Friday, April 16, 2010

The Nanny Search

As you may have noticed, I have been through a lot when it came to hiring a nanny to help me care for our twins.  I will begin by saying that when I had our children I knew next to nothing about kids.  I am an only child from such a small family that I really never had babies in my life until my own were born. So I set about finding someone with very little knowledge or insight on my part.  Now that I am on the other side of this long battle I hope that my experiences, tips and advice will help others avoid going through the same struggles!

Let's start with the obvious.  Where do I find a nanny?  
  • All of our nannies, both good and bad, came from PeachheadNanny which is Yahoo chat group and a subgroup of Peachhead.  There are over 10,000 members on Peachhead and over 5000 members belong to PeachheadNanny.  Parents will post when they have a nanny to recommend, nannies themselves will post advertising that they are available, agencies occasionally post there as well.  I have found this to be the best source as there is such volume and it is solely dedicated to finding/placing nannies.  I've never actually posted an ad looking for someone, I always answer other people's referrals.  I tend to only answer referrals from a parent as opposed to a nanny posting for herself - it seems like a more fair assessment of someone's skills to have a referral from someone who has actually employed that person. FREE
  • Jen's List is another great source for finding a nanny (or just about anything else mom related).  Jen Levinson, who created that website and email newsletter, actually has two sets of identical twin boys (plus another singleton) so you may find twin related stuff peppered in amongst everything else she lists.  Every Tuesday she posts lists of nannies who are available to work.  Her list has about 13,000 subscribers so there is bound to be a lot of nanny information passed around.  It does tend to be Valley oriented, but nannies will travel farther than you think for a good family to work for. FREE
  • Some of my friends have found great nannies through Craigslist. What I have experienced using Craigslist is that during the times I used it, most (although certainly not all) of the nannies who seemed qualified tended to be European or American nannies/Au Pairs.  If that's the direction you are leaning towards definitely give Craigslist a try.  You will most likely get hit with a lot of junk mail if you advertise that you are looking for someone, but answering people's ads should leave you free of that. FREE
  • Check your local Multiples Club. In SoCal you can go to Southern California Mothers of Twins Clubs to find a club near you. Outside of Southern California, go to National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs. These are clubs to which parents (or expectant parents) of multiples can belong. There are wonderful and supportive parents in these clubs who post about available nannies - almost all of which will have had "multiples experience".  There is usually a small, yearly fee to join the club, but that money is put to great use and the club chat boards are so much more helpful than anywhere else when it comes to asking twin related questions.
  • Nanny Agencies are another route to follow. Agencies claim to do background checks, reference checks and interview each candidate before referring them. Most also offer to arrange Trustline verifications. In my experience, it is very important to thoroughly check all references yourself, as some agencies have been known to falsify records. And just because an agency sent her doesn't necessarily mean she's any better than a nanny you find through a personal referral or an online source such as PeachheadNanny. Agencies tend to take a fee equal to 15% of a nanny's yearly salary which, depending on how much you pay, can be an enormous amount of money. But depending on what you are looking for and how specific your needs are, sometimes an agency will be the best place to find the nanny you require. Additionally, a reputable agency should allow you to work with a nanny for a week or two before requesting their fee; they should additionally offer up to 3 months guarantee where they will replace your nanny at no extra charge if it does not work out. Here in LA there are a lot of agencies; the ones who, as of this posting, have been recommended most to me are: S'il Vous Plait (310) 395-8812, Buckingham Nannies and Domestics  (310) 247-1877, VIP Nanny Agency 310.614.3646, Sandra Taylor (310) 205-2810, Elizabeth Rose (310) 276-2555, Bella Bambino Nannies (888) 277-8730, Nurture and Nanny 310-270-6177, Lexington Nannies (818) 890-2191, La Maison Agency (310) 553-3509, Domestic Affairs (310) 552-4444, Elite Domestic Agency 310-424-5068, Help Company (310) 828-4111, Pavillion Agency (212) 889-6609 (in New York)
  • Lastly, you may come across a "Nanny Broker" in your search. These tend to be nannies who have many connections to other nannies. They do not do any kind of background or reference checks but they will give you names and numbers of nannies for you to interview. Some take a fee from the nanny, some take a fee from both nanny and employer; be sure to get details up front. In LA I know of two brokers; both refer primarily (perhaps exclusively) Latina nannies. Here is their contact information: Alicia (310) 850-1502 and Myra (323) 664-0843.
A word about "twins experience"
I feel that often nannies and nanny agencies prey upon new twin parents' anxieties by making it seem as though only a nanny with prior experience caring for multiples can do the job.  And because you have twins you should now have to pay a premium for that.  I disagree.  In fact, of our 5 nannies, only one had twin experience and she was actually the worst of the lot!  Not that this is the way it always is, but I don't want you to be bullied into a nanny that you can not afford simply because she has worked with twins before.  I always say that most of us never had twin experience until we became parents of twins.  It is possible to find a wonderful nanny even if she has never worked with twins.  

