The PSP Guide To Hiring a Nanny/Babysitter: Step 5: HOW can I make this a great working relationship?
- Parent Category: Advice - Childcare and Education
- Category: Nanny 101, Nanny Relationship Advice, Hiring a Nanny, Safety
Learn about doing doing due diligence and the precautions you need to take - both before you hire and on the job.
You’ve hired someone to take care of your child. Whew! Now the REAL relationship begins—and it can be an emotional one. If you’re worried at first, that’s understandable. Here are some ways to ease into the transition and throughout the relationship.
In this section:
Have an on-boarding period. Have the nanny start a week before you actually need her. This allows you to better observe how the nanny is with your child(ren) and make you more confident in your decision. The on-boarding period allows you to adjust to having someone new around. Take advantage of having some “me time” and if you are going back to work, you can prepare for that. Remember, during the on-boarding period, it’s important to be around but not to hover.
Have a "family day" journal the nanny fills out. This is a log of what happened during the day, such as feeding (and times), sleep log, diaper changes, where you've been, etc. We have these Report Logs for both infant/toddlers and older children.
Have a one month trial period. This is very important because while a week is a good time period to see how the nanny is in front of you, a month gives you both a chance to settle into a routine and for some of the honeymoon phase to rub off. You can definitely tweak things to make the relationships better, but don't go against a gut reaction that things are not working out if you sense that the chemistry isn't there. (More on this to come below.)
Have frequent reviews. A review after the one month trial period and quarterly reviews after that will help you continually modify the working relationship as well as discuss any developmental issues (two naps to one, potty training, introducing food). These reviews should be after normal hours (not standing in the kitchen making dinner) and you should pay your nanny for this extra time. Treat these meetings as “formal” events and with the respect they deserve.
Ask around for feedback from others. Check with the instructors of classes that your child attends. Inquire with your neighbors if they hear the baby crying a lot more when you're gone. Have a housekeeper you trust spend some time "observing." Set up playdates with friends you trust that are stay at home moms and get feedback. However, never ask other nannies to spy on your nanny (it’s a quick way for you or you to get ousted by the community).
Be able to reach your nanny at all times. Upgrade her calling/text plan if need be, but being able to reach your nanny will give you a peace of mind. Ask your nanny to send photos if that helps. You may want to help her set up an alarm on her phone to remind her. There is limited service in some of the kid hangouts (e.g., Barnes & Noble's basement kids' section) so ask your nanny to let you know if they will be out of reach. You may also want to Skype, but you'll need to leave a computer or iPad available to do so. This won't necessarily help you know what the nanny's doing overall, but will let you see your kids and know whether they are calm or upset.
Do your own spot checks. Come home early and unexpectedly several times in the first few weeks/months. This will give you a good sense of what's going on when no one is supposed to be watching. Warning, if the place is a mess, that actually can be a good thing, since books and toys all over suggests a lot of play time! Nannies will often tidy up at the end of the day anticipating your return, but likely aren't doing it all day long. Do you?
Set up an Emergency Plan. If something happens to you, your nanny, what contingencies are there to help you get in touch? Do you have emergency contact information for the nanny’s family? Your nanny should at all times carry a copy of your child’s health insurance card and contact numbers for you, your emergency contacts and the doctor, addresses and poison control (1-800-222-1222).
“You don't really know what is happening when you are not there, so it is a good idea to try and find out. Work from home sometimes. Ask friends to keep an eye out in the park or on play dates. Listen to what your children say. Mine told me they didn't like a couple of nannies we have had and really predicted the problems that arose. Kids have a hard time articulating what they don't like but they know when they like someone. It's very tricky to know what is going on when you are not there.”
We suggest a month trial period, but decide what time frame feels right for everyone. Nannies are looking for security so they won’t want to agree to a trial period, but do insist on one. Make it clear when you are interviewing that it’s non-negotiable. Make sure that you both know that at the end of the period there will be a review and assessment about the work situation.
“I wish I would have made clear that there would be a trial period. We had a nanny that didn't work out and we let her go after 2 weeks - it would have been easier if we had been clear that the first few weeks/ month was a trial period.”
