After six years with the same smile showing up to help me take care of my children, I’m changing up my childcare. It feels, in many ways, like cutting off a limb from our family tree.
As much as we think the dream is to find that one perfect Mary Poppins/Mrs. Doubtfire/Supernanny, the truth is that childcare is a constantly changing and evolving puzzle.
Just when you think you’ve fit in the last piece, life swipes it off the table, makes you start all over.
Here’s everything you need to know about getting it right, over and over, as you raise your children while being a real estate broker and mom.
Childcare is Serious Business for the Real Estate Broker Mom
When I had my first daughter, Sophia, I thought I could work part-time, have some equally part-time childcare, and succeed as that picture-perfect mother and real estate broker, baby in one hand, cell phone in the other.
Cue the complete mom panic.
I got a baby nurse to help me get Sophia to sleep, but that didn’t solve my struggles during the day, when I had to care for a crying baby and the occasional crying client. Real estate demanded five days a week from me, and I wasn’t going to be able to pull this off unless I found the childcare to match.
Nancy had been helping me around the house for three years by this point. She could see that I was struggling, and she simply started pitching in, not just with the house, but with the tiny new person occupying it. I knew her, I was comfortable with her, she had children of her own. Walking the path of least resistance, Nancy became the live-out nanny.
She started arriving at 9 and leaving at 6 or 6:30. She cooked and cleaned. And I grew my business.
Terms to Know about Childcare:
Some people use “nanny” for all cases, but we’ll need to get specific for you to understand what you actually need for your children to succeed. Here are some roles to understand, from least intense to most:
Mother’s helper: Generally younger than babysitters, these are tweens who are learning the skills of childcare but can’t yet be trusted with being with the kids alone.
Babysitter: This is someone you use on a more temporary or sporadic basis to take care of your kids for the one-off need. Even if you have a more stable childcare situation, it can be helpful to have a few babysitters you know in case of a gap.
Au Pair: This is usually a young person who comes from another country who works for the family that hosts them. They usually do a little childcare and a little housework in exchange for a salary. You need to work through an agency because they come from overseas, so it’s a super-regulated arrangement. They can work up to 45 hours a week, with no overnights alone with the kids, and a day and a half off a week.
Daycare: This service is provided in another building, such as the owner’s home or commercial space. It includes other children and more rigidly set hours. Daycare offers the most affordable option, and there’s plenty of great ones. In some ways, the interaction with other kids and the education can be way better than nannying. Plus, you don’t have to deal with nannies being sick. But if your child comes down with a fever, you’ll need backup care.
Nanny: This person takes care of your children in your home, though it may be a live-in or live-out situation. If they’re live-in, they consider your house home and help with your children. They don’t usually pay rent, but in exchange for the room, you usually pay them a little less than you would someone who lives elsewhere. You’ll want to make sure you hire a nanny who’s willing to take care of a sick child. It’s usually more expensive than daycare, but with two kids, it can be better to go with a nanny.
Personal assistant/house manager/Governess: Someone with more responsibilities such as teaching your children in the home, helping you with house errands, or generally keeping your life from flying apart.
Childcare During The Baby Years
Your years as a brand-new mom are going to be your toughest years. I have to warn you that what you see on paper might not make sense to you today. Listen as closely as you can with as little sleep as you’re on right now: your childcare in these years is not an investment in the commissions you’ll make during these years. It’s an investment in your future commissions.
When you have a little bundle of joy and bodily functions, you’re probably not going to have a full-day program to take care of them, so you may need a hybrid option or a nanny.
When kids are small, finding a way to combine childcare and housekeeping into one role is key. Some you interview will say, “I don’t clean,” and you will have to say, “Thank you, next.” Babysitters have lots of time when the kids are sleeping and can often spend your $20 an hour watching your Netflix, so set expectations early. Make sure to include housework in your job description.
Because changing childcare is very traumatic for the kids, you should aim to keep your regular person at least until they’re 5 and the kids can handle those childcare changes.
Qualities of a great caretaker for the baby years:
- Punctuality. Are they there on time so you can be where you need to be on time?
- References. Look for quality people who say good things about long-term relationships. You don’t want someone who jumps around.
- A smile. This is super important. You want someone with a good attitude and who makes your life easier, not more difficult.
- Team player vibe. They’re happy to lend a hand. You have to feel like you can delegate to this person and they’re going to listen to you.
- Alignment with your childcare philosophies. You should never assume someone is on your page. Never assume anything.
Questions to ask a prospective caretaker:
In general, when interviewing a potential childcare provider, make sure you don’t ask questions that can be answered with yes or no. Consider it the same as any job interview. You want behavioral questions.
You need to have a clear job description. People are set up to fail if you don’t give them clear directions, just like the universe will fail you if you don’t tell it exactly what you want. Most of the time, there’s no formal application. But just make sure you check their references. You should always do a background check, of course, which you can do at care.com.
Also, if you feel that there might be a language barrier, make sure you reword your questions and ask them multiple times to check for understanding.
- What are your long-term aspirations?
- Do you have any upcoming major life events, like kids graduating?
- How long have you been working in childcare?
- Do you have any CPR or first-aid training?
- Why did you leave your last family?
You need to go with your gut. There is nothing more important than how you feel when you meet the person in question. You need to feel really good about them, because this person is going to be around all the time.
Childcare During the Preschool Years
When your child is 3 to 5 years old, you might consider daycare. This gives you a chance to meet other parents, parents who might need to buy houses.
You want a place that feels like a natural fit. But also, as far as networking goes, if you can put your kid in the most expensive childcare place you can afford, then you’ll make contacts who can afford the bigger houses. (And voila, you get bigger commissions.)
