I would also like a Christmas bonus, but that's not on the table.
May 1, 2010 8:42 AM   Subscribe

First time nanny employer: Share your words of wisdom.

My husband and I just hired a nanny for our small daughter and son. We opted for a nanny rather than daycare because our daughter has special needs, and receives an extensive amount of therapy. The nanny won't be responsible for any of the therapy or anything, but logistically it was almost impossible to work it all out with a daycare.

We are paying her what seems to be a pretty average nanny salary in our area (we are in Louisiana, so it probably would seem laughably low for NYC or California types). She is living out, gets two weeks paid vacation, 5 sick/personal days, and reimbursement for expenses and mileage. We pay for days that she does not work due to our schedules. We are also paying for her to take a class at a nearby community college. I like her a lot, and I am hopeful that it will all go very well. However, I'm feeling apprehensive.

First, I just need any lessons-learned from anyone who has employed a full-time nanny. I don't really know what I'm doing, or even what questions I should be asking.

Second, I have been reading isawyournanny, and it's kind of horrifying me. Not so much with the reports of bad nannying, but with what seems to be the attitude of the nannies who post there. Pretty much all of them believe that they should be making a very high salary, and feel entitled to a lot of perks -- a car, an exorbitant bonus and high-end gifts for Christmas and birthdays, an expense account for meals at restaurants, etc. One even mentioned that employers should pay large Christmas bonuses because unhappy nannies might be tempted to hurt the children. This is pretty terrifying to me.

I don't get the vibe from the nanny we hired, but I am sort of concerned that she might be expecting things (given the tenor of these message boards), or might come to expect things, that we aren't prepared to provide. We've tried to be very specific about what we can offer, but I feel like there are a lot of unwritten rules here. Honestly, we are sacrificing a lot to be able to have a nanny, and we just don't have any wiggle room. A number of nannies on the isawyournanny site say that if you can't afford high bonuses and perks, you're too poor for a nanny in the first place. I suppose that applies to us...we are paying the nanny an amount that is greater than my take-home salary at this point. Sadly, I still have to go back to work (contractual reasons -- please just take my word for it), despite the money loss.

I guess that I am really put off by all of this, but I'm also concerned that these kind of unwritten expectations will make this new relationship really difficult. I know that a few people on a message board don't really have any bearing on the person that I am actually hiring, so I guess I'm wondering how widespread this all really is.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know much about nanny-ing, but I do know about getting oneself into a tizzy of anxiety after reading things on the internet. Remember that most of the people posting on those sites are going to have negative comments; they don't represent all nannies and maybe not a majority. If you are worried about being fair to your nanny that I think the best policy is open communication and a positive attitude, and not allowing the negativity of others to affect you. I know there are lots of nannies who love their jobs because the parents are great, and are not in it for the money per se but because they love kids and don't want a traditional office job or whatever. Good luck.
posted by bearette at 8:51 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about that stuff.

People on the internet are nuts. No one I know does such things for their nannies. You sound more generous than most.

If it helps - worst outcome, she leaves you. You can handle that. But more likely she wants to stay with you guys too.
posted by k8t at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2010

As a nanny in NYC, sick days, vacation time and flat rate salaries for the week are extremely generous. Paying for a college class? That's a perk I've never even heard of. If you get a good feeling about your nanny, and really, that's the best you can go on unless you opt for a nannycam*, ignore the crap on the internet. Like Yelp, most people on isawyournanny.com are mad, too entitled, or just plain crazy. That website is completely poisonous vigilante racism and not generally indicative of how most childcare workers operate.

first rule of nannies: if you feel the need to nannycam her, save your money and hire someone you can trust.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:12 AM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't listen to the NY Nannies on the internet-- they may be lying for all you know. If you haven't had a financial talk with your nanny yet, now would be a good time. Personally, I would tell her I don't hand out Christmas bonuses or birthday bonuses but consider giving her a one year bonus ($200.) Also bring up as to whether she will be getting a raise after 1 year. Then if you feel moved to do so you might give her a small cash gift at Christmas OR an extra day off so she can go shopping. Same thing with her birthday.

