Five months after my twins were born, I was faced with the task of hiring a nanny in time to return to work.
Even though I already had a toddler, I never had to search for a nanny—a relative had cared for him while I was at work. This time, however, with no family able to care for two, I started the search for a nanny.
Hiring a nanny was the first time I became an “employer.” I had to consider pay rates and conduct searches and interviews. It was also the first time I handed the care of my twins to someone else—someone I’ve never met.
What to avoid when hiring a nanny
Hiring a nanny is one of the biggest decisions we make, but unfortunately, we can run into problems during our search.
After several interviews, long hours of searching online, and asking friends about their experiences, I’ve learned a lot about this process, including what not to do. Take a look at these eight mistakes to avoid when hiring a nanny:
1. Being vague about your preferences and parenting methods
An interview is not the time to be shy about your preferences and protocol around the house. The nanny needs to understand your needs and preferences. You should feel comfortable she’ll do a good job in your absence.
And the best time to discuss them is before hiring her to begin with. Here are a few topics to discuss during the interview:
- Housework: What specific duties do you expect the nanny to do? Will she wash bottles, do laundry, cook, prepare snacks, vacuum? And when should she do housework? Should she only do them when the baby is asleep, or is it okay to do light cleaning with the baby awake?
- Visitors and play dates: Is the nanny allowed to bring visitors to your home, such as her own children or play dates? Can she take the baby to other people’s homes for play dates, or should they meet at a public place like the park?
- Television and phone use: Can the nanny watch television and use the phone (whether hers or yours)? When?
- Putting the baby to sleep: Do you want her to let the baby put herself to sleep, or should she carry and rock her? Should the baby co-sleep, or sleep in the crib?
- Driving: Can the nanny drive your child to activities like story time at the library? Does she have her own car seat or will you provide one she can use?
- The nanny’s lunch: Can the nanny eat food from your fridge, or should she pack her own lunch?
2. Hiring inexperienced nannies
I needed a nanny experienced with twins since taking care of one baby is different from taking care of two. One of the nannies we interviewed reassured us she’d taken care of many babies, so “…what’s another one added to the mix?” I mentally crossed her off from my list.
Your nanny needs to have taken care of the same-aged children for a full day. Casual babysitting is fine for date nights, but you’ll need someone with more experience if she’s caring for your child full time.
3. Ignoring red flags
Red flags will steer you away from poor decisions. When something bothers you, don’t feel silly for thinking it over, no matter how silly.
Use red flags to address or clarify issues. They don’t have to be deal-breakers, but they can be talking points so you’re both on the same page. For instance, one nanny I interviewed would semi-roll her eyes when talking about her previous families—definitely a red flag for me.
No nanny is ever perfect, but don’t disregard your gut either.
4. Not calling a nanny’s references
I interviewed a nanny who seemed fine and whom we were ready to hire… until we called her references. Some responses included, “She was great… overall,” or “You should set your expectations right from the start.”
These comments weren’t blatant displeasure, and I’m sure the parents were fine with their choice. But the best nanny is someone with glowing reviews, with references who can’t recommend her highly enough.
And when calling their references, don’t ask general questions, ask telling questions, such as:
- “What issues—even small or minor ones—came up with the nanny?” Some mentioned that the nanny used her phone too much, or that she didn’t warm the bottles like how they asked her to.
- “If you had another child, would you hire this nanny again?”
- “What are some examples of when she went above and beyond for you?”
- “How many days per year did she call out sick? How many times was she late?”
- “How did you find this nanny?” You’d want the references’ relationship to be professional rather than a cousin or friend.
5. Being vague about pay, vacation and other details
You and your nanny both will want to know as many details ahead of time before you hire her. Talk about:
- Her days off. How many days off she’ll get, and whether those include sick days, holidays and vacation. Will she be paid for that time off?
- Your vacation policy. Will you be taking a set time off that she should as well, or can she ask for time of as needed? Will she need several days off that you should plan for, or does she usually take a day or two off throughout the year?
- How she’ll be paid. Will you pay hourly, or a flat fee? Are you paying her every Friday, every 15th and end of the month, or monthly?
Print a yearly calendar and circle her pay dates so she knows when to expect payment (I made one with timeanddate.com). And mark any holidays you don’t need her to come in (and discuss whether those will be paid or not).
6. Not allotting a few days for the nanny to shadow you
Ask the nanny to come for a few days before you go back to work so she can see how you take care of the baby. Aim for at least two days, a couple of hours each.
On the first day, walk her through a typical cycle. Show her how you feed the baby, change her diaper, play with her and put her to sleep.
Then, give her a chance to do these tasks with you by her side. Have her feed the baby a bottle or change the diaper, and make adjustments as necessary.
And finally, have her care for the baby on her own with you around but not nearby. You might tend to other tasks in the house while she’s putting the baby to sleep, or have her practice using the stroller as she walks the baby around the block.
She’ll have the opportunity to do things on her own, but still have you within easy reach for questions and clarification. Plus, these few days will help your baby adjust to her new caregiver before you go back to work.
7. Starting your search too early or too late
I thought I was smart for starting my search in April even though I wasn’t returning to work until August. I wanted to cover my bases and didn’t want to leave the search to the last minute. Within a few days, my husband and I found a nanny we were happy with. She was even willing to hold off working for another three months.
Then, one week before I had to go back to work—she called saying she couldn’t do it because she got pregnant. Yikes.
Granted, she could’ve been pregnant regardless of when we hired her, but starting the search too early gave us the false impression that all was fine. Not to mention we wasted our time and money (we had to sign up for the nanny site again).
Hiring a nanny too early also increases the chances she’ll go with another family who could use her help sooner.
At the same time, don’t leave the search to the last minute—this can be stressful during a time when you’re already feeling overwhelmed with going back to work. Instead of enjoying my last days of maternity leave, I was interviewing nannies.
The happy balance? Aim for six weeks before you return to work. You’ll have enough time to hire a nanny, but not too much time for her to change her mind.
8. Interviewing only one person
Even with a week to hiring our nanny, we made sure to reach out to many people before making a decision. Phone interviews count too! Had we stopped short of interviewing people, we never would’ve met our wonderful nanny.
Even if you already love one nanny, meeting with more will only confirm your decision.
Want a convenient worksheet to print out for each interview and visit? Join my newsletter and download my Childcare Interview Questions printables below! Plus, you’ll also get worksheets with questions to ask the references your nanny or daycare center provides. Download them right here—at no cost to you:
Finding a nanny can feel overwhelming. You’re antsy about work, and you’re not sure how to find a reliable nanny. Still, the hiring process can be smooth when you follow several tips.
Start by being clear about your parenting style and preferences, as well as details like pay rates and vacation days. Interview several nannies, paying attention to any red flags you might feel. Make sure your nanny has experience caring for other children in similar circumstances as yours.
Give her references a call, and pay attention to “average” reviews versus glowing testimonials. And finally, start your search around six weeks before returning to work, allowing a few days for the nanny to shadow you with the baby.
Even though hiring a nanny was a new experience for me—and with only one week to find one—the process continued to be smooth and seamless. Five months after the twins were born, I was able to return to work, confident my husband and I had made the right choice.
Get more tips here:
- Are You Asking the Right Nanny Interview Questions?
- Looking for Childcare? Questions You Should Definitely Ask
- What You Need to Consider when Hiring an Au Pair
- How to Work from Home with a Baby (And Actually Get Things Done)
- Time Management for Moms: Tips You Can Actually Apply
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