Qualities of a great caretaker for the preschool years:
In addition to the qualities mentioned above, here are some more specific ones you might look for as your child passes the toddler years:
- Consistency with your educational method. If your kid goes to Montessori, for example, the nanny or caretaker has to be comfortable changing them standing up.
- Good networking with other nannies to make playdates. Your child will most likely get out at noon or three, if they’re in daycare, so it helps to have someone who can find something to do with other kids.
- General degree of discipline for the preschoolers. You need someone who knows how to gently reinforce the rules of the household so you don’t get left with little terrors.
- Thoughtful communication. It’s nice to have someone who sends you pictures throughout the day and keeps you informed.
- Extra concern for your child. Someone who pays attention when things are wrong. They see something, they say something.
- Someone who wants the best for your kids, beyond safety. You want someone who’s going to keep your kids entertained, not someone who’s going to let them zonk out on screens as long as they’re not breaking something. You want them to have aspirations for your child.
Questions to ask a prospective childcare provider for your preschooler:
- How did you handle discipline with your last family?
- How have you handled picky eating previously?
- Do you know any kids who have gone to the same preschool as my child?
- Do you cook and have you been able to get other kids this age to eat the foods you cook?
- Have you ever helped a child through potty training?
Childcare for Your School-Age Kids
This is where I find myself now. The kids need something different than when they were crawling, something more like a tutor.
Leaving behind someone who’s taken care of your kids for years is like selling a family home. There’s a lot of emotions attached to it. You constantly have these moments where you’re wondering if you’re doing the right thing.
Nancy was the perfect nanny for babies. She’s a caregiver, but not a disciplinarian. She makes them happy, serves their needs, and keeps them safe, which is the old job description. But my babies changed into kids. So the job description changed, too.
Unfortunately, baby nurse is only a job nannies can keep if they move on to a different family.
Going forward, I’m looking for someone who knows about child-rearing and education, from math to manners, and possibly even special education, as one of my children has special needs.
I’m leveling up. I’d love someone who speaks Italian so my kids can learn their father’s first language. I’m even considering homeschooling, which might put me in the realm of searching for a governess. I need someone who can travel and take care of three kids. Someone who’s willing to tutor and load a dishwasher.
When your children turn 5, it’s time for another decision. Luckily, life gets a little easier, as free school starts. The structure of your child’s day is a little more predictable, as you know they’ll get off school around 3.
But while real estate is flexible, it’s not so flexible that you can shove all your house-showing hours into the same hours your kids will be in school. Your options are to get childcare or get someone else to show apartments for you outside of the school day.
Qualities of a great caretaker for the school-age years:
- Patience and basic language and math skills. Someone who can help with homework is number one.
- Directs your children toward healthy food decisions. Your kids can get to the terrible food now. It’s not just that they eat what you make them. So you need someone who will help them understand those decisions.
- Relationship mentor. They can help you decide who your kids should be hanging out with, because at this stage, the bad apples start to come out.
- Counselor. Someone who looks for red flags when it comes to the child’s emotional state, such as bullying or friends that aren’t the right fit.
Questions to ask a prospective childcare provider for your school-age child:
- How many years have you been working with kids this age?
- Do you have any kids of your own at similar ages?
- Are you ok with the fact that my child is older and they’re going to need a little more homework help?
- (If needed) Do you have a driver’s license?
- How far do you live? How far are you willing to travel?
How much childcare can you afford?
I have live-ins asking for $1,500 a week. Woah. Excuse me???
There’s how much you can afford and then there’s the cheapest version you can stomach. I’ve seen daycares where I knew I couldn’t put my child there.
What I’ve found is that usually what you end up paying for childcare is a little more than you can afford. It’s the ultimate champagne taste on a beer budget, especially when you’re a new mom and a new real estate broker. Just remember: It’s the cost of business. The cost of working.
In Manhattan, most people pay $800-$1,000 a week for a nanny. Daycare is similar. An au pair gets about $200 a week.
Plus, there are the possible extra expenses:
- Metro card
- Transportation: Will they drive, take the bus, or do they only Uber?
- Vacation days
Like finding the right person, trust your gut reaction on the price and the quality. If you look at that person and you hate them every time you hand them their paycheck, you’re probably paying too much.
Listen, in every single industry, it’s very hard to find good people. They should be compensated fairly and treated fairly. You should be generous when it’s time to be generous, such as at holidays. Make sure people have real responsibilities and are bringing real value.
Where to find your childcare provider
I have gone the route of paying for access to a database, and I have gone the route of asking around and on Facebook, and I have to say asking around and on Facebook wins hands down. You get long paragraphs from people you trust about how wonderful this or that person is, you can’t wait for them to come into your home. Social proof is the best proof, I’ve found, that you’ve happened upon the right person for your family. Plus, no weeding through resumes.
When you’re looking, let everyone know you’re looking. Ask around the office, the playground, everywhere.
Know thyself as well. If you’re a spoiler, get references from hard-asses. Try to find people who have been trained by others.
How to Keep it Fresh
There’s this saying Italian that basically means, “The best broom is the new broom.” Like at all jobs, people start to slack over time.
The best way to feel in the end like the relationship is going to last is asking yourself whether you come home and feel like, Wow, you did a really good job today, or if you come home from your job and feel like you have another job to do.
When I need to give feedback, I try to remember to take myself out of it. I remind myself I’m doing this for my children. I’m doing this to be a good parent.
It’s not about you, it’s about you being a good parent. I want to feel like I look at my kids and I feel like they’re thriving.
That’s what the right childcare will give you.
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