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More parents opting for nannies over day care

Logan Rose, 11 months, gets a lift from his dad, Jason, as nanny Michelle Leighton (left) and mother, Jordan, watch at the Roses' home in Paradise Valley.

Logan Rose, 11 months, gets a lift from his dad, Jason, as nanny Michelle Leighton (left) and mother, Jordan, watch at the Roses' home in Paradise Valley.

PHOENIX – Nannies aren’t what they used to be. They don’t live in separate quarters with the rest of the hired help. They don’t change unruly behavior with a song, and they certainly don’t swoop in via umbrella like Mary Poppins. Sometimes, they aren’t even women.

Today’s nanny still changes diapers, reads stories and takes children to the park. But she has evolved from the traditional perception of a salaried caregiver, such as those consumed by the job in the recent film “The Nanny Diaries.”

She might work only during those energy-sapping weeks following birth, helping weary parents get some sleep. She might be shared by two families to cut costs. Or she may be so specialized she is in the child’s life only for a matter of days or weeks, as the tot navigates the scary and sometimes intimidating world of the potty. The one constant is the demand for nannies.

Unconventional work schedules, increased awareness and flexible care options have ignited growth in the nanny industry. At the same time, parents have a desire for more personalized care, as well as direction, because raising a child can be difficult and confusing.

Tonya Sakowicz, an Ahwatukee-based newborn-care specialist, said some parents are bewildered. She’ll visit with expecting parents to prepare the home and make sure they know what they need and what they can live without.

“There is a glut of information out there on the market,” Sakowicz said. “One book tells you to do this, and the next book says don’t do that.”

Sakowicz is part of the Baby Dream Team, a group of local women with early-childhood expertise who are available for hire under a host of circumstances. Sakowicz serves as an e-mail consultant, answering questions about all things baby, from teething to reflux.

She also goes into the homes of newborns and trains them to sleep. She’ll get them snoozing through the night in eight to 12 weeks.

“There is a change in the industry,” she said. “I see more and more people opting for nannies.”

For Jordan and Jason Rose, both 36, getting a nanny for their only child, Logan, was a no-brainer. With occasional night meetings and events, their lives wouldn’t work without a nanny. Jordan Rose is a land-use attorney with Rose Law Group, and her husband is president and founder of Rose & Allyn Public Relations.

After searching for four months, the Roses interviewed Michelle Leighton. Not only did Leighton have eight years of nanny experience, she knew who was leading Major League Baseball’s National League West.

“Right then and there, the nanny odyssey was over,” Jason said. “You want a well-rounded individual.”

Leighton, 23, cares for Logan about 10 hours a day. She does laundry and cleans bottles during his morning nap. She attends toddler classes with him. She travels with the Roses when they want to take Logan but know they’ll need time to themselves.

Leighton even prepares organic food for Logan.

“She knows much more than we can ever hope to know,” Jordan said.

Pat Cascio, president of the International Nanny Association, said beyond long workdays, parents seek guidance when it comes to child development. With that, nannies are becoming more educated as parents realize nannies are accessible, Cascio said.

“I talk with very intelligent women all the time that feel very inept at child rearing,” Cascio said.

Sakowicz, the newborn-care specialist, said parents want to provide as many opportunities as possible for their kids. People who rely on nannies today may not have years ago, but it’s not an indication children are spoiled, she said.

“Three generations ago, they didn’t have that, but what they did have was Aunt Mary down the block and Grandma two houses up,” Sakowicz said. “They had lots of expertise to draw on that today’s parents don’t have. We also didn’t sterilize bottles, and we ran around with kids thrown in the back of the station wagon. We know more now.”

That knowledge comes at a price.

Professionals in the industry say good nannies earn $10 or more per hour, taking in $80 to $100 a day.

Compare that with traditional day care. A survey conducted in 2006 by Maricopa County Research and Reporting found the cost of day care averaged $18 to $34 a day, depending on the child’s age and the facility.

Angela Riggs, director of early-childhood development at Sullivan University in Kentucky, said nanny salaries and education levels directly affect one another.

Sullivan University is one of a handful of schools in the country that offer a professional nanny program. The accelerated, one-year program teaches the students everything from CPR and first aid to table manners and fine-dining etiquette. They are even taught how to plan a birthday party.

“It’s not Mary Poppins. It’s a career,” Riggs said, noting that the film “The Nanny Diaries” doesn’t appropriately reflect the life of a true nanny. “It’s fun for a movie, but it’s not real. I think the big misperception is a nanny has to give up her life. You can have a life.”

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