The (Real) F Word: Flexibility

Flexibility is a buzzword when it comes to childcare. Many parents need someone willing to be a bit flexible with hours to cover unexpected delays when needed. Most nannies are keen to emphasize their flexibility to maximize their chances of getting a job. But are you using the F-word too much?

Just as our ideas of physical flexibility differ, the types of flexibility with different types of childcare often do too. A flexible daycare is a bit like being able to touch your toes with your hands, which is better than only reaching your knees if that’s all another daycare can do for you, but a flexible nanny is more like being able to touch your toes to the back of your head. Even if you don’t touch your toes on a regular basis it can be reassuring to know that flexibility is there if you need it, just like it can be reassuring to know you have a bit of leeway to cover those unexpected delays.

When choosing childcare options parents should assess how much flexibility they really need – remember needing unusual hours isn’t the same as needing flexible childcare, although you might need someone who is flexible with the hours they’ll agree to work. Different types of childcare are by nature more flexible than others – a daycare has fixed opening and closing times for good reasons, but a nanny has a little more leeway to decide what those are and whether they are willing to make exceptions on an occasional or more regular basis. One flexible live out nanny might not mind having to come in early or stay late with virtually no notice, while another may offer to do this but expect this to be agreed upon well in advance. A live in nanny can give even more flexibility, including late notice and overnight care, but this shouldn’t be taken for granted and should always be compensated accordingly.

Live out nannies promising flexibility need to be careful about what they say to the potential employer in their initial interview. Your nanny might be happy to work up to 10 hours a day and although she doesn’t mind whether those 10 hours are 7am to 5pm or 11am to 9pm she still expects to clock off when those 10 hours are done. Or maybe she’s happy to occasionally start an hour earlier or finish an hour later but is generally available between 8am and 6pm. Perhaps she is flexible to babysit in the evenings &/or on weekends.  All of those are being flexible but option 1 is what a shift worker might mean by flexible childcare, option 2 is what someone with their own family or someone with a long commute might mean.

Flexible working is also a two-way street. The quickest way to turn a relationship sour is to demand full flexibility from your nanny and never give any back. Giving a little can build up a store of goodwill for the times you need extra help. As one nanny said ‘I don’t mind doing later days when I’m needed because I am let off early sometimes’.  Just a little flexibility in return goes a long way.  For example allowing a nanny to run some personal errands during the working day (when your kids are at school of course) once in a while can make a relationship a whole lot smoother.  It shows that you respect her and she will appreciate that.

At the end of the day being flexible is a give and take that can be beneficial to everyone.  If you don’t want to give it don’t plan on taking it.