How Old is Too Old When Hiring a Nanny?

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oldWhen most children recall their childhood nanny, their thoughts often revolve around the nurturing they received, not whether or not the nanny was “young” or “old.” Children often view the nanny as a part of the family, an ageless friend and caretaker, whether he or she is 22 or 62.

The recent hiring of 71-year old Jesse Webb to care for newborn Prince George has erupted controversy over the age and ability of older nannies, though. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge recently revealed that Webb, who was Prince William’s childhood nanny, will be caring for their child on a part-time basis.

Putting age and experience into question, the hiring has prompted public scrutiny, prompting people to ask: How old is too old when hiring a nanny?

Defining “Old”

Many nannies in the job market face difficulty because of their age – both those younger than 20 and those older than 60 years of age – even though the Age Discrimination in Employment Act is designed to protect those who are 40 or older.

Age is a sensitive issue during hiring because it can lead to discrimination and false assumptions about a nanny’s ability. For example, nanny placement agencies cannot legally ask a potential nanny’s age; however, they can ask if he or she is of the legal working age. Families, however, often have more leeway in what they can and cannot ask (contact an attorney for specific advice on this issue). Appearances, though, can often give away a person’s years of experience, thus leading to unfair discrimination.

Defining “older,” though, is a subjective task for families.

When deciding to hire an “older” nanny, the descriptor of “older” varies from family to family, says Lindsay Heller, licensed clinical psychologist and professional nanny consultant.

“First and foremost, the family should determine the qualities not necessarily the number in regards to age per say,” says Heller. “I find that when families are requesting an older nanny, they are really looking for someone who possibly has already raised their own children, may be living a steady lifestyle or they want someone who is more settled and not planning any major life changes such as going back to school, getting married or starting a family of their own.”

Many families may also prefer to hire more of a “grandmotherly” figure as a nanny, says Heller. “These families are often looking for a nurturing, warm, snuggly type of nanny,” she says.

The Pros and Cons of Hiring an “Older” Nanny

Many families prefer to hire a nanny with more years of experience. “For some families, this means having a nanny who may have raised her own children or has had years and years of experience as a nanny,” says Heller. “They may be knowledgeable of not only child development, but also the professional role as a nanny in the family, as well as how things tend to go in a household.”

That said, there are younger nannies who can do the same, says Heller. “It’s important to pay attention to the qualities you are looking for in a nanny – not just the number,” she says.

When hiring, though, some families may determine “older” as a deterrent for several reasons. “Some families feel as though an older nanny may be great with a baby but as soon as that child is running, jumping and climbing, it may be hard to keep up with the child,” says Heller. “That said, there are younger nannies who may have a hard time keeping up with a child, whether it be that they are out of shape or some other issue.”

When hiring an “older” nanny, some families may also perceive more experience as a tendency to be too rigid. However, Heller says it’s important to note that many younger nannies have a similar issue.

As a result, Heller suggests families look beyond age when determining the best candidate for their children’s care. “There really isn’t anything different for a family to consider regarding an older nanny versus a younger nanny,” she says. “In all instances, families should have a trial period where they can see how well their child interacts with the potential nanny. In that trial period, the family should pay attention to how well the nanny keeps up with the children and is able to engage them.”

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