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Budgeting for Baby: The Lowdown on Share Care

When I babysat as a teenager in the 1980s, the world was a simpler place. I’d read the kids a couple of stories, put them to bed early, and spend the rest of the evening watching TV and eating sugar cereal. At the end of the night, I’d walk home with a few bucks in my pocket, happy to have a little extra cash. 

Boy, have times changed. Inflation aside, not only are children’s caregivers these days charging higher hourly rates than their counterparts two decades ago did, but they have also come to expect a bevy of additional benefits that are comparable to what some corporations offer their employees: health insurance, paid time off, and reimbursement for auto insurance and gas. 

As many parents know, the stress of covering these costs is particularly pronounced in our current recession. Fulfilling all of a nanny’s requirements threatens to suck the life right out of your bank account and leaves you wondering whether it might actually cost you less to stop working full-time, stay home with your children, and forgo professional childcare altogether. But since most employed people know it’s foolish to look a gift horse in the mouth during the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, more and more parents are turning to nanny sharing, also known as share care, as a less costly alternative to private caregivers. While coordinating share care may require a little more work from you up front, the payoff makes it well worth your time. 

The Basics
Share care is an arrangement between two or more families who hire a single caregiver to look after their children at the same time. The trend was born of necessity in the 1980s, when more and more families began to need two incomes to cover their living expenses; as the number of stay-at-home parents in the U.S. decreased, Americans’ need for professional childcare increased so much that demand for nannies began to exceed the supply. In recent years, share care’s popularity has exploded as the cost of living has risen, nannies have become pricier, and the U.S. economy has weakened. 

A number of key factors determine which families are ideal candidates for share care. Parents who have similar work schedules, compatible child-rearing philosophies, and children who are roughly the same age are optimally suited to the arrangement. Some nanny-sharing families are friends, but more often the parents have never even met and find each other through online resources. San Francisco resident Emily Stamm, the mother of a one-year-old, found her share-care partners on Craigslist. Lindsay Snyder, who also lives in San Francisco and has a five-month-old, met hers through her neighborhood’s parenting listserv. For both women, the nanny-sharing collaboration evolved naturally. Snyder recalls, “A local mom posted a note stating that she was in search of a share-care arrangement for her daughter. They lived nearby and her daughter was the same age as mine, so our two families met for coffee. As we chatted about our parenting styles and our hiring criteria for a nanny, we appeared to be on the same page, so we decided that we would make a good team.” Stamm and her husband met with their prospective partners one evening “and we just talked,” she says. “We covered a lot of topics: our jobs, how we met our mates, our birth experience, adjusting to parenthood, the nannies we had interviewed so far … Within an hour, we had a good sense of each other.”

Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too
Finding a like-minded family to share a nanny with is a boon in itself, but share care offers a host of other advantages. Many parents like being able to provide their kids with personalized care while avoiding both the high cost of a private nanny and the potential pitfalls of daycare, which forces children to spend time in an unfamiliar environment with a group of strangers, exposes them to more germs, and follows a rigid schedule that clashes with some parents’ work obligations. With share care, the nanny looks after children in their own homes and can accommodate scheduling conflicts more readily. 

For parents, share care’s most desirable quality is its affordability; as Stamm summarizes, “It’s the best value, hands down—daycare rates for almost individual care.” While the nanny’s hourly fee is higher than it would be for a single child, everyone involved benefits. For example, nannies who charge $15 per hour for a single child might charge $20 for two children, so they earn more than they would caring for only one child. And because two families are splitting the cost, the parents pay less than they would if they hired a private nanny. 

For children, the main advantage of share care is socialization. Snyder explains, “I think my daughter will definitely benefit from spending her days with another adult and another child. My friend who is a full-time stay-at-home mom said that although she loves having so much bonding time with her son, he does not warm to other children or adults very quickly. I am hopeful that my daughter won’t have that kind of anxiety.” Stamm says, “I like that my son has to share his nanny’s attention. He’s an only child right now, but one day he’ll probably have a sibling. Maybe share care will make that transition a little easier.”

What’s the Catch?
Despite all its perks, nanny sharing poses a unique set of challenges, primarily scheduling difficulties. Stamm notes, “The nanny and the families all have to compromise to arrange a schedule that works for everyone. Scheduling vacations is especially tough, because ideally both families would go on vacation at the same time, but that’s not always practical.” Snyder adds that “transporting your child to another home part of each week, making joint purchases (such as a double stroller), and buying extra supplies to keep at your share-care partners’ house” are logistically and financially inconvenient. 

Another potential issue is that some people’s parenting philosophies change over time. As children who share a nanny get older, their parents’ opinions on what foods, television programs, and activities are appropriate for their respective kids may diverge. Parents in a long-term share-care partnership should make it a priority to communicate regularly about their expectations for the nanny, the children, and each other. 

Sharing Is Caring
For first-time parents who work full-time, leaving a baby with a caregiver forty hours per week is inevitably nerve-wracking and guilt-inducing. Share care represents the best of both worlds; it reassures parents that they are providing their children with attentive, personal care that won’t break the bank, and it allows children to build relationships with other adults and kids in a safe, familiar environment. If you take the time to find share-care partners who have values like yours and are willing to compromise, what begins as a relationship of convenience could even end up being a lifelong friendship for you and your kids. And if you find yourself in a pinch, there are still plenty of teenagers out there who will be happy to help you out—as long as you don’t mind if they raid your fridge.

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