Relationships are complicated all around, whether it's a marriage, friendship or family. But when we're talking about the one between parents and the nannies they hire to care for their children, it tends to get downright sticky. Nannies as a profession are getting a lot of attention these days. Add popular reality shows like "Nanny 911" and "Supernanny" to the fact that "Mary Poppins" is playing on Broadway and "The Nanny Diaries" movie is coming out this fall, and you have half the reason. The other? With so many women returning to work after having kids, nannies are no longer considered an option that's only available to the rich. "This is increasingly a middle-class choice because so many women are in families that require two incomes," says Lucy Kaylin, author of "The Perfect Stranger: The Truth About Mothers and Nannies" (Bloomsbury USA). "It's not about setting up a situation where you can have lunch with girlfriends and get a manicure. For many people, this is simply a more reasonable solution than daycare." As a working mother myself, I know firsthand how hard it really is to leave your kids in the hands of a veritable stranger. The list of qualities you want in a nanny is already a mile long, and when you add in feelings of jealousy and guilt (I've felt both), it's hard not to succumb to all-out nitpicking. But the truth is this: Neither Jo Frost nor Julie Andrews are going to show up at your door. Luckily, there are more resources then ever to help in your quest to hire a good nanny and then maintain the relationship you've begun. Get your priorities straightBefore you start the interview process, you have to know what you're looking for, so sit down — as a team, if you're married or partnered — and make a list of the day-to-day duties of the job, the hours, and how much you can afford to pay (the norm is between $10-$15 an hour). Keep in mind that this person's first responsibility is your child. It can be tempting to pile on a few chores she can tackle during naptime, but unless you've agreed on them ahead of time, it is unfair. Once you've put together a job description, take some time to jot down qualities you'd like to see in a candidate to narrow the pool. A minimum level of experience, flexible availability and a calm demeanor all come to mind. Ask aroundThe best way to find top-notch service, whether it's a nanny or a new dentist, is word of mouth. Off the bat, you probably have a ton of resources at your fingertips in the form of co-workers. Many will be able to recommend someone, or at the least, a referral service they've had success with, says Pat Cascio, president of the International Nanny Association.
If you decide to go with a placement service, vet it first with the Better Business Bureau to make sure it's credible and doesn't have a record of complaints. A good company will also happily cough up all the information they have on a candidate, including references, a background check and complete employment history. InterviewHere's your chance to ask all your questions, so take advantage. A couple of tips from Cascio: Have candidates come up with a few different activities they'd do with your child, and ask how they feel about your parenting philosophies. A good nanny's answers will be age-specific where applicable and will indicate a clear openness to follow the guidelines that you dole out. Instinct will tell you when you've found the one. "Obviously, you need to check references like crazy, but a large part of this is your gut. Does this person seem like someone you can work and get along with?" says Kaylin. A good plan is to hire on a trial basis for the first few weeks or even months. Lose the guiltIt may take a bit of time to adjust, but eventually, you've got to come to terms with your decision to return to work. Women seem to have more trouble with this than men, but the advice here is universal -- if you let it get to you, you'll be miserable, and you'll probably make the nanny and your children unhappy as well.
"At a certain point, you have to accept that you're not there, and you've hired someone else to be there. Acceptance is the key word, because then you can forgive and celebrate yourself for all the things you're trying to do as a working mother. That's when you can move forward," explains Kaylin.Resist the urge to micromanageIf you look for mistakes being made by your new nanny, you'll no doubt find them. As a parent, you might even make the same ones. That's why I'm not such a fan of nanny cams or other snooping devices. Instead, drop by from time to time. Ask your friends who deal with your nanny for feedback and let her do her job. If you're confident in the person you've hired, you shouldn't have to leave a million lists or require a daily log of every feeding and diaper change. Know when it's not working outSometimes even a parent's gut instinct can be a bit off the mark. If it's not working, and I mean truly not working, as opposed to your guilt still getting in the way, then you need to move on and find a better fit. Cascio advises, "I would suggest letting her go on the spot with a couple weeks of severance pay, rather than having someone come to work who isn't happy with you and leaving her to care for your children."
With reporting by Arielle McGowen.
Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL's official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including "Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day" (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .