Is a nanny share right for you?
Considering sharing a caregiver? Be sure to do your homework: Nanny shares and shared care arrangements may be subject to various licensing requirements or prohibited in certain states and jurisdictions. Research local laws and regulations.
Finding the right child care option for your family can be overwhelming. Many parents find that they have to decide between hiring a live-in nanny or enrolling in day care, with neither feeling quite right. Fortunately, there’s a middle ground that can provide a high level of personal attention along with the socialization benefits of day care at the right price: the nanny share.
What is a nanny share?
In a typical nanny share, two or more families employ one nanny, sharing the cost of her salary. Most nannies watch all the children together, but many families work together to come up with a schedule tailored to their specific needs. Since both families are contributing to the nanny's pay, the nanny is usually able to earn more than she would make working for a single family.
While the cost-effectiveness of a nanny share is what usually draws parents in, there are other, less tangible benefits of sharing a nanny that are just as important. A nanny share offers the socialization that you typically don’t find with a private nanny, with the one-on-one attention and flexibility that is hard to come by at a day care facility. It really can be the best of both worlds. But as with any child care decision, entering a nanny share requires a lot of research and planning. You’re not just picking a nanny. You’re also picking what amounts to a second home and family for your children.
There are definite advantages to using a nanny share, but there are also some potential drawbacks to consider when deciding if a nanny share is right for your family. We’ve highlighted some of the biggest pros of sharing a nanny, as well as some things to think over before making the commitment with another family.
Advantages of a nanny share
We talked to four nanny-sharing moms to find out why they chose to share a nanny and to get their insider advice on setting up a successful nanny share. Here are just a few reasons why they believe nanny share was the best choice for them, and why it just might be the right choice for you, too.
Quality care at an affordable price
"We basically have all the luxuries of having a nanny at half the price," Debbie, a mother in Brooklyn, New York, told Care.com.
The cost of a nanny share varies by region, but with this type of nanny share, you can generally expect to pay about the same or a little more than you would pay for quality day care. For example, nanny share rates can range anywhere between $17 to $25 an hour for two children, depending on the nanny’s experience and where you live. For families that split the cost straight down the middle, that works out to $8.50 to $12.50 an hour, which is on par with day care rates, and far below what you’d be spending on a private nanny.
Stacey King Gordon, a mom from Oakland, California, shared a nanny for three years. She said that the socialization benefits made her feel like she was giving her child the perks of day care on a more personal level. It also cut her child care costs almost in half.
Learn more about how much child care costs.
Even though the nanny will be watching multiple children, kids in nanny shares still get more one-on-one attention than they would at a child care center, and they are in a home environment, which appeals to some parents.
"The girls get the same care, or better, than we would give them if we weren't at work," Tobias said.
Children also get the opportunity to build a nurturing relationship with another adult.
"We loved our nanny," Gordon said. "She had a huge heart and genuinely loved our daughter."
The parents we interviewed touted the flexible, DIY nature of nanny shares over day care centers, which often have strict policies for hours, holidays, and sick days. With a nanny share, you and the share family make your own rules.
"We need to be sure we have somebody who can handle our crazy schedules," said Tobias, who works full time and whose musician husband is often on tour.
Another Brooklyn mom, Emily Moore, said she likes that on days she works from home or is sick herself, her nanny can watch her son at her share-family's home, and when the children are at her house she doesn't have to commute to child care.
"It's like having the best of both worlds," she said.
Having multiple parents who can step in and cover when the nanny is sick is also a big benefit. If you have a private nanny and they need a day off or take a sick day, often your only option is to take the day off from work and stay home with your kids. In a nanny share with two families, parents can rotate who takes the day off, so the burden doesn’t always fall on you.
Each of parents we talked to emphasized the bonds their children developed with the other kids in their share.
"The children build strong relationships with other children and learn to share," Ellen Shahan, a mom in Hopkins, Minnesota, said.
Shahan said she has been sharing the same nanny with families in her neighborhood for nine years. Meanwhile, Tobias said her daughter has become best friends with the other girl her nanny watches, and Moore said she's happy that her son "is growing up with someone akin to a sister."
The socialization doesn’t end with the children, either. When you’re in a nanny share with another family, chances are you’ll develop strong, familial relationships with the parents and kids. Many parents who participate in nanny shares cite parenting support from the other family as a huge benefit.
