Revisiting Childcare: Supporting school aged children
As school year begins, our household has gone through another "re-org" to set us up for success with two school aged children
This year, both our children are in school for a full day and have a variety of different extra-curricular interests including music, soccer, gymnastics, swim team, theater, and skiing. Sometimes it feels like we have entered the rat race of parenting, but that’s a post for another day.
As we were moving toward this phase in August, Adam and I talked a lot about what kind of support we think we need during this new phase. One thing that has remained clear since we’ve had children, was that we are at our best when we scale with help. Another thing that we are seeing is that our children’s needs are also changing (from the early stages when we needed a nurturer, to now a later stage where we need a role model and a calm influencer)
Here were the options we considered:
Hire (again) a full-time nanny + household manager for 35-40 hours a week
Pros: this would be the most reliable choice because full time care means that any time kids are sick or have teacher development days, we have childcare and don’t have to scramble. Another big plus is having morning help to help us all get out the door and enable us to start our day earlier.
Cons: Cost as well as the ability to find someone who is as interested in doing household management but still warm and has the right energy with our kids. Those candidates exist, but my expectations were very high.
Hire a college student to do pick up after school only - 10-15 hours a week
Pros: low cost as well as fun for the kids as we are seeing how much they are starting to relate to people in the 16-25 age range and enjoy their company
Cons: would need to augment with household help so adds to the number of people that I need to manage plus lack of morning support
Hire part-time nanny + household assistant and split the difference - 20-25 hours a week
Pros: Childcare coverage for after school as well as enough hours to do household support such as laundry, shopping, and keeping the house organized with a few special projects
Cons: Lack of morning support, as well as a higher potential for this to not work out since this person would likely either have another job that they are supplementing this one with or this, is an optional opportunity
No care at all or after-school programming - 0 paid hours
Cons: All of the above, plus additional logistics for us to manage. With Helen’s travel schedule, this option is really a last resort or a temporary solution as we need help to scale
We went with option 3 (augmented with a virtual personal assistant service via Yohana) and have followed much of our playbook for hiring a nanny as outlined below. We found a wonderful candidate through a Facebook nanny group and are excited about what this year will bring.
This is an edited repost from 2021 with advice on how to hire a nanny and/or household manager for your family with relevant templates and links.
Sample nanny job description & interview questions (updated to include household manager job description)
A nurse, a financial analyst, and a tech translator walk into a room…and one may wonder what they all have in common. As it turns out, all three of these women nannied our children anywhere from 6 months to 4 years.
Over the past 8+ years, we have welcomed 6 nannies into our home, grown with them, loved them, parted with them, and started the process anew. While for us, as parents, our families’ livelihood was of paramount importance, we also quickly understood just how important our nanny’s satisfaction and growth were as well. So being a good nanny household has meant to us that we support our nannies in their hopes and dreams as much as they support our children’s aspirations. And when we achieve that balance, our household hums with harmony.
So this is a post on how we’ve thought about childcare in our house and we’ve added resources that we’ve created over the years as a reference.
Why 1:1 Nanny care
We opted to go for 1:1 care, deciding that flexibility in the mornings and evenings, sick day support, and help around the household were the most important factors for our sanity. After consulting our pediatrician, we were also assured that socialization is not crucial until age 3 and we opted to enroll our kids into a variety of community center classes to ensure they knew how to be around other kids without needing to go down the path of a childcare center.
Hiring a nanny
📃 As with any hiring, write your job description and identify what is most important to you (link to sample). For us, it was reliability, warmth/love of children, and household support. For the first few years, we also had a language requirement - we wanted our nanny to speak Russian. We also willingly traded an early educational background for warmth toward kids.
We had some baseline requirements - had to have a car, a clean driving record, and a background check. Over the years, some of these have shifted and adjusted (for example, we dropped the language piece) and lightened the household management stuff, but some requirements got more stringent – such as high energy with kids. As we now have school-aged children, the household requirements are back in full force as well as a new requirement of having a calm demeanor and being a positive influence and a role model for our children.
🔍 Cast a wide net - tell everyone you are looking. Friends, other parents, co-workers, your neighbors, past babysitters, etc..
