For my expectant friends.
As someone who spent several years on the candidate end of online childcare sites, I’ve stopped expecting to find an upper bound on parents’ faith in humanity. I mean, sure I know I’m trustworthy and what my references will say, but you couldn’t know those things if you want me to cover your date night tonight. But care gigs through the internet don’t have to be sketchy for either party. Here’s what you need to know if you’re looking for care for the first time:
1. You can typically decide to post an ad and read through replies or you can search for caregivers who meet your needs using filters. You probably want the filters.
Let’s put it this way: Do you want to have to weed through all the applications from desperate and unqualified people that you’ll get in response to an ad? (Do you freely float your email address about in the hopes of finding your Nigerian prince?) Probably not. And if I were hiring someone to take care of my wee one, I’d want to make sure they at least had age-appropriate and current First Aid/CPR certifications, over 12 months’ experience with my child’s age group, and a high school degree. Smokers need not apply. Maybe I also need her (Let’s be real: Mannies for kids under 5 are probably pretty rare.) to have a valid license and a car. I’d almost certainly have a budget. Willingness to submit to a background check and provide references is an obvious must; no family-member references would be my preference in your shoes.
These boxes (and many more!) can be checked on sites like Sittercity.com and Care.com so that only your ideal-on-paper candidates appear on your screen. Then you message them the same information you would have posted in an ad (assuming you would have posted a reasonably competent ad, which I’ll come back to) and move toward interviews!
2. If you wish to post an ad instead, please–for the love of Prince George’s squishy face!–be specific.
Not your last name, address, or phone number, of course, but nothing is more irksome than “Our nanny is moving and we need a new one.” At least try to sound like someone who won’t make me regret working for you. What part of town are you in? How many kids and what age(s)? Pets? Days and hours? Is the schedule flexible (especially important for students) or will you have a cow to go along with that baby if the sitter/nanny has a final exam to get to? Are you looking for someone with certain degrees or certifications? How about the amount of experience preferred? What are the duties, especially if they don’t relate directly to bebe? Depending on where you live, is parking available if your sitter drives to work? If not, are you near public transit? Lastly, what is your preferred method of contact (assuming the default is a message through the website)? Basically, include everything that would disqualify a candidate on paper so that (a.) you don’t waste your time or anyone else’s, (b.) applicants know what to highlight for you so you can zoom through the sorting process.
3. If you want more, be prepared to pay more.
Aside from supervision/interaction, basic meal preparation for the wee one, light housekeeping related to the wee one, and even minor errands related to the wee one are pretty standard. This includes things like choosing from among approved foods for Baby’s meals, cleaning up those dishes, taking out the trash, and at least putting the baby’s dirty laundry somewhere specific. Errands depend on proximity to the home and other factors, since going for a walk with baby and grabbing more milk with the $5 left by parents is easy enough if the store is in the neighborhood, but meeting you at the pediatrician’s office for baby’s well checkup almost certainly requires the use of someone’s car. If you want any of your food cooked, clothing washed, dishes cleaned, pets tended, kids tutored, groceries purchased, etc., you are paying for household management in addition to caregiving. (Or you live in the city and found a Polish nanny who runs a tight ship but doesn’t charge what she’s worth… Good for you?)
4. The interview! The number one thing parents need to know is that desirable nannies are professionals and professionals shouldn’t have many firm opinions [that they voice].
If I had a dollar for every pointless, open-ended interview question from a parent… I don’t show up at your house with my own set of rules because I’m not a television nanny; I’m a professional who values consistency as much as you (hopefully) do. Do not ask me what my “sugar policy” is or what my thoughts on TV are unless you are literally asking what I think of the current research. Lay out for me what YOU want done for YOUR child and ask if I am okay with it. Do you think sugar and TV are the devil? Okay, well, as long as you guys are consistent about it when I’m not around, that’s cool with me. If you reward good behavior with sugary snacks and I find that your kids turn into gremlins because of it, believe me, I’ll let you know.
The same goes for the discipline system you prefer to use because the nanny is raising your kid at work, not her own. A professional should let you know if she is against corporal punishment, at which point you can either find a compromise that both parties will use consistently or you can find another candidate. Unless you are specifically looking for religious instruction from a nanny (e.g. “We expect you to remind Johnny when he’s bad that G-d is always watching.”), her religion is none of your damn business. You can ask, “We are [religious affiliation] and we would like to raise [small human] that way. Would you be comfortable reading children’s books about Noah’s ark and so forth?” This can get trickier with older kids because they’ll question the nanny about her beliefs and you need to have discussed beforehand what she should say when that happens, but I won’t get into that since most of my friends aren’t looking at the Endless Questions Phase for quite some time yet.
I know you’re worried that someone will lie during an interview to get the job, but I think the risk of you hiring her is remote; either the interview won’t go well in your mind or she’s a sociopath who could just as easily have convinced a fancy agency of her lies. I’ve met two families I would never work for again; if she cares about kids, your nanny won’t stay at a job that violates her values.
