Okay, this is the one for us.”
Is it best to pay your nanny a salary or an hourly wage?
Legally, nannies cannot be paid a salary. They have to be paid for every hour they work. The term that we use in the nannying world is “guaranteed hours.” For example, I’m paid 46 guaranteed hours a week. If I work 44 hours because my boss came home early a couple times a week, I’m still paid for 46 hours, but if I work for 48 hours, then I’m paid for 48 hours. It’s not a salary in the terms of the traditional 40-hour work week where if you work for 45 hours, you’re still only getting paid for 40.
What benefits are nannies typically offered?
It varies especially in different areas of the country. There are nannies who don’t have any benefits—maybe they’re paid a higher wage so that they can afford their own medical care—but sometimes there’s no consideration for [benefits]. [But] there are [also] nannies who have a car and keys to the yacht, medical insurance, dental insurance, and a plethora of [other] things.
If you have a nanny who doesn’t have access to medical insurance through a parent or a spouse, you should absolutely [consider] offering it. It will make the job look more attractive to any nanny, and you want your nanny to be healthy. You want to know that your nanny can go to the doctor without it being a huge burden.
Is there a standard hourly wage for nannies?
The International Nanny Association (INA) just released their annual wage and benefit survey, which reported the average hourly wage to be $18. Care.com also offers a tool based on zipcode, so it’s a little bit more precise. You also need to consider how many children you have, and what you’re asking the nanny to do. For instance I’m a full-time nanny of four girls; I shouldn’t be making the same as a high-school babysitter of one child, even though we’re in the same area. It takes a little research to come up with a rate, but pay legally—start with minimum wage and go up from there.
When you’re looking for a nanny, how much does experience matter versus education?
You need to ask yourself, “What do I expect this person to do with my child?” Some parents want to come home and see that their kid’s day was structured. They want to know that their child did a craft project, read a story, and had a snack. Other parents just want to know that their kid is safe and you did educational things, but [the day] was more fluid. If you lean toward the first way, education is going to weigh in more for you, because nannies who haven’t taken a lot of classes or gone to college don’t typically work that way. A nanny who has an education background is going to be more comfortable creating a classroom environment in your home. [Personally I believe] someone who’s been a nanny for 10 years will outweigh someone with four years in the classroom, because kids are not always what they say they are in books, but the employer might not feel that way.
Nannies who seek and continue their education—maybe not in college, but through seminars, National Nanny Training Day, or conferences—are appealing, because they continue to learn and stay up to date. You want someone who is [always] seeking fresh information.
Ask yourself, “What do I expect this person to do with my child?”
How often should parents offer their nanny a raise?
There’s not a hard and fast rule. Nannies like to be told that we’re doing a good job. I would encourage employers to use that as a tool. You don’t have to give her money all of the time—a “thank you” or a card will go very far with your nanny. When you hire a nanny, you can [agree to check in] every three months to make sure everything is going okay, and check in again every six months to talk about wages. Set it up ahead of time, so that it’s not based on what’s going on. It’s not [a topic] that needs to be talked about frequently, if you base the job on a fair wage to begin with.
Are there any tools or sites you would recommend for help creating a nanny contract?
I would recommend Lora Brawley; her website is called Nanny Biz Reviews, and she created a contract called the A-Z Nanny Contract. She will tailor your contract to whatever you need.
What tips can you offer for how to communicate effectively with your nanny?
Not letting things fester is number one. Nannies are not mind readers. Keep open communication and know what method works best for you [and your nanny]. For instance, my boss and I text, because we are texters, and that line is always open. Some things would be inappropriate to text or email, but you can still touch base that way, and say “Hey, can we get together face to face?”
Is it ok for your nanny to have a different parenting philosophy than you?
[Yes], as long as you make some hard and fast rules, especially for discipline and praise. You have to set your parameters: “We don’t spank, we use time out, and we don’t raise our voices.”
It can also be healthy for children to see different parenting styles, because it helps them respect adults in different settings.
What should you make sure to ask a prospective nanny?
Ask your nanny why she wants to be a nanny. The question can catch your nanny off guard, and that can be good. Watch how she reacts. Does she freak out? Is it a prepared answer? Really listen to what she says. Does she love kids? Is she a helper? What does she say, and how does that fit in with your family’s philosophy? Also make sure to ask her what her concerns are.