Shannon Parola is a childcare expert. Once known as "Shanny the Super-Nanny," she's seen it all. She's a wealth of knowledge when it comes to how we should think about childcare—from childcare access, to hiring tips, to Care.com's monopoly, Shannon shares her perspective on the current state of childcare and how she helps parents navigate their options.

She’s spent fifteen years being a Super Nanny and household manager for families in the Bay Area. In 2020, she opened VIP coaching for childcare and nannies. She gives childcare tips on Instagram @theviparolaz.

_____

Q: What was your entrance into nannyhood, and how was it?

A: I am the oldest in my family. I have lots of cousins. I grew up in a neighborhood with lots of younger kids. I was always the go-to babysitter, and I always just kind of loved doing it through high school. That’s how I made money to pay for college applications, so it was a great way into entrepreneurship—learning how to market myself, professionalism, and learning those boundaries as a teen.

Then, I went to college and realized it was really hard to have a part-time job when your schedule was constantly changing each semester because most people don’t want to hire you. So I went back and thought, “I could totally be a nanny.” So I filled in my schedule and I got really lucky. My first three families are my long-term families, and I’ve had them for ten-plus years. One of the family’s boys were ushers in my wedding. So, I found long-term families that kind of transitioned with me through the years.

I was on a route to get my doctorate in physical therapy when I was diagnosed with celiac’s disease in 2013. That was right when I was finishing up my realm in Vegas and doing Cirque du Soleil. I was nannying too, trying to pay the bills and pay my college tuition off so I was completely out of debt and ready to go to DPT when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to become a physical therapist. I could not do the regular schedule. We didn’t know what was wrong with me at the time.

So I kind of got depressed. My nanny kids were coming to visit me and keeping my spirits up when my then-boyfriend, now-husband, looked at me and said, “Just go do what you love. You love being around your kids.” So I really just kind of threw myself in there.

With a background in kinesiology and movement sciences, I was really a great resource for special needs parents—those with motor developments or anything kind of in that realm where they were having a hard time finding a regular sitter. I had the experience and background because of my school.

So, I just kind of became Shanny the Super-Nanny and just went from one family to another to another. Some needed me full-time, some needed me part-time, some needed me for date nights. My favorite lady was the one who always wanted to go to Costco without her three kids in tow—one with special needs and a set of twin infants. She just wanted to go and not have to worry—and if she could enjoy a hot dog, that’d be great. Now as a mom, I think that’s a luxury I would want too.

So, for me, nannying was just kind of my outlet. I loved doing it and I just didn’t see anywhere else. I loved the fact that no day was the same, no matter what I was doing. I was either out at the park, going to a playdate, working in therapy—which was a whole other piece of the puzzle for me, having to use that part of my brain that I had spent so much time and money and education on getting, that I could use it practically.

Finally, I became pregnant with my own daughter. We were told I couldn’t get pregnant and, lo and behold, we got pregnant and I had her October of 2019—and California shut down March of 2020. I was actually supposed to go back as a nanny mom, which is someone who was a nanny previously and has professional experience as a nanny and brings their child in tow as a playdate for your child.

I had worked with a family whose two older brothers I had watched for three or four years had gone off to elementary school, but they just had a baby that was six months older than my daughter—so it was like the perfect fit. But, they were all teachers, so of course, when the pandemic shut down everything, you don’t need a nanny.

So I kind of went into hole mode. I was ready to go back to work. I had just kind of fought off postpartum depression and anxiety. And here the pandemic is telling me, “Stop, you’re not going anywhere.” But my email started blowing up, and that’s how I dove into childcare coaching.

It was something I was already offering my parents—helping them find daycares when a nanny no longer worked for them, or their kids were going off to school and my schedule didn’t work for them. I was helping them hire other nannies or other sitters. I opened it to the public and realized this is what parents need.

I finally realized all those years working as a nanny and looking at those parents like deer in headlights when I was trying to explain something to them because it’s too much. There’s too much information and there’s not one source you can go to to answer your question.