The other important thing to remember at the interview stage is that she has no reason to trust you yet, either. Offer to meet at a nearby public place for the first stage of the interview process
5. Important interview topics beyond the obvious include:
- How long can you commit to this schedule?
- Do you have any food or environmental allergies we need to know about?
- Are your vaccinations up to date?
- Can both parties agree to a social media policy regarding your home and your child? No photos? Photos with no identifying exterior and no real names? No last names? Stay the hell off social media around my family?
- Do you feel comfortable with [any non-standard or potentially awkward practice including enforcing a special diet, using cloth diapers, dealing with chronic health conditions, washing parents’ laundry, etc.]?
- Do you feel comfortable with [things that you’re willing to train the nanny to do, including installing the baby’s car seat, if need be, or using a new or high-tech gadget as part of the baby’s care]?
- Will someone else be working in the home sometimes/often/always?
- Anything involving surveillance, if you’re a non-sketchy person: “We have a camera installed in the crib so we can see the baby napping from work. Are you comfortable with that?”
6. That perfect candidate that just “clicks” with Junior? Yeah, she’s probably just the one with the best interview slot.
Sure, we prefer to like the kids we care for, but don’t necessarily expect interviewees to act like your rugrat is the center of the universe just yet. In an interview, a candidate is trying to assess her fit with your needs and expectations and you’re asking questions to do the same. Let her answer with minimal distractions. If you want to see how well she gets on with your kid, that should be a separate portion of the interview entirely and that should be made clear up front so the candidate doesn’t feel she’s being self-defeating by giving you her full attention. Little people are often not fans of being manhandled by complete strangers, so DO NOT force this expecting that the baby will cotton to the ideal candidate as if by magic. A transition that shows the baby that you are comfortable with the candidate will be much smoother on everyone, whether it means sitting close while the candidate plays with your wee one or actually continuing to hold the baby while he or she gets used to the candidate’s presence. Keep the baby’s mood and schedule in mind, too; even Mary Poppins can’t cure sick, tired, wet, or hungry with her mere presence. I’ve literally had people plop their just-risen babies and toddlers in my arms and then look concerned when they screamed instead of cooing. If a stranger started touching you the moment your alarm went off in the morning, how would you feel? Also consider that every baby is different; your baby’s cries might be the only ones you’ve ever known, but they’re hopefully not the only ones your candidate has ever heard, so don’t assume that what you both hear is “obviously” a hungry cry.
In addition to a very simple agenda so that the candidate can relax into the various portions of the interview, ask if there’s anything the candidate would like to do before getting settled (like going to the bathroom). I always avoided touching babies after taking public transit to interviews, and don’t carry Purell because it kills my hands. The end result is that I often found myself three questions deep by the time I got from the door to the actual interview venue and my opportunity to de-germ without interrupting had passed. I’d avoid touching the baby or its dropped toys or pacifier as a result, but, again, often couldn’t explain why I was being standoffish without interrupting.
7. So about the money…
The good news is that Obama’s SOTU address mentioned a new $3,000 child care credit. The bad news is that in-home childcare is a livelihood, which means the people doing it still have to be able to, you know, live off of what they make. I wouldn’t take less than $15/hr in total benefits and I have a friend who won’t take less than $18/hr, but we live in a big city and have lots of experience, so don’t panic. You’ll notice I said “total benefits,” not “cold hard cash.” These can include free food in your home, an allowance for fancy coffees and what have you while on walks with the tot, gas and mileage, reimbursing their portion of nanny taxes, a flexible schedule, opportunities to pick up overtime or date night pay, free travel and lodging if you take them on vacations, health insurance if you can hire and pay them through a proprietary company, free room and board for live-in nannies, etc. On the less legal side, it can obviously also include under the table pay (which means you’re skipping a tax break, which probably also means you’re paying less than minimum wage, which means you may get what you pay for). You can, of course, save some duckets by hiring undocumented workers. Heaven knows I have a ton of sympathy for their plight, but there are dilemmas that come along with employing unDACAmented workers. They are, unfortunately, at constant risk of discovery and deportation, often more fearful of interacting with emergency and government services, and sometimes less inclined to seek medical attention for their own health.
Still panicking? Ready for some serious wisdom? NANNY-SHARE. You need a nanny, someone else nearby with similar values and about the same schedule might need a nanny, we charge less for additional children so you split the cost and pay less per child, BAM. You either need to find this match beforehand and work out the details, though, or you need to promise your nanny a wage you can afford indefinitely, with the understanding that it will go up if you can both agree on a family who’s a good match.
This is far from comprehensive, of course. In fact, I’m thinking about making a whole e-book about finding childcare online. If you have more questions or think I’m crazy/wrong/crazy wrong, please let me know in the comments!