It is best if you have a nanny who has worked with multiple children, but it doesn't HAVE to be twins.  Having a nanny who has done it before is certainly a comfort if this is your first child, however, if she's new to multiples make sure she has an even temperament, is energetic and can multi-task, then half your battle is won!   Be certain, as well, to discuss the increased difficulty of twin toddlers over twin infants - some nannies make great infant nannies but come the toddler years they are overwhelmed.  And twin toddlers may make them exponentially so!  

How much do I pay?
This can be a complicated question because it depends on so many variables.  As I said, some nannies may feel that they can charge a premium for twins.  But besides the fact that they may have twin experience, do they speak/read/write English well?  Are they working legally (something that is a very real factor here in Los Angeles)?  Do they drive a safe car and have a clean driving record (assuming you want them to drive your children)? Do they have a degree in child development or some other such extra qualification that would justify a higher salary?  Most importantly (in my book): can you communicate with her?  Not just language-wise but someone who will tell you if they are unhappy or have concerns or if they disagree with something or have an opinion and so forth.  A person who has all of the things you are looking for is worth every dollar.  A nanny with twin experience who falls short in any of the areas that are important to you isn't worth anything.

You need to know before you start what you are looking for in terms of time.  How many hours per week do you think you will need?  Do you want to pay weekly or hourly?  How much more do you have to add when taxes are taken out?  Will you be offering extra perks?  Most families do offer vacation time, sick days, paid national holidays etc.  How many years do you expect her to stay with your family?  This is important because you will likely give her yearly raises; you don't want to start her at a salary that is so high that you will not be able to afford to give her a raise.  Any nanny will charge more for caring for more than one child and that is certainly fair and with twins you usually will pay slightly more but don't get so caught up in the fact that a woman has cared for twins if you can't afford what she is charging!

How do I chose the right one?
The first part of the answer is: Trust Your Gut.  Easier said than done sometimes.  We get wowed by the nanny with the glowing references or the smooth interview style.  But your gut always knows.  If you have any hesitation.....hesitate.  Of the five nannies I hired (and countless I interviewed), there was only one that I hired on the spot without even having my husband meet.  That's the woman we have now who is beyond terrific.  I just KNEW.  Of course, I had already had a lot of experience choosing nannies who weren't so great, so I had a lot to compare to!

The rest of the answer is: ask the tough interview questions.  It's very easy to just make small talk and ask yes or no questions especially if you're not used to interviewing and being a boss.  Here are a few really good interview tips from my own experience and from other mothers who've shared their own advice with me:
  1. A lot of references are fake.  Vague questions will allow for vague generalities (ie: Q: "how is she with newborns?" A: "Oh, she's wonderful with newborns.  She's so loving"). Try to ask questions that only the actual employer could answer, like how the nanny handles emergencies or specific examples of how she handles a misbehaving child.  
  2. Ask the person referring the nanny what the nanny's shortcomings are.  Everyone has shortcomings, they're a deal breaker only in certain relationships or contexts. 
  3. Ask open ended questions such as "what is a typical day for you as a nanny?", "how would you handle disciplining my children?"
  4. Make sure your children are present.  This seems obvious but you'd be surprised by how many people schedule an interview when the babies are sleeping so they can concentrate.  You want to see what this person is like with your children!  You want to gauge their reactions to her and she how she handles them.  Does she get down on the floor with them?  Does she ask to hold them?  Does she offer to play/feed/interact?
  5. Arrange for some trial period with the nanny so you can see what working with them would be like.  She should be paid for this time and it will give both you and the nanny an idea of what working together will be like.  I suggest at least one full day if not more.  I had one nanny I thought was going to be great until she worked with me for a day and spent every free minute of her interview day texting people. I can only imagine what she would have been like had I hired her!
  6. If you are a Stay At Home Mom a major consideration to discuss is how you want to utilize this nanny.  Do you want someone to spend the day with you and accompany you with the children?  Do you want her to have one of the children so you can have one-on-one time with the other?  Do you want her to take the children on her own?  Many nannies do not relish the idea of being with mom (or dad) being at home all day so you will need to discuss this fully.
  7. If you are both working parents I believe one of the major things to be considered is that your nanny will be the person most involved in teaching your children.  You certainly want someone loving and caring and trustworthy, but you may also want to consider that this person will have great influence over how your child learns to behave in the world.  You may want to look for someone with more of a background in child development, someone who has creative skills when it comes to discipline, someone who is on the same page as you when it come to encouraging the development of your child's emotional intelligence etc. etc.  Some nannies are fantastic when it comes to babies, but less so when the tough work of raising toddlers begins.
In addition to all of this information I think this article has some great tips and interview questions. And this New York Times article is terrific for some insight on how to communicate with the person you eventually hire. Remember, you are looking for a person to be a PARTNER with you in raising your child. At the end of the day, let someone go if she's not working out.  The process of looking for a nanny for your twins can be really tough, but it's not worth holding on to someone who's not wonderful just because you can't bear the thought of going through the process again.  When you find the right nanny you really will know.  And life will at once be simpler AND more complicated.  But that is a post for another time!  ;-)

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach
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