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Every working parent knows there are few things more complicated than finding child care that ticks all the right boxes, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more so.

Day care is typically the least expensive option, but children don't get the individualized attention they would at home with a parent or a nanny. Add to that the fact that many day cares and mothers' day out program have been shut down or reduced their capacity due to the pandemic, and finding suitable child care becomes even more difficult.

But the extra attention and in-home setting of the latter option comes with the downside of lacking the socialization benefits kids get interacting with other children at day care.

What if you could combine the best aspects of both options? In theory a nanny share, in which two or more families share a nanny and split the cost, does just that — and a growing number of families are catching on. With many districts opting for a blend of at-home learning this year, Google searches related to nanny shares are reaching peak levels typically reserved for school vacation times like fall and winter breaks.

St. Elmo's Joanna Ehman, mother of a 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter and nearly 2-year-old son, says a nanny share has been part of her child care setup since she returned to work when her oldest child was still a newborn. "For us, it was a significant thing knowing what kind of attention our child was going to get," says Ehman, whose nanny graduated from the college Ehman works for and attends the same church. "As a new, young, hormonal mom, it was hard for me to put my 3-month-old into the arms of a stranger who was also caring for however many other babies that were going to be in a classroom," she says.

The primary benefit of a nanny share is sharing the cost, as Ehman estimates the cost of a nanny to be about twice that of day care, which typically includes breakfast and lunch as well. But for sharing a nanny to make sense, you need to know other families nearby who have kids with ages similar to yours and who get along well with one another. Coordinating the schedules among various families could easily cause more trouble than the cost savings are worth, she says.

Having three other families on her street with kids who were all within a year of each other and used to playing together made Ehman's arrangement easy, at least for a few years. The nanny would go to the home of whoever needed her first and the other kids would get dropped off and picked up there, Ehman explains.

The situation changed as the other families moved to other neighborhoods or switched to full-time day care, so more recently she's been using the nanny just for her own kids one day a week, while relying on a mix of her in-laws and a mothers' day out program the rest of the week.

In some instances nanny shares could be a solution for working parents during the pandemic — if they can find other families practicing a degree of social distancing they're comfortable with who live nearby and are looking to be part of a nanny share, that is.

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