The Child Care Hack Series: Finding Mary Poppins

Baby learning alphabet ABC Hi. My name is Jacalyn S. Burke and I’m your nanny geek. I’m not a geek who happens to be a nanny – I’m a former nanny with 12 years’ experience working in Manhattan, and I’m totally obsessed with child care in a weird geeky way.

My column is all about you – the new parent looking to go back to work after a long pregnancy and the birth of junior, or you – the mom who needs an extra pair of hands with your growing brood. But it’s also about you – the NYC nanny – and your world.

Consider my hacks as short cuts, tips or tricks to navigating the complex world of U.S. child care. Month by month, I’ll be addressing some common myths and issues that can affect us when we enter child care situations. This is your guide to making child care choices a more seamless experience – and yes, I am totally open to questions, comments or topic proposals. Think of this column as our monthly chat over coffee. If I say something you disagree with, tell me about it.

Okay – let’s start at the beginning. You wake up one morning and you realize that you need child care, along with a crib, a good pediatrician and a bunch of other really important stuff. It’s a bit like needing a lawyer. You don’t give it much thought until you absolutely need one, and then there’s a sense of urgency, or even blind panic.

Hack #1 – Keep a cool head

The most important attribute you will need when sourcing good child care is a cool, calm head. Leave your emotions to one side and concentrate on the task at hand as though you were looking for a nanny for a client or a close friend. Like everything else in life there are a bunch of websites devoted to finding a good nanny and a library of books.

Hack # 2 – Ask the herd

If you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, you’ll want to start by asking someone in the know where they last found a dropped needle. The alternative is sifting through a ton of hay, stack by stack. Where did your friends last find a needle? Peer to peer recommendations are worth a thousand online searches.

Yeah but …

“What if my friends found their nanny in different places?” Sure, finding a good nanny is like comparing with friends how we found the loves of our lives. We didn’t all go online, or bump into our beau at the coffee shop. The same is true in child care. But at least you will have narrowed down your search matrix, and that’s huge.

Your list might look something like this. We found our nanny:

  • Friend A – On a listing site
  • Friend B – Through a friend
  • Friend C – Via a nanny agency

The next questions to ask are:

  • “Which listing site, which friend, which nanny agency?”
  • “Are you happy with those choices?”
  • “What would you do differently next time around?”

Our best learning as a species is done human to human. For example, babies most effectively master a language directly from a parent or caregiver – someone who they have an emotional connection with, and not a language program or DVD. Our brains are hard-wired to observe and learn from our peer group. Your friends and mommy peers are your greatest resource.

Hack #3 – Set your needs and your budget

So now you have a list of resources to work from. But before you even begin to reach out to prospective nannies, you will want to figure out:

  • When will your nanny start?
  • How many hours of child care a week will you need?
  • Will you pay on the books or off the books? (What are the pros and the cons?)
  • How much can you afford to pay your nanny? (Will you provide paid vacations, sick pay?)
  • How do you calculate wages?
  • What are the legal ramifications of employing someone in our home?

I’ll be covering these topics in my next column, The Child Care Hack Series: What do I want from Mary Poppins?

Got questions? Email me at [email protected].  And feel free to email me anonymously. 100% confidentiality guaranteed. I am happy to brainstorm answers to your problems and reply in private, or share for other parents’ benefit.

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JakBurkeJacalyn S. Burke is a British author, artist and child care consultant. She is also the founder of Baby Does NYC (.com), a website focused on events, products, and services for parents of 0–24 month-old children. Jacalyn has been featured in The Daily News, NEWS12, I Saw Your Nanny, Best Nanny Newsletter, The New York Times and the Nanny News Network. Jacalyn spent a decade working among Manhattan’s nannies from 2004-2016, and her book: The Nanny Time Bomb Navigating the Crisis in Child Care, is a definitive guide for new parents searching for good child care. She is a graduate of Middlesex University, London, UK. Jacalyn lives and works in NYC and offers a variety of nanny agency and parent/nanny coaching services.

Twitter, Instagram: @babydoesnyc. Facebook: BABYDOESNYC. Website:

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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