Safety Reminders During the Trial Period
Watch your valuables. Keep valuables (and computer passwords) out of sight and use a police engraver to mark your valuables. Keep any re-sellable prescription medications locked away.
Consider keeping key access limited at the beginning. You give the nanny keys to the house when she comes and she returns them when she goes. (Some nannies are resistant to keep keys at the beginning of the job anyway).
Respect her: Be cautious but not paranoid. The anxiousness will pass if things are working out. You can let your nanny know that you need to put these in place for your peace of mind and that these are non-negotiable for the job. While you should never be complacent about things, continually having spot checks and drop-ins will help ease your mind.
Review and tweak things after the trial period. Even if things are going well, it’s important to talk about it, before everyone gets habituated. If things aren't working out, release the nanny and find a nanny who works with your family. It’s hard to start over again, but it is worth it.
Consider nanny cams carefully. Having cameras in your house is, by definition, legal. However, we recommend that you tell your nanny about having cameras when you hire her. If you are having doubts about your nanny’s behavior a camera can verify fears, but it can also fail to show you what your gut may be telling you.
Talk to your kids if you can. Make sure you talk to them about how it’s going with the nanny and listen to all their joys and concerns. Pay attention to all changes in your kids’ behavior, including nervousness around your nanny, mood swings and withdrawing from things that once excited them.
“We should never lose sight of the fact that this is a business transaction, but we should also never lose sight of the fact that this is so much more than just a business transaction.”
Create open lines of communication. Periodic performance reviews will help this process, as will asking your nanny’s opinion (and respecting it even if you don’t necessarily agree).
Agree upon the best forms of communication for both of you. Emailing on the go may be good for you, but your nanny may not have a smart phone, making it impossible to reply if she is away from a computer all afternoon. (Consider sharing a Google calendar where you can add things like hours worked and vacation you’re taking.)
Set aside time for performance reviews. If your nanny doesn't know how to what she is doing wrong or not to your liking, you can't expect her to improve. Make these conversations, not just a list of demands from you.
Communicate about changes and transitions. Give your nanny a heads up in advance if you are going out of town, keep her informed about transitions your child is going through, and listen to and respect her ideas.If your considering special needs tests or medical tests, let your nanny know so she can be an ally in the process.
RESPECT AND APPRECIATION
Courtesy and consideration. Say "Good morning," and ask how she is rather than jumping into the tasks of the day.
Have things in the refrigerator that you know your nanny will like. Offer her a cup of coffee or buy her lunch when she's not expecting it.
Respect your nanny's time. Be clear at the outset what time commitments are set and stick to them.
Respect and thank your nanny for job she does. Taking care of kids requires time management skills and a world of patience. Remember you are not perfect and neither is she, and value the job she’s doing.
Respect your nanny's privacy. Keep things confidential and ask for the same in return.
Remember your nanny has her own life. She has her own family, her own interests, and her own boundaries. Respect those boundaries and don't push them. While she may seem like “part of the family,” she’s got a life outside the job she has with you and some nannies would rather keep things that way. As one nanny told me once, “your family helps you move and you don’t pay them. I don’t want to be part of the family.”
Keep the relationship on level playing ground. Keep roles clear and work with your nanny in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Avoid job creep. Make sure that you do not add tasks here and there that you didn’t discuss upon hiring and then not compensate her for doing them. If she offers, great. If the nanny has done things here and there as a favor to you, don’t’ be surprised if she’s miffed if you continue to add chores and errands that were never part of the job description
Support your nanny when there is conflict with the children. If you don't back up your nanny in front of the children it undermines her authority.
Acknowledge tough times. We all go through them, including your nanny. Moving, renovations, death, divorce. If your nanny is affected by these, give her an extra bonus, out of the blue if she’s coped and helped above and beyond. Remember, your nanny picks up the energy in the household and she may need a special treat (like a massage) after watching your family go through a rough patch.
Rethink criticism. Don’t criticize your nanny for something she did that wasn’t her job in the first place.
Keep your feelings in check. Having a nanny can bring up issues in employers (e.g., being a ‘good parent’, letting someone else ‘raise’ your children). Be aware of those feelings but don’t let them impair your relationship with your nanny. Don’t take work (family, partner, etc.) frustrations out on your nanny.
