Welcome to your ultimate guide to the nanny share! On the Mindful Return blog, we’ve covered every type of child care option imaginable, including:
But there’s one more popular childcare option we haven’t yet touched on: nanny shares. In today’s post, I’ve interviewed four Mindful Return alumnae. They were all eager to share their own personal experiences with a nanny share. Please welcome Ceridwen Cherry, Katie Ellis, Septima McLaurin, and Linda Cendes Hosler to the blog.
Yes, this is a long post, but it’s worth the read. WOW do these incredible women offer some helpful perspectives and advice. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us here, mamas! (Scroll to the bottom, if you’re looking for a special bonus about using a nanny-share as an interim solution between a return to work and getting off a daycare wait list.)
Mindful Return: What exactly is a nanny share? How does it work exactly, from a logistical perspective?
Ceridwen: A nanny share is when two (or more) families share the same nanny. Each family directly employs the nanny and pays the nanny directly. But splitting the cost of a nanny helps reduce the cost for the families and increase the salary for the nanny.
Most nannies will charge slightly more to work for two families than for a single family with multiple children. Why? Because of the added complication of having multiple employers. Some nanny shares have both of the children attending on the exact same schedule. Others might have one with the nanny full time and the other only participating a few days a week. Or any number of different variations. A nanny share is usually hosted at one of the families’ homes, although many nanny shares rotate hosting duties.
Katie: Our nanny share was an agreement with another family to share in the weekly expense of a nanny. We managed the nanny together. And we agreed on logistics and activities as a team. In our case, the other family hosted the nanny share, so we dropped off our daughter at their condo each day. They set up a pack-n-play for our daughter’s naps. And they already had a double-stroller and the booster seats and high chairs needed.
Each family paid the nanny directly. We agreed on paid vacation and sick days, and tracked that as best we could. When our daughter started eating solid foods, we started to pay the other family a flat rate for food, so that the nanny could simply take from whatever was at the home, rather than us packing special foods.
When we decided to end the nanny share, we discussed it first as employers, and then with the nanny. We tried to be on the same page about all employment matters.
Septima: A nanny share is an arrangement where two families share a nanny. Benefits include a high level of attention for your child and highly customized care that works for your family. All at a reduced rate, because you are splitting the cost between two families. The two families can either split the fee 50%, or one family might pay a little bit more if the other family hosts the majority of the time. Regarding hosting, you can split the time between both households. But I always found it easier to have one family host so the baby gear could stay at one house.
Mindful Return: How did you decide on using a nanny share as your child care option?
Ceridwen: We joined a lot of daycare wait lists. But when it came time to decide on childcare, we found that it was unlikely we’d get a spot when we needed one (even after joining the waitlists more than a year prior!). Ultimately we also decided that we weren’t comfortable with sending an infant to daycare.
We originally thought about getting our own nanny. But when we asked around and heard that in the DC market at the time, it would be at least $18-22/hour plus overtime, taxes and additional expenses, we decided to look into the nanny share option. Nanny shares are very common in our neighborhood. Daycare waiting lists can be really long, meaning daycare sometimes isn’t an option initially even for those families who prefer it. We were in a nanny share from the time our son was 6 months old until he turned 2.
Katie: We thought we would use a daycare for our first child and toured various locations in our neighborhood. When I posted a message on my building message board asking for recommendations, a neighbor reached out to me and asked if we would want to consider a nanny share with their family. We were total newbies and didn’t have an entrenched idea about what childcare option was best. When considering daycare and a nanny share, the nanny share seemed a great option for us. We liked that our infant would be in a comfortable setting. Logistically, it would be super convenient. And we really liked the other family and the nanny.
Septima: We wanted our son to have a lot of attention and couldn’t afford a nanny on our own. He was our first child, so we felt strongly about the attention factor. And we also liked that he would have a buddy to learn from, and share experiences with, so that at an early age he would know how to be around other babies and kids.
