Families share nanny, cut costs

A woman with a 10-month-old baby

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Child care can be hard to find. It's often expensive and what if you need something other than a traditional 40-hour-a-week caretaker?

Some parents are learning to share -- their nannies, that is.

Marketplace's Alisa Roth reports.


Alisa Roth: Before their daughter was born, my friends Holly and Matteo swore they were going to do all their own child care. Matteo's an illustrator who mostly works from home. His plan was to put the baby in a sling and draw while she napped. Holly, a dancer, had a part-time day job at a nonprofit, so she'd pick up the slack.

Then the baby was born.

A couple of months later, they started looking for a babysitter.

Holly: I had just finished my maternity leave, was going back to work and we were looking for someone part-time and I think you contacted us.

You is Katherine. She and her husband Steve had a daughter about the same age and they needed a babysitter too. Katherine found a posting she liked on the neighborhood mom's e-mail list.

Katherine: And I thought I want this woman to take care of my child, but she was looking for a full-time job.

Katherine only needed somebody for about 20 hours a week, which didn't interest the babysitter.

Katherine: So I just kind of tried to put it all together and I contacted Holly and said can we basically offer her a full-time position together.

Holly liked the idea and she and Katherine put together an offer.

Katherine: I think the reason it worked out well is that Holly and I were able to coordinate in advance and make sure it was a coherent 40-hour-a-week job that we were offering her, like we weren't asking her to put things together. We were doing the patchwork ourselves.

Holly picks up the story.

Holly: We basically presented ourselves as one. My husband was saying all the time, "We are one family. Think of us as one.

The funny part is they kind of did become one family: The two moms finish each other's sentences and the kids play together all the time.

The deal they offered the babysitter looks worthy of corporate America: Two weeks paid vacation, plus all official holidays, and a week's worth of sick days. Really the only difference is that half her salary came from one family and half from another a couple of blocks away.

When that babysitter decided to go back to school, the two families decided to look for another one. Together.

Marixa's been with them for just over a year now.

Marixa: Honestly, it wasn't hard for me. The two little girls are easy and they -- my employers -- made everything clear. They were very clear with me. Sure, there were a few little things, but they were really just misunderstandings.

Katherine: One reason worked so well and so easily for us besides the fact that we get along so well is that we both have flexible work situations.

Katherine says communication has been important. She and Holly talk constantly, whether via e-mail or by phone.

Cliff Greenhouse: It just never works out. Inevitably, someone's life changes. That affects the whole dynamics of the job.

Cliff Greenhouse runs a staffing agency in New York that places household help, including nannies.

Greenhouse says the possible pitfalls are endless -- from differing ideas about child rearing to disagreements between the children involved. So if you're going to do it, Greenhouse suggests a written contract.

Greenhouse: Kind of a similar contract that families might put together when they rent a seasonal home in the Hamptons. You know, they'll have a written contract and they'll outline the weeks -- You get Memorial Day, I get Labor Day.

Holly and Katherine's contract consisted of a handwritten page on a yellow legal sheet -- which they didn't keep. It didn't seem to matter. Katherine and her husband recently had a second baby, so they needed more child-care hours anyway. Then, Holly and her family decided they were moving away. So they had to dissolve the partnership. But they're still good friends.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace Money.

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