Things to consider before moving forward with a nanny share
While the benefits are hard to ignore, there are some things to consider before making the decision to move forward with setting up your own nanny share. Sharing a nanny is a wonderful alternative to hiring a private nanny or putting your children in a day care, and many families reap the benefits of this convenient and affordable form of child care. However, it’s a very serious commitment that affects not just your family, but an entire other family, as well as the livelihood of a professional caretaker. Before taking the leap, it’s a good idea to sit down with your partner and ask yourselves some important questions about your expectations and deal-breakers to determine if a nanny share will work for your family.
- Are you a micromanager, or a go-with-the-flow kind of parent? Nanny shares require a significant amount of flexibility between the families — not just in terms of scheduling, but in the day-to-day operations of caring for kids. With a private nanny, you’re able to dictate exactly what time your child naps, or what they have for lunch, or even what toys they play with. In a nanny share, you need to be willing to bend on some of your parenting rules, since the nanny will be caring for other children at the same time.
- Are you willing to coordinate vacations/time off with the other family? Many nanny share families schedule theirs and their nanny’s vacation time concurrently, so there’s no lapse in child care or one family isn’t left paying the full cost of the nanny for a week.
- Are you comfortable with your child being in another family's home for long periods of time? Ideally, you will have gotten to know the other family very well before starting a nanny share with them, but some parents struggle with their kids being in an environment that they can’t control or readily change.
- Are extracurricular activities important to you? If so, are you willing to be flexible and work out an agreement with the other family? If your child has a lesson or class on a day the nanny is caring for all the kids in the nanny share, it can create conflict between the kids, nanny, and both families.
- How does your communication style work? It's important to be honest with yourself here. Are you a good communicator, or do you have a hard time addressing issues as they arise? One of the key components of a successful nanny share is open, consistent communication. You should be comfortable addressing sensitive topics with the other family and the nanny, and be open to hearing feedback — good and bad.
Keys to successful nanny shares
Want to organize your own nanny share? Here are five things to keep in mind.
Setting up a nanny share is far more complex than just hiring a nanny or choosing a day care. You’re not just looking for someone to watch your kids. You’re looking for a compatible family that you will feel comfortable working very closely with on a long-term basis, and one whose home you feel comfortable sending your kids to several days a week. Most nanny share families agree that finding the family that is the best fit for you is the first and most important step.
Tobias suggests making sure the family you share with has a similar outlook on parenting issues, like education, diet, and behavior, as the children will essentially be raised like siblings. Finding a family with similar parenting philosophies and lifestyles is an integral part of managing a successful nanny share. When you’re considering a potential family, ask yourself these questions to determine if they’re a good fit for your own family.
- Do you and the other parents share similar parenting philosophies? This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of choosing a nanny share family. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their parenting styles in your initial meetings. What is their policy on screen time for kids? Do they have special dietary restrictions or limit certain foods for their own kids? Where do they stand on vaccinations? If they have infants or younger babies, how do they feel about sleep training and/or nap scheduling? How do they discipline their own children, and are their methods of discipline compatible with yours? It’s unrealistic to expect the nanny to completely change the way she cares for each child based on parental preferences, so seeing eye-to-eye on these issues is important.
- Do you genuinely like and get along with the other family? You’ll be working very closely with them and spending a great deal of time together, at least in the beginning. Not to mention, your children will be spending several hours a week in their home, outside of your own supervision.
- Do your kids get along? Before moving forward with setting up a nanny share with a potential family, it’s always a good idea to get together and allow the kids to spend time with one another to make sure they have a good chemistry. "We had one kid who was a hitter," one mom said. Allowing the kids to spend time together before moving forward with the nanny share can help you avoid these potentially serious issues.
- Do the other parents get along well with each other? It can be hard to gauge how a couple interacts with one another after just one or two brief meetings. But if you notice things in their interactions with each, such as a lack of respect or ability to communicate well, this can spill over into your own interactions with them.
- Does the family live close enough to yours? Keep in mind, the convenience of having a nanny share can be impacted if the families aren’t near one another, especially if the nanny needs to transport the kids from one house to the other during the day. Consider things like traffic, weather, and how drop-off and pick-up will factor into your daily commute when looking for potential families.
Finding the perfect family takes time. If it doesn’t feel “right”, don’t feel pressured into moving forward. For a nanny share to be successful, both families have to be on the same page when it comes to the important stuff.
Understand the tax rules
"In a nanny share, both families are considered separate employers in the eyes of the IRS and the state," said Tom Breedlove, director of Care.com HomePay. "This means both families need to follow the nanny tax process, and each family can capitalize on the tax breaks — if they pay the nanny on the books."
Families that need help setting up their nanny share correctly can use Care.com HomePay to assure their nanny's payroll is accurately calculated and their tax returns are filed on time.