Because I knew from very early on that we wanted to have a nanny share arrangement, we didn’t sign up for a child care center. It’s possible this could have backfired since in our city (Boston) the waiting lists can be months if not years long. But, at every center I toured, I left feeling anxious about the environment and nothing felt right.
Since I had been told more than once that I should trust my gut regarding a child care center, I really did rely in that instinct. My husband was supportive although worried about the backup if a nanny share fell through. But I was determined it was going to work. And luckily, it worked out beautifully.
Mindful Return: How did you choose the family with whom you decided to share? And how did you choose your particular nanny? Which decision came first?
Ceridwen: We were really lucky to find our nanny share family easily through our neighborhood’s parent Facebook page. Our sons were born only a few days apart. We were all first time parents. We had similar work schedules. And we wanted similar childcare hours. So it was an easy fit. We met initially at our local coffee shop and talked over our goals then decided to look for a nanny jointly.
Katie: We chose both at the same time! When the other mom reached out to me, they had already selected the nanny and had worked with her for a few months. Rather than an interview, it was more of a conversation. We spent a little bit of time trying to get to know the other family. The other mom was very open with their schedule and expectations, as she had been in nanny shares in the past. Her perspective and openness made it really easy.
Additionally, the nanny was okay with entering the nanny share. Our nanny was experienced and had worked in a daycare, so she was comfortable with multiple kids and the multiple family perspectives.
Septima: It took me a while to find the other family. My son was already 6 weeks old, when I saw an ad on the Boston Moms listserv that another mom was looking for a nanny share for her son who was 4 days younger than my son. I had interviewed one nanny that I liked well enough, but I wasn’t convinced she was the right nanny. I did have the other mom (once we decided we were a match) speak with the nanny over the phone, and she felt that we should continue looking.
Once we found the other family, it became clearer what type of personality and timing we were looking for in our nanny. I think it worked out best for both families to interview and decide together, so we could choose the right person. Prior to and during the nanny search process, we talked a lot about our preferences, must haves, and must-avoids. We got more clarity on our vision as we interviewed candidates.
As it turned out, we found a wonderful nanny whom my son (now 4.5 years old) loves. She is now a family friend, given our nanny share arrangement ended when the boys were 1.5 and the other family moved away.
Mindful Return: How does the cost of a nanny share tend to compare to other child care options?
Ceridwen: In our area, each family’s contribution to a full time nanny share usually costs a little more or equivalent to the most expensive daycare. It costs a little more than half of what a nanny working for a single family would cost.
Rather than just a single lump sum payment to a daycare provider each week or month a nanny share required a little more work to keep track of various expenses. In addition to each family’s paying an hourly rate to the nanny, under DC law, we also had to pay time-and-a-half for any hours over 40/week. We then also had to pay state and federal taxes. And we paid a bonus at the holidays.
We also provided paid sick and vacation days, so sometimes had to also pay for back up childcare on days our nanny was out. DC law requires having workers compensation insurance, and we also paid for a payroll company to handle the weekly pay checks and all of our tax filings. Because our nanny share was jointly hosted at both houses, we also had some additional costs to make sure each house had the essentials to host two babies like a pack-n-play, baby monitor, sound machine, high chair etc. We also paid to install nanny cameras in our houses.
Most nannies will expect a raise after a certain period of time (often a year). So while daycare might stay the same price or even get cheaper over time as your child gets older and moves to a room with a higher student/teacher ratio, a nanny share usually increases in cost over time. If you plan on being in the share long term it’s important to factor that into your budget.
Katie: In our area (Chicago), a nanny share was equivalent to daycare costs. Paying taxes and paid vacation leave, as well as identifying back-up care, made the nanny share slightly more expensive.
Septima: I have found that the cost of a daycare center is by far the least expensive child care option. But for the personal touch and knowing at a very detailed level what my child did on a given day, I have found the nanny share to be much more transparent. For me, that peace of mind doesn’t have a price tag.
Mindful Return: What are some good resources to use to find nanny share options?
