Q: My baby is due in two months and since I am returning to work three months after the birth, my husband and I have decided to hire a nanny. What should we be looking for?
A: You are very wise to be thinking about your criteria now, before your baby is born. You should have your plan of action for hiring a nanny before you go into the hospital to have your baby.
I’m sure you’ve heard about women who’ve had to put their children on waiting lists to get into a good childcare center. Well, the same situation can exist with a nanny. When you really need one, you don’t want to have to settle for someone so-so just because you have to go to work. So, I encourage you that while you are hugely pregnant, get out and go to places where children congregate. If you live in an area where a lot of people have one-on-one in-home childcare, you’ll be sure to find plenty of nannies in those places. Spend some time observing how they interact with their charges. I guarantee you that these people will want to strike up a conversation with you, if for no other reason than to ask how you are feeling, or when you are due. This will give you an opportunity to ask them about their work, what they do, why they became a nanny, etc. Then tell them that you are looking for a nanny and ask them what they would look for if they were you. Start building your "nanny network" early, that way when you have your baby, you can immediately let these women know when you would be looking for someone to take care of your baby in your home.
Here are my other tips, based on personal experience:
- Don’t be afraid to hire someone from a newspaper ad. This is how we got our nanny, and we’ve had her for more than a year now. This method requires vigilant screening. I set up a voicemail box complete with a message outlining several questions I wanted answered before I would even call an applicant back. Then I really listened. Anyone whose accent I couldn’t understand was out. Anyone who had a friend or husband call "representing" them was out. And, anyone who stated salary or benefit demands upfront, was also out.
- Go with your gut. If you don’t like something – anything – about the sitter, don’t hire her. Period. Don’t even ask yourself another question about it.
- Ask the tough questions. Have you ever had a disagreement with a parent about childrearing and how did you handle it? What is your philosophy regarding discipline? Have you ever handled a medical emergency with a child? Walk me through the steps you would take if my child fell down the stairs or started choking. What do you do with yourself when the baby is sleeping ?
- Don’t be cheap. Don’t expect to pay a little and get a lot. If you’re going to skimp on nannycare, you’d do better to put your child in a family daycare or daycare center, where you’ll get more value for the dollar. A poorly paid nanny is never likely to go the extra mile for you or your child.
- Hire her well before you go back to work. My minimum is two weeks before (plan for this financially, now). During that time, while you’re still at home, observe her, as opposed to directing her. You want to see the kinds of judgments she’s going to make when you’re not at home. You want to know if she’s trustworthy, and you don’t want to find that she’s not through a phone call at work.