What is nanny sharing and how does it work in NoVA?

With school back in session, we wanted to find out more about the popular alternative to traditional child care practices.

nanny playing with two small babies
© Myroslava / stock.adobe.com

Here in Northern Virginia, finding proper child care that’s the right fit for your youngsters can be a challenging process. From staying in your price range to ensuring they’re put down for daily naps, there’s a lot to consider. 

And while there are many day care facilities and babysitters in the NoVA region to choose from, nanny sharing—the act of two or more families sharing the costs of one nanny—is a particularly common option for parents living in one of the most expensive areas for child care in the country.

The pseudo industry has no government regulations, so nanny sharing thrives entirely through word of mouth and online parenthood blogs. The way it typically works is this: Two or more families hire the same nanny and split costs. One family volunteers their home as the host setting, and a verbal or written contract is created amongst all parties to ensure stability throughout the process. 

In Alexandria, parents are constantly turning to this alternative child care system as a starting point for their children, according to two Del Ray-based moms.

Brooke Hobbie, a mother of two, turned to nanny sharing in 2014 after finding herself disappointed with the available care choices in the area, and continued with the same nanny, Michelle McDonald, until fall of last year when her child was old enough to start at preschool. 

“Once we knew we were moving to Del Ray, I started applying to day cares in the area but had such a hard time getting in contact with some of them or the waitlists were two to three years long. It was almost near impossible,” says Hobbie. “It drove me to follow through with the nanny share option, and it’s amazing what a vibrant nanny-share market there is in Northern Virginia.”

When looking for the right nanny and co-family to work with, Hobbie wanted to ensure her child’s caretaker was treated as any professional would be, through appropriate pay, benefits and overall respect. All of this was laid out in a contract that McDonald had written when she first started nannying in the area six years ago. According to McDonald, having a written contract enables her to “easily transition from family to family,” as she has built a strong clientele in the Del Ray neighborhood, where she lives with her two dogs.  

Meg Pickel, a mother of two who participated in nanny sharing with the same woman from August, 2017 to last month, never felt the need to set a written contract.

“The nanny continued to be trustworthy, she was so nurturing, our son was thriving with her,” says Pickel. “It got to the point that putting anything down on paper would feel silly.”

While Pickel is enrolling her youngest son in day care this month, she says parting ways with her nanny, Crystal, is bittersweet. Pickel’s nanny-sharing situation is different than most, as Crystal is a single mom whose daughter is one of the children being cared for. For the past two years, Crystal has cared for Pickel’s 3-year-old, a second family’s child who is similar in age, and her own daughter, who is about six months older than the other two. About one year ago, the second family had another child, bringing Crystal’s attention to four children in total.

With multiple children of varying ages under her watch, Crystal is able to schedule her time accordingly to give each kid the proper amount of attention, and also treat the nanny share as a mini day care of sorts.

“She used to be an early childhood education provider at one of the most well-known preschools in the area, so she came to us with that experience, and I think because of that, it’s made her totally confident with wrangling several kids,” Pickel explains. “She has that teacher mindset where she creates weekly themes, does field trips and circle time, so we really had the best of both worlds.”

While the individualized attention for children is an important aspect of nanny sharing, the economic saving is what attracts families living in expensive neighborhoods to the idea in the first place.

According to Pickel, in the first year her family participated in nanny sharing, they saved about $500 a month when compared to the average cost of a full-time day care center, and around $1,000 a month compared to a private nanny, if not more. 

There are also economic benefits for the nannies involved, too, according to McDonald, who cared for Hobbie’s son. When she was a private nanny in Kingstown, she made less money, and now with multiple families in the same town she lives in, she is able to work 40 to 45 hours per week, make overtime pay and take her dogs for daily walks with kids in tow. 

With the benefits—individualized care, time saving and lower costs—comes challenges, though, due to the lack of systematic regulations.

“You go from being a mom to being an employer and that can be really uncomfortable because you become friends with this person,” says Pickel. “They are raising your child. You want them to be happy, but unavoidably there are times when you have to act like a manager.”

Pickel also noted that being a host family can lead to unexpected damages and costs, stemming from wear and tear of the home, as well as increased utility bills when so many people spend time in the house on a daily basis.

For Hobbie, the $11-an-hour pay and time-and-a-half for 40-hour weeks added up, which is part of the reason she decided to enroll her child at a full-time preschool, in addition to placing him in a social and learning environment.

According to Pickel, the transient nature of Northern Virginia makes nanny sharing a challenging market, as families are consistently moving, often times reassigning the nanny. Yet for both the Pickel and Hobbie families, nanny sharing was worth the investment. 

“When I do talk to other families considering this, I say it is the best solution if you can make it work, but there are a lot of variables to having a successful nanny share,” says Pickel. “More than that personalized attention for our son, there was time and energy saving for us as the host family. And we also just absolutely love our nanny.”

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