Ceridwen: Neighborhood listservs and Facebook groups are an invaluable resource for finding both nanny share families and nannies who are recommended by area families. We found most of our nanny candidates that way and really valued having recommendations for other parents. In DC, the website DC Urban Moms and Dads also hosts a widely used nanny board where you can post a job advertisement for nannies.
Septima: Facebook Moms Groups and other online Moms Groups were always what worked for my family. The online-word-of-mouth network is powerful in most urban locations. I know some people use agencies but I never did.
Also, I found once I had a nanny, she had nanny friends. I discovered that the nanny network is very strong. So, if I needed backup care, or evening/weekend hours that my nanny couldn’t cover, I would ask her if a friend could cover. Often, I was lucky enough to find another wonderful nanny who could help us out.
Mindful Return: What are some of the benefits of your nanny share arrangement?
Ceridwen: Obviously, the lower cost than having our own nanny was a huge benefit. We also loved that on the three days a week we hosted the nanny share, we didn’t have to deal with any drop off or pick up logistics. Being able to walk out the door when the nanny arrived and come home right as she was going off duty helped extend our work day and make our mornings and evenings a lot less stressful. Our nanny share family lived only a ten minute walk away. So on the two days a week that the other family hosted, it was easy to do drop off and pick up as a part of our commute.
Sleep was a big priority for us in selecting childcare and a big benefit of the nanny share. Compared to our friends with kids in daycare who were seemingly constantly struggling with naps, we felt like our son napped a lot better. He was either able to nap at home in his own crib or in his own room at the nanny share family’s house. We also appreciated the amount of personal attention he got from the nanny, given he was only with one other child all day. This also meant we could have a lot of input into what his routine looked like and allowed us a lot more control over things than we would have if he’d been in daycare with many other children.
For example we wanted to do baby-led weaning with our baby, and the other family chose to start with purees. Our nanny was able to cater to each family’s wishes and each kid’s needs as they changed over time. As our boys got older, we really appreciated that the nanny share allowed them to get out and enjoy neighborhood parks or other activities around the city like museums or the zoo. And we were able to enroll them in local classes like music, Gymboree and toddler yoga.
Our nanny also frequently met up with other nanny shares, which meant they got a lot of socialization through play dates. For our son, the nanny share was the right balance between having a full time built-in play date, but not being the in the very stimulating environment of daycare all day. Having a nanny share family also allowed us to cover for each other when emergencies came up. If one family needed child care before the nanny share started in the morning or was late to the pick-up, the other was always happy to cover. And because the children got to know all the parents and we were familiar with each other’s houses, we often we did babysitting swaps. This allowed us to get free date night childcare!
Katie: We really liked the relationship that our daughter had with the other baby in the nanny share. I came to really trust the other mom in the group and found her friendship and advice really helpful. The nanny share made it easier to be first-time parents, as well as first-time employers! I think that helped our learning curve and also helped my husband and me to think through many aspects of raising our kid.
Septima: Flexibility with schedules. Ability to take kids to classes. One point of contact who knew my baby really well and could give me advice on what I might try for him. Or on what she tried and worked (or didn’t).
I loved knowing details of what my son did on a daily basis, and I got regular texts and pictures of his activities. The nanny can cook for the children or do light housekeeping depending on the arrangement, too. Usually, the agreement is the nanny takes care of anything baby-related and leaves the house orderly at the end of the day.
Personally, I wanted my nanny to focus on the kids, so I didn’t have her do laundry or even light housekeeping. A professional, career nanny will always clean up and organize the baby stuff. Even if she’s not required to do light housekeeping.
I also liked that my son had a strong network of kids in the neighborhood thanks to our nanny and her network. I used to say he had a better social life than I did! Now, I have mom friends because of the nanny share. Quite honestly, another benefit is that if your kids are sick at the same time, as long as the nanny agrees to it, she can watch 2 sick kids if moms and dads have to go to work. Not ideal, obviously, but it can be done. Then, you pray the nanny stays healthy! More on that below.
Mindful Return: What are some of the challenges, and how have you addressed them?