Q: Where do you typically start with the parents coming to you? Are most people looking for the places in their area that they need reputable recommendations for, or are you ever helping people decide between nanny versus childcare? Talk to us about that.

A: So, I always tell parents, the best conversation you can have—it’s almost as tough as the discussion of having another kid and starting to try—it’s what is our childcare going to look like that first year? That’s usually where these parents start to go, “Well, we have to go back to work” or “We can afford to make these decisions.”

I will always say, I’m a proponent that everyone’s child care situation is going to be different. You have to do what’s best for your family, and it’s going to look different from your sister. It’s going to look different from your cousin. It’s going to look different from your best friend. Why? Because you’re all different families. You’ve all got different sized boats, and we’re all just trying to swim down the river together.


So, when it comes to childcare, you have to have that discussion. What can we afford? What do our needs really look like? As an entrepreneur myself, I really didn’t need full-time care. If I could just get two days a week where I could get a couple hours to actually concentrate and get my clients answers, I was a happy mom.

There are also the stay-at-home moms that deserve a break. Even if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you deserve a break and you deserve childcare. You have to have that.

So, most of my clients are clients who are either starting their journey and have no idea where to start with childcare. They hear it’s daycare and nanny, and it’s so much more than daycare and nanny. There are so many other options compared to that, and there are so many other sub-genres within daycare and nanny alone. It’s apples and oranges. There are multiple flavors of apples and oranges and different varieties, and that’s what it really comes to when it comes to daycare and nannies. What kind of flavor of daycare or nanny are you looking for?

So you really have to sit down and have that discussion with your partner and ask what care looks like for you and what your non-negotiables are. For my husband, it was that we were not going to do an in-home daycare, but a center that is educational-based. Alright, cool. If that’s your one non-negotiable—because he leaves a lot of these decisions to me being the professional—I will respect that one non-negotiable as we look into daycare.

We moved from the Bay Area where I knew a lot of the nannies and could trust a lot of the people to watch my kid because I knew them and had worked with them and they were my colleagues. Moving to the Sacramento area, I knew nobody. So, it was trying to learn. We found a few great babysitters who were in their teens. Of course, they all went off to college, which is what normally happens with our teenage babysitters.

And what I tell parents is that no childcare option is forever. We’ll never ever find a forever nanny. There will never ever be a forever daycare. They’re going to grow, they’re going to evolve. We see this a lot especially with special needs in the younger ages where we’ll see daycare not be a fit for them and parents thinking it’s their kid, it’s them—no, it’s just this is not the right childcare fit for your family and we have to figure out another one that works.

So a lot of my clients are the deer in headlights and don’t know where to start, or they have narrowed down their options—like we’re looking at a nanny versus daycare right now, but what is the best option for our family?

Well, I can give the pros and cons of each but, ultimately, you have to make that decision for you. I also can’t decide on the nanny for you. I can look at all the resumes and point out red flags or pros and cons but, ultimately, the parent has to decide legally. That’s how a nanny agency works. They’re going to give you all the options, but legally cannot tell you who to choose. That has to be on you and what works best for your family.

So a lot of parents are just coming to get the weight off their shoulders and to get questions answered because Google is just overwhelming them. Facebook Groups—there are some where you go to write a single question about something and you get eaten alive. A lot of my parents are afraid to ask because they think it’s a stupid question, and I’m a firm believer that there’s no stupid question. No one knows everything. Even I don’t know everything. And if I don’t know the answer, we’re going to find someone who does because I want to know the answer now.

Q: Talk to us about the options or sub-options on the nanny front and your best practices.

A: When you’re so desperate and so sleep-deprived, you start forgetting things. This is where I tell parents this is why nanny agencies can cost a little bit more. It’s that sanity and that check. You’re paying them to do that background check for you and bring you reputable people.

When parents start looking for a nanny, you have to know what exactly you want. Don’t write a bland job offering on your local Facebook board saying “Hey, I’m looking for a sitter to come whenever. Pick a day. We’re flexible on time and days.” What you’re going to do is you’re going to start getting people to come in. Some of them are going to be completely absolutely not, and you can start removing them off the list, and some of them you’ll start entertaining for interviews.

