Why is finding a good nanny harder than finding your romantic partner?

Published: 03/06/2020

Hands up if you’re a parent who started off your nanny or maternity nurse search as if you were hiring any other employee.

Education, skills and experience should be the priority, right? But when you really think about it, hiring a nanny or newborn specialist is more akin to searching for a romantic partner, than an employee. It’s not like the normal employer-employee relationship – your relationship is going to be incredibly intimate and will require compatibility on both a professional and emotional level. Chemistry is key!

You are inviting someone into your home to attend to and help raise the little person or little people who are most precious to you and they will also see your dirty laundry (literally and figuratively)! It's therefore essential that you can build trust and seamless communication between you. Your compatibility in terms of family values, parenting style, personality, and communication is often more important than years of experience, education, or how many languages the nanny speaks.

 We hear stories like these all the time. One of the mums at school recommended a nanny who had worked for her for two years. She was amazing and the entire family loved her. Her experience was exactly what we were looking for and with this glowing recommendation we jumped at the opportunity to hire her. Our experience was so different though and she was gone after three months! How could we have got it so wrong?

And one of our clients told us a story about a night nanny recommended by a friend. Unfortunately, the night nanny wasn’t available right away, so she recommended her mum. Our client reluctantly hired the mum, out of pure desperation, but only for a few nights. Turned out the entire family loved the mum, but couldn't stand the daughter who came so highly recommended. It goes even further. Our client then passed on the details of the mum-daughter night nanny duo to her best friend, and guess what -- her best friend fired the mum, but loved the daughter! How is it that two best friends can have such polar opposite experiences?       

Situations like these just reinforce the fact that a good match between a nanny and a family goes far beyond skills and experience. If a nanny is a great fit for one family; it doesn’t mean she will be the perfect nanny for your family.

Personality and values-based matching

Childcare agencies typically suggest candidates based purely on objective criteria (e.g. availability, experience, and geographic proximity), so the more subjective criteria that are so important when it comes to the delicate and intimate nature of the relationship between a family and their nanny, often get overlooked.

Based on our own experiences (positive and negative!) of finding the right maternity nurses and nannies for our children, we have turned the process of placing nannies, maternity nurses and other newborn specialists on its head. At myTamarin we call it matchmaking and it's grounded in relationship psychology. But what does this mean?

  • First, we had a hypothesis that finding a nanny is more like finding a romantic than hiring your next marketing associate.
  • Second, we studied relationship psychology and identified key attributes that generally underpin successful relationships. Then we looked specifically into romantic partnerships and what makes a good match. We spent a fair amount of time researching dating apps and their matching algorithms. We also interviewed romantic matchmakers and reviewed their approach to matching -- their questionnaires, their techniques and their matching logic. BTW, if you want to find a really good (romantic) match, those matchmakers will charge anywhere from £10,000 to £20,000 to find you five good dates! (There is actually a lot of work and science that goes into it.) At the end, we had a solid list of personality dimensions and their pairings that make for a strong (romantic) relationship.
  • Then, we went back to nannies and parents (in particular mums because the mum-nanny relationship is typically more important/relevant than the dad-nanny relationship) and examined dozens of successful as well as failed relationships. Sure enough, a good number of the personality traits (and the matching among them) that were relevant for romantic matching were proven to be relevant for nanny-parent relationships as well. 
  • We distilled the list down to the most relevant personality traits (e.g. introvert - extrovert), and the matching logic that works (or doesn’t work).  
  • Finally, we built all this into our bespoke online childcare matching platform powered by an AI matching algorithm that continues to learn.

A word of caution though -- just like there is no perfect matching logic in romantic matching (otherwise dating apps would quickly go out of business), there isn’t a perfect matching logic in childcare matching either. We like to say to our clients, we will do 90% of the work for you, but the last 10% is on you, because only you can feel whether the chemistry is there or not.  

What our logic tells us about a good match

Taking introvert / extrovert as an example. This is all about how people recover and regain their energy. Introverts (or those of us with introverted tendencies) tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds. Extroverts, on the other hand, gain their energy from other people and find it is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being sociable.