Ceridwen: For us, the biggest challenge of a nanny share was decision fatigue. Every decision required input from four parents and our nanny. Dealing with multiple people also added some emotional labor into the mix. Sometimes we wished we had our own nanny just to make decisions a little easier.
We also unfortunately had to go through two bad nannies before we found a good one. Also, having to do all the interviewing and making hiring decisions jointly added to the stress of the process. Sharing a nanny also meant we didn’t have complete control over every aspect of our childcare. For example, at one point we weren’t able to enroll our son in a playgroup we wanted him to attend with the nanny, because the other family didn’t want to do it. There were also a few times when the boys’ schedules didn’t align perfectly. For example, one kid was ready to drop down to one nap a little earlier than the other. But having them be on opposite schedules was too difficult for the nanny, so we just had to decide to move them both to one nap.
It’s also hard for a nanny to have to answer to two sets of employers. To make communication a little easier for her, we had a daily group text with the four parents and the nanny. And we also asked her to use the Baby Tracker app so we could get real time updates on their eating/sleeping/activities etc., rather than constantly answering questions from four parents.
Because communication with five people could be challenging, especially when evening pick up can be a bit chaotic, we held a once a month check-in meeting. That allowed us to talk about how things were going and any changes that needed to be made.
Another major downside of most nanny shares is that you can’t send your kid if they are sick, in case they infect the other child. So while our son got sick a lot less frequently than he would have if he was at daycare, we still had to do the parent juggle of figuring out who was staying home if he was sick or recovering from a fever. And because we were reliant on only a single child care provider if our nanny was sick, we had to take time off work or find back up care.
Katie: The biggest challenge is addressing the relationship between the families. We had to be really understanding and respectful of each other. It is a very intimate arrangement – you are dropping off your child to be in another family’s home for most of their waking hours. To help this, we had guidelines in place for many things, including drop-off and pick-up. What happened when we were late. And what to do on sick days. Setting up the guidelines helped us to work through “what ifs” well before they happened.
One of the challenges is sick days. When the kids were sick, would the sick kid stay with the nanny and with the healthy kid? For some illnesses, but not all? We had to establish the expectations for this.
Ending the nanny share was also a challenge. Our nanny share came to an end when the other family decided to enroll their child, then 2 years old, into daycare. To address this, we worked out a timeline, had plenty of time to adjust, and gave our nanny plenty of notice.
Septima: Personal household habits can sometimes cause issues, and it’s important to address these as soon as they arise. We had an issue at one point with dirty breakfast dishes in the sink that the nanny then had to clean up to be able to handle baby and meal prep. Since our arrangement was to take care of baby things, and not adult things, the nanny was upset that she was being forced to clean up after the parents.
The best way through these times is direct, clear communication with the party/ies in question, and going back to the agreed-upon rules or contract if needed. (If there’s one in place, that is. We did not use a nanny contract.) I wouldn’t necessarily recommend having one in place, since I’ve never decided to use one. However, there are standard agreements that most nannies have access to, or that you can obtain from another mom. I’m not sure how legally binding they are; but it’s nice to have a set of ground rules to refer back to.
Vacations could also be a challenge. Our nanny offered to take her vacations at the same time as both families. But as it worked out, we had different vacation-timing needs so the times away never aligned. I suggest having a backup service or plan in place; flying a family member in to take care of kids can work for one family but not always both. So vacations always needed extra planning-ahead and teamwork by all.
Finally, sick time was by far the most difficult part of the nanny share. As I mentioned above, it’s important to have back-up care options in your hip pocket. Some day care centers and babysitting services offer this option. There were times when the backup care option didn’t work out, and we’d have to stay home or take turns. It wasn’t ideal but we got through it. And it didn’t happen often.
Mindful Return: Any recommendations you have for others considering a nanny share?
Ceridwen:I think it’s really important to be on the same page with the other host family about what you want out of the nanny share. And whether there are any particular parenting/childcare philosophies you want the nanny to follow.