“My number one suggestion is: put yourself in their shoes. A sick, vulnerable or sad Nanny is not a good thing. I know economic times are tough...but don’t be cheap or distant with your Nanny. They care for your kids, and an unhappy Nanny makes for a bad situation with your kids. A lot of these women (and they are mostly women) are away from family and have hard lives. I think verbalizing appreciation to them means a lot. If they don’t have a warm winter coat, help them find one. If they can’t afford to talk to family at home, show them how to use Skype. If you perceive a medical problem, figure out where they can go to a clinic, or take them for an eye exam. Keep their favorite brand of yogurt in the fridge. Offer them coffee in the morning. Ask about their family. A bit of caring goes a long way.”
We want to spell out some of the issues and accompanying emotions that might come up during your nanny's tenure with you so that you are prepared for everything. The examples presented here are based on issues we've heard from parents over the years. You may feel some or none of these, but we want you to know that these feelings are not uncommon. There is no "bad" or "good" way of feeling. The way you are feeling is the way you are feeling. It’s most important to note when you feel them and work through them rather than to pretend they don't exist (or worse, have them take over your life!)
The best way to work through the issues that arise between you and the nanny is to be clear up front about your parenting, employment and communication styles and ask the nanny to articulate hers as well. Set expectations that you expect your baby to be picked up when crying in her crib (or not) or that you expect to have a daily log of activities. Being clear goes a long way to being on the same page as your nanny. These are things that you may be able to address in your work agreement but are often more nuanced than many of us can comprehend through reading and writing, so having a conversation when thing arise of the relationship is ideal.
Attachment: Does my child like my nanny more than me?
Concerns about whether your child will have a stronger connection with the nanny than you is a common worry new parents or parents who are new to using a nanny. Acknowledging that this is a typical, but often fleeting, concern may help you keep your cool as you start to decode your emotions and respond to it.
If your nanny is working a few days a week or more it's likely that your child(ren) and the nanny will become close. They may develop special routines, particular language, and unique ways of doing things. When the nanny arrives in the morning your child(ren) may get excited. When the nanny leaves your child(ren) may be visibly upset and even cry. The nanny may know ways of calming down your baby or child(ren) as well or (God forbid), better than you do. Your nanny may hug, cuddle, and kiss your child(ren). It may make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up or it may thrill you to see their wonderful connection.
The bond that form between the nanny and your child(ren) may feel very uncomfortable, especially if you are a working mom and you are already feeling guilty about leaving your kids to go to work. The attachment may lead you to feel frustrated, resentful, angry or inadequate. You may start thinking that the nanny is creating this closeness as a way to punish you or show you that she's better than you. This is unlikely and may be a misperception, but Momma and Papa Bears who feel guilty, angry, sleep deprived (or all the above) are likely to feel genuinely distressed.
What to do with your feelings: Remember no one is ever going to be the mother or parent to your child(ren) but you. You are the one who has been there for them during many crucial and intimate moments – everything from birth or coming home for the first time to curing middle of the night illnesses or nightmares and kissing cold cheeks and bruised knees. We have yet to see a child choosing to live with the nanny over parents, so feel secure in your role as primary caretaker!
Also remember that spending time and getting to know your child(ren) intimately will naturally (and hopefully) lead the nanny to really care for your child(ren). You want your nanny and your child to be comfortable showing their affection to each other. If your child(ren) start calling the nanny "Mommy," ask the nanny to please correct the child(ren) - even if they are very young - by saying, "I'm X, not Mommy." If you do see signs or feel that the nanny is overstepping her boundaries, you may need to step back and assess if this is the right nanny for your family.
Overall, be confident in your parenting and embrace the fact that your child(ren) are emotionally secure enough to feel close to other people besides just you. It's much better than having your children feel distraught every time they are away from you or have the child feel distant to the nanny, or worse, the nanny distant from the child. Make the daily hand-off something that is quick and as painless to the child as possible and don't make things into a nanny/child/mother love triangle.
Privacy: My nanny knows SOOO much about our lives!
