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How to Get What You Want from the Nanny

As Time Goes By
All parents eventually realize that there is no reliable learning curve when it comes to raising children. The years you spend figuring out how to coax child number one to sleep at night might be entirely wasted on child number two, who sleeps easily but refuses to eat anything but white foods. Your child will undoubtedly present the nanny with unique challenges, no matter how experienced the woman is. That's why it is so crucial to keep the lines of communication open. The nanny needs to feel that if she makes a mistake she can confide in you, and if you have a problem with something she's done you will tell her about it and let her make the necessary changes. A 15-minute meeting at the end of each week is enough to accomplish this.

As the months and years progress, how can you make your nanny feel appreciated? Little things count more than you might imagine. "I love the fact that my current employers give my dog presents during the holidays and celebrate my birthday with me," says April Mirabile.

"Offer little bonuses, not just cash but something that shows you pay attention to your nanny's hobbies," suggests Jennifer Sibre. "Once a parent bought me tickets to a local show and I was really blown away that she remembered I loved Les Mis. She also left little notes around saying how much she appreciated things I did."

"Say thank you!" says Deborah B. "Financial incentives are always good, but verbal appreciation, small gifts, occasional chances to leave early, and acknowledgment that you do your best for them and they appreciate it can make my day." Movie passes, restaurant or bookstore gift certificates, even a box of Girl Scout cookies will go a long way toward making your nanny feel loved and valued. When she finally leaves, as one day she must, your eyes may be teary but your heart will be at peace. For if you've treated her right, she may still be willing to babysit.

Your Legal Responsibilities
Some people pay their nanny cash under the table and entirely ignore their tax obligations, but they do so at their own risk. Once you are an employer, you are legally required to pay:

  • Social Security and Medicare taxes. These apply when the nanny's annual wages exceed $1,100 and are currently equal to 15.3 percent of the nanny's pay. In theory the amount is split between nanny and employer, but since so many nannies earn very little money, many employers pay 100 percent of these taxes themselves.
  • Federal and state unemployment-insurance taxes. These apply when the nanny earns more than $1,000 in a calendar quarter. Federal tax is minimal – less than $100 a year – and state taxes vary.
In addition, the nanny must file income taxes quarterly (except in California). If she doesn't want to do this, you can withhold taxes from her paychecks.

The IRS will provide you with information about getting an employer ID number and setting yourself up. Call them at 800-829-3676 and ask for Form SS-4 and Publication 926. Then you'll need to call your state tax authorities or your accountant and ask which forms your state requires. In general these taxes must be filed quarterly, and federal and state deadlines often don't coincide. If it's all too much of a hassle, you can hire a service to handle the paperwork for you.

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

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