Hiring a nanny can be a stressful experience. Here’s what to do when you’re choosing a nanny, interviewing childcare providers and making your selection.
I had one week to find a nanny for the twins.
Now, I’m not a procrastinator. In fact, quite the opposite: I started my search for a nanny several months before I planned to go back to work.
But just one week before that nanny was set to start, she called to decline the job.
Yeah… not easy on the nerves.
I found myself scrambling to find childcare, somehow fitting in interviews as well setting aside a few days for the nanny to shadow me.
Thankfully, I did find a wonderful nanny, someone who stayed with us until the twins went to preschool. I even helped her find her next job, which she still has today. In the end, it worked out.
But goodness knows I had my fair share of the stress of hiring a nanny. I know what it’s like to wrap your head around the fact that someone you likely don’t know will care for your child.
What to do when hiring a nanny
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 the twins, 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 I’ve never met.
It’s one of the biggest decisions we make, but unfortunately, we can run into problems during our search.
After several interviews, online searches, and asking friends, I’ve learned a lot about this process. Take a look at these eight things to do when hiring a nanny:
1. Discuss your preferences and parenting methods
An interview is not the time to be shy about your preferences around the house. The nanny needs to understand your needs and protocols, and you should feel comfortable she’ll do a good job in your absence.
The best time to discuss them is before hiring a nanny to begin with. Here are a few topics to discuss during the interview:
- Housework: What specific duties do you expect the nanny to do and not 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? Be clear with your expectations on watching television, or even socialize with other caregivers. For instance, maybe you’d like her to only use her phone for personal reasons while the baby is napping.
- 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? Some families are open to their nannies helping themselves to their food, while others would rather the nanny pack their own lunch. Discuss this with your nanny during the interview.
- Bringing her children. Be clear about whether it’s okay for her to bring her children to your home (if she has children) for whatever reason or however frequently.
- Social distancing. Discuss your preferences, from staying at home to how she practices social distancing in her own life.
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2. Hire experienced 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.
A good rule of thumb? Your nanny should have taken care of the same-aged children for a full day in the past. 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. Pay attention to red flags
Red flags will steer you away from poor decisions. When something bothers you, don’t feel bad for thinking it over, no matter how silly. That’s your gut giving you sign to pay more attention and to address or clarify issues.
For instance, one nanny I interviewed would slightly roll her eyes when talking about her previous families—definitely a red flag for me. Red flags don’t have to be deal-breakers, but they can be talking points so you’re both on the same page.
No nanny is ever perfect, but don’t disregard your gut either.
4. Call the 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, like:
- “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 or 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. Be clear 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? Will she take a check, cash, or online payments?
Print a yearly calendar and circle her pay dates so she knows when to expect payment (I made one with timeanddate.com). Mark any holidays you don’t need her to come in (and discuss whether those will be paid or not).
6. Schedule 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 to three days, a couple of hours each. Here’s how:
- Day 1: Walk her through a typical cycle. Show her how you feed the baby, change his diaper, play with him and put him to sleep.
- Day 2: 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.
- Day 3: Have her care for the baby on her own with you around but not nearby. Tend to other tasks in the house while she’s putting the baby to sleep. 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.
An added benefit? These few days will help your baby adjust to his new caregiver before you go back to work full time.
7. Don’t start 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’d 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 or things to change.
8. Interview more than one candidate
Even with a week to hiring a nanny, I made sure to reach out to several people before making a decision. Phone interviews count too! Had I stopped short of interviewing people, I never would’ve met our wonderful nanny.
Even if you already love one nanny, meeting with more will only confirm your decision.
One of the most important parts of finding the right childcare provider for you is to ask questions. Don’t hold back on awkward, blunt, or direct questions, as this will only cause problems down the line.
Instead, be open and forthcoming with what you expect, so that you’re both on the same page. At the same time, be just as willing to answer any questions they may have of you, so you can truly aim for the best partnership possible.
Below, I list several questions you should ask:
- When did you start caring for children?
- How many children have you cared for in the past? Make sure the nanny has experience taking care of kids the same age as yours all by herself.
- How and why did you end your previous jobs?
- What do you like best about being a nanny, and what is the hardest part?
- What do you plan to do with my child during the day?
- Have you taken childcare or child development classes?
- How did you handle a time when you disagreed with a parent?
- How would you handle sick days? With the nanny as your sole childcare provider, consider what to do if she’s not available. Think about the sick and vacation time policy you want to offer, and create a back-up plan for those days when she isn’t available.
- Is your schedule flexible if we need you to come in earlier or later?
- Are you trained in CPR or first-aid?
- Are you available to drive or take my child to activities and play dates? Since your child won’t be around other children, see if she can meet other moms and nannies for play dates so he can also play with other children.
- Are you open to light housekeeping duties?
- What is your rate?
Finding a nanny can feel overwhelming. You’re antsy about work and unsure about finding 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 turned out to be smooth and seamless. Five months after the twins were born, I was able to return to work, confident I had made the right choice.
Get more tips here:
- The Working Mom Pep Talk: What Do You Tell Yourself to Keep Going?
- 8 Tips to Save for Maternity Leave
- 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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