When you let a nanny into your house to take care of your child(ren) it follows that your house and your life is somewhat of an open book to her. If you are at home and in close proximity to the nanny child(ren) it's also likely that she can overhear (willingly or not) your phone calls and discussions. If you come home with shopping bags or have the nanny sign for packages, she will know about your shopping and spending habits. She knows what's in your refrigerator, cupboards, kids’ closets and more. She may have access to your computer and what websites you visit.
Having your life feel like an open book to the nanny can feel uncomfortable and one-sided since it's unlikely that you know the same intimate details about her. Furthermore, more than the nuts and bolts of the household, the nanny sees the inner workings and emotions among the family. She sees you when you are walking out the door late to a meeting, flirting with your partner, stressed and working on a deadline, or when you and your partner snip at each other after a long day. You can bet that the nanny is also picking up on the household stress if your family is in crisis, such as an elderly parent being sick or if you are going through a divorce.
Another area of privacy to consider is what is said outside of your home and family. In the same way it's common for us to talk about our work relationships, nannies will discuss their work relationships with their peers too. In this case, the context of the conversation may revolve around the details of the household, the treatment of the children, the eating and sleeping arrangements, and other more intimate details of the family. You may be worried about what the nanny may be telling her friends, and whether or not it gets back to the employers of other nannies.
On the flip side, your nanny may also have fears about what you are saying about her. She may overhear mothers on the playground discussing their nannies and wonder. She may fear that you will post a nanny/employer issue on Park Slope Parents or other online parenting groups instead of discussing it with her, exposing her to gossip in her nanny circles and beyond.
You may feel like the nanny is someone you can talk to since she may know the people and stressors of your life. Confiding with your nanny can make the relationship stronger, especially if you are both disclosing about your lives to each other. Then again, it can also put your nanny in an uncomfortable or even superior position to know so much about the family. You may also feel uncomfortable and In turn, responsible for your nanny's family and issues if you know too much.
How much you disclose to your nanny is up to you. While we would air on the side of caution in disclosing personal information to the nanny, there are times when this may be necessary to help clarify what might be mixed signals the nanny may receive. Some nanny/employer relationships last well beyond the tenure of employment; others end when the nanny stops working for the family. Be conscious and mindful about what you disclose and what the nanny has access to finding out.
What to do with your feelings: Having a confidentiality clause in your work agreement may help alleviate some of the fears you have about your personal life being on display. More than this, though, you need to discuss up front issues of trust so the nanny knows that details of her life and work situation are not on display and know that you expect the same.
Also, keep bills and other private paperwork out of sight. Make sure that you've got real privacy when you are on phone calls (as well as discussions with your partner) can help
Power: Who is really running the show?
An employer exerts power over their employee. A nanny depends on her employer (you) as a means to pay her rent, food, bills, debt, etc. While the job itself can be demanding, there are other stressors as well. With the economic downturn, many nannies have a fear of losing their job if their employer loses theirs. There are also more nannies than there are jobs. These fears puts an employer in a powerful position - the power to hire and fire. She is vulnerable.
If a nanny was hoping to leave on time but a parent calls and says, "My meeting is running late, can you, can you stay an extra hour?" the nanny may feel powerless to say no for fear of not seeming flexible. If a family chooses to take 3 weeks off for vacation the nanny may not feel comfortable asking for her own time off, even if she would like to take a week off of her own choosing. Since the ability to get her next job depends on references, the nanny may not want to ask too much of her employer for fear that she won't get a glowing recommendation for her next job. A nanny may think that after a few years she is due a raise, she may be fearful in asking for one. Finally, if a nanny is undocumented there may be an imbalance of power since the nanny may fear being reported.
However, there's also a power that nannies have over their employers (or employers assume they have) related to how well the child will be cared for. Employers might feel that if they don't keep their nanny satisfied, it will impact the care that the child(ren) will receive. If you don't give a large enough bonus you may fear that the resentment will impact the nanny’s work. Just the process of finding and vetting a new nanny is time-consuming, disruptive and emotional so something you may find you tolerate behavior from a nanny that you might not in other situations to keep her happy.
What to do with your feelings?
Remember that power is negotiated between you and your nanny. While we keep saying it, a work agreement spells out the expectations such as raises and vacation days. If you do not formally address these things, it will become sources of tension. This written document, if negotiated together, should allow you to both feel more comfortable and confident with many of the issues related to power. Reviews can help you confront some of the small things that are bothering you before they become bigger issues and clear the air as uncomfortable feelings arise.
It's also important to own your behavior and see if you contribute to the problem. Do you uphold your end of the relationship in terms of pay her on time, arrive home when you indicated and behave in a way that helps your nanny know she's appreciated? Do you take responsibility for your actions or say things like, "I couldn’t help it, I was in a meeting"? Did you said things that might make the nanny feel like her job’s in jeopardy? Remember it is a delicate balance of power, and you all want the best for your child(ren).
Guilt: Am I a bad parent?
No matter how much you may try to be the perfect parent you may feel guilty. Having a nanny can add to this guilt, making you feel like you're shortchanging your kids, or that someone else is raising your children. Going back to work - especially if you are doing something you may love but that may not contribute much to the family income after paying for childcare - can add to that feeling of guilt.
Within the nanny/employer relationship guilt can also surface. You may feel guilty about the demands you may place on your nanny – whether it’s asking her to stay late, hoping and praying that she'll do the dishes you left in the sink knowing full well it's not part of her job description to do so. You may feel like your family's circumstances are better than hers, which doesn't seem fair. If you have to change the employment situation and possibly let your nanny go or drastically reduce her hours, you can feel like you are letting her down as she's counting on the income you pay her to support her family.
What to do with your feelings? Sometimes these feelings make it hard to think and act clearly. First of all, there are no perfect parents. Assuming that guilt is a given part of life is fine, but stripping yourself of it will make you more relaxed and happy. You're making the decisions for your family's well being with the info you have right now. If you know in your gut you are paying her a decent wage and on the books, then know you are doing the right thing.
If you feel guilty about something in your work relationship with your nanny, it's useful to talk about that guilt. If you didn't come home on time, own the situation say, “I’m sorry I didn’t make it on time. I realize you have a real life and that was disrespectful of me." If it was a real emergency, or you had to make a flight at the airport, you'd find a way to meet your commitments. In the same way you don't expect your nanny to arrive late and give you excuses, don't do the same to her.
Money: So complex, so important
How do you put a price on childcare? What can you realistically pay a nanny without stretching your own budget too thin? While you worked through these things before you hired your nanny, you can bet money will be an issue that gets revisited again and again and again. Whether it's a raise or a bonus, cost for additional kids, unexpected overtime to pay, change in responsibilities when a child goes to school, money is ever-present and ever-important.
We talked about the idea that your nanny knows what you buy and how you spend your money. What she may not know is that you are still paying off your college loans or that your in-laws helped with the down payment on your apartment. However, unless you show your nanny your bank statements (which we don't suggest!), your nanny doesn't know the whole picture. She may see that you've got your child in expensive music and dance classes (which maybe your in-laws also paid for) while she is living week to week on what she earns from you.
Also, let's face it, it's unlikely that your nanny grew up aspiring to be a nanny as her profession. Nannies and childcare workers are slightly above fast food workers on the economic food chain (except that it's unlikely that your nanny is paying into Social Security or getting health insurance). It's also possible that your nanny is supporting her own kids in addition to other family members. All of these distinctions in socio-economic status can lead to a felt, but not verbalized, tension in the nanny/employer dynamic.
It's important to remember that the large majority of employers in Brooklyn are not part of the super-wealthy, multi-staff employers that we see in the media abusing their employees. For many parents, weighing the choice of hiring a nanny so they can go back to work or to stay at home can be a tough one, especially if you add in the added cost of paying on the books. However, trying to get into a discussion of personal finances with your nanny ("We really don't make much money") may fall on deaf ears as it is all-relative.
Most nannies know what other nannies make, including bonuses and raises. They know what the Nanny Compensation Survey data includes (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse). It's also possible that you feel that the money your nanny earns isn't being well spent. You may see her buy expensive clothes and judge her budgeting decisions. You may know she doesn't have money saved and that she is more generous with your child than you would want. It's important that you refrain from judging other people's money habits, even if you don’t agree with them.
