Family Assistants Are The New Nannies — And Here’s Why We’re Absolutely On Board

The “child care” is for YOU, not the kids.
04/11/2018 10:52 am ET Updated Apr 16, 2018

When we read this game-changing parenting advice from famed relationship therapist Esther Perel, we started fantasizing about how it would play out in real life.

Here’s what she said:

The “child care” is for YOU, not the kids.

If you’re able to hire help, “The person is not there to help you with the children — they are there to help YOU. You need an assistant. You need someone who helps you, who feeds you when you come home so that you can go and be with the kid and play and read.” Per her interviewer, Haley Nahman, Perel “suggests thinking of anyone you hire as a parental assistant rather than someone to dote on the child’s every whim while you spin all the other plates.”

Our first thought was, Yeah sure. Easier said than done. Nanny candidates abound, but their roles are specific (read: childcare). Where and how would we ever find this magical unicorn of an assistant to feed us and basically act as a third parent/home admin/errand gopher so we could actually enjoy our kids instead of being their exhausted, grumpy taskmaster?

Well, buckle up, because Perel’s unicorn EXISTS!

In fact, Deborah Calkin, owner of a premiere national domestic staffing agency, specializes in connecting parents with family assistants who fulfill the following job description:  

Family assistants work for families with children who require more than just childcare. FA’s are the parents’ personal assistants and the children’s nanny. They help out the parents in managing the home by doing whatever the parents need assistance with. Some parents need help running their business while the children are in school while others need help in scheduling, organizing and keeping the home running smoothly. A family assistant is similar to a personal assistant except that a large part of their job involves childcare and household duties such as cooking, light housekeeping and driving the children to school and activities. Busy parents are able to delegate important tasks to the family assistant so that they can spend more time with their children.

Bam. Here, Calkin answers our burning questions:

Twenty20

Q) WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HIRING A FAMILY ASSISTANT VS A TRADITIONAL NANNY?

Typically the nanny is hired to do only childcare-related duties. A family assistant does have nanny experience, but she also has personal assistant experience, so that really allows the parents to spend more time with their children, while also having someone around who is a professional childcare provider with a great driving record and usually a bachelor’s degree. So it’s the perfect mix between a nanny and a personal assistant. The family assistant can run errands, go grocery shopping, take the kids to school, activities or doctors’ appointments if and when the parents need her to. But she also really works with the parents and has the flexibility to do whatever is needed. One day that may mean running errands all day and helping with the home office. The following day it may mean doing more childcare if the parent needs to be away from the home or focus on their work.

The nanny industry really emphasizes [limiting a nanny’s duties to childcare only]. Agency owners or placement specialists will remind a nanny that she is a nanny; she’s not a housekeeper or a personal assistant for the family. In some ways that’s really good, because then she’s not taken advantage of. But it also goes to the other extreme of a nanny saying, “That’s not my job. Why are they asking me to go run errands?”

Many families don’t necessarily need a personal assistant and a nanny; they want two-in-one. For example, we have clients who are home with their children but have three kids at three different schools. So it’s not solely about [outsourcing] childcare; it’s about finding someone who can pick kids up from school safely and take them where they need to go.

WENDY MAEDA/THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Q) WHAT OTHER DUTIES MIGHT A FAMILY ASSISTANT HANDLE?

Scheduling, keeping the fridge or pantry stocked with certain items, very light housekeeping. That of course isn’t scrubbing the toilet; it’s vacuuming up a spill. Making sure homework is done on time. Families with home businesses sometimes ask the family assistant to do some filing or answer calls. Cooking. Laundry. Ironing. Dog walking. We had one family assistant who had worked on an organic farm so she helped the mom build up her garden. You’re not necessarily going to find a Family Assistant who can do programming and design your website. But when it comes to the things that moms do on a daily basis for their families, those are the things you can expect a family assistant to do.

Twenty20

Q) IS IT MORE EXPENSIVE TO HIRE A FAMILY ASSISTANT THAN A NANNY?

It typically is a little bit more, especially if the family is looking for someone who has both nanny and personal assistant or family assistant experience. It really depends on location and duties, the number of children and their ages. If a family wants a Mandarin-speaking Family Assistant to cook for six vegetarians, that’s going to be more expensive than your typical Family Assistant who’s mostly just running errands and helping with childcare. In Manhattan, the minimum hourly rate would be at least $30-an-hour for a full-time Family Assistant as opposed to $20-$25-an-hour for a nanny. Nationally, many families also typically give a generous weekly gas allowance.

Twenty20

Q) ARE YOU SEEING MORE CANDIDATES WILLING TO FILL THIS ROLE WHEN YOU ARE RECRUITING? IS THIS A GROWING TREND?

I’ve been in this industry 20 years. It’s absolutely becoming more and more popular. In really high-income homes, typically our clients will hire a nanny and also have several personal assistants. But it’s becoming a lot more common with the rest of us who aren’t in that category but still need help, to have someone come in and run errands and also help us with our children.

A lot of candidates who have been in the industry for a while as nannies are looking to climb the ladder, and their end goal is to become an estate or household manager. They might start as a nanny, move up to a family assistant, then to a personal assistant, then to a household manager. Family assistants are increasingly popular in Texas, the Southwest and Oregon; not so much in New York. We get in several family assistant resumes every week. They’re finding us.

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