Expat Essentials

The nanny always knows, Pt. 1: A guide for London babysitters and parents alike

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(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 1 in a two-part series. You can jump to Pt. 2 here.)

Ever wonder why some of the people – oftentimes young women – scattered around the park with a flock of children by their side look suspiciously smiley and well-rested for a parent? That’s probably because the children are borrowed, to be handed back at the end of the day. In other terms, you are looking at babysitters and it turns out that although babysitting is – from personal experience – one of the most rewarding and wonderful jobs, they do not always look nor feel this happy.

Whether you are a new parent in London, a parent new to London or a babysitter in need of tips, this guide is for you.

Where to find a babysitter

So, now that the kids are here, where do we start? I personally use a French app (very popular in Paris and other French cities) called Babysittor which is gaining more and more traction in London with British and international families alike. It has a system of mentorship. You must have a certain number of people you know on the app (time to find French friends) to get your profile set up, ensuring the system remains safe and user friendly.

I have also heard wonders about Koru Kids. It operates with a similar system of recommendation or mentorship but simplifies the process and keeps it safe through different check-ups, which helps if you are new to a city and don’t know many people just yet.

Neighbourhood Facebook pages are also a great place to find work or childcare, their membership is often conditional, and relying on a background check and asking people for references is always a good way to start.

In the United Kingdom, DBS checks, which ensure someone has no prior criminal record or anything that could keep them from being less than exceptional child minder, are very easy to obtain on a government-approved website for as little as 30 pounds.

They last two years and are also required in a lot of different professions, so I would advise new babysitters to get one ASAP.

Babysitters, as sad as it is to mention, make sure to run a quick search of the parent(s) you are babysitting for. A few social media posts, LinkedIn searches or common friends’ input should be enough to ensure you also stay safe.

What to look for in a babysitter?

The idea behind this question or this guide in general is not to give non-negotiable statements to follow, but rather to inspire and maybe help ease into the painstaking process that finding childcare can sometimes be. Chances are you already know what you’re looking for in a babysitter.

Chances are this is someone who you trust to safely look after your kids, whose vibe is more Mary Poppins than the Grinch and who is both dynamic and trustworthy.

But chances are also, you may not have thought that in London, it is best to have a babysitter who doesn’t live too far away. Strikes, traffic and the cost of the Uber you will kindly order if the babysitting lasts past midnight are all to be considered. Another element which is often overlooked in favour of dynamism, which is indeed quite key, is calm.

Someone who is relaxed enough to adhere to a whole new set of rules when they meet a new family and whose dynamism is not superior to their capacity to remain calm under pressure. If someone gets along with your children but also with you, and is both transparent and laid back, you’ve found a pearl.

What to look for in a family?

Ah yes, the joy of adapting to new environments, rules, games and education styles.

Being a babysitter for the past 10 years has taught me invaluable life lessons in remaining calm, composed and most of all, kind, in many situations. It has also taught me that there are people I will never work for again no matter what they suddenly decide to pay me.

A wonderful thing to look out for is the way in which parents talk to their child. If they have a chilled out (as a rule of thumb, every parent will sometime loose it and boy do I sympathise) demeanour and kind dialogue flowing, chances are their kids will as well. People who are mostly on time, keep to their word and give you the time of day are ideal babysitting employers, and it is a joy to work for such families.

It’s sadly astounding the number of times I have been spoken curtly to, asked to do the tasks of either two babysitter or of a housekeeper (which there is no issue with IF it is stated in the original understanding), been underpaid or have had to deal with children undermining everything I said.

However, it is mostly topped by the wonderful times of games and questions I have with lovely kids andl lovely parents alike. The bottom line is, you will have not so great experiences, but you will learn from them. We don’t need families to buy us snacks (even though those that do win huge points) or chat to us for ages. We just need respectful, kind and trustworthy people who value the work we do with their little ones.

Last thing, also make sure you are on an easy, two night-buses maximum journey home. Very few parents offer to book you an Uber (those that do usually have older children or much younger siblings) and no matter how wonderful a family is.

Your safety comes first.

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Read more Expat Essentials here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Zoé here.

Zoé Manset
author at | Website | + posts

Zoe Manset is a French actress, writer and producer based in London, UK. After growing up in the Fragrant Harbour otherwise known as Hong Kong, Zoe moved to London in 2018 to pursue a BA in Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Arts. Missing the stage too much, she then completed a two year MFA in drama school and is now living the freelance actor life at full speed. Zoe is a fashion history lover, a great pub amateur, a dancer and a big foodie!

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