Should you hire a nanny?

Dawn Janes-Bartley never planned on hiring a nanny for her son, Alex.

Having his grandmothers take turns with childcare was working out just fine — until both planned to escape to warmer weather for the same two-month period.

So she hired a nanny named Leah to cover the gap. And it worked out so well that eight weeks with Leah turned into most of a year.

She even came back to work for the family a second time around — this time with her own children in tow.

Janes-Bartley has now had nannies in her home for the past 13 years. Those years have spanned two marriages and four children — Alex, 13, Kyle, 10, Anna, 9, and Kali, 2.

“Thirteen years of wonderful people who have input their personality into my children,” she said. “They shaped them into good kids.”

Finding the right fit

Once while choosing between two candidates for the job, Janes-Bartley remembers a moment of clarity while in a children’s music class with her son who was a toddler at the time. She could picture one of the potential hires rolling on the floor with the kids in the class and goofing around without caring what people thought of her.

Since that was a quality she wanted to instill in her children, she knew then that was the person she wanted to hire.

Her current nanny, Ashley Haus, 24, has worked for Janes-Bartley and her husband, Chad Bartley, for about a year. They first connected on Care.com.

“Ashley is great with the kids and she’s teaching them about what’s important in life,” Janes-Bartley said.

Haus attributes the success of the working relationship to the fact that her personality clicks well with the parents. Getting to know them as people — and not just talking about the kids — has definitely helped, too, she said.

While one nanny Janes-Bartley hired was in childcare as a long-term career, most have been college aged or recently graduated women like Haus who are in transition while they look for a job in their field.

For the first few years, Janes-Bartley hired live-in nannies because she couldn’t risk someone showing up late. The family transitioned to live-out nannies, but still give preference to those who live near their town of Minnetrista.

Challenges along the way

Not every nanny Janes-Bartley hired has worked out.

Some just weren’t reliable, even going on vacation and not returning when they said they would. Once, when Alex was a baby, Dawn and her husband at the time came home to find him screaming in his crib while the nanny was downstairs on Facebook, ignoring his cries. They talked to her about their expectations, but when it happened again, they let her go.

Years later the children told their parents that the current nanny was being physically rough with them. The nanny denied it, saying the children weren’t being honest. Even so, Janes-Bartley knew something wasn’t right with the situation. She fired her on the spot.

“All the sudden I’m scrambling for childcare. But I had to do the right thing for the kids,” she said.

After that experience she wasn’t as trusting — or as lenient. She and her husband began popping in to make sure things were OK at home and checking references of potential hires meticulously.

“I was very thorough with interviewing after that — asking significantly more questions,” Janes-Bartley said.

A smooth relationship

The positive experiences have far outweighed the negatives for Janes-Bartley. Seven of the caregivers she hired have become like part of the family — and still keep in touch.

Haus said it helps that she feels like she can talk openly with her employers.

“Being comfortable with communication is important,” she said.

Little things that make the job easier for Haus include the use of the family vehicle to transport the children, a credit card for outings and expenses and free reign to share the family’s food. Janes-Bartley said Haus also has the flexibility to run her own errands with the kids if she needs to.

She said she trusts Haus to look out for what’s best for her kids just like she and her husband do.

“I’m looking for that third parent,” she said. “I’m not looking for a babysitter.”

Haus accompanied the family on a Disney cruise this winter, where she helped with the kids, but also got time off to enjoy some excursions on the trip.

Janes-Bartley views nannies as an extension of the family.

“I’m giving them the most important thing in my life,” she said. “That’s a pretty big deal. I’d better have a lot of love and respect for that person.”

Keys to success

For 11 years, Tracie Kapaun, a local childcare consultant with Cultural Care Au Pair, has been placing 18- to 26-year-old students from overseas with Minnesota families for yearlong childcare assignments.

Many families are interested in the ethnic exposure and language benefits of a live-in au pair.