Free options: internal company boards (if available), local Facebook groups, NextDoor, and Craigslist.
Low-cost online sites: www.care.com, www.sittercity.com are the ones we’ve used in the past (~$10-$30/month). Overall, using these services requires a lot of screening work on your part (same with free Facebook/NextDoor postings) as the top of the funnel is wide.
Medium cost – au pair: If you have a good setup and your hours are manageable, then there is also the au pair path, which I have also explored but have yet to pursue. An au pair is usually an exchange young graduate from another country whom you provide room and board for and they take care of your children and receive a stipend from the agency. Agency we’ve used in the past is https://culturalcare.com. Currently, the program is in a bit of disarray due to immigration policy complications.- https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/25/business/the-great-au-pair-rush.html
Most expensive options - Childcare agencies: This last year, we finally explored the world of agencies - the big plus of the agency is that you get a list of higher qualified leads, the agency manages interview logistics, helps with interview questions, runs a background check, and gets you references. Also, the nanny comes with some guarantees for a replacement. The downside is cost (you are looking at anywhere from $5K-$10K for a placement). Overall, nannies using agencies for placement usually work with multiple, so the candidate pool is similar across, so I would compare the fee structure when deciding. We have recently had success with Annie’s Nannies - this agency stood out as compared to others we’ve tried because of a pro-parent approach (other agencies are often run by former nannies, which didn’t lend them to be as empathetic toward parents) as well as a great return package. So when I was looking for a replacement, Annie’s waved the onboarding fee as well as offered a discount on the finder’s fee.
We have hired 1 nanny (the longest tenure of 4 years) from an internal company list, 3 from Facebook, 1 from word of mouth, and 2 from SitterCity, and 1 from Annie’s Nannies.
📱 Interview + trial run - We recommend interviewing as many nannies as you can, especially if you are just starting out (Link to starter list of questions here). Before COVID, we would do a phone screen, then an in-person meeting, and then a babysitting trial. Post-COVID, and how we plan to do this in the future - email screen, then do a video chat for 30-45 minutes. If that goes well, meet the kids.
If kids are older, then the in-person with the kids becomes an on-the-job interview - ours lasts an hour with a 15 min meet and greet; 30-minute interaction with the kids (ideally they bring an activity to do or you lay one out for them) and a 15-minute closure with any lingering questions.
If you have small kids that can’t interact yet, we would still recommend watching how they work with the baby for 30 minutes - playing, feeding, changing, etc.
Notes we take during the interview:
a. Do the candidates have good questions for me, for example, what are the kids like, what is my philosophy to discipline, play, etc.
b. Does this candidate have the potential to be with us long-term or this is a clear stepping stone to something else – we no longer think of a long-term commitment as a requirement, but we want to know if a nanny plans to leave in 3 months to start school elsewhere
c. What are their other obligations – kids at home, evening classes, other jobs, etc.
d. And most importantly, is there a connection with this person – would we invite them to the Thanksgiving table – this isn’t a must by any stretch, but the nanny role straddles an employee and a family member, so hiring someone you enjoy to be around and your kids want to be with is really helpful
⚖ Contract and background/reference checks
A nanny is your employee (and also an extended household/family member). So for us, a contract has been a really good way to spell out expectations (a throwback to our roommate contracts when we lived in the dorms at UCLA). We have slightly edited the contract over the years as our needs changed, but it’s stayed 90% consistent. Link to a template here.
We also always do a background check – we use Seattle Nanny Background Checks and check at least 2 references. The information from the background check is for peace of mind and the reference checks are where you can get to talk to another parent and get their perspective on strengths and weaknesses.
Just as our workplace is responsible for our financial wellbeing, being an employer to a nanny means that we are responsible for their livelihood. So we have done our best to not just offer the bare minimum standard but to be an excellent place to work for our nannies. Below has been our approach:
Guaranteed hours – this means that you guarantee a fixed # of hours a week, even if you don’t use them all. This means that if we leave town early for the weekend or take a day off, the nanny still gets paid. Nannies rely on this income to pay bills, so having predictability is really important.
