Any seasoned, working mom will tell you that finding reliable and quality childcare is key for creating a healthy work-life balance. But where do you find a great nanny that you can trust? And how do you navigate this unique and intimate employment relationship?
In Rachel Levy Lesser’s new book, Who's Going To Watch My Kids, she recounts insightful stories of her journey to hire and keep a great nanny for her two children. This book is an easy read filled with humorous accounts of Rachel and her friend’s experiences, tips for avoiding the mistakes they made, and advice for building a healthy employment relationship with your nanny.
This entertaining book is must read for expectant and new moms who are searching for their perfect Mary Poppins as well as working moms trying to understand their current nanny relationship. Check out this excerpt from Who’s Going To Watch My Kids and be sure to order this great book and read Rachel’s other publications at www.rachellevylesser.com
The Online Ad
Our search for nanny number two was different from the first one, kind of like how baby number two is always different from baby number one. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. One of my new mom friends suggested that I place an ad on a local caregiving website. (I was so pleased to be making real connections with other moms in our new hometown. It was kind of like how I felt after I made real friends in college—not just the ones who lived on my freshman hall.) Searching for someone online to look after our then toddler Joey and new baby girl on the way sounded a bit scary back in 2005. But my trusty new mom friends assured me that they had found great nannies online. It was certainly worth a shot.
The response to my online ad was overwhelming. The site generated an email to you every time someone answered your ad. I received so many that I had trouble focusing on work those first few days that the ad was posted. I felt kind of popular. I had met Neil before the days of online dating, but I imagined that this was in some way what it felt like to get lots of responses to your online dating profile. I figured we looked attractive to potential nannies. Perhaps we would have our pick of lots of qualified candidates?
The problem with an online ad, I soon learned, was that it was seen by so many people that so many responded whether they met the requirements or not—even more so than my initial ad in the paper that brought us nanny Amy. It was also springtime, and I was hearing from lots of college students who planned on being home for the summer, but were then headed right back to school come September. I assumed they could read the part of the ad that said “long-term permanent position.” Apparently many candidates chose to ignore the fine print, albeit not so fine at all.
I had a great interview with one young woman named Catherine who came to me through the website. But by the time I responded to her inquiry, she had already taken another job—for my good friend Suzanne. Suzanne and I met when our first children were babies at a brunch hosted by a mutual friend. We hit it off right away, bonding over our pre-baby lives in New York City and our struggles to find good childcare so that we could hang on to our careers. Suzanne is a social worker who helps cancer patients through the physical and emotional roller coaster of their treatments. She also counsels grieving family members who have lost loved ones to the dis- ease. Suzanne quickly became my unofficial therapist as we met just a few months after my mother died. I don’t know what I would have done without her.
Almost instantly, I felt like I could tell Suzanne anything, and she later told me that the feeling was mutual. Our conversations flowed without effort as we discussed cancer and dying, friendship and family, and then easily switched gears to assembly instructions for baby bouncy seats and where to find the best salad dressings. Incidentally Suzanne makes the best salads and they always compliment my homemade desserts. We still talk about opening a restaurant one day where we would only serve salads and desserts.
Suzanne and I figured out pretty quickly one day that she had snatched nanny Catherine away from me off of the caregiving website as we compared notes. Catherine still babysits for Suzanne’s children on Saturday nights, now nine years later. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had managed to get to Catherine and hire her as nanny number two. Would it have worked out? Would she still be our nanny today?
We ended up finding nanny number two, Ellie, from the same caregiving website. Ellie was an energetic and fun-loving young woman who already worked for another family two days a week and was able to work for us on the other three days. Ellie proposed the nanny share idea to us during the interview, and we thought it sounded great. Part-time work was ideal for my schedule, but it often made the nanny search more difficult as most candidates wanted full-time work. A nanny share made perfect sense to me.
Ellie had just earned her degree in elementary education, and she hoped to teach one day, but it was hard to get a teaching job, especially in the ultra-competitive school districts she was targeting. I figured one day she would make the leap from nanny to teacher, but I hoped that would not be for a long time. After all, that’s what she had told us during the interview. She seemed bubbly and sweet, and she was great with then-two-year-old Joey. Ellie got right down on the floor and played with him, and we kind of fell in love. Until we fell out of love just four months later when Ellie left us to take a teaching job that she promised us she wouldn’t take for at least another year.
My friend Nina found her fantastic first nanny of seven years from an ad she put on craigslist. I met Nina through our kids, who go to school together. Nina is a partner at a mid-sized law firm in downtown Philadelphia, and she is one of the best multitaskers I have ever met. She can make her three kids breakfast, do two loads of laundry, answer work emails, and prepare dinner for her nanny to warm up that evening, and all before 7:00 a.m. Her multitasking skills translate into her being a great friend, as she is always there to help me out, give my kids a ride, and bounce an idea off of. She also has great naturally curly hair, and I am probably most envious of that. After all, I was the kid who ate the crusts off of all my sandwiches because my mother told me it would give me curly hair. My hair is still pin straight, even on a really humid day.
Nina was looking for someone to watch her twin babies when they were just three months old. She had initially thought that she would put the twins in daycare, but chose to go the nanny route after negotiating a part- time work schedule with her firm. Nina felt a bit behind when she placed her nanny ad on craigslist just two weeks before going back to work. Luckily, she had a lot of responses to the ad, and she managed to screen over the phone until she narrowed down her pool to five candidates. Then two candidates canceled and two more didn’t show up for their scheduled interviews. And then there was one—Liza.
As was the case with our first nanny, Amy, Liza seemed to be Nina’s best hope, and most likely her only hope. Liza walked into Nina’s house with a copy of the New York Times nicely tucked into an NPR tote bag, and Nina knew she was the one. She had to be. Looking back on that day, Nina now recognizes that she may have put a little too much faith into her intellectually snobby instinct, but it was something. If Liza read the paper of record (“All the News That’s Fit to Print”), and listened to NPR enough to warrant carrying the actual tote bag around, then she had to be a good person to take care of her babies.
She was. Liza’s interview went really well, as Nina and her husband Mark learned how Liza had retired from a teaching career in the Philadelphia public school sys- tem. She had raised three children of her own, one of whom went to college at Mark’s Ivy League alma mater. If she had raised her kids to be happy and successful young adults, perhaps she would help to do the same for Nina and Mark’s kids? Liza ended up being a very positive influence on their children. So much so that when the family moved out to the suburbs six years after hiring Liza, she continued to work for them for another full year. Eventually though, Liza needed more hours and the family needed fewer.
Nina’s experience with nanny Liza was certainly better than my friend Lori’s online recruitment from Care. com for her first nanny, Bonnie. Lori, then a New York– based accountant, was putting in the extra hours at her firm, even with a new baby at home. Lori felt that she couldn’t get behind on her billable hours, especially as a new mother who was trying so hard to prove herself at the male-dominated firm where she worked. I admired her for doing this—for “leaning in” or “getting a seat at the table” (as much as those terms have become overused and have even started to annoy me). Lori was the real deal: a very impressive, young working mom. I wondered if I could have maintained the big corporate magazine job as a new mom. I was grateful for my part-time set-up at the smaller marketing firm.
Lori hired her nanny Bonnie contingent upon a few days of on-the-job training. During these few days, Lori worked from home to see how Bonnie did. It was a good thing Lori put that measure in place. Lori took a break from work in her home office and walked into her living room to check on baby Abby and nanny Bonnie. She found Bonnie sound asleep on the floor with her back against the couch, while Abby sat nearby and played with her plastic cup toys. Thankfully baby Abby was not yet mobile. Lori went back to Care.com and hired her second choice, who quickly rose to the ranks of first choice.
When you look for a nanny online, be prepared to act quickly. Otherwise you could lose out on a strong candidate like I did with Catherine. You should also be prepared to get those candidates who don’t read that ever-important fine print. You know, the “fine print” that says you need part-time or full-time help, or some- one that drives, or whatever essential thing it is that you need. When candidates go online, a lot of the time they are just browsing, and may respond to something on a whim without fully understanding the commitment. This was the case for our second nanny Ellie, who only worked for us for one summer. She probably always knew that it would be a summer fling.
This was an excerpt from Rachel Levy Lesser’s new book Who’s Going to Watch My Kids?
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Hi! I am Holly...
For over a decade, my career focus has been centered in and around NYC in the childcare, education, and family support industries.