Nanny Shares during a pandemic

Pandemic childcare - nanny shares pros and cons

I was speeding up the detour around West Seattle due to the catastrophic bridge closure. I was pretty exhausted coming home from work. I checked in with my au pair who said that my daughter hadn't eaten her dinner. I was thankful that my husband was cooking dinner for the night, but I wanted to make sure that my daughter had something separate. I reflexively poured some olive oil into a pan. A few seconds in, I realized I didn't need the oil to cook something for my daughter. I then poured it into another pan that my husband would use. After I transferred the oil, I wanted to wipe the side of the pan where it drizzled. I placed my hand on it firmly since I wanted to stop any drip. I didn't realize the pan was hot.

My hand was instantly burned. I dropped the pan. I tried my best to cool it down. I applied petroleum jelly to it and wrapped it. I was in so much pain, but I didn't want to bother my husband about it.

I did the following calculation: 

  • If he stopped cooking dinner to take care of me, then that would delay dinner for myself and most of the family.

I've been through pain in my life, especially with childbirth, but the degree of this burn was making it hard for me to sit still. I then started to have the darker thoughts: 

  • If I didn't have a selective eater, I wouldn't have attempted to make anything.
  • If I was child-free, I could just relax after I got home.
  • I feel trapped as a parent.

The next day my hand was still hurting. I got a call from one of my friends who was in the middle of transitioning nanny shares. She was lucky to get to work from home part of the week because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still it was difficult to pull off the current nanny share with her working hours.

I am big into omnichannel childcare, but during the pandemic many childcare options were limited, unavailable, or undesirable.

Nanny shares are where two or more families utilize the services of a nanny to take care of children at either home and effectively split the costs based on hours and children.

Nanny Share Pros

  • Cost: the salary of a traditionally expensive nanny is now shared between two families. Depending on the nanny and mix of children, that could be around $10/hour/child.
  • COVID-exposure: as compared to a daycare, the exposure to viral illness is lower, because the ideal sharing is between your children and another family you know and trust, who are likely to take the same COVID precautions you are [1].
  • Socialization: as compared to care with an au pair (and many au pairs could not obtain a J-1 visa to the US during the pandemic), children get to at least play with a few other children as opposed to isolation or being with adults all day.
  • Flexibility: the entire scheduled is decided between you and the other families, with no worry about U.S. working regulations on au pairs.

Nanny Share Cons

  • Cost: while the cost is better than paying for a nanny's salary without sharing, it still is more expensive that au pair care.
  • COVID-exposure: while the risk of viral illness may be lower than what may be experienced in daycares, it is still exposure to another family or two. The lowest exposure risk is when the children are at home [1].
  • Accessibility: nanny shares require proximity to people you know, trust, and can arrange the setup with. It is hard to arrange a share with someone who lives farther, because of the pickup/dropoff logistics.
  • Attention: if one nanny takes care of two infants and two toddlers (a typical setup during the pandemic), the ability of the nanny to attend to all of these children at once would not be as good as if she were only taking care of one family's children.
  • Flexibility: While there is flexibility in the nanny's working hours, you would have to coordinate the vacation of the nanny with the other families you are sharing with, which can be restrictive if everyone has competing schedules.
  • Interplay with another family: while in daycare, your child is with many other children and the ups and downs and quirks that occur amount to forgotten moments in the course of crazy day, in the share there is more intimacy. The ups and down are shared between you and the other family and may be a source of togetherness but also may be a source of friction and relationship straining.

An excellent resource for parenting during the constraints of the pandemic is pediatrician Kelly Fradin's Parenting in a Pandemic, where she challenges the assumptions about COVID exposure that may be influencing our choices on childcare.

I am on the phone still while my husband is asking me where my daughter is. As I am ending the call, I start lamenting about the bridge closure in our area. She then tells me how her husband fractured his toes earlier in the day by dropping a large beam on them. She wasn't able to go the pharmacy to get him pain medications, because she needed to get both her newborn and toddler down for a nap. I could feel her guilt and stress. While she focused on how she couldn't help her husband, all I could think about was how she bravely made the choice to prioritize even though the circumstances were uncomfortable and tradeoffs inevitable. At that moment, I felt a release. I hung up the phone and went to go find my selective eater.


  1. These assumptions are just one side of a complicated issue. In Kelly Fradin's Parenting in a Pandemic the COVID risk depends on circumstances: if the child stays at home for care but is interacting with others in the neighborhood, transmission risk is higher. Some daycares may reduce the risk because of their strict protocols.

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