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Guidelines For Employing A Live-In Nanny

by Karen Walker Ryan, Owner of Heartland Caregivers Inc.

Trustworthy, efficient and loving live-in nannies are to be cherished and encouraged to remain as such. Based on what nannies have shared with us over the years, we present these following suggestions.

  1. Although we strongly emphasize a commitment of a year, the first week' or two may be crucial to your nanny's' decision whether to stay with you or not. Take the time to show your nanny around the town, introduce her/him to other nannies in the neighborhood--help your nanny get her bearings. Provide a map of your locale (or a GPS with programmed "favorites" such as pre-school, library, etc.) and brochures of things to do in the area. Expect to show her the routes around town more than once. If at all possible, do not put her to work the first day. Instead, make it a celebration.
  2. If you do not have a regular housekeeper (we hope you do! At minimum, every two weeks), at least hire a cleaner(s) to have the house as neat and organized as possible for the nanny's arrival. Her room should not be full of your things. Clean out the closet, give her plenty of dresser space, a mirror, a bulletin board for her own photos and put a TV and stereo in her room so she truly feels this is her space. Many live in nannies have a laptop computer; internet access such as WiFi is a big plus!
  3. Once the nanny begins work, try to give her as much time alone with the children as possible so she can establish her own rapport with the children. You must give this bonding some time. You must provide parental backup so that children are not allowed to call her names, kick, bite, scratch their nanny or otherwise treat her hatefully.
  4. Use of a car: Most families that employ live-in nannies are now providing a car exclusively for the nanny's use. Housewives with small children do not stay home five days a week with no access to vehicle use. Don't expect that of your nanny. You can put millage restrictions on the nanny car, but she should have the right to drive an employer car in her free time. Be sure you have the proper auto insurance coverage.
  5. Use of the phone: Today, most nannies have their own personal cell phones when they arrive. Ideally, she will not need to use your house phone on a routine basis. If you plan to communicate with the nanny via her cell phone about work issues (texting for example) it is a nice perk to contribute $10-20 per month to her plan to cover this usage.
  6. Make room in the pantry and refrigerator for any special food the nanny wants to buy with her own money. A small fridge in her living space is a real plus.
  7. Nannies may sometimes enjoy having a friend stay over on a day off. If this is agreeable with you, request that the nanny make prior arrangements with you. If any of her family comes to see her, you will be greatly treasured if you allow them to stay in the home.
  8. Instruct your nanny thoroughly about any security precautions you take in the home. Nanny should never let in repairmen, etc. without your prior approval. Tell the nanny who is coming and when. If someone shows up unexpectedly, Nanny should call you at your place of work before letting them in.
  9. Most nannies are young women. They may be sensitive to kidding and certainly any mockery. You may be moody in the privacy of your home but if the nanny is a brunt of this moodiness on a continual basis, you may be left without the child care you need.
  10. The very best relationships develop when people take the time to communicate. Encourage your nanny to discuss working conditions with you if something seems amiss. Criticize gently. We recommend regular "staff meetings" where all aspects of her expectations and yours can be discussed fairly and thoroughly. A smart employer will schedule a time when there are no interruptions from children or others so that the employer and employee may freely communicate. Take your nanny out for ice cream after dinner once in awhile, if not for a full course meal.
  11. Nannies thrive when they feel salary raises are possible. An end-of-year bonus is very effective insurance that your nanny will complete her contract. 401Ks are also appropriate.
  12. Nannies are generally salaried (paid a fixed amount weekly for a fixed schedule) and it can be very tempting to heap on the hours without giving additional pay. Be very careful - your nanny is legally an hourly employee and your "salary" must meet minimum wage standards. If you require extra hours you must pay for each hour at her hourly rate (salary divided by hours in fixed schedule). Be careful that you do not increase your nanny's workload without also increasing her salary. Be sure the workload does not distract from your nanny's primary responsibility--the care of the children. Children will thrive from the creative energy of a nanny not drained by too many domestic chores.
  13. As an employer, you need to be clear as to your special pet peeves, i.e. clutter in the kitchen. In areas not as crucial to your peace of mind, allow your nanny to show individuality as much as possible. Be realistic about the busy hands of small children. Expecting your house to look like no children live there when you arrive home is unreasonable.
  14. Have respect for your nanny's plans. Try to avoid asking for last minute babysitting. Your nanny may not tell you it is inconvenient, but frequent repeats and she may look for work elsewhere. Ideally, you will go over your schedule with your nanny on a monthly and weekly basis so everyone knows what to expect.
  15. The best employer/nanny relationships are a careful blend of mutual politeness, friendliness and respect for privacy. We encourage nannies to be flexible with their employers regarding hours of work as the careers of their employers are often demanding. However, parents need to understand a nanny's needs to interact with her peers in her off hours and to trust that her plans for her own free time will be respected.
  16. Bad days happen to all of us. Count to 10, walk away, call the agency if you must, but cut your nanny some slack if she is a bit "off." Some nannies do not have the assertiveness to tell you their plate is too full. Instead, they do a job slow down. Observe and be kind to the pressures she may be feeling.
  17. Nannies tell us that lots of work piled up waiting for them when they return from their two days off can be stressful and discouraging. Perhaps a "Monday morning bonus" can be waiting for your nanny to compensate when extra work has accumulated. This work should always be child-related unless you are paying extra for other domestic work that she has consented to do.
  18. Any other "perks" you can provide may insure a lasting working relationship. Creating her own space with all the creature comforts is a given. A membership to the local Y or fitness club is always good for her mental and physical health. An extra trip home during the year, even a weekend at a local ski area, or tickets to a play or concert show gratefulness on the part of the employer. Nannies should have health insurance (there are companies that specialize in health insurance for nannies and the rates are very low), at least some of the state/federal holidays off with pay or other days to compensate. Allowing time for a college class or two and even paying some or all of the tuition is a wonderful perk.

