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Summer Sitters: Find & Hire Your Mary Poppins

Lauren Kreps

Summer Sitters: Find & Hire Your Mary Poppins

School’s out for summer, and under the cheers of kids heard ’round the world, you can make out the faint, slightly less joyful cries of parents who now need to figure out their summer childcare plans.

For some parents, finding someone they trust enough to relinquish their children’s safety and well-being to is tantamount to the search for a significant other. Whether you’re on the employer or employee side of this hunt for the perfect match, these guidelines should help ensure that neither child nor adult ends the summer in tears.

NOT-SO-SILLY SEMANTICS

The words nanny and babysitter are actually not synonymous. This esoteric fact might seem irrelevant, but if you want to up your search game it’s helpful to know exactly who you’re looking for, or how to market yourself as a potential hire.

A babysitter is someone who cares for children of any age for a shorter block of time, and on a generally ad hoc basis. Think: supervision during date-nights, work events, or for a few hours on the weekend. Babysitters typically charge by the hour, and the scope of their duties tends to be limited to playing with the kids, whipping up an easy meal, and putting them to bed.

A nanny, on the other hand, plays a more involved role, taking care of children full-time while parents are at work, or part-time (perhaps after school) on a regular set of days each week. Nannies are often expected to prepare meals more sophisticated than Hot Pockets, assist with household work (like dishes and laundry), and help with homework. Given their more invested job description, nannies are usually paid a weekly salary.

FINDING A DIAMOND IN…WHICH ROUGH?

Gone are the days when you could find Mrs. Doubtfire through the Sunday classifieds. If you’re unable to find someone through word-of-mouth, and not desperate enough to make enemies by “babysitter poaching,” modern technology has provided some wonderful alternatives.

After years moonlighting as a babysitter myself, I can personally vouch for the ease and relative safety (if you take reasonable precautions) of web and mobile apps Sittercity and Care.com. These childcare job sites allow you to search profiles of caregivers within a designated radius, or to submit your own job posting and let the applications come to you. Parents I’ve spoken to who use these sites often tell me they get 100 applications in the first few hours after posting a job.

Parents I’ve spoken to who use these sites often tell me they get 100 applications in the first few hours after posting a job.

That said, if you want to increase your chances of finding your perfect match, be as upfront as possible about what you’re looking for and what a potential babysitter or nanny can expect. Part of that is understanding the implicit expectations of babysitters versus nannies, but it also means explicitly spelling out the summer schedule you’ll need, the duties involved, what kind of personality you’re looking for (active, artsy, academic?), and of course, your pay range.

Speaking from personal experience, I’d also recommend adding a note about whether you have pets (dogs, cats, gerbils, you name it), to avoid a situation in which your unassuming helper ends up sneezing for 4 hours. That’s no fun for anyone.

MEET, GREET, AND A BACKGROUND CHECK

So, you sifted through the hundreds of applications you received, and think you found your “Nanny Charming.” Now what?

Assuming you’re not in a complete crunch, it’s ideal to schedule a quick meet-and-greet. If everyone seems to be as normal as they let on over the Internet, this is also a great opportunity for the caretaker to get caught up with anything they need to know about your children, home, or anything else before the gig begins for real.

Additionally, particularly if you’re looking to hire someone more on the nanny than the babysitter side, it’s a good idea to run a Social Security number verification, criminal background check, and (if they will be driving your children to or from activities) a Department of Motor Vehicles check. You can never be too sure, right?

DRAFT A CONTRACT

You won’t be surprised to hear us say that once the vetting is over and you’ve decided to go through with the engagement, it would be wise to draft up a nanny contract.

With a Shake account of any kind, you can download a free nanny agreement covering terms like: duties and responsibilities, work hours, a trial period (if you so desire), schedule, salary, benefits, vacation days, transportation, notice and termination, and more. As always, you can be as simple or thorough as you want: remove any of these terms or add any you like through “Edit” mode. Much better than a handshake, we think!

ON OR OFF THE BOOKS?

Finally, while some people seem to think the decision of whether to pay a nanny or babysitter on or off the books is a matter of moral grey area, the IRS does not. Outlined in (literal) black-and-white in their household employee tax guide, U.S. tax law states that you must pay taxes on a household employee (defined extensively in the guide, and potentially including your occasional babysitter) if you:

  • Pay cash wages of $1,900 or more to any one household employee over the age of 18 (not including your spouse, child under 21, or parent).
  • Pay total cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter to household employees (again, not including wages paid to your spouse, child under 21, or parent).

If things written by the IRS scare you (+1) then there are also online services that will handle nanny payroll and tax payments for you. That way, the hardest part about hiring the perfect nanny will still be finding them.

Lauren optimizes Shake’s email marketing and engagement efforts. Prior to working with Shake, Lauren analyzed new user engagement for Change.org and worked for startups and social enterprises in Hong Kong. Lauren holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, where she wrote her senior thesis on the ethics of the death penalty and watched all sixteen seasons of Law & Order: SVU.