When you hear the word “nanny,” chances are a certain British lady comes to mind: singing, dancing, sugar-loving Mary Poppins. But most of us aren’t Mr. and Mrs. Banks. How can modern-day parents afford such personalized child care?
Enter the nanny share. Thanks to a growing trend among young families — especially those with two working parents — to split the cost of home care with another family, nannies are becoming a viable option outside the upper class. Moms and dads love the individual attention their kids receive, and children also benefit from the social interaction.
Is nanny sharing a good fit for your family? Here’s what you need to consider.
Putting a price on it
Even when Mary Poppins isn’t involved, the price tag for a nanny can be lofty: In a 2012 survey, the International Nanny Association cited the national average for a full-time nanny who doesn’t live in-house as $705 per week. Many families can’t afford this on their own, but sharing the expense may give them the option.
“Our top reasons for choosing a nanny share were more personalized care with socialization, along with convenience and cost,” says Claire Topal of Wallingford. She and her husband lucked into a share with friends whose daughter is close in age to their 2-year-old son.
The pluses and minuses
Before deciding on a nanny share, think about these questions: How much can you spend? Do you mind sharing your house or having your kids at someone else’s house? Does your child-care schedule have any wiggle room?
Nanny sharing has many upsides, especially knowing that your children are in a trusted home environment. In addition to the consistency it offers kids, sharing is ideal for little ones younger than 3 because of the closeness it fosters between children and caregivers. “We appreciate how helpful our nanny is in telling us when our kids are ready for the next stage and helping us along the way,” Topal says.
But sharing has its challenges, too: It can be hard to find a family that blends with yours, and to find a seasoned provider who can adjust to working with two families. Until you get into the flow of the arrangement, there might be some stressful days.
When Josh Axelrad and his family started sharing a nanny with friends, they knew they’d chosen the best option. The arrangement made sense financially, and they found a caregiver with preschool experience. Another key factor, Axelrad says: “Pay close attention to the physical setting.” He and his family live in an apartment on Capitol Hill, and the friends they share a nanny with have a house with a backyard. They soon realized the house was a better setup for everyone, so all the joint child care happens there.
Steps to building a nanny share
For a seamless nanny-sharing partnership, look for a family whose parenting philosophy aligns with yours. “It is key that all parents are on the same page as far as parenting styles,” says Amber Barrett, a longtime Seattle nanny with a master’s degree in child psychology.
While some parents find friends to partner with, many need to venture outside their circle. Spread the word that you’re looking to share a nanny. Search online and post on websites for local parenting groups.
Once you find your partners, it’s time to talk business. “We had several calls and meetings while figuring out what was best for both families,” Topal recalls. Knowing the answers to the following questions will help you prepare for the conversation.
How much will you pay? Research what the average nanny earns in your area (try checking Care.com), then determine a salary that makes sense for both families. Decide together how often the nanny will be paid and who will pay her.
How will benefits work? Most nannies receive benefit packages, including vacation, sick pay, incentives, gas reimbursement and bonuses. How will you and the other family handle these expenses? “Parents need to work out pay and benefits beforehand. Leaving that to the nanny can be confusing,” Barrett explains. Topal and her parent partners took a proactive approach: “We decided to pay our nanny a salary and offer her benefits, including one week of sick leave and two weeks of vacation. We offer to pay out any unused vacation and/or sick time at the end of her contract.”
Will you have a contract? A contract is not required, but it offers a clear advantage by serving as a set of guidelines for the nanny and both families. The families should write the contract together. Find a sample nanny contract at Care.com.
What about nanny taxes? Both families are considered the nanny’s employer and will need to report their share of costs. To avoid confusion come April 15, all parties should be on the same page with their tax agreement. Learn more at enannysource.com.
Who will host? Decide if one family will host or if care will rotate between locations. Are there parks nearby? Are there pets to consider? Is there enough space for all the kids to play, nap and eat? The setting must be comfortable for everyone.
What happens on sick days? We all get sick sometimes, but this could lead to a crisis at dawn if you don’t have a backup plan. How will you and the other family handle it if your nanny calls in with the flu or one of the kids spikes a fever?
Finding the right caregiver
For a smoother process, start searching at least three months in advance. And before you kick off your search, make sure everyone understands exactly what both families are looking for: Each family should write a list of mandatory requirements as well as items they’re more flexible about, then compare lists and blend them into one. This combined list is your jumping-off point.
Word of mouth is a great way to start — referrals from friends and family mean you’ll already have a foundation of trust with the provider. There are nanny agencies in many communities, and you can search a range of websites that enable you to view caregiver profiles and conduct background checks.
Once you’ve found several qualified applicants, interview them together and choose a nanny who fits well with both families.
Last but not least, “Trust your gut!” Barrett says. “It’s your best asset in finding a nanny.”