When interviewing potential nannies, make sure you discuss the issue of taxes and payment. As an employer, you need to follow state and federal tax laws. However, paying on the books can end up costing you more, as you’ll have to account for the taxes you’ll end up paying.
Put it in writing
A comprehensive contract between both families and the nanny can help you avoid potential issues down the road.
"Make a list of everything — hours, sick days (both the nanny's and how to handle a sick kid), holidays, pay schedule, petty cash, what to eat, activities, where kids will sleep, who will buy what (do you need a double stroller?) — and put it all in writing so there's no miscommunication," Tobias said.
When drawing up the contract, make sure to include the following items:
- Budget: Decide on a budget for the nanny share up front. Don’t forget to include paid time off, sick time, overtime, and how payments will be handled. There are several ways to coordinate payments. Some nanny shares calculate each family’s contribution, and then the families pay their portion directly to the nanny. Others set up a nanny share account. Each family will deposit their portion into it, and the nanny is paid from a single source. A shared account can also come in handy when dealing with shared expenses outside the nanny’s salary.
- Scheduling: Try to be as specific as possible when discussing schedules. This includes a host schedule (what days of the week the nanny will watch the kids in each home), vacation time for both families and the nanny, and back-up plans for last-minute schedule changes. For example, if one family is slated to host for the week and has an issue in their home that makes it unusable (for example, burst pipes or ongoing construction), you’ll want a policy in place for adjusting the host schedule for that week.
- Sick policy: Decide up front what the policy is if one child or the nanny is sick. Many nanny shares follow rules like what you’d find in a day care facility. If a child has a fever or stomach virus, they stay home until they’re symptom free for 24 hours. In the event the nanny is sick, some families rotate who stays home with the kids — another reason being comfortable with the family you choose is so important!
- Additional expenses: Is each family responsible for their individual supplies and expenses — like food, diapers, wipes, etc.? Will the families split the cost of weekly supplies and food in each home? Will the nanny have a “petty cash” stipend to cover items related to the children, like activities or snacks after a playdate? Is there a need for special equipment or baby gear (double stroller, playpens, additional toys), and will those purchases be split between the families?
- Communication: How will you handle communication within the nanny share? Will there be a point person who deals with day-to-day operations, or will the families address things with the nanny together? Consider scheduling monthly or quarterly check-ins for the families and nanny, where everyone will meet and discuss how things are going. Progress reports are important to insure everyone is happy and there are no outstanding issues that need to be addressed.
- Leaving the nanny share: What policies do you want in place for dealing with one family leaving or having to hire a new nanny? Do you want a 30-day notice from the exiting family? Are there contingency plans in place for child care should the nanny quit or become unable to fulfill their duties?
Communicate and stay flexible
Once everyone has settled on the details, it's important to keep the lines of communication open and the drama to a minimum.
"With three parties involved, all manner of issues will come up — having everyone on board with helping to cover an unexpected nanny sick day or a parent running late helps things run smoothly," Moore says.
She said she makes time for all three parties to speak together when issues come up or just to check in.
"Professional and clear communication is key," she says.
Daily communication in the form of texts or emails, even if it’s just to check in and see how the day is going, can help insure that everyone in the nanny share feels included and integral to the share’s success. Take the time to chat with the nanny and other parents at pick-up and drop-off, too. A few minutes spent discussing the day can help keep everyone on the same page.
You may want to consider setting up a nanny share calendar, which keeps track of the host schedule, doctor’s appointments, time off, and other important dates. Make sure the calendar is updated regularly, and that both families and the nanny have access to it.
Keeping an open mind and being flexible is also very important. Remember, even a perfect nanny share has some growing pains. It’s key to have patience while the initial kinks are worked out and everyone falls into this new routine. There are going to be issues, especially in the beginning, so flexibility and understanding goes a long way.
For all its advantages, a nanny share is also more fragile than a day care or single-family situation, Moore says. If one party decides to leave the share, you might be left scrambling to find a replacement. To minimize this, Gordon suggests sharing with a family that has a child the same age as yours, so they will "age out" of the share at the same time. By addressing leaving a nanny share in the beginning, when you’re developing your contract, you can minimize the impact it will have on the remaining parties.
There’s also the chance that, despite your best efforts, the chemistry between the families or with the nanny just isn’t “right.” Some nanny shares get it exactly right the first time, while others will go through changes trying to find the best configuration. Even with lots of research and preparation, you won’t know how the dynamic works until the nanny share gets under way. Be prepared to make small changes or adjust operations in order to keep the share running smoothly and weather the little storms that may come up.
With a little work, a nanny share can be a great experience for everyone involved.
"It's one of the very best decisions I ever made," Moore says.