I know how hard it is to trust your child to a stranger, but if you take your cues from the way they interact together you should be able to get a good feel for her nanny skills.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:39 AM on May 1, 2010

From what I've seen, isawyournanny.com is one of those strange pockets of Internet Crazy that expose you to the nastiest thoughts of the sort of people you would actively avoid, were they in the same room as you. They are wells of poison, and, while compelling reading in their way, are best avoided if you want to maintain an even-keeled outlook. Trust your own instincts, communicate openly with your nanny about your mutual expectations, and ask for the advice of people you trust in real life.
posted by hot soup girl at 9:41 AM on May 1, 2010

Yeah, agreeing with the people above. I've not see the site, but they're probably just angry, because most people treat their nannies pretty badly. The last time I worked as one, I was expected to work 7 days a week, from 7 am till about 8 at night or later, no sick or vacation days, and I got paid $5 an hour. Which was about what people working in fast food restaurants were making then. And I knew other nannies who were in the same boat. So if that website had been available to me, I probably would have vented on it, too. But if you treat your nanny decently, you should be okay. Just remember that your nanny has a life outside of your family.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:45 AM on May 1, 2010

--The people on isawyournanny are talking about people who expect their nannies to work 60 hours a week, people who own multiple vacation houses, etc. The class chasm is unlike any you have every experienced. People who have millions of dollars who refuse to pay their nannies overtime while their nannies struggle to pay their rent.

--The aggressive hostility you see on that site is a backlash response from nannies who have seen a lot of people be taken advantage of or been taken advantage of themselves. It's not always okay--threatening to harm a child is disgusting--but please understand that it is rooted in powerlessness and systemic exploitation. There is no unemployment insurance for nannies, no social security, no one to complain to when you don't get paid, you can't go to the police.

--It is also an attempt by nannies to help each other by encouraging each other to stand up for themselves and demand appropriate compensation. Sometimes it is misguided, sometimes they are right to give nannies encouragement to ask for better pay and benefits.

--The culture of service employees in NYC is also completely different from what it is elsewhere. As an example, Christmas bonuses are a cultural expectation for service employees including doormen (you don't have doormen, see what I mean about cultural differences?), housekeepers, etc. Buildings circulate a list of all of the employees in the building to the tenants with the expectation that they will all get bonuses. "Unwritten Rules" are culturally specific and probably do not apply in your situation.

--I have a book called "Searching for Mary Poppins" that has some decent essays written by mothers about their nannies. If you can find it around, grab it.

--Nannies ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE. I don't mean to scold you but please do not have negative thoughts about all nannies based on a few people on a message board.

--I have met dozens nannies via classes, playdates, and in other social situations. With the exception of three* they all had genuine affection for their charges. Fewer (but still most) had respect for the families they worked for. These are women who had the opportunity to complain to me, we were in a friendly environment (in one case in a group specifically designed for nannies to speak freely).

--In fact I have usually seen the opposite of the "ungrateful nanny", usually parents treating the nanny poorly and the nanny putting up with it out of affection and attachment towards the child.

--I would not hesitate for a moment to put my child in the care of any of the nannies I have met, with the exception of one who had unbearable manners (but who was still decent to the child--he was just picking up an abominable attitude, at least according to my midwestern sensibilities).

*who were being horrendously exploited and could barely stay awake during the day, in two cases leaving their own small children with other people in order to work, their lack of affection did not translate into neglect or abuse, they simply had no emotional energy left.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:57 AM on May 1, 2010 [7 favorites]

I am not a parent or employer but I have been a nanny for the past 5 years full time, and part time for 4 years in college. I have worked with struggling families and wealthy families. I think what you are offering is awesome. Good nannies understand that you are a family with a budget etc. and a corporate type pay scale with raises just isn't always an option. What I expect from the family I work with is...
- The most important thing for me is a clear contract outlining our work agreement. Having it written out for all to refer to helps. Make sure you stick to what you say you will offer!
-Respect for my personal time: be on time to come home, apologize when you are a little late, and keep honest track of overtime, round up the minutes. Find a babysitter for evenings and extra, so you have someone else you trust if your nanny doesn't want extra hours.
-Always pay on time. Whatever schedule you agree on. I need my paycheck when I expect it and it is SO uncomfortable to remind the family.
-Show interest in your nanny's life, outside of work. Getting to know your nanny, even just hearing stories about home life, builds a relationship and trust.
-Whatever perks you can offer are always appreciated. If you have an afternoon off early let nanny off early. If you come home for lunch or are stopping at the store on your way home, see if she wants a drink, or coffee etc. Or maybe sometimes keep some little treat you know she likes in the cupboard. Little things like that, don't cost much, but show you care and think about her.
- Set aside regular time to talk about the kid, or anything else. Listen to her ideas and ask her for advice/suggestions if you have concerns. The families who have treated me like I am a capable professional and equal are the families I have loved the most.
posted by Swisstine at 10:20 AM on May 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

With a special needs child, having a nanny makes a lot of sense.