Paid holidays –all federal holidays are off for the nanny – we are fortunate to work for large companies where we get these days off so we have always passed on that benefit as well.
Vacation & sick leave – standard practice is you pick one week and the nanny picks one week. We vacation more than 2 weeks a year, so we end up coordinating our vacations so our nanny gets paid for all of that time off. We offer 3 sick days a year and also don’t expect the nanny to come in on snow days (especially if schools are closed).
Bonus and pay raise – we want our nanny to feel appreciated and not choose a different family. So for us, we alternate a pay raise with a bonus every 6 months and that has worked out really well
Niceties: birthday gift, holiday gift (or bonus as part of the above), a day off on a birthday, etc. are not expected but always appreciated
We use a payroll service (https://www.care.com/homepay) to manage logistics. It costs about an extra $1000 a year, but they take care of direct deposits, and withholding taxes and provide all the tax forms as well as employment forms. Additionally, they are a great resource for advice on local state laws on ensuring you are staying within your regulations for hiring a nanny. You can definitely do this on your own, but we have found the payroll service to be worth the cost.
⚙Nanny’s first day and set up
Think of your nanny’s first day the same way as you’d think about orientation at work. One of us (Helen) takes half a day off to help the nanny get started.
So on day 1, we show them the house and our routine - try not to rush this part and just be there for the nanny to ensure all her questions get answered. We have an emergency sheet that hangs on the wall with our contact info, address, doctor name, and emergency contact just in case. This is also the day we set up payroll.
When our kids were younger, we asked our nannies to keep a journal where they logged her hours as well as kids’ activities –including an outing, stool frequency, nap times, and feeding times/amounts.
We also have a WhatsApp group and ask the nanny to send regular pictures/updates there and we use it to communicate through the day – both on logistics as well as questions. For the first few days, we debrief every day and eventually move to a debrief to be once a week.
As schedules for older kids/activities fill up, we have found having a calendar (electronic or paper) handy so that everyone is on the same page on what needs to be done and in addition, the nanny fills out a Google doc where we track any mileage or extra expenses.
👋Parting with a nanny
Hiring a nanny is in many ways similar to hiring an employee, but since this is about your family, the stakes feel higher. You will know if you have made a great hire and you will also know if things are not quite right. Unfortunately, it’s hard to sever ties if things are not egregiously terrible. In these rare circumstances, we try to first offer feedback and re-set expectations, but if that doesn’t work, it is time to say goodbye. If you can afford to wait, then I recommend finding and hiring a new nanny before letting your existing one go.
If you are parting ways after things did not work out: do it in a public place and keep it professional. After that, change your locks and any passcodes on your doors/garage codes to be on the safe side.
Telling the kids: The first time we had to tell the kids that their nanny was leaving (a beloved nanny of 4 years) I was super nervous about how they’ll take it. As it turns out, kids wanted answers to questions like “who will play with me and who will make me lunch.” Lesson learned – kids are resilient and as long as their immediate needs are met, they look forward to their next nanny/companion.
We are quite content with the fact that over half of our nannies have left us to pursue their career aspirations (in nursing, finance, and in tech). In every case, we have been their references, gave them time to interview for these jobs, and supported them in finding their footing acting as an ally (especially as many of these women were immigrants). And these women have stayed in our kids’ lives even after they’ve stopped being employed by us making their lives richer and more interesting. The nannies have also helped us transition our kids from one set of care to another (from full-time nanny care, to part-time preschool and then to elementary school) and we are forever grateful for their contribution to our children’s lives.
This has taught us that the domestic worker industry is as complex and nuanced as any other and childcare also comes in many forms (in-home care, preschools, public schools, etc.). Here are the ways we support the childcare industry:
Lake Washington School Foundation – The Lake Washington Schools Foundation gathers and deploys community resources to enhance academic access and nurture all students’ emotional wellbeing.
National Domestic Workers Alliance – this is a political action committee that helps domestic workers organize and fight for their rights. It is pretty eye-opening to know how many nannies are not treated with dignity.
Good luck on your journey and we hope this write-up helps.