Looking for Mary Poppins
July 14, 2009 9:17 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are finally over in-home daycare and all the associated crap, so we're in the market for a nanny. But we need some advice.

First off, let me say that yes, I did search, and came up with a completely overwhelming number of results, most of which are from years ago. So I apologize in advance if this has been asked recently.

Anyway: the vitals first. We have a 7 year old daughter and a 3 year old son, and we live in a suburb north of Sacramento. We need someone to watch both all day through the rest of the summer, and then our son in the morning and both in the afternoon when school starts. The school is less than a block from our house, so we'd like someone who can take our daughter and pick her up, but they'd be walking.

So where does one find a nanny? A friend in SF found his through Craig's List, but a search today found that there aren't many in Sac. Where else should we look? Is it possible to search for reputable nannies without paying an upfront fee to something like 4nannies.com?

Once we've tracked down a few, what are some things we need to look for in an interview?

And finally, what should we be budgeting for this?

posted by robhuddles to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a college near you? They may let you post on their job board.

We actually have had great experiences with a local nanny agency. I think there's a lot to be said for having somebody else do the background check and prescreen candidates.

Don't know if Sittercity charges the kind of fees you're hoping to avoid, but I've known people for whom that worked well - it looks like they place nannies as well as babysitters.
posted by lakeroon at 10:30 PM on July 14, 2009

I'm sure this varies by region, but craigslist totally owns the nanny listings where I live. I posted ads at college dorms / rec centers, coffee shops, yoga studios, etc., and got maybe 2 calls. I put an ad on craigslist and got swamped with applicants.

Maybe your problem is timing? My sense is that many people start looking in late August for jobs for the academic year (so you may be out of luck for the summer).

Listing services were an option that I looked at briefly. The one I talked to had good people and would have saved me a bunch of interviews. But, it would have added about 25% to the cost for the first year. We held it in reserve as a backup (and, since craigslist gave us a real-life mary poppins, we didn't end up needing to pay the premium).

Good luck!
posted by genug at 10:42 PM on July 14, 2009

Nannys tend to be extremely word of mouth.
The fundamental problem is that nannys aren't like other occupations where they can serve more than one customer at a time...usually it's just the one. So, good nannies are almost always taken.

You want to avoid the nanny services if you can. A friend of mine who nannies says that these services generally shaft the workers so you're not going to end up getting the best for your children.

I would recommend trying to find someone who already has a nanny, and ask their nanny if they know anyone looking for work. Nannies often have a good informal network set up. Keep your radar on for nanny opportunities -- for example, many families drop a nanny once the youngest kid is old enough for school or daycare.

Good places to find nannies are coffee shops (most of them are young and work long hours. They rely on a wee bit of coffee to keep them alert, so you could post a flyer there and someone in the nanny culture will pass it along to an available nanny) as well of course for any areas where babies and young children congregate: schools, playgrounds.

If the thought of your children sharing space with a complete stranger, you might look into nanny sharing. Instead of watching over just your child, the nanny watches over your child plus one more (this would be best once your daughter is in school). It reduces costs and means that you can hire a nanny who would otherwise be too busy.

You want a nanny who knows what they're doing. The best nanny is one who is active in your children's development rather than just a . Ask them about the activities they will do with your children and why (for example, are they going to have storytime just because kids like it? Or because it is a valuable opportunity to teach kids about things like being quiet and still sometimes, paying attention, using imagination, etc). Ask about schedules, ask about activities the nanny will do. Kids shouldn't be cooped up inside all day, so where will the nannies take them? Will there be play dates, etc?

Interpersonal compatibility is almost as big of a deal as qualifications. Managing children requires authority and trust. You need to be able to believe and trust that the nanny in question knows what they're doing. This isn't just a qualifications thing; it means that if you're in a situation where the nanny is theoretically "in control" and you happen to pop over to the home, don't give your kids a snack just because they're hungry if the nanny has established a set snack time. Children can learn very quickly from these kinds of behaviors, and all of a sudden your nanny will have a serious discipline problem.

