How to hire a nanny that won’t leave your kids traumatised for life

Hiring a nanny can be a minefield. Here’s how you can handle it. First rule: don't choose the hot one.

Nanny feeding toddler

My wife took a year off when both of our boys were born – but once it was time for her to go back to work, we needed a nanny to help out.

(Yeah, yeah … we could afford it, it’s a luxury that a lot of folks can’t, but we were both putting in the hours to bring home the bacon and further our careers.)

But picking the right nanny was a lot more difficult than I thought.

We went through a heap of them before we found a good fit – from the surly old Russian (who cooked like a chef but scared the everlasting Christ out of the kids) to the one who seemed competent enough, but didn’t do much more than check the boys were breathing a few times a day. Plus a few in-between who simply didn’t click with the kids.

And then there was that one time we got someone from an agency at short notice, who I’m not sure should have ever been allowed to be left unsupervised herself, let alone watch over two boisterous young boys.

The horror story

The boys – aged two and four at the time – were at home with said nanny while my wife and I were at work. The first inkling that something was amiss was when we got a call from the local cops.

“Hello, Mr Stronach? It’s Constable ‘I-can’t-remember-his-name’ from ‘suburb’ police. We’ve got your children here.”

“Erm … wait… what? The boys are at home with the nanny … if they were missing, she would have called.”

“Yeah… nah. A member of the public found them walking down the street by the train station and brought them to us. About 20 minutes later, your nanny came racing through the front door, crying hysterically about two missing kids and identified them. They’re fine … but can you collect them?”

I’m still not sure how they managed to escape, but they made it three blocks from home and across two very busy roads before someone realised that two little boys shouldn’t be wandering the streets by themselves.

Some choice words were spoken (bellowed) at the nanny, and then at the woman who ran the agency. The agency (understandably) refunded the money. And they were seriously lucky not to have me drive over to head office to throw a few things through their window.

I still get riled up thinking about what might have happened if, instead of a kindly old lady who found my boys, it was someone with a far more sinister idea of what to do with two infants.

The good news is that we did find a long-term nanny for the boys, and she was awesome. To be fair, we got lucky – she was a post-graduate medical student from Sweden, here in Australia with her boyfriend while he finished his PhD at Sydney Uni.

It was brilliant – she never missed a beat, the kids absolutely adored her, and she cooked the best spaghetti and meatballs I’d had in a long time.

It was a golden time. But it took us a few goes – a process that can be made simpler by following these steps:

1. Ask your friends first

One of the best avenues is simply word of mouth. Ask your friends and family, and see if there’s someone they know and can vouch for.

But be aware that ‘nanny poaching’ is a thing, and seriously not cool. If a friend has a great nanny and won’t stop raving about them, getting in touch with the nanny and offering more money is a dick move. You might land a good nanny, but you’ll destroy a friendship.

2. Try an agency

I’m biased against this one. But the majority of nanny agencies are above board and can handle the vetting process for you.

The trick is to spend time googling the name of the agency and even more time on the panoply of mother’s forums. The good, the bad and the ugly of parenting gets discussed there a lot.

Treat the reviews the same way you’d treat any online review. Take the glowing reviews with a grain of salt (assume they’re bullshit posted by the company). And be careful with the “one star” reviews (they might be a competitor trying to bring the company down).

But most importantly, pay attention to the normal-sounding “we didn’t have any problems – the kids were alive at the end of the day” reviews.

3. Get a heap of CVs

When you’ve put the call out for potential nannies, it’s important to remember that you’re hiring someone for a job. And it’s a lot trickier than it sounds.

So you’ll want to make any advertising you do for the position as clear as possible. Include the number of kids, the hours you’re expecting, and a ballpark figure on how much you can afford.

But also make sure to mention any potential issues that may come up. For example, you might have a child on the Autism spectrum which will require someone who’s experienced in that area.

The general rule is to go over as many CVs as you can, and call the references. People can, and frequently do, lie their arses off on their CVs.

4. Do background checks

This may seem a little over the top for those of us raised in the free-range days of the ’70s, but there are ways you can do a more thorough background check of your would-be nanny.

The Care for Kids childcare website has a great checklist you can follow, broken down state by state so there’s no confusion as to what’s required to work with kids.

5. Do face-to-face interviews

Whittle the list down to three or four potentials, and invite them round when your kids are home. Then let the kids know there’s someone coming to meet them who would like to be their friend.

Don’t schedule more than two applicants a day. Children aren’t dummies. When they see a bunch of strangers coming and going from the house, they’ll know something’s afoot.

When the nanny arrives, it’s your chance to make sure you’re okay with who they are.

Dad pro-tip: There may be a Dad instinct to ‘hire the hot one’. Put that compulsion aside. If you don’t trust me on this, then trust every idiot who decided it was a good idea to start porking the nanny and break up his family.

6. Get your kids’ blessing

It’s the most important one because if your kids don’t like them, it’s going to be a disaster.

Bring the kids in and let the nanny set up a game for them all to play together. Pop into the room from time to time, and see how they’re all coping.

If everyone’s still happy at the end of the hour, you’ve struck gold.

7. Draw up a contract

Once that’s all done, it’s time for the tedious paperwork. It’s important to have everything in writing so in the event of a dispute over things like pay rates or expected hours of work, you’ve got documentation to refer to and figure it out.

You don’t need to hire a lawyer – most private nanny contracts are pretty basic – but if you want to do it all by the books, the Fair Work Ombudsman has a stack of templates to formalise the work arrangement for your new helping hands.

Now you can sit back and enjoy the cricket.

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