    Paying under the table is a thing of the past. This is a REAL career and the employer needs to treat it as such.

  19. Unless you are specifically hiring a live-in as a maid or housekeeper, be very aware of the domestic chores you expect. Nannies who are wonderful with children may bristle at parents who will not make their own bed, carry their own plate to the sink after meals or who entertain and leave the clean up to the nanny. Try to keep the domestic chores as child-related as possible. Employers who truly want maid service may get some of it from their nanny but expect to pay more for it. Some nannies love to be used as personal assistants, i.e. shopping, errands, scheduling travel, supervising other domestic help, perhaps assisting in your business endeavors. It adds variety to their day and if children are in school it only makes sense to utilize your nanny for other duties. At this point your nanny becomes more of a household manager/personal assistant and the pay should reflect that.
  20. Frequent marital arguments within hearing range of a live-in nanny are unsettling. We have had nannies quit because of this.
  21. Curfews for nannies are not a good idea. Obviously, you need to step in if your nanny is coming in at all hours and is not getting up in the morning. Please do not use the excuse that you need to set your alarm systems. If you trust your nanny with your children, you can trust her with the code to the alarm system.
  22. Remember, the first couple of weeks may be somewhat rough as the nanny adjusts to a new culture (yours) and your children adjust to her. Keep the lines of communication open to her. If the nanny is placed via a nanny placement agency, encourage her to call them, or you call them. The agency can be a great help by helping her communicate her concerns to you.
  23. If a nanny is working long hours for you during the week to cover your work time and commute, look into finding other coverage for nights and weekends. A warm and competent high school senior or college student, located through the school counselor or Child Development teacher, may be a real boon to keeping your permanent nanny from burn out!
  24. Many nannies and families form bonds that last a lifetime. This is how it should be. Life is often less than perfect, but never think you are the winner if you manage to keep a nanny on the job through intimidation. Children deserve a nanny who loves her work. You, the employer, can make the workplace delightful or miserable, depending on your skills as a decent employer.

Karen Walker Ryan, Owner of Heartland Caregivers Inc. is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara. She is a former high school teacher, writer, editor and international traveler. She has more than two decades of experience working with nannies and their employers.