That’s my first step. Always do a FaceTime interview or Zoom interview. You can meet these people in person too, but you can get a good gist of somebody with Zoom, and then you’re not having to drag the kids in tow and having to set time aside to just have a one-on-one conversation.

Then, narrow it down further. Then, what we usually tell parents is, when they’re ready or think a person is their person, that’s when you start calling their references. Speak to an actual mom and someone who is going to verify the information this person put on their resume or is giving you.

I will say that we are seeing a lot of stay-at-home moms claim that they have nanny experience or fifteen years of childcare experience—and it’s their fifteen years with their teenage child of their own. There’s a big huge difference in professional childcare, which is someone who has worked in a daycare, a teacher, professional nanny versus a stay-at-home mom experience. And, I’m not dissing that at all and that’s what people would say. I’m not shaming anyone. There’s a big difference, especially when we’re talking price too. We have nannies who have worked their butt off and got all these degrees and now we’re comparing. So there’s a big difference and verifying that they didn’t just watch their nieces and nephews. That’s how we got a lot of nannies caught on their resumes and they didn’t make agency lists where they were trying to pass off family as working for a family for ten years. It all looks great on paper until it’s verified.

After the reference checks and talking to a real person, your mom gut or your dad gut or your parenting gut is never going to steer you wrong. It is a biological caveman thing we have had. When you walk into a daycare or meet a nanny or anything and your gut is telling you this isn’t right, it’s not right. Don’t ignore that ever.

Once you have those interviews and check references, do the background check. Make sure you’re going through somewhere you’re going to get a good background check. That could be your local police station. In California, we have Trust Line. There are online ones. Care.com. All of the big websites have them.

Here’s the thing and caveat I tell parents: I have had parents get nannies off of these websites and they’ve passed the reference check and they pass the background check, but when they go to run their own background check, something else pops up because there are limitations to what these background checks can check—based on where that person was living or the state you live in. So my best advice, yes, it’s going to cost you a little bit more, but it’s going to make you feel that much better. Nanny agencies usually offer background checks as an ala carte feature. You don’t have to hire a nanny through them. They will do all the background checking for you and, usually, they are doing more than just a basic background check. They’re checking the federal database. They’re checking everything that they can, including social media to make sure that they’re not seeing any red flags.

When you’re sleep-deprived and you’re tired, you may not notice these red flags and you may let them slip. But this agency or other provider may be able to go, oh, you missed this one. And that’s not your fault. It’s your safety backcheck to make sure.

Once that person passes that check, then you do a paid trial. Have that person come into your home while you’re at home and have them interact with your child and have them interact with your family. Yes, you will have to pay them for their time but at least, at that point, you can figure out if this is someone you trust in your home, if they’re a good fit, and if your child likes them. You can’t expect your child to warm up to someone the first minute they come in, but you know you have that, once again, mom gut feeling of whether or not it’s a good fit or if the person is even trying. It is truly a gut instinct that you know it’s the right decision.


My husband and I had the same gut reaction when we toured a daycare after touring ninety-million other daycares in the area. We said okay, it doesn’t tick off some of the boxes, but it ticks off 95 percent of what we need and we feel safe and it’s passed all our checks, alright, let’s give it a shot.

You can have cameras. Nanny cams are an okay thing. My caveat is just to let your nanny or sitter know they are set up, and where. Legally, you have to tell them. You can use them in a positive way, where you can check in with your kids and build that trust and feel good about the care that you have found for your child but also not micromanage, which is a problem we see on the nanny boards. You can’t just sit on the camera all day and nitpick at everybody.

Q: What are some of the best practices that you want to see in a daycare?

A: So, there’s a wide variety—and I always tell parents that daycare, once again, is an orange. You’re going to have your big grapefruit centers, which are like your large kid care, all those big large centers and franchises like Goddard. They are most likely going to have cameras.

