New York Times: "Is a Nanny Share Right for Your Family?"

By Katie Peek

· Cozykin,Press
  • Begin by articulating your family’s needs and possible deal-breakers, then move on to finding a family to share with. Finally, ally with the other family to find the right nanny for your situation. 
  • Same-time nanny shares typically involve a single caretaker watching children from different families together full time; split-time nanny shares typically involve a single caretaker watching children individually at different times. 
  • Don’t rush a nanny-share arrangement — experts recommend giving yourself at least a month to figure it out. Once you’ve got the logistics covered, try the setup for a week before signing any contracts.
  • Lay ground rules in advance; during the share, keep communication open with the other family and the nanny to discuss what is or isn’t working. 

When my older child was 2, he made his first friend at the child care center he attended. They got along so well that when June rolled around, my spouse and I decided to share a nanny with his friend’s family during the gaps in the center’s summer schedule. We were uncommonly lucky; the other family had already lined up the nanny, and she was happy to add our son to the mix as a second charge (with a pay bump). Though the setup lasted only a few months, it was a fantastic experience.

For nannies, a share can mean a more stimulating gig. “I like the controlled chaos of having more than one child to care for at time,” said Kim Benakovich, a nanny and parent who works at the nanny-share site Via the Village. “Having a second child in the mix just makes things more exciting.” It can also mean more pay: A nanny watching two children typically commands a rate 33 percent higher than for one child, according to the experts I spoke with. For parents, the family partnership means there are more adults available to cover off days, or to relieve the nanny if parents are stuck in traffic. There’s also a possible financial upside: If the families contribute equally, each one pays two-thirds the typical rate.

Whether parents hire someone to watch their child with a playmate — as my family did — or in an arrangement that involves trading off time to care for children separately, sharing a nanny is becoming more common in the United States and Canada, according to those in the industry. I spoke with providers, parents and nanny experts about how to set it up.


Give yourself time and make a plan

Several nanny-share advice sites recommend doing the following steps in chronological order. But I spoke with more than one family who worked on steps simultaneously. Either way, don’t rush the process. Give yourself at least a month.

Determine your own needs

Are you seeking a playmate for your child? Or do you only require care three days a week, and are hoping to find someone who needs a nanny for two days? The first situation is a same-time nanny share; the second, split-time. Same-time shares were more common among the nannies and families I spoke with, but are trickier to set up.

Write up a list of needs and wants early in the process, advised Tamara Torres McGovern, a parent whose toddler shares a nanny with another toddler. Include the logistical (our house or theirs?) and the philosophical (are time-outs O.K.?). Before starting the search for another family, she suggested, identify what your ideal situation would be and what you would consider unacceptable: “That way it’s clear when compromises are being made.” Checklists can serve as prompts here. The nanny-share site CozyKin has some good ones.

Find a share family

Many parents I spoke with sought partner families through word of mouth. Others used digital methods, including parenting forums, email lists, Facebook groups and Craigslist. Some of these digital spaces are nanny-share specific; some are neighborhood- or parenting-focused. Nanny Lane, part of the suite of caregiver websites, provides a forum for families looking to enter a nanny share to find one another. (They also list nannies looking for a share.)

When considering a family to share with, screen candidates for basic qualities that complement your own. Do they live reasonably close by? Are they seeking a nanny for a comparable tenure? Are their children generally compatible with yours? Most caretakers I spoke with recommended keeping the kids close in age — ideally, not more than a few months apart. “They can be put on similar schedules, and they are going to the same types of activities,” Benakovich said.

Communicate by phone or email, then meet with the other family a few times to make sure everyone is comfortable — that the kids play well together, or at least don’t clash. One parent I spoke with preferred coffee shops or playgrounds for the early meetups, only visiting another family’s home later in the process.

Find a nanny

Ultimately, the hiring process isn’t so different for a share than for a solo family. One family I spoke with recommended starting with a phone screening conducted by one person, then moving to an in-person interview with all the parents together to evaluate the dynamics. Another family said that working together to create a list of interview questions helped crystalize the families’ joint priorities. For a share, try to find someone with at least a few years’ experience as a private nanny, advised two of the experts I spoke with, so they’re better equipped to handle more than one child at a time.

When contacting potential hires, keep in mind that not every nanny is eager to enter into a share, despite the higher pay. Some prefer focusing their energies on one kid, or aren’t keen to have to synchronize two naptimes. Others dislike having more than one boss.

Agencies may also help. Sandra Dainora, a vice president at Sittercity, knew from the beginning that she wanted to share a nanny with her best friend, and the two families used an agency to find one. An agency typically handles vetting and background checks and matches families with nannies. Once the match is made, the agency can provide payroll services, taking a cut of the nanny’s pay in return. Some agencies even specialize in shared nannies: CozyKin, based in Boston and also offering services in New York, matches families with each other first and then with a nanny.

Samantha Tilton and her husband, Bert Crosby, found their nanny share on a neighborhood email service for their part of Vermont. A nearby family posted that they had recently moved from New York City and had found a nanny they wanted to hire full time. But to be able pay the nanny a fair wage, they needed the support of another family. Tilton’s family joined part time, along with a third family, also part time. The full-time family hosted the kids and took on the payroll aspects of the nanny share. “Because all three families viewed [the nanny] as an essential part of our lives, as a peer, and as an amazing resource,” Tilton said, “we all worked well together.”

Think logistics, logistics, logistics.

Once everyone feels comfortable, tackle the details: pay rate, hours and vacation time. Checklists can help, including this guide from Park Slope Parents. Consider the specifics:

  • Who provides the food the children eat?
  • Do the families both chip in for a double stroller?
  • Where will the kids nap?
  • What are the rules for when illness strikes?
  • What happens if a lamp breaks?
  • Who will be in touch with the nanny throughout the day?
  • How do the families communicate with each other?
  • How much notice does a member of the share need to give before leaving?

Families may want to nail as much of this stuff down in advance as possible.

A three-family nanny share might seem like an incredible feat, but Tilton thinks theirs worked well because everyone stuck to a set schedule, minimizing last-minute decision-making, and because everyone communicated clearly. Plus, the nanny brought a sense of professionalism to the mix and maintained clear boundaries (no extra housework, the workday ends at 5 p.m.).

Ultimately, a lot comes down to chemistry. Benakovich, the nanny at Via the Village, advises people to try a test week. “Before you sign that contract, you need to make sure that every single partner in this partnership is happy,” she said.

This article originally appeared on NYT Parenting.