I think it was much easier to be starting a new nanny share and finding a nanny together than it would have been to join an established nanny share. We wanted quite a lot of say in how the nanny did things, and that would have been harder if the share had already been set up.
It’s also important to agree on the hours you want the nanny to work and to any benefits you plan to provide. We always discussed and made decisions about raises and bonuses jointly.
In our area because daycare wait lists are so long, its common for people to do a nanny share until a spot opens up. But that can leave the other family in the lurch. Especially because finding another family whose needs fit yours can be hard, particularly if it’s important to you to do a share with a child of the same age. I think it’s important for both families to be really upfront about how long they intend to stay in the share. We were fortunate that our nanny share family also wanted a long term share.
Personally I think having both kids very close in age was a big advantage. It meant they were on similar nap schedules and developmental tracks and could more easily play together and do shared activities. I have friends who have had successful shares with a toddler and an infant, though, especially if they were comfortable with the younger baby’s napping on the go while the older child was out at activities.
Katie: Establish common guidelines. This helps enormously! Determine if your parenting style and personality allow you to work in this dynamic. I would not recommend a nanny share if you have very strict beliefs. Or if you’re unwavering in your expectations on how the day’s schedule should progress. You also have to be willing to talk money – your nanny’s salary – with other people. If you can do these things, then I think the nanny share can be a great set-up!
Septima: Think about what your ideal arrangement would be. Would you like to host? Or would you prefer to have your child be hosted? (Perhaps a parent works from home, for example, and cannot have the background noise.) What are the non-negotiable items for you and your family? (Cry-it-out at naptime or not?) Communicate that list clearly to the other family, and to the nanny as part of your screening process. Also be sure to think through payment arrangements.
Finally, here are a few things I wish people knew about having a nanny: (1) Holidays. Many people don’t know that nannies get the same (paid) holidays as most working adults. They also get 2-3 weeks of paid vacation. A professional nanny gets paid every week of the year! (2) The nanny becomes part of the family. Therefore, it’s important to have someone that both/all parents like and can work with, and to maintain a positive relationship with that person. Children, including babies, can sense when the atmosphere is positive, or if there’s tension in the air. So it’s important to have a healthy, positive relationship with open communication with all team members involved – including the nanny and the other family.
Bonus: Linda Hosler also shared with us the perspective of a mama who used a nanny share as a stop-gap between returning to work and getting a daycare spot:
Given that all the daycares in our area have long wait-lists, we did not have a spot available for our daughter by the time I was returning to work. We needed an interim solution, and I found a nanny-share group via a neighborhood mom listserv that was looking for a short duration family for a few months before their next child was joining the group. We used the nanny-share for two months before a daycare spot opened. And I worked reduced hours (30 hours/week) during those two months (my daughter was 4 months to 6 months during this time).
The timing and location of the other family’s house worked out perfectly for us. Having reduced hours was a great way to ease my way back into work, and my daughter didn’t have a sudden transition a big daycare setting right away. It also helped that it was an existing nanny-share for administrative reasons– we just copied their existing contract and jumped right in.
We thought about finding another nanny-share to be in the long-term vs. daycare, but our daycare is literally a block from my work and couldn’t be more convenient. The other concern was the cost of a nanny-share when working full-time. If I am working 40 hours a week, then the nanny has to work 50 hours a week to account for travel to/from work. And that extra overtime rate made it more expensive than daycare even as a nanny-share. I also like the flexibility of pick-up/drop-off hours of a daycare. I don’t have to worry if I have to work an extra half hour one day.
Ceridwen Cherry has a two-year-old son and a baby on the way. She lives with her family in Washington, DC, where she works as a voting rights litigator for the ACLU.
Katie Ellis is the leader of the Transformation Office for Cars.com where she launched the company’s first program to support women preparing for and returning from maternity leave. Katie lives with her husband and their two young children in Chicago.
Septima Maclaurin is a wife, mother of two, and business development professional living in the Boston area. In addition to taking care of her family and her career, she strives to do at least one self-care task every day so she can be a joyful role model for her community.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave