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What's a nanny share?
A nanny share, or "share care," is just what it sounds like: Instead of working for one family, a nanny cares for the child or children of two or more families at the same time.
"It's a way for parents to use the services of a nanny, usually the most expensive form of childcare, while sharing the cost with others," explains Arlyce Currie, program director of Bananas, a nonprofit childcare information clearinghouse in Oakland, California.
Nanny shares first became popular in the 1980s, when more families became dependent on the incomes of two working parents. With fewer stay-at-home parents, demand for childcare outpaced the supply, so parents began to come up with new childcare options.
Who's a good candidate for a nanny share?
Nanny shares are ideal for families with children who are approximately the same age. They work especially well for babies, in part because childcare options for infants are more limited. (Daycare centers, for example, may have fewer openings for infants because they're required by law to hire more people to hold, feed, and care for babies.) However, nanny shares can also work well for toddlers and preschoolers as long as the children get along relatively well.
Also, a nanny share may be the answer if you have a schedule that's too unpredictable for daycare. With daycare, you must drop your child off and pick her up by a certain time, and you can't leave her if she's sick.
Using a shared nanny means you can build in flexibility from the beginning. You may have an easier time arranging pickups and drop-offs, or at least changing your schedule if you need to (providing your nanny agrees).
What are its advantages?
A shared nanny is a happy medium between traditional nanny care and daycare. With fewer kids than at a daycare center, your child is more likely to get individual attention, which some experts say is especially important for babies.
A toddler will benefit from the interaction with other children if she's sharing a caregiver with others." Share care helps children form a bond similar to that of siblings," adds Currie.
And it can be a good introduction to a school setting without the hassles. "Share care prepared my daughter for socializing in a larger setting, like she does now at preschool," says Andrew Martin, a father of one.
If the nanny comes to your house, your child spends her day in a familiar environment. And because she's not around many kids, your child may not get sick as often as she might at a daycare center. (Though some germ-sharing is inevitable any time children get together.)
A nanny share also means you have other parents to count on in a pinch. For example, if your caregiver gets sick, all the parents can negotiate who will stay home and watch the kids. Or, if something comes up last minute at work, you may be able to have another parent stay with your child for an extra bit of time if the nanny can't.
Finally, you'll save money compared to what you'd normally spend on a nanny. Even though a nanny is a more expensive option than other childcare, you'll be sharing the cost with others.
What are the disadvantages?
If you've ever been part of a group project, you'll understand the drawbacks to nanny shares. Making decisions with others can be frustrating, tiring, and time-consuming.
If you're not joining an existing nanny arrangement, be ready to compromise and negotiate. And make sure that you and the other parents have similar parenting philosophies on discipline, what foods to serve the kids, how much (if any) screen time they can have, and the types of activities you want the nanny to include during the day.
Screen time was what broke mom Jennifer Lang's share care arrangement. "The other parents had a looser attitude about TV," says Lang, "whereas I didn't want my 20-month-old exposed to it at all." Lang decided to send her daughter to preschool instead.
Sharing a nanny also has disadvantages if your child or the other children in the arrangement are particularly demanding or have special needs. It can be challenging for a nanny to care for several children at once if one child needs an unusual amount of attention.
You'll also need to come to a consensus on which nanny to hire (it could take months to find one you all like) and agree on the location where she'll care for the children. It could be at your home or the other parents' home, or you could trade off by the day, week, or month.
You'll also need to agree on how much to pay the nanny, decide what benefits to offer, and then draft and sign a contract. Be sure to complete and file the proper paperwork. (See our article on legal requirements for nanny employers.) Depending on where you live, a nanny share could be a more complicated childcare option than you might think.
Once the arrangement is up and running, you and the other parents will have to agree on how to communicate with each other on details big and small, and be patient when you disagree. Some parents who share a nanny find it useful to communicate by group text.
How do I make it work?
For starters, draft and sign a detailed contract with your nanny. It clearly documents your arrangement and protects you both if problems arise because you can refer to it if you need to resolve an issue.
The contract should include how many hours each family agrees to pay for, the rate of pay, how taxes will be divided, and how to handle coverage for holidays, vacation time, and sick days.
To avoid overwhelming your nanny or giving conflicting information, you may want to pick one family to be the main contact for daily messages, like schedule changes. (This is often the family who lives in the home where the childcare is taking place, but it doesn't have to be.) "That way the nanny isn't receiving mixed messages from two sets of people," says Lori O'Brien, a mom who shares a nanny with another family.
Setting up a regular time to meet with the other parents is a good way to discuss small problems before they become big. Some parents find it convenient to schedule a quick weekly meeting to check in with the nanny and the other parents.
The bottom line
Under the right circumstances, sharing a nanny can be the best of both worlds. Each family gets the individualized care of a nanny at a more affordable cost.
Your nanny will like the arrangement because her wage will reflect that she's working for more than one family. And as they grow up, the kids may appreciate having playmates available all day long.