Here’s the caveat when we talk about cameras: Yes, cameras are a benefit. Most schools will have cameras in-house. Whether or not you have access to those cameras is a whole different question. And, as someone whose husband works in cyber security, his fear is always who else is looking at those cameras? How many other parents have given out the information for grandma and grandpa to watch at school or aunts and uncles? Who has hacked it? So, there’s a fine line. Do you really want access, or do you just want them recording in-house so that way, if anything does happen, there is a recording in-house to refer back to?

In most in-home daycares, it’s very rare to find one that will allow parents access to cameras. Most of it will be pictures because of the liability on someone hacking in or someone we don’t want watching it, watching it. So cameras are hit or miss

Things I usually look for are open communication. I want to know that you can answer a question and you’re not boggled and can give me straight facts. I also want to see some kind of program and send pictures. That makes me feel great because, when your kid gets in the car and you ask what they did at school today, you have the same things. It gives me peace of mind to know what’s happening and, mom gut again, you see the photo and you can tell if your kid is having a bad day or a forced phot.

The contract also. When you go to sign with a daycare, there will be a contract to sign. It should be clear and concise and you should be able to know the days you’ll have to pay for that are days off and that the school is closed. You’re going to have a sickness clause. Everything should be laid out in a handbook and contract so that you know exactly what you’re signing up for. If you’re not getting that and it’s not clear and concise, we’ve got a whole other problem. That contract is what you’re going to hold that daycare to.

My biggest thing is check your state website for that daycare. When it comes to licensed daycares, the rules are the same. You have to be registered with your state. Though in-home daycare and parent co-op is now hitting this fuzzy line depending on what state you live in. In California, you can only watch one other family without a license. That’s a parent co-op. Anything more than that is now an in-home daycare and you have to get a license. So there’s a fuzzy line there where some parents want to skimp and you can’t. In Florida, it’s like eight kids before you need a license. Every state has different ratios and age requirements. I have a whole spreadsheet.

I was just working with the 19th News Organization and we were talking about the safety of daycares and why daycares aren’t reporting deaths and incidents to the state and how we’re so behind because of the pandemic—and it comes down to childcare funding. You don’t have enough funding to pay the state to send the inspectors out and you’re not having them force the daycares to report, you’re going to have some issues. It’s scary. Most daycares will self-report and you’ll see it on the state report—whether in-home or center.

There are also differences in daycare marketing. Ask questions like are you licensed with the state and what are your credentials? It’s doing the research and making sure you check off boxes. But when you’re sleep-deprived and desperate and need an option now, it’s hard.

Q: Talk to us about the childcare crisis.

A: If you are pregnant and you know you’re going to need childcare, you have to start while you are pregnant because the waitlists are so long, especially for infants. Infant care is not only the most expensive, it’s the hardest to find. Why? Because the ratio has to be so low to keep the license. So basically, they have to charge more because they have less kids in that room. Not to mention, that room has to be a specific way for legal.

What we’re seeing is a domino effect. We had the pandemic happen, and the pandemic basically shut down a lot of preschools that didn’t survive. If you didn’t have an Act of God clause inside your daycare contract, you basically were SOL. The daycare couldn’t collect money, you were out rent, you lost your facility, and people were out jobs. That’s the sad part of what happened. We lost over 40 percent of our daycares and preschools during this time.

Then, when we started to re-open up, it was so slow to re-open up and because of the price and inflation hike, you have the domino effect going on. Then we had an influx of childcare funding. So that was the pandemic one, which lasted until about September of last year. Basically, that influx just injected the system with a bunch of money. We had to get parents back to work, get the economy back to work, so they did whatever. That’s why we saw a huge influx in in-home care because they were the fastest to open. It was easy to open a daycare in your home.

The problem is that it was taking awhile to get the inspection for the license because the city or the state was so backed up. They didn’t get the funding, the centers started getting the money. So, as people started to come back, now you have teachers who are looking to make money. Just here in California, last year, we enacted fast food workers to make twenty dollars an hour. So, that’s what these kids are having to compete with so that’s just skyrocketing the nanny and the babysitter rate.

