What you need to know about nanny shares

Perfect for families looking for affordable, convenient, and personalized shared child care.

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

A nanny share falls somewhere between a business arrangement and a marriage. Your relationship with your share family is as important as the nanny you hire. Your kids will learn to get along fine, but will the grown-ups? (Squabbling employers will have any nanny polishing her resumé in no time.)

We fell into a nanny share quite accidentally with our first child. After waiting too long to start the daycare hunt, I turned to Craigslist, where I somewhat desperately answered an ad from a neighbourhood family looking to share costs for the nanny looking after their two small children. We were lucky—we all liked one another, they lived a 15-minute walk away, and we had similar child-care needs, so we just jumped in. (Full-time care shared between two families like this is most common, but sometimes families will split the days or come up with another combination.) We ended up staying in this arrangement—with a third family eventually joining us—for the next two years. Procrastination FTW.

Because the nanny had been working for the other family for a year already, I trusted their judgment in hiring a child-care provider possibly even more than my own. Were I to do it again, though, here are the things I would keep in mind.

If you have a deal breaker—insisting on organic food or not believing in time outs, for example—be upfront about it. Yes, it may make it harder to find a share family, but it’s unfair to everyone if you only casually mention it halfway through the process. In a daycare, you follow their policies, and if you hire your own nanny, you make the rules. But in a nanny share, it’s all about the compromise. So take the time to talk about things like food, schedules, TV time, daily activities and discipline strategies at the outset.

Think about the ages of the kids, especially babies. Two same-age infants essentially translates into twins—is that something the nanny can handle? We liked pairing up with a family with older children. On the flip side, older kids “age out” and start preschool or kindergarten (no longer requiring care) sooner than your child will.

Will there be a “home base,” or will the nanny alternate locations? We brought our daughter to our share family’s home, joining their pre-existing arrangement, but it also made sense because they had a living space more suited to caring for multiple children. If you’re rotating homes, consider logistics and whether it will be too much upheaval for the kids. Will someone have to schlep a double stroller back and forth? Will you need a second high chair or crib?

If you’re the family hosting the kids every day, you don’t have to do the daily commute with your kid (a huge plus!), but be prepared for more baby gear in your space and possibly more mess. Our share family also kept safety gates and foam floor tiles out longer than they otherwise would have. We paid them a set monthly amount to cover milk for our toddler, but her meals were rolled into their regular grocery shop. This varies with the number of kids (and their ages and food preferences), so discuss it in advance.

Then there were all the other details we only thought of as they came up. Will everyone take vacation at the same time? What about illnesses? In retrospect, we were very casual about it. We tended to think of illness in much the same way as one would with siblings in the house—it’s unavoidable, and the nanny would care for all three kids, even if one of them was under the weather. Consider how you’ll handle things like broken toys and shared costs such as extra activities, museum memberships, the nanny’s transit pass or access to a vehicle.

Be clear about money. Yes, it’s awkward to say you can’t afford as much as the other family when the nanny asks for a raise, but in the big picture, that’s just a few minutes of discomfort versus months (or even years) of stress and debt. When you’re working out the nanny’s salary breakdown, make sure you consider the number of kids, ages and hours for each family, and whether the nanny is doing extras (like laundry and cleaning) for the “home base” family.

Remember that you’re now an employer—taxes, benefits and pension are on you. Nanny shares are typically live-out situations; under the government’s Live-In Caregiver Program, nannies can only work for a single family.

You’ll also want some kind of written agreement with the share family. It doesn’t have to be formal (an email is fine) and shouldn’t replace in-person discussions. But by the end of our share, we were six parents plus the nanny. Sleeping on all big decisions, and getting everything in writing, was essential.

If negotiating all this makes you squirm, a nanny share may not be for you. Figure out your budget and your must-haves. You don’t have to be best friends with the share family (although your kids probably will be), but you do need trust, honesty and open communication.

A version of this article appeared in our Summer 2016 issue with the headline, “Consider a nanny share,” p. 72.

Read more:
How to find and pay for child care
How to choose a nanny
How to approach grandparent nannies

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