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How to Get What You Want from the Nanny

What are your biggest fears about leaving your child in the care of a nanny? If you can determine these, try to imagine the traits the nanny would need to possess in order to make you feel at ease. Reflecting on these issues will give you a reference point from which to evaluate the nannies you will be interviewing. In addition, there are several other elements that are must-haves in a nanny.

First, the nanny must be reasonably intelligent. She doesn't need a college degree, but she should possess a good deal of common sense. Many intelligent women choose to become nannies, but there are also people who end up in the field because it is unregulated and requires no formal training whatsoever. These women can be very sweet and perhaps work wonders with babies, but babyhood is brief and caring for a child is extremely challenging. There is nothing more nerve-wracking than leaving your toddler in the care of someone who you suspect is not bright enough to do the right thing in an emergency.

Second, you must choose someone who has both the emotional maturity and the physical stamina to care for small children. No age is ideal in this regard: a very young woman might have loads of energy but lack the patience to calm a furious toddler, while a woman in her fifties might have tremendous experience but tire out too easily. The interview questions later in this chapter should shed some light on these issues.

Third, the woman should be a career nanny rather than someone who is only doing it until she has completed night school or found a "real" job. A career nanny should have a solid knowledge of child development, either through formal education or from experience. The interview questions on page 99 are designed to help you gauge the nanny's knowledge.

Finally, the nanny should have recommendations from at least two previous employers who can confirm her commitment to caring for children. (The more references, the better. Call all of them.) If she has letters of recommendation, you should still call to check. Many parents also hire a service to check for a criminal background. Mind Your Business, Inc. (www.mybinc.com; 888-758-3776) and American International Security (703-691-1110) are two such services; the Web site 4nannies.com also offers a background checking service.

What Nannies Want
Chances are, the nannies you interview will be more focused on impressing you than on telling the truth about what they prefer in a work environment. The following issues are at the top of all nannies' lists when it comes to a desirable job. You should discuss them at some point in your interview and include the specifics in a written contract (Nannynetwork.com and 4nanny.com have contracts you can download; they are very comprehensive and you can edit them as you see fit).

Decent pay. Starting pay is about $300-$500 a week for a live-in nanny and $400-$600 for a live-out, but it can go higher. Pay generally depends upon the nanny's child-care skills, experience, and English proficiency; it is also determined by the number of hours she will be expected to work and the number of children who will be in her care. Nannies who can drive and who own their own car command higher wages. Realize that if you pay the least amount you can get away with, the nanny will probably be on the lookout for a better job from the moment she enters your household. Ask your neighbors and friends what the going rate is in your area and match it or go a little higher if possible.

Vacation and sick-pay policy. When your children are small, it can be wonderful to take the nanny with you on vacations. In fact, that may be the only way you and your spouse will get to relax. However, your nanny deserves a vacation, too – a paid vacation. It's a good idea to think about this before hiring the nanny. For instance, if you know you'll be visiting your in-laws over Christmas, you might tell the candidates, "You'll get one week paid vacation at Christmas this coming year and another paid week of your choice." The nanny should also be paid for days she is sick, within reason.

Fair working conditions. Every child-care situation is unique. Some families want a live-in nanny who is available 24 hours a day, five or six days a week. Other parents need someone to arrive at 7 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. The parameters you require should be spelled out to the nanny during the interview, and once she is hired you should respect those parameters. Don't expect your 7-5 nanny always to be available for last-minute nighttime babysitting jobs, and don't expect your live-in to work on her days off. If you do need extra help, pay the nanny for her time.

From Say the Magic Words by Lynette Padwa. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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