Parents have always been creative when it comes to childcare. We invented baby-wearing when moms needed to gather food. We developed communities when we needed to share duties. We made nannies, schools, daycares, and au pairs when family and community wasn’t enough. In recent decades, high childcare costs and long workdays have necessitated another invention: the nanny share.
The coronavirus pandemic is complicating an already difficult situation, and every other day we’re getting different information about whether it’s safe to send children to schools, camps and daycares. A French study says children don’t transmit COVID-19 to each other, but then we hear about daycares in North Carolina becoming clusters of cases. The uncertainty is making many parents wonder if it would just be safer to hire a nanny or babysitter.
But the cost of private childcare can be prohibitive. According to Care.com, a nanny costs an average of $565 a week, compared to $215 per week for a daycare center. In Brooklyn, a nanny’s salary can look more like $780 a week, which is why the New York borough is one place where nanny shares have become a popular alternative. In a nanny share, you pay a caregiver slightly more per hour to take care of two or three children, but you get to split the cost with another family.
“Actually it was less expensive than a lot of daycares I looked at,” Julie, the mother of a 3-year-old living in Brooklyn, told SheKnows. But that’s not the only reason she’s had her daughter in a nanny share since she was 3 months old.
The nanny share advantages
A nanny offers the flexibility many need with their work schedules, and she doesn’t necessarily have to be off for a bunch of random holidays that your office doesn’t observe. (Though you absolutely do need to give a nanny holidays and paid vacation and sick days, of course.) You have the comfort of knowing your child is in a safe environment — usually your home or the other family’s, sometimes alternating. And in addition to the discount you get from sharing with a family, your child also gets to socialize with another child.
Being in a share with a family also offers the parents a chance to bond with each other. Sometimes people form shares with other families they already know, but often they meet their other half through parents groups and then form lifelong friendships.
Who shouldn’t be in a nanny share?
“Both families need to have a flexible mindset for a nanny share to work,” Susan Fox, the founder of Park Slope Parents, a parent network in Brooklyn, told SheKnows. The site offers a detailed guide to setting up nanny shares, and helps parents in the neighborhood connect to each other and find nannies to hire.
“If you are a parent who is very particular about how you want things, you should not get into a nanny share,” Fox said. “You may turn out being critical of the behavior of both the other family and the nanny.”
If your idea of a nanny includes someone who does light housework and cooking for you, a share also won’t really suit your needs, as the nanny will have their hands full with more than one child.
Finally, if you have more than two children who need care, you’re not likely going to find a nanny who wants to add even more children to their workload. (Two children from one family and one from another can work fine, as long as you’ve arranged for the pay to be fairly divided.)
Choosing your share partners
When you’re starting a share, it’s usually easier to find the other family before you hire a nanny. Also be aware that just like with finding roommates, your best friends don’t necessarily make your best share partners.
“Families also need to have similar philosophies of parenting such as naps, illnesses, and discipline to have the most successful shares,” Fox said. “I find that when things don’t work, it’s typically because one of the families has very different expectations and a set of standards that is very different than the other family.”
Julie found a successful share with strangers she met online. “I found them through a Brooklyn moms Facebook group when I was pregnant,” she said, “She was also pregnant, and we were due around the same time. First we met each other and decided that we would work together. And then we went on the nanny search together, which I think was really helpful because then we both knew what we were looking for.”
Discuss your feelings about screen time, food, and extra-curricular activities like music classes. Do you want your nanny to be able to meet with other caregivers? How much should they go outside? Will you be able to agree on when to take vacations and give the nanny time off? The Park Slope Parents guide has an extensive list of questions you can ask each other. Oh, and you probably also want to live close to the other family, because both you and the nanny are going to be doing a lot of traveling back and forth between homes.
How do you hire a nanny?
The ideal way to find a nanny is word of mouth from another family you know and trust, whose kids have aged out of needing them. You can also search for them through your local groups’ online and real bulletin boards. But these days, many are very comfortable using sites like Care.com to hire their caregiver.
Regardless of which method you choose, it’s a really good idea for both you and the other family to interview candidates, so that you find someone everyone agrees upon. This isn’t just any nanny you need. They need to be comfortable taking care of more than one child and with having more than one boss. In exchange, they’ll get paid more than the nanny of a single child, but Fox suggested steering clear of anyone who seems motivated by pay alone.
“Past experience with more than one child at one time or twins can be a good indicator whether a nanny can handle a nanny share,” Fox said. “However, two kids in different families is very different from twin experience. I would ask a lot of questions about whether the nanny is good following family rules or guidelines.”
Put everything in writing
Getting your rules and requirements and contingency plans down on paper is the best way to make this relationship run smoothly. Vacation time; sick policies; pay in the case of one family needing more hours than the other; whether you’re paying on or off the books; what to do when someone is late; how to pay for equipment, baby supplies, food, and any extra expenses the nanny might incur during the day — there are a lot of details that are better to figure out and put on paper before any sticky situations arise.
“I would highly recommend always having an agreement,” said Julie, who made her agreement between both couples and their nanny. “We really loved the families we’ve shared with, and we become very close to them, but also [it’s helpful] to really know that you guys talk everything out and bring all the issues up and put everything on paper.”
Expect the unexpected
Even before the dumpster fire that is 2020 happened, nanny shares weren’t perfect. We’ve known plenty of shares that broke up because one family decided to move or put their child in daycare before the other did. Your nanny may be an aspiring actor who gets their big chance (ugh, this happens more than you’d think!). And, yeah, a pandemic might sweep through your town. The most important thing to do in any of these situations is be open and honest with the other family and the nanny.
This is how Julie was able to get by just fine when the other family decided to leave the share. She had enough time to find a new family who needed a share. She’s also able to coordinate with the new family to re-establish their share after putting everything on pause during quarantine.
COVID rules and pods for older kids
Our new normal requires a lot more difficult conversations between families and caregivers. All of you need to get on the same page in terms of hygiene, sanitizing play spaces, mask-wearing, and social distancing from those outside of your share. Care.com suggests creating a new contract to add these requirements once you’ve agreed on them.
The coronavirus has also meant that parents of school-age children are considering forming babysitting shares or “pods” with multiple families. A service called Weekdays has emerged with the promise of matching families so they can have “microschools” of six or fewer children. If schools are closed or only partially opened during the fall, this could provide children the social interaction they’ve been missing out on during lockdown while also giving parents a break. Of course, you’ll need to get comfortable with each other’s rules about social distancing, discipline, education, and everything else we’ve just recommended for nanny shares.
“It’s important that levels of comfort with safety and germs is similar,” Fox said.
When things one day go back to “normal,” you may find that this kind of cooperative with other families is still an ideal way of spreading the burdens and joys of parenthood with others. Our ancestors may have had a good idea after all.
Whether you’re nanny sharing or podding, you might need to stock up on more of these kids face masks soon.