Saturday, July 18, 2009

Six-Figure Nannies

Top Jobs
Forbes.com

Maurna Desmond

Good help for the children is hard to find. The best costs a fortune.

Don't call Autumn Backman a nanny. A lean, high-energy brunette, she speaks French, a bit of German, graduated magna cum laude from a respectable East Coast university and has lived in Vienna and Monte Carlo. "I'm more of a governess," she says.

With 15 years in the business, Backman's primary goal is to bring "a whole new level of adventure to the children's lives." That might mean heading to Central Park to find the "forest" where there are wild brambles, or hitting up the Museum of Natural History for a bit of imaginary time travel. "For them it's very exciting," she says. "My joy is to bring joy and play to the child." But there's also scheduling doctor's appointments and inculcating good manners, "It's about raising a good citizen," she says.

Backman belongs to a special breed of domestic servants. An elite nanny today can't just be a passive grandma figure who keeps the kids safe and fed. She must be well-educated, personable, travel easily in any type of society, and is usually very fit. Poor health choices would be a bad influence on the children. "That's why you're paid that," says Claudia Kahn, chief executive of the Help Company, a Los Angeles-based agency that places nannies, butlers and other domestic workers with the world's rich. While a spiffy resume is key, "attitude to me is important to me as anything," says Kahn. "They have to say yes to any wishes that are given to them."

The difference between what uber-nannies rake in and what the average caretaker makes echoes the spread between their respective employers. The average full-time caregiver--there are some 1.2 million nannies in the U.S. according to government data--earns $26,000 a year, basically minimum wage, according to Breedlove and Associates, a firm that helps some 6,500 families with the legal side of hiring domestic help.

That figure "pops a bit" to around $30,000 in high-cost areas like Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, according to Thomas Breedlove, the firm's proprietor. This might even err on the high end since these are only families that choose to be above the board when it comes to taxes. "We don't get any Craigslist-type nannies," he said.

But for high-net worth families, money is no object when it come to mother's little helper. Top-shelf nannies can pull in six figures a year and more, depending on the client and what the nanny brings to the nursery.

But they need to be worth it. A top-shelf governess must be an ideal influence on the impressionable tots she's being enlisted to rear. They should have experience with children and some coursework in early childhood development studies, says Kahn. A National Nursery Examination Board certificate, granted by the U.K. government since 1945, is also increasingly desirable.

The perks are plush. Jetting off on private planes to exclusive resorts and lavish vacation homes; eating at five-star restaurants; hobnobbing with an elite circle that might involve Hollywood celebs, Wall Street kingpins or Washington powerbrokers. The nanny can get access to all the freebies, from designer goodies to invite-only movie premieres.

But Kahn warns that there's plenty of unseen grit in the nanny business. "From the outside it looks so glamorous because they're given free BMWs and are getting free clothes from every designer on the planet, but it's really demanding. It's not for everyone," says Kahn.

Nannies typically sign contracts for two years. One nanny equated this to a tour of military duty. "You just sign your life away," she says. Even traveling to tropical locales can be work. "It's like you're on vacation, but you're not. It's like being 10 again because you can't do what you want. You have to really look out at the ocean and say, 'That's so beautiful,' and then I have to do what they want me to do." But she takes it in stride. "I take my job really seriously, and I expect them to pay me accordingly. It's not a pastime."

A 31-year-old-nanny in San Francisco says moms with money tend to be much more involved in their children's lives, but it gets lonely for them being with the kids all the time. This crowd of moneyed hands-on moms want someone they like being around, not just an extra set of hands.

"I get paid what I get paid because I know to fit in. They don't want a nanny robot. I think the little boy I watch loves that I get along with his mom because we have fun," she says. "If you don't respect the person who's with your kids all day, why would you hire them?"

Then there are the social implications of a top-shelf nanny. "You want someone who represents you," says the nanny in the City by the Bay.

Maintaining the delicate balance between mommy, daddy and nanny can be tough. Especially when super nanny is bright and spunky and mom is tired and trying to shed some baby weight. Or if the family just wants some time away from the nanny. "It's something you learn, when to be around and when to disappear," she said.

But Backman insists that it's really about finding the right family to work for. "It's a relationship, not a job. Picking a job just for a high salary is like marrying for money. It's the wrong reason," she said.

Aside from work, Backman likes to tool around Manhattan on her cherry-red Vespa and hang out with friends in her duplex apartment. An avid runner, she's completed six marathons and volunteers with friends at the New York Road Runners Club to raise money for inner-city schools. This weekend, she's whisking her mother away to Bermuda. She says she plans to keep her job indefinitely. "I enjoy myself," she says.

For those who want to move on from nannying to other work, the transition can be tough. Breedlove says that older nannies often try to stick with it through to retirement. "Quite a few of the young ones start their own nanny placement agencies," he says.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have a degree, experience, great references and am thrilled to make $50K -- half of what the nannies in this article describe?!!