Disclaimer: I say all this although I am not a parent and have no experience hiring nannies or raising children. I do know a few nannies, though, and my advice is based on their experiences.

a search today found that there aren't many in Sac.

Yeah, you can't really expect to see a "Nanny available" ad. It'll be much more effective to post your own "nanny wanted."
posted by Deathalicious at 10:44 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Aw, two typos:

If you're not upset by the thought of your children sharing space with a complete stranger,


The best nanny is one who is active in your children's development rather than just a babysitter.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:47 PM on July 14, 2009

You might try checking with a local secular homeschool group. Many of them have a mailing lists or forum (Yahoo Groups is common). Through them you have a chance of getting recommendations and connecting with a nanny that involved homeschoolers can vouch for.
posted by crapmatic at 12:01 AM on July 15, 2009

We have had good luck with sittercity.com and sitters.com.
posted by procrastination at 4:44 AM on July 15, 2009

My mother recently became a nanny, now all of us are grown and out of the house. She picked up a full-time job just recently, she had been listed through an agency that also does babysitting. She worked for this family a few times, and then they hired her privately. So that may possibly be an option as well. You still get someone who is vetted, and who has the required first aid certificates etc, but without the fees.

So yes, not all nannies are young, either.
posted by wingless_angel at 5:50 AM on July 15, 2009

I agree with the poster who said that people start looking for yearly jobs in August. I would try to find a college kid to do the summer nannying, and then start looking again the second or third week of august for a year round nanny.

I've never put out an add for babysitters, but I've replied to many! I have found that sittercity and craigslist are two of the best. The problem with craigslist, though, is that anyone can respond to anything. (This is rue of sittercity, as well, but it is not mainstream enough to attract /that/ many crazies.)

Good luck!
posted by firei at 6:05 AM on July 15, 2009

I'm a nanny... now on my second year. I found one family through Craigslist and, to me, they were a complete nightmare. But they were the second family I provided childcare for that I met through CL. I met my second and current family through a regional nanny website.

I've met a lot of people who have had problems with their nannies that they've connected with through agencies. A lot of girls coming over from other countries who come to America for other purposes (which I guess I don't blame them) but - bottom line, childcare was not their #1 or probably even top five interests.

My best advice is when perusing prospective nannies, do your interview - yes. But also have them come out for a day if possible. Or afternoon. Let them interact with your kids one on one for at least a little while to see how she/he does and how your kids react to her.

Be clear up front about what you expect and want.

(i.e. I'd like my kids to be limited to X amount of TV time per day. I want my kids to be outside X amount of time per day. Help my kid to tie their shoes, etc. These things are not obvious to all people who work as 'nannies'.)

And if I may suggest... when you DO find a nanny Two things!

1. Make your communication open from the beginning. Ask them how its going. Ask them if they need anything or have any questions. And provide your input too! Say things like... 'Annie says you taught her how to do a cartwheel last week. She's been practicing everyday. Thanks for helping her with that!' or 'We've been working with Johnny to make sure he's washing his hands before meals, can you work with him to remind him of this?'

Nannies aren't mind readers - they need to know what you need and what you think your kids need and want.

and 2. Reward good work accordingly. The people I work for occasionally will have the kids give me a card thanking me for teaching them things and just being there for them. Along with a gift card or something. Or they know I like candles so they'll give me a little scented one. Just something little but just like at any other job ... recognition (and a bonus reward of some sorts) really feels good and keeps you motivated to be awesome everyday for the kids.
posted by mittenbex at 7:17 AM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

I had to do a lot of weeding, but eventually found a great babysitter through sittercity.com. There is a fee (which renews automatically! Watch out!) but it isn't a lot. The sitters there seem more together than the ones I found on craigslist.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:25 AM on July 15, 2009

One thing I love about our current sitter is that she homeschooled her kids when they were young and has brought that experience to our house; she knows a lot about early childhood education, encouraging pre-reading, and other good stuff.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:32 AM on July 15, 2009

Just got done using Nannies 4 Hire. Good service (basically a nanny/sitter job board) but it comes with 1 free background check. At least there vs. craigslist there are resumes for you to weed through. Not sure about the cost in CA but here in TX you're looking at about 300+/month based in experience and experience is gonna cost you!