That said, if the cost of having a private nanny begins to be too much, there are alternatives in between a private nanny and a large daycare. You may be able to share a nanny with a neighbouring family or even three families together -- my husband's parents did this, as they did not make much money when he was a child. The result was one wonderful care-giver paid quite well to care for 6-7 children and they rotated between the 2-3 houses, and life-long friendships between them all. I grew up in Canada where the custom of shared nannies is a bit different -- instead of the nanny and the kids rotating between the 2-3 houses, we all went to the shared nanny's house (maybe because the nannies had kids themselves and thus the space). My mom was actually the nanny in question for several years -- at one point we had kids from 4 familes coming to our house, all of whom were single children so a private nanny would have been crazy expensive for any one family but was affordable when shared. (Also, they all learned those sharing and cooperating skills that some only-children don't seem to master, and my brother and I delighted in having "siblings" other than each other to play with.)
posted by jb at 11:06 AM on May 1, 2010

To add: my niece has special needs, and has been cared for by the same shared nanny for 9 years, and has been very happy, especially as an only child who has trouble making friends.
posted by jb at 11:09 AM on May 1, 2010

Oh and some advice:

--HAVE BACKUP. This is really important for both of your sanity. Trained backup, preferably two people. You don't want your sitter dragging herself in with the stomach flu out of guilt for leaving you without coverage, nor do you want to stay home while she is at home with the stomach flu. Retirees can be good for this because they don't want to work full-time but they have days free. This will also give you a pool of people with experience with your child, in case your nanny leaves or you need to replace her. You also want another option if you end up needing extra babysitting. Give your sitter first crack at the extra cash, though.

--Have a policy about sickness. When your child is sick, what do you do? Do you expect her to take care of him? If so, be very clear about it. Be very clear about how you want him to be treated as well. Write it down. Write down in ONE place when you give him medication, how much you gave him. Expect her to do so as well. I always put a post it right on the bottle of Tylenol so that it can't be missed. Double doses of meds are very, very bad.

--Make it very clear when and how you want her to communicate with you. Daily email? Daily call? Only call if an emergency, otherwise you'll call to check in?

--Have a policy about cell-phone usage, computer usage, TV usage, printer usage. If you let her use your computer give her her own login.

--Do not change the terms and expectations of the employment significantly in your favor, or if you do, let her know that she can quit and find another job with your blessing and a good reference

--Let your nanny have a life. Meaning tell her in advance if you need a lot of extra hours and be on time whenever possible. Some flexibility is expected, of course, but try to give notice if possible and if you can, schedule more time and then let her go early or have time off, instead of scheduling less time and being late.

--Be clear about how much notice you expect and let her know that it is okay for her to move on. I know that it might be NOT OK. However, if she thinks you'll be relaxed and nice about it, she will give you the most notice possible. You don't want her to delay out of nervousness about your reaction.

That pretty much covers what I can think of. You should be fine, and I think it is perfectly okay for you to have a nanny and compensate her in the way you're compensating her. Be firm and gentle about what you can afford and what you expect. Everything will work out eventually.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:12 AM on May 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

My friend is a full-time, live out nanny in Texas and she doesn't expect any of the perks the internet nanny website people seem feel entitled to. None of the families she's worked for have been super rich, just upper middle class enough to afford a full-time nanny, so that probably makes a difference. I think she does get a Christmas bonus, but it's not an exorbitant sum.
posted by ishotjr at 11:42 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was a live-out nanny for a few years. I never expected any gifts or anything like that... anything you'd choose to give would be a delightful surprise.

Obviously I love kids or I wouldn't have wanted to be a nanny. I know you see the horror stories out there, but just like how you see plane crashes on the news but not the millions of flights with no problems, you're hearing the rarer issues. I quickly developed a great fondness for the kids I watched.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:59 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Internet Fraud and Swisstine gave you awesome responses. I was nanny (in the Midwest) for 8 years, and echo their answers.

Nthing: Always pay on time. Whatever schedule you agree on. I need my paycheck when I expect it and it is SO uncomfortable to remind the family. I have known "home service" employers who pay the nanny's salary almost grudgingly and seem enjoy making you grovel for it. DO NOT DO THIS. If you have ever cared for kids, you know that the money is well-earned.

Do not be vague about any of the work you expect. Don't say things like, "And just pick up here and there over the course of the day" if you expect her to handle any sort of on-the-go cleaning or home straightening. Anything like this is subjective- do not assume your idea of "a little picking up" or "a little light cleaning" matches hers. SPELL IT OUT- or even show her an example of what you consider "clean", then state your expectations in reference to that standard. Leave a list.