In the case of a maternity nurse or other newborn specialist, getting this dimension right is critical as they will spend a lot of time with the mum during a particularly delicate time. If you’re a mum with introverted tendencies, having a maternity nurse who is an extrovert is going to be really tough. Why? Because you’re going to want to be left alone and the maternity nurse is going to be continually trying to seek you out. What works better in this situation is two introverts or two extroverts. A mum who is an extrovert with a maternity nurse who is an introvert has been known to work out too.

The introvert / extrovert dimension becomes less relevant when you’re matching a nanny to a family because positions are typically sole charge which means the parents are out of the house at work, while the nanny is looking after the child(ren) at home. In shared charge scenarios (when a parent and nanny are working side-by-side to look after the children), if a parent works from home, or if you have a live-in nanny, it becomes a bit more relevant.

Now let’s talk a bit about interests and how they play out in our matching process. If you’re a sporty family you’re going to want a sporty nanny, right? This isn’t always the case. Some sporty families want to bring a different persona into their family – e.g., a more creative nanny to balance things out. Whereas others are insistent they need a sporty nanny who can keep up with them and continue to focus on more sports related activities when the parents are not around.

So, how does it work?

We ask all parents and nannies we work with a series of questions (crafted by psychologists and experienced childcare professionals) and also have a conversation with them to get to know them better. Our experience tells us that people don’t generally respond well to direct questions such as “are you an introvert or extrovert?”. So, instead we ask more indirect questions that help inform us on what they are looking for and where on the spectrum of each dimension they are.

Nanny matching questions

For example, in the above case, the parents enjoy their privacy, but they also want a nanny who is outgoing and sociable. Therefore, they probably need a nanny who is both bubbly and discreet. That's not the most common mix of personality traits, and it’s our job to educate them on that. Furthermore, through additional matching questions we need to find out, which one is more important to the parents.

Similarly, they are hands-on parents, looking for a nanny who is a self-starter. We find that hands-on parents typically jell better with nannies who take instructions easily. While the parents prioritised other dimensions, we need to make sure the nannies we match them with won't be stepping on their toes. 

Typical rabbit holes parents go down

When it comes to hiring a nanny for the first time (in particular), parents often load up their requirements and focus mainly on objective criteria. So they will want 30 years of experience, specific childcare diplomas, within walking distance, and specific language requirements. This means the more subjective criteria tends to get overlooked until they start interviewing or trialling nannies and in many cases, not until they officially start working with a nanny. Sadly by this stage, they have already rejected a lot of great candidates.

When it comes to the more subjective criteria, just like dating, parents often start out looking for people who are like them, but in time come to realise what they need is someone who complements them. Both can work and it just depends on the individuals.

In theory, if someone is like you, it should be easier to align on things (e.g., discipline, amount of time spent outside or healthy eating/good food habits). On the other hand, if your eating habits aren’t that great, you may want someone who encourages less snacking and healthier eating; if you’re a lenient parent, you may want someone who is a bit stricter, or if you’re on the stricter side, you may want someone who is more child-led.

When it comes to first time parents and support during the early months with their child, they generally look for a newborn specialist or nanny who is more comfortable taking charge who can guide and teach them. A second time parent never wants that – they really struggle with someone telling them what to do with their baby. When it comes down to it, first time parents struggle with this too; it just takes them a while for them to find out!

Personality matching is at the heart of everything we do but it’s sometimes hard to guide parents when the clear vision of what they are looking for doesn’t stack up with the psychology behind our matching. At the end of the day the parents have the last word and it’s totally their choice. Some go straight to the nannies and maternity nurses we recommend as being the best matches, while others ignore our recommendations and go for nannies we wouldn’t put on the top of their list. Either way is totally okay but our experience shows that parents who choose a nanny we have recommended, generally have the more successful and longer-lasting relationships with their nanny. In fact, our average placements last 2.5x longer than the average market placements! 

At myTamarin we won't charge you for our in-depth matching or your search; we'll only charge you when we've found you your perfect nanny. Sign up here to start the process and see who we match you with.

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