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The truth about nannies: 9 caregiver and au pair myths debunked

If you just read the headlines in American pop culture, you could get the wrong idea about nannies. Books and movies like The Nanny Diaries, lawsuits between celebrity couples and their nannies, and affairs between nannies and husbands (or wives), are enough to make anyone avoid the option altogether. But the truth is that millions of families enjoy working with nannies – scandal-free. You can too.

In January of 2010, we asked the families who use nannies through my company, Nannies4Hire.com, to complete a survey about how the economic downturn was affecting their families. The data gathered helps debunk some of the most common misconceptions about nannies:

Myth #1. Nannies are for the wealthy.

When asked their family income, 34% of our 796 respondents reported earning less than $100,000 per year, 22% earned between $100,000 and $150,000, 17.5% earned between $150,000 and $200,000, and 26.5% earned over $200,000.

Bottom line: Working families use nannies the most, and it’s easy to understand why. If you have a nanny, you don’t have to miss work to stay home with a child too sick for daycare. If you have two or more children, hiring a nanny may be more cost effective than daycare, and if you don’t need full-time help, sharing a nanny with another family is a way to cut down on costs without sacrificing benefits.

Myth #2. A nanny must work full-time.

Most nannies arrange their schedules around the family’s. For the families who responded to our survey, 46.9% of nannies worked part-time, with the hours per week ranging from under 10 to 30. You can find a high quality nanny who will work with your schedule.

Myth #3. A nanny must make a year commitment.

The only legally binding agreement between a nanny and a family is a written contract that outlines all the terms of their agreement. (Au pairs are an exception; their J-1 visas require 12 month commitments.) While these contracts are a good idea, you don’t have to have one. Either way, you aren’t tied to a nanny any longer than you want to be.

Myth #4. A nanny is not safe.

In a study by Healthy Steps for Young Children, a Commonwealth Fund and Boston University program co-sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the leading factor in childhood injuries was the composition of the family, not the nanny. For instance, children of unmarried parents were the most likely to be injured. Another study that compared children who received home care, center-based care, and other forms of out-of-home childcare found that the rate of minor injuries was highest in center-based care, but there was not a significant difference among the three types of care for severe injuries.” (PEDIATRICS Vol. 122 No. 5 November 2008, pp. e980-e987)

Myth #5. A nanny will only take care of the children (no housework, cooking, etc.).

In most cases, a nanny will be willing to help your house run more smoothly, though it’s important not to burden a nanny with so many non-child-related activities that they distract from the nanny’s primary responsibility: the care of your child. 77% of the nannies who responded to our first survey in 2009 were doing child-related household activities (homework, errands, birthday parties, housework, laundry, and meal preparation), while 19% are involved in duties benefiting the whole family. To break it down even further, 34% did housekeeping for the family, 59% did housekeeping for the children, 77% prepared meals for the children only, and 20% prepared meals for the whole family. In 2010, 79% are doing more than just watching children. When you’re considering nanny candidates, ask each how she or he could help your family as a whole.

Myth #6. If I hire a nanny, I won’t know what is going on in my own home.

If you establish good communication systems at the start of your relationship with your nanny, you will know everything that your child does in a given day. We recommend keeping a nanny journal, a daily reporting book where your nanny records important milestones, successes and challenges of the day. But the best measures of your nanny’s performance are your child’s happiness and whether or not your home is in order when you return at the end of the day.

Myth #7. With a nanny, your child will not socialize with other children.

One of a nanny’s major responsibilities is to supervise your child’s interactions with other kids, from play dates with friends to birthday parties, organized sports activities, and fun at the park. If you make it clear that encouraging your child’s social development is important to you, your nanny will prioritize it, too.

Myth #8. Hiring a nanny is too complicated.

Hiring a qualified nanny is easier than you think. With an online database service like Nannies4Hire.com, you can preview available nannies in your zip code in the comfort of your own home. You will see their picture, experience, health status, education, and more. After you have narrowed your selection to two or three prospects, contact each to arrange a phone interview at a time convenient for you. Promising candidates will be willing to speak whenever is best for you. The same goes for any follow up in-home interviews to see how the nanny interacts with your child.

Myth #9. If I hire a nanny and am not happy with the relationship, I am stuck.

Working with a nanny should be no different from your relationships with employees you hire or manage at your workplace. As the employer, you have goals and expectations for your nanny. One way to be clear about those expectations from the beginning is to develop a written job description and draw up a written contract that you both sign. We also recommend hiring nannies for a three month introductory period after which you and your nanny discuss whether you are a good fit. Whether or not you follow these guidelines, if you are not happy with your nanny’s performance, you have the right to end the relationships, and neither you nor the nanny should take it personally. You deserve the best nanny for your child. Period.

From The Nanny Factor: A Parent’s Guide to Finding the Right Nanny for Your Family by Candi Wingate. Copyright © 2010 by Candi Wingate. Excerpted by permission of Nannies International Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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