By Brooke Farmer
A few years ago I had one of those lovely, unexpected moments where you really feel appreciated for what you do, completely reaffirming your commitment to your job. Going through the mail one evening I recognized the return address for a family that I used to nanny while I was in graduate school in Richmond, VA. Inside was an invitation to the high school graduation for Wes, the young man I had taken care of from the age of nine to eleven. There was also a note from his mom saying that he had specifically asked that I be invited because he knew I would be proud of him for reaching this milestone.
Honestly, I could not wipe the smile off my face as I read the note because Wes is one of my most memorable charges; largely because of the extended debates we had over homework and eating vegetables. At the time, Wes’ daily struggles with both the academic and social aspects of school created lots of tension in the house and there was more than one night that I came home and told my then fiancé that I was done with being a nanny.
Thankfully, I never carried through on my threat. Ten years and two children of my own later, I am still helping parents raise their children, a job I take very seriously, especially now that I am a mother as well. I have learned a lot in my thirteen years as a nanny, often by trial and error, and think that I have a unique perspective because I can speak for both the family and the childcare provider. I hope that the following tips are useful to any family that already has, or is looking for in-home childcare, whether it’s a full-time nanny or the date night high school babysitter. You will see that I use the term “nanny”, but I’m talking about all in-home child care providers (including that rare species, the “manny”).
• Make sure that your nanny is CPR and First Aid certified. While there is a small time commitment on your nanny’s part and a financial cost to you, this is a must, especially if you have an infant or toddler in the house. Trust me; any nanny worth having will appreciate the opportunity to learn these skills. Our biggest fear is having a child in distress and not being able to help them. Contact the local American Red Cross office for information on certification classes.
• Children reflect their parents’ behavior and demeanor towards other people. Treat your nanny the way you want your children to treat them – with respect. You have hired this person to help raise your children, not as your personal maid. I have never minded when I get to work and there are a few coffee cups in the sink that need to be put in the dishwasher, but repeat days of sinks overflowing with the previous nights’ un-rinsed spaghetti dishes start to get a little old. While my employers’ intent was not to treat me like a maid that is how it made me feel. And, it wasn’t a coincidence that the children in that house had the full expectation that I should trail behind them and be at their beckon call, picking up toys on demand.
• While we are on the subject of cleaning up after people, give some consideration to the amount of housekeeping that you expect from your nanny. Every nanny should be willing to do the routine cleaning tasks that come up in the course of a day- loading the dishwasher after a meal, wiping down tables and highchairs, helping make beds after naptime, etc. If you have an infant, young children that still nap, or older children that tend to entertain themselves, then I think it is within reason to ask your nanny to do some basic housekeeping, such as vacuuming and running some loads of laundry. The best way to decide is to consider whether you are comfortable cleaning while watching your children. If so, by all means ask your nanny to help out around the house. If you are hesitant to clean because you’re pretty sure your kids will take the opportunity to give their Little People a bath in the toilet, then it’s probably best to let your nanny give them her entire attention.
• Have the discipline discussion and explain your discipline strategies in detail. Telling your nanny “We use timeout” and pointing to a chair in the corner does not count. Give examples of discipline issues you have with your children and explain how you deal with them. No matter how wonderful your children are, have a plan for discipline, because they will act up at some point. Most importantly, let your children know that your nanny has the authority to discipline them and HOLD UP YOUR END OF THE BARGAIN AS A PARENT. There is nothing more frustrating as a nanny than when you get hung out to dry by the parents. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have had a parent completely cave to their children and give back the toy or video game that I had taken away after they hit/bit/pushed their sibling for the third time. That only has to happen a few times before the kids figure out they are in the drivers’ seat and that they will often be saved from the “evil” nanny.
• Because of the personal nature of the nanny/family relationship and the friendship that often ensues, it is easy to overlook the basic employer/employee issues that should be discussed like vacation, illness, incentives/pay increases, and performance reviews. For example, will you offer your nanny paid vacation? This depends partly on whether she is part- or full-time and whether you can afford it. Another question is what are your expectations when your children are sick? As a nanny, I fully expect to be wiping runny noses and dosing out ibuprofen as a regular part of my job. Personally, I have never minded working when kids had colds or any of the other usual culprits. But, I have sometimes accepted employers’ offers to skip work when the illness was a nasty intestinal bug that I likely would have gotten myself and ended up sick, out of work, leaving the family in a tough spot. Finally, set up a regular schedule, say every six months, that you will sit down and discuss how things are going and address any concerns either of you have. Assuming things are going well, think about your willingness and capability to give merit-based raises to your nanny. If you can only afford to pay your nanny $10/hour and you know that will not change in the long run let her know that upfront and look at other ways you can show appreciation. Do you have a skill or service you could offer instead? For example, I once worked for a family that owned a landscaping company but had maxed out on my hourly rate. They offered to do regular lawn maintenance for me in lieu of a raise or yearly bonus and I gladly accepted.
• My husband will tell you that timeliness is my Achilles heel, so he will find it ironic that it is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to my job. It is very common for families to hire a nanny and give them a best-case scenario schedule. This means telling your nanny that her day will end at 5:15 because in an ideal world that is the exact time you will walk in the door from work. I highly recommend building buffer time into your nanny’s schedule. Allow fifteen or thirty minutes of time in the beginning and end of your nanny’s day to allow for traffic, grocery store stops, or someone walking into your office at 4:55 pm. This also guarantees that there will be an opportunity for the two of you to touch base on a daily basis. Also, if you are going to be late getting home please call and let your nanny know. Obviously, they are going to stay with your children until someone gets home, but don’t take advantage of that fact by consistently being late.
• I have worked for a couple of families where the parents were extremely busy and our contact was limited to the couple of minutes we crossed paths in the morning and evening. In both cases this led to the children becoming messengers, telling me that mommy wanted me to use a different pan to make grilled cheeses or that the silverware should be arranged differently in the dishwasher. While this was useful and appreciated information, it also started to turn the nanny/child relationship on its head. It wasn’t long before the message became “Mommy said I could have five cookies while I watch one more Fresh Beat Band.” You can’t blame the kids for trying! If your schedule really does not permit you to pass these messages along yourself then write a note, make a brief call the evening before, or even send a text message (which I have found to be a great way to communicate with my current family).
I hope these tips have given you some ideas of ways you can make your at home childcare arrangement work even better. By no means are these ideas “one size fits all.” The most important thing is that your kids are happy to see your nanny walk in the door each day and that you have no concerns when you walk out the door!
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