Secrets for success: How to be the family babysitters and nannies want

Published by Chicago Parent magazine- June 2015

Winner of national Parenting Media Association award for service feature

Desperate for a date night, parents can rush out the door as soon as the sitter arrives. Think about that babysitter left in the lurch without the 411 on the family’s nighttime routines, especially when the baby wakes up and howls like a wild coyote and there’s no milk in the house. Do you think that sitter will want to come back?

Caring for other people’s kids, in their homes, on their terms, is tough work. If parents expect top-notch childcare, we, in turn, need to be exceptional employers. What makes the best childcare relationships work?

With summer kicking into high gear, we talked with Chicago-area nannies and babysitter as well as parents and parenting experts to secure their secrets for childcare success al year round.

Put details in writing

When you professionalize the hiring process, everyone feels like they have equal footing. Spell out the job description, vacation and sick time in a contract. “Families without contracts usually run into problems within three months,” says Erin Krex, president of First Class Care, Inc. “It’s commonly over something promised in an offer but later forgotten.” When details are in writing, you both have reminders.

“Put together a Household Handbook,” suggests Marcie Wolbeck of Cultural Care Au Pair and Chicago mom of three. “Write down things like which child hates spinach and your approved discipline methods. It’s a great resource for caregivers to better meet your expectations.”

Get serious about expectations

“You need to be specific and honest about what you really want,” says Katie Bugbee, parenting expert at Lay out expectations for hours, flexibility, household chores, personality type and activity level. A babysitter is an occasional helper while a nanny manages more responsibilities, like helping with homework and cooking. “Even if it’s only a few hours a week, if you depend on that person, consider the job a part-time nanny,” says Bugbee. “An elevated description will get stronger candidates.”

Throw it all out there

The interview is the time to see if you click and make sure all your requests stick. Be clear on your expectations and confirm the candidate can deliver. “Throw her all the curveballs she could face,” suggests Bugbee. How would you encourage him to eat dinner or handle bedtime battles?

“If you’d like her to save smartphone use until after the kids are asleep and she raises her eyebrows, realize it might not be the best fit,” says Tammy Gold, author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer.

Just like you expect the caregiver to be honest, tell her exactly what you need. “Put everything on the table in the interview and try not to ask for other things afterwards,” says Branndi Camp, nanny for nine years. How duped would you feel if you were continually asked to take on additional responsibility without increased pay?

Respect each other

While parents insist they don’t want anyone telling them how to raise their children, caregivers say they don’t want to be treated like slaves. Reciprocal respect is imperative.

“If you feel like you have to check on your child and his nanny all day long, you probably don’t have the right nanny,” says Chicago mother Amanda Hughes.

Teach children to respect the caregiver, too. Give her control and don’t let little ones push the limits. “I tell kids if we both want me to come back, we need to follow the rules,” says Nubia Camacha, babysitter for 30 years.

Make time to talk

Communication is key. Knowing that it’s hard to discuss sticky issues with kids at your legs, schedule a regular time to chat with caregivers.

“If you feel uncomfortable about something, don’t hold back,” says Camp. Nothing is more rancid in a relationship than negative feelings festering. Instead of feeling resentful, find a positive way to discuss the issue.

“I’ve never walked away from a meeting angry,” says Lisa McCormick, a nanny for 27 years. “Even if there was a difference in opinion, we uncovered solutions achievable for both of us.”

Show your gratitude

When Gold asks caregivers what they like most about the families they work for, the number one response is, “They appreciate me!”

Don’t forget to say thank you for everything she does and enables you to do. “If the baby threw up, reward her with a few extra bucks or book another evening of babysitting right away,” says Bugbee.

“Flowers and gifts are great, but handwritten notes are the best,” McCormick says. Think about special perks you can provide too. Caregivers love to brag about exclusive rewards, like hard-to-get concert tickets.

Back each other up

Agree on limits and expectations for independence, then follow through. Caregivers cite rules like picking up toys, putting away dishes or tying their own shoes that were relaxed over weekends.

Tired moms and dads think they’re making life easier by avoiding battles. “But parents and caregivers need to be seen as a united front in childrearing,” says nanny Katie Franseen.

Be cognizant of her time too

Canceling last minute is the worst, but if your kid is sick, offer to pay the sitter’s fee. If you’re occasionally running late, a phone call will do, but remember caregivers have lives, too.

If you want the best for your kids while you’re away, treating their caregivers with gratitude and respect is as important as pay.

“Happy parents plus happy caregivers equals doubly happy kids,” says Gold.