It’s that time of year again: the temperature is dropping, fall is in the air, kids are heading back to school and you just may need a new nanny. Fall tends to be the nanny hiring season, when kids are done with those long summer camps and last year’s loyal director or toddlery is headed back to work on her Master’s or — gasp! — get a “real” job.
If you are one of those parents in search of a new m/nanny to mind your little ones, you’re probably stressing, not just about where to find the right person and how to know whether you can trust someone with your precious darlings, but also what kind of expectations to set. After all, you are essentially taking on a new employee, which means that you and s/he need to be on the same page with what the position entails.
I have spoken to a lot of my colleagues, and heard even more second- and third-hand accounts of the various and sundry responsibilities that come with the job. Of course, needs vary with families, and each family is different. However, there are some general guidelines you should be aware of when hiring a m/nanny, so that everyone is clear on what they are getting into.
Consider this something of a primer on industry standards, or maybe just a first draft of a m/nanny job description.
Unfair Expectations (or: “What a Nanny Won’t Do”)
I chose to start with the “won’t” section, because most m/nannies are willing to do anything reasonable that is within their skills to help the family. I’ll get into some more specifics below, but first I want to get out of your mind some of the unfair or reasonable expectations that parents have of nannies. These are all actual requests or demands that I have either come across personally or had recounted to me from a colleague.
1. Clean the Whole House
A certain amount of cleaning is standard and expected of a m/nanny. This generally includes tidying up any messes mad during the day, putting toys away — or better yet, having the kids do it! — and doing the dishes. These are all things I do on a daily basis, they are part of my job, and I have no qualm with any of it. That’s just part of taking care of kids.
Some nannies also take care of laundry, which seems reasonable to me. It’s not part of what Mom and Dad expect from me usually, but I have helped with it from time to time.
Beyond basic cleaning tasks and tidying up after themselves, it’s not fair to ask much more of a nanny. If you want someone to polish your silver, vacuum the rugs every day and scrub the bathrooms, then you need to hire a housekeeper, not a nanny. We’re here to take care of your kids, not the dusting.
(Exception: some nannies — my fiancee being one — have arrangements with their families whereby they come in before the kids are home to take care of some household chores. This is fine, of course, so long as it is mutually negotiated in terms of expectations and compensation, but it’s not really a norm.)
2. Work Crazy Hours
Being a manny means that I have to have a certain amount of flexibility in my schedule, and occasionally that means being with the kids from the time they wake up until the time I put them to bed. I don’t mind that — and neither should anyone else, really — so long as I am fairly compensated for the time (which I am) and it is not a constant occurrence (which it’s not).
Remember that nannies are working a job, just like you. Since you probably don’t like to be at work and away from your family for 14+ hours a day, every day, don’t ask your m/nanny to do so, either. If your situation is such that you need someone you can count on to be around all the time, look into hiring a live-in nanny, and be clear about that in your ad or posting.
3. Work For Less Than a Living Wage
A young (19ish) college student I know was looking for nanny work a little while ago. She interviewed with the mom, there was a good fit, and she was offered the job. She was excited…until she realized that the mom wanted to pay her $200 for a 40 hour week. Yes, that’s $5 an hour. That seemed totally reasonable to the mom.
I think some of the confusion in pay rates comes in because people are looking to hire a m/nanny, but thinking of paying the same amount they would for a babysitter. While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they describe different roles and, more importantly, different sets of expectations.
A nanny is a regular household employee who typically works during the day and into the evening, filling both child care and household functions. On the other hand, Park Slope Parents defines a babysitter as follows:
Definition: Babysitters (e.g., Date Nights) who are NOT employed on a regular weekly basis for more than 15 hours). If your daytime Nanny helps with babysitting, please DO NOT take the survey).
A good example of a babysitter is Jessica from the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love. Seventeen years old, high school student, works for several families in the neighborhood to watch kids on date nights.
A m/nanny, by contrast, is a professional who usually works for only one family at a time and on a regular basis. By comparing numbers from the Babysitter Survey above to those PSP’s 2011 Nanny Survey (the most recent data available), you can see that for 2 children in Brooklyn, you would expect to pay a nanny about $3.50 more per hour than a high school-aged babysitter.
Your mileage may vary depending on location, local economy, etc., but the overarching principle holds: expect to pay your m/nanny well. They are taking good care of the most important things in your life, after all.
Totally Reasonable Expectations (or, “What a Nanny Should Do”)
This section is by no means comprehensive, but covers some of the basic and not always obvious stuff beyond things like “pick the kids up from school” and “don’t let them run with scissors.”
1. Light Cleaning
As I mentioned above, some cleaning comes with the territory. Dishes should be done, toys should be put away, dirty clothes should be in the hamper, tables should be cleared, everything should be off the floor, etc. Just be specific with your expectations up front and again, remember that you are hiring a child caregiver and not a housekeeper. No professional m/nanny should balk at tidying up the house.
2. Cook Meals
Kids gotta eat, and that means nannies gotta feed ‘em. Cooking is obviously part of the job. Sometimes means all three meals, and sometimes that means cooking for the whole family, not just the kids. Again, set your expectations for meal preparation up front, and your m/nanny should be fine with it.
3. Help With Homework
This may mean having to dust off the ol’ long division skills, but obviously homework has to be done. I’m usually the one around during homework time, so I’m the one coaching Salvador — and now Yoshi! — through worksheets and vocabulary exercises.
The only thing I would add here is to make sure you and your nanny are on the same page with the homework routine. Should Junior do it right away when he gets home or does he usually get some time to relax first? Does he actually need a lot of help or is he being lazy without Mom and Dad around? Does it need to be checked when he’s done? That will help a potentially challenging portion of the day flow more smoothly and efficiently.
4. Run Errands (Within Reason)
As far as I’m concerned, my job is simple: make Mom and Dad’s life easier. Mostly, that means keeping Salvador and Yoshi safe and making sure their needs get met. Sometimes, though, they need a little more from me to help their home run smoothly. That may mean doing some grocery shopping, picking up the car from the shop, dropping off prescriptions or watching a neighbor’s child for a few hours to help them out.
All that’s just fine with me — like I said, I aim to make their lives easier — and it should be fine with your m/nanny as well. Just don’t be disrespectful about it. Asking your nanny to run an errand that would be degrading or embarrassing, just because you don’t want to do it, isn’t fair. As a general rule, don’t ask him/her to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.
In the end, it really just comes down to respect and clear expectations. Just like I respect all the kids I have worked with, and I set clear expectations for their behavior, so too should you be up front, honest and respectful with your (future) m/nanny. After that comes the fun part.
Is there anything unusual that you expect a nanny to do when working for you? Has a nanny ever had a problem with the expectations you set? How about you caregivers out there — any horror stories about things you were asked to do in the line of duty?
(Image credit: sekimura’s flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.)