“It’s a cultural experience in your home without traveling,” Kapaun said.

Kapaun said there are three keys to success for setting up a good working relationship with an in-home caregiver.

She encourages parents to create a list or handbook spelling out expectations ahead of time; be respectful and treat them like part of the family; and have a weekly meeting to connect and talk about any issues.

“Don’t let things get buried,” Kapaun said.

What do nannies do all day?

Haus spends the day with 2-year-old Kali and picks the older three up from school and takes them to and from dance, soccer and choir.

“For families like Dawn’s, I — 100 percent — think it’s so great that they have nannies because they can do sports and go all these places,” Haus said.

Haus says the hardest part of her job is accommodating the wide age differences of her charges. Two-year-old Kali loves going to the playground, an activity that doesn’t thrill the older kids who would rather be at the skate park. Still, Haus, who describes herself as hands-on, finds ways to keep all the kids busy.

“We went to the Minnesota Zoo once a week this summer,” she said. “I know where everything is there.”

Haus’s parents have formed a relationship with the kids too.

“I took the two girls fishing with my dad,” she said.

Haus cooks for the kids, cleans up their dishes, tidies any spills or messes that happen and folds laundry when needed.

Janes-Bartley said she isn’t looking for a housekeeper, but expects that the house isn’t worse for wear than when she left in the morning.

Her priority is having someone who is fully present with the children — but coming home to a tidy house is a plus.

“I don’t want to spend my first hour and a half at home cleaning up,” she said. “I want to spend it with my kids.”

Hand in Hand Nannies, a Minnesota nanny agency, says on its website that typical duties of a nanny may include cleaning, errands, cooking meals, transportation to children’s activities, laundry and grocery shopping.

And the more extensive the duties a nanny performs, the higher her pay.

The cost question

“Sometimes people think we must be wealthy to afford a nanny,” Janes-Bartley said. “No, we just skimp on a lot of other things because having one person to help care for our kid is a priority for us, above a lot of other stuff.”

For one child, she estimates the cost of a nanny is twice as expensive as daycare. But for two kids, it gets closer to breaking even. Now with four kids, her current childcare setup is actually cost-effective.

They also looked into sharing a nanny with another family, but it never quite worked out.

A nanny share can significantly reduce the cost of childcare for both families involved. Hiring an au pair is about the same or slightly less expensive than a nanny, Kapaun said.

Janes-Bartley estimates a nanny’s hourly pay for a family like hers can vary between $11 to $18 per hour, depending on the extent of the duties and the qualifications of the nanny.

Families wishing for more extensive household management may pay more.

Hiring a nanny comes with costs other than salary.

According to Child Care Aware Minnesota, nanny-hiring families can be similar to employers: “You may be responsible for contributing to Social Security, taxes, workers’ compensation costs, insurance and vacation time.”

Indeed, Janes-Bartley pays for a worker’s compensation policy and unemployment insurance. And she uses a payroll service to issue checks and withhold taxes.

A continuing connection

When a nanny moves on to another opportunity, that doesn’t have to mean it’s the end of the relationship.

Janes-Bartley stays in touch through texts and pictures, and many former employees have come back to visit. She flew to Denver for the first birthday party of a former nanny’s son and took Alex to Michigan to see his second long-term nanny get married.

“I knew how important those people had been to the kids, so I made it a conscious effort to be connected,” she said.

Haus thinks she will remain part of the kids’ lives through the years.

“I can’t imagine at this point losing contact,” she said.

Janes-Bartley said nannies have added another dimension to her own parenting journey.

“Having a nanny has been the most amazing and positive life experience I could have given my kids. Every single one has left their mark on our family, and most have become lifelong extended family to us,” she said. “And I am sad that in a few short years, my days with sharing the lives of my kids with someone else who loves them will end. They’ve changed my life and my kids’ lives for the better.”


Abbie Burgess is a Twin Cities freelance writer and lifestyle blogger at thepinkpaperdoll.com.