We actually just got rid of our nanny opting for the poor house putting our 3 year old back in daycare with his now 10 week old sister starting in Dec. For us he really was missing out on the social interaction (dispite 2-3 times weekly playdates) and education side of daycare that our nanny simply couldn't provide with the needs of our different aged kids.

Some daycare's do provide after school pick-up so that might be an option.
posted by doorsfan at 8:43 AM on July 15, 2009

Another good resource for nannies is a local parents' group. I would imagine Sacramento has something similar to the Berkeley Parents Network or PAMP Parents Club. Have you checked out the Sacramento Parents Group?

Parent groups can be a great word-of-mouth resource, as a lot of people grow attached to their nannies and want to help them find another job when they no longer need the nanny for their own kids.
posted by ambrosia at 9:18 AM on July 15, 2009

I don't know if you're browsing or posting on Craigslist, but you should make a post specifying what you want and how much you're willing to pay. You'll get many resumes. Put nanny AND sitter in the ad so that it'll be easier to find.
posted by kathrineg at 1:45 PM on July 15, 2009

No one else suggested this but we put an ad in the local newspaper rather than using a service or looking on CL. We received a LOT of responses. We talked to a bunch and had 4 come by the house to chat and meet the kids. We ended up with someone who had just finished working for another family for four years and was looking for a new position. She was older, 60, but we liked her and the stability she would bring -- she wasn't being a nanny as a between job sort of thing but rather she did this as her job. We didn't ask a lot of questions but mostly chatted - I should also say that I finally went largely on how I subjectively felt about the people I met. The woman we chose I felt immediately comfortable with and also had a very strong sense that she would not be defensive about problems that might come up. I also spoke with her former family who said wonderful things about her -- she ended up working for us for six years and she felt like one of the family.
posted by bluesky43 at 8:15 PM on July 15, 2009

Deathalicious: "You want a nanny who knows what they're doing. The best nanny is one who is active in your children's development rather than just a . Ask them about the activities they will do with your children and why (for example, are they going to have storytime just because kids like it? Or because it is a valuable opportunity to teach kids about things like being quiet and still sometimes, paying attention, using imagination, etc)."

Keep in mind there is a difference between a nanny and a preschool/kindergarten teacher. If you're expecting your nanny to make lesson plans for the week, be prepared to pay for it. From someone who used to be a nanny and was rejected by a few wealthy parents who expected me to have some kind of teaching degree.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:46 PM on July 15, 2009

IndigoRain: actually one of the nannies is a former teacher with some kind of credential in child development. I should note that she doesn't charge significantly more than nannies without this background (although this may be a factor of the current market for nannies and her own generosity or something).

At the same time, if a nanny does something with your child, it should be for a reason. It doesn't necessarily require a background as a teacher or extensive lesson plans to do things like encourage children to communicate (she teaches children who don't yet speak to use basic sign language to communicate what they want) or to enforce good habits (you don't feed the child a meal unless they are in their high chair).

As I said I'm not a parent now, and I'm contemplating the stay-at-home dad thing possibly if I ever become one, but if I did ever hire a nanny I would want them to be genuinely interested and informed in the process of child raising. For example, I'd expect them to be somewhat well-read in the subject, have a general understanding of child development skills, and a strong interest in the emotional, intellectual, and social development of the child.

I'm sorry to hear that you've been turned down sometimes because they wanted someone with a degree. I don't think that's at all necessary -- for example, I'm pretty good in my line of work without any formal educational credentials to prove it. But I'd be very leery of just hiring some college student or an au pair. I'd probably rather hire someone in their mid-to-late 20s who has chosen this as a longer term profession.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:46 AM on July 17, 2009

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