Yet, I found some of the similar issues. If a mother is a stay-at-home mother that doesn't work or volunteer often the nanny becomes a side-kick, extra pair of hands. Most nannies don't want to be a mother's helper, they want to take care of the kids and have the mom out of the house most of the day.

But, parents that make six figures work their butts off and so should six figure nannies. No reason to not expect a lot of dedication if and loss of time for a personal life if you make six figures. If you are paid that high salary you must expect to do more.

Tasha, Seatle

Anonymous said...

I think working as a nanny is difficult no matter how much you are paid. I also make over $50K but just at $50K I think I work as hard as a six figure nanny and Idon't complain much. I feel I am better compensated than most and work hard to prove that paying me double the typical average nanny is worth it. No educated nanny stays in the profession if they do not have a passion for it. I turned down a higher paying job then the one that I work at because it was a better "fit" I knew I would enjoy the job.

It's a difficult job no matter the salary.

Nanny Jacqueline G.
Newport RI

Anonymous said...

Now tell us how to find these jobs, please!

Anonymous said...

Your articles are much more informative than this forbes article. The Forbes article doesn't really say much of anything though.

Anonymous said...

What do people think of Ms Kahn's comments?

I felt like it set nannies back into domestic laborers.

Nannies who I know that earn 50-100k are hardly "yes girls". They seemed to be more involved and contribute to the family's care plans.

tobagonanny said...

I don't mind Ms. Kahn's comments. She hears what she hears from nannies and is simply sharing that info with others.

I don't know any nannies that makes over $75K (at least I don't think I do) so I can only bring what I know or have seen to the discussion.

We are all (including me making merely $50K) self-motivated, hard working, self-starters. But, when mom comes home I have to try to take a backseat a little. Truly that is the hardest part of my job for me. Learning when to step in or step aside. Finding that balance when a parent is home.

I wouldn't say I am timid. I think anonymous above implies "yes girls" as meak or timid. But, I am humble and know I am the employee. When asked to do something I say "yes" whether I approve completely or not or want to do it or not. I know I make more money than most because I will iron, or will go get the car an oil change and that is me being a "yes girl."

My Mom Boss told me so. She said my saying "yes" got me the job over other applicants that didn't say "yes" when asked if they would iron, get the car an oil change, and so on. She told me directly that it was my "yes" attitude that got me my job. She shared with me that those who are flexible are the ones that get promoted in her business and that's what worked for me in getting my current job.

Anonymous said...

I think that articles such as this can sometimes be misleading. As a nanny who has been in the profession for over 20 yrs, I think the six figure jobs are very rare, although they DO exist.

In my job searches, I have only encountered this type of job once. I did not accept it as the way the agency described it, it was the type of job where one could make tons of money in a couple of years, then most likely, change to a different job as you would be very burnt out from the demands of the job. Since I am a nanny who values her time and interests away from my job, this did not fit my lifestyle.

Hats off to the nannies who land these top paying jobs and I am sure they work hard for their generous compensation. But also keep in mind that these are not the typical jobs or the typical families and may not be for the nanny looking for a long-term relationship with an employer-family.

Anonymous said...

I work in New York City and I don't think many nannies make six figures at all. Who do they call to find a six figure salary?

I know only one nanny making $75K and other than her I am the next highest paid nanny I know and I make $60K.

When I last looked for a nanny jobs two years ago all the agencies in my area (NYC) said parents don't pay more than $900 per week. I was angry with the agencies because I did find this job and I do make well over that. But it was a real struggle to find my job. But, still all the agencies in my area say families won't pay more than $900 per week.

I really must question how many nannies are really make six figures? It must be less than ten nannies in the entire country! If they exist I wish they would tell us more how they found their jobs.

I do have a bachelor's degree, nearly 20 yrs nanny experience, only good references, perfect driving record, no problems whatsoever but cannot and have not found a six figure nanny job and know no one that is paid that much even in well paid New York City.

Anonymous said...

"Backman belongs to a special breed of domestic servants". I didn't know on these times there were servants. I am a nanny and I am not a servant. I provide help to the family with the kids and also I can perform others tasks since I am also personal cook, good organization skills and for sure hard worker but I will quit the job if somebody treats me as a "servant".
There are so many well educated women working as a nanny in USA but there are so many non educated women doing the same job as well. The decision is in the parents, what they are looking for, just for a nanny that watches the kids and help at home or for a nanny that also brings the best education for the kids and a great help for the family. I am really impressed how the parents leave their kids with whatever person and they don't take the time to know the person who will take care of their kids, they just hire them, checking some references by phone and go to work very happy.

Anonymous said...

Well educated, mature, hardworking, effective nannies should make six figures when they provide long hours, flexibility, dependability, and peace of mind. For those families who can afford it, it is well worth it.