Tell her what you would like/expect to see when you get home. If it will appall you to enter a kid-crazed, messy house when you get home, give her ample warning or set a time schedule so she can get things to an agreed-on level of clean when you get there. My employer told me a baseline of exactly how she wanted the place to look when she walked in so I knew what needed to be done before 6 pm.

This is also worth noting: "Have a policy about cell-phone usage, computer usage, TV usage, printer usage. If you let her use your computer give her her own login." My nanny days predated all this, so I didn't have to worry about it. But it's the same as someone watching TV or doing any other activity- basically, spell out your thoughts and expectations regarding any activity she might do in which her attention could be pulled away from your kids. You are not paying her to surf the web or text her friends. Do you want her online during a work day? That being said, think about your own job and how many times during a work day you might check your email, read the news or update Facebook. Should your nanny's work day allow such moments?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 1:39 PM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

A few people have mentioned specificity, but it's the one thing I came in here to say, so I'll give it a comment all its own.

Write down every expectation you have, and every expectation she has. If you find yourself at any time thinking of something she "should" be doing, talk to her about it, make sure you both have the same understanding of what you agreed to, and then write it down and have her sign that she saw it. Tell her that she can do the same for you. Odds are that you'll never be forced to refer to your written rules or her written benefits, but if you are, it will be a lot easier for both of you if it's written down and understood.
posted by Etrigan at 3:04 PM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another former nanny here who just wants to say that what you are offering sounds like fair compensation and probably beyond what many employers offer their nannies. I've worked for families that didn't offer vacation pay and also didn't pay me when they took vacation. If I couldn't plan a vacation when they did (and often wasn't given enough notice to do so), I didn't take vacation.

I have also never expected a bonus of any kind. It was always happily received when it came, but definitely not something I counted on, unless it was discussed in detail prior to being hired.

Live up to your end of the employment agreement as it is already established, and I think your nanny will likely be happy.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 5:05 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have employed 3 nannies in the past 4 years. (And apparently written a book about it.) All have been full-time, live-out. We left one nanny (moved away), our second nanny went back to school, and we're working with our third nanny. Nannies 1 and 2 still come to visit (no 1 travels internationally to visit) and babysit. These are some things that we do that I think have helped with keeping good people. I can't speak to getting good people, as that takes some serious looking--and what might click with you might not click with me. I have two kids, an infant and a preschooler. I'm sure some of this was said in earlier comments, but here goes...

---Contract. Have a clear contract with all expectations and costs written down. For example, our nanny is paid different rates whether it's babysitting, overtime, regular pay, or overnight. Our contract also clearly specifies her duties and responsibilities. (MeMail me if you'd like to see it, with names and rates removed.)

---Pay. It should be reasonable for the area, paid ON TIME, and regular performance evaluations given. We use a payroll service to pay both the nanny and her employment taxes. The service takes money from my checking account. If I'm short, the money goes to a credit card. If I am short on cash, it is not the nanny's problem, it's mine. She gets paid no matter what. I don't pay under the table as it's not fair to anyone. We do work a comp time deal, though, where if I'm late, we keep track of the minutes and she can take that time off by leaving early or coming in late another day. (Sometimes it's easier for those small increments rather than getting the payroll service involved.) We have paid bonuses--in one case, a week's salary was the going norm, and in the other case it was just a small amount, plus a gift certificate at Christmas.

---Vacation. She gets all federal holidays and 3 weeks off--one at my convenience, one at her convenience, and a week for whatever--drs appointments, sick days, heck, she took a day for a Red Sox game. All vacation time is paid.

---Consistency. I don't undermine her or make her the bad guy in power struggles with my children. When she's there, she's in charge and it's very clear. When we're having an issue, I do seek her opinion and we work on whatever it is together, so that we present an united front.

---Communication. She can always reach me. We usually communicate about small things by text. We talk on Monday about how the week is going to go and again on Friday with how the week went. That's just general administrative stuff. If needed, we talk whenever.

---Other stuff. I'm in Mass., so I have to offer health insurance. She knows that her first job is the children, so anything else she gets done is gravy, but she will usually do laundry/beds for the kids. She also is expected to keep the house picked up of child detritus, but not to do things like vacuum. We have a car for her to use, but when we didn't, we reimbursed at the federal rate. I give her some walking-around money for the kids at the beginning of every week and she keeps receipts.

I think treating your nanny as a professional, as well as a respected member of the household is the way to ensure a good situation for everyone. And if you get the vibe that things aren't working out, better to end it early, by mutual agreement, rather than try to make someone happy in a situation where they're not.
posted by marmot at 7:16 AM on May 3, 2010 [6 favorites]

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