You also have to look at where a lot of these places are. San Jose, San Francisco—big cities, lots of options, even though there are a lot of kids. It seems like there’s a long waitlist. It’s a lot different than Sacramento, Davis—we’re talking childcare deserts, not enough options to meet the demand.

So what we saw was most daycares and centers and preschools started doing two different things with two different kinds of waitlists. They either had the waitlist that was 200 people long and was a free-for-all where anyone could sign up and half those people probably already found spots and are just sitting there holding spots waiting for someone to call.

If you’re in one of those daycare centers with a long waitlist, but you really like the center, call them once a month and check in on your status and their availability. It gets you bumped up.

Or, we saw the daycares who started getting smart and started taking deposits to get on a waitlist. And, usually, somewhere in that contract it said they had 60 days or 90 days to find a spot, otherwise they refunded the money or the funds would go toward the first month’s tuition. That cut down waitlists drastically because parents didn’t have to make a choice whether or not they wanted to be at that school or not.

Then you really have to decide what you want to do. So for a lot of parents in our shoes where we had one school we paid the application and waitlist for because we knew that may give us a better guarantee and we joined a lot of ones where it was a free-for-all and, ultimately, the one we put a deposit on was the parent co-op we ended up with where you trade with every parent every week and monitor the kids and bring snacks as parent participation and it was a great introduction to childcare because I knew my daughter wasn’t ready to be dropped off at the time. But she was a social butterfly who needed to be with kids her age who spoke her language. She just needed to be in an environment with other kids.

And that’s another thing we talk about is a lot of stay-at-home moms struggle between deciding when the right time—and it’s whenever you’re ready. For me, I had just done three years of pandemic Montessori style with my daughter and she needs education that I can’t give her. One of the things in my nanny contract was that I don’t do common core math and I don’t do lesson plans. I was the adventure nanny. I could handle flashcards or little lessons, but if you were expecting a teaching nanny, that wasn’t me.

So my daughter needed to be socially in with other kids and have the academics, and that was the two things when we moved up to Sacramento that the school that we got gave us. And it was a daycare center. We had done the nanny thing, did the sitter thing—and it worked okay. But my daughter knowing I was home and in the house and the sitter knowing I was a childcare coach, I just never really left the kitchen half the time.

So the daycare, we started three days a week and now she’s at five days a week because it just works for us. What I say is your sanity is what ultimately comes into play here. There’s only so much you can take, but also so much for your budget.

Now, we’re talking about how we have baby number two on the way. Are we going to continue doing this? No, because we have TK coming up in August and I’m going to enjoy the time with our last baby. Yes, I’m going to take maternity leave and not take clients for a few months, but I’m going to reduce my schedule so I’m only taking two clients a day, or I’ll only take a podcast when I know my husband will be downstairs taking care of the baby to where I can still use that part of my brain where I feel like I’m being helpful and a member of society, but also enjoying my time with my kids.

I am blessed to have the ability to do that because I know when I talk to so many parents it’s like I have to go back to work in six to twelve weeks. I don’t want to go back. I don’t know what to do. And you just want to sit here and cry. Or, when your area has no infant spots available or the nanny rate is at forty dollars an hour for a newborn care specialist, you have to make that decision for yourself and it is such a crappy and hard decision sometimes to make because society has made it that way to make it seem like we can do it all and have it all. We can’t.

I tell my husband every day that balance is bullshit. Some days I put on my mom hat and I’m fully invested in being mom. Other days I’m half and half. Every day is you choosing what you want to invest your energy in and as long as you’re happy when you close your eyes when your head hits the pillow, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, does it?

_____

This blog post was written based on kozēkozē Podcast Episode 366: Childcare Considerations with Shanny the Nanny.

If you’d like to listen to the conversation first-hand, tune in here.

____

kozēkozē Updates

  • We will be re-launching Nip Gloss at the end of the summer when we launch on Amazon with our new formula that will be certified organic. Our current formula is made with all organic ingredients, but getting the certification takes awhile—so we’re excited to be official.
  • We’re putting the final touches on our Nipple Diaper that will hopefully launch this fall.
  • kozēpee is available for pre-order at a discount to be delivered in July.
Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.