What to do with your feelings? Again - broken record – but spell out all issues of money in the WORK AGREEMENT. Keep updating the agreement throughout the tenure of your nanny. Detail things like raises and pay for additional children, vacation pay and bonuses. However, if your nanny has helped you through a tough transition (moving, potty training, sleep training) consider a financial ‘thank you’ for her help.
But what if you feel that you're extended and just can't pay more? Worse yet, assume you (or your partner) lose a job. Well, before you trade your nanny in for a cheaper childcare or cut back her hours, talk to your nanny. We've had cases on PSP where the nanny was willing to stick through a tough time with a family just to have everyone turn out better for it. You may need to just be up front about your situation with your nanny and see how she reacts.
Above all, it's important that your nanny feels well compensated and respected for the hard work she does.
Wrapping it all up
Some feelings require more than one discussion or may not be dealt with through a conversation. Some of these feelings we listed above may be unrelated to the nanny, and are instead issues from your childhood and growing up. Moreover, issues of race, culture, social standing, equity and fairness cut to the core of American values and practices. For these issues, Park Slope Parents advocates for vigilantly moving forward to change laws and policy that contribute to social and economic justice issues. Since these overarching concerns will take more effort than easing your new nanny into your family routine, it is best to focus on these emotions and feelings and when you feel comfortable enough with your nanny and work-life arrangement to join us on changing the world (and did you know we have a group for that? It’s called PSP For Change!).
Over the past 13+ years on PSP we’ve heard just about everything about nannies and employers. We hear comments and concerns from nannies as well as employers and it’s important to let you know what your nanny might be thinking and feeling but might not feel comfortable enough to tell you herself. We include these here to give you a sense of their attitudes and feelings. While you may think you're a great employer, do a spot check to make sure that you're
Communicate with me! Let me know if something upsets you and give me specifics. The more I know about what you are wanting/needing/requiring (within reason), the more I can make you and your family happy.
I have my own family and my own life. Chances are I do have an issue staying late at the drop of a hat but I since I am scared to lose my job I'll most likely stay. If you say you’re going to be home at 5, please respect that.
Trust me! I am coming to you with experience and/or training: I know what I am doing, so don't hover over and question my every movement.
Relate to me honestly. Don't tell me that I am part of the family one minute, and then the next minute say this is an employee/employer relationship.
Pay me well. Don't skimp on overtime or be cheap with any expenses/activities/overtime. I know how much you spend on your kids' classes, clothes, and food so when you nickel and dime me on pay it rubs me the wrong way.
Pay me on time. It's not okay that you didn't have time to go to the bank. I worked for that money and chances are I need it on time to fulfill my financial obligations.
Be clear about sharing your home. Don't tell me you have an open kitchen policy, then get upset if I eat something I didn't know you were saving. Be sure to really let me know what I can and I can't eat, what technology I can use and more.
If we come from different backgrounds, I may not understand your perspective. I don't realize that you purposely bought clothes that look old and tattered for your children, or that the stinky food you have in the fridge is "gourmet."
Orient me on what's happened since I last saw your child. Coming in cold turkey won't help your child or me. Let me know if they were up in the middle of the night or if something upsetting happened.
My primary responsibility is your caregiver, not your house cleaner! Unless we've come to an agreement up front (or why the work agreement is so important to us), ask someone else to scrub the floors and toilet or make the beds.
Respect me as the individual and professional person that I am and treat me that way. Even if you're stressed in the morning take a minute to greet me and engage with me during kid hand-off.
I am not a substitute parent. You may have tried to hire a second "you," but I have my own opinions and ways of doing things. It helps your child to be flexible to react to different situations. It it’s super important, let me know. Don’t hover and control; help me learn.
I'm here to work for 50 weeks a year. If you give me more than that off, that's your decision. Please don't start swapping my hours here and there to make up for extra time you decided to take off unless 1) we’ve discussed it beforehand and 2) you understand that I'm going above and beyond what we agreed upon.
Don't make me ask for a raise. Mark it on your calendar, bring it up, and don't make me feel like I’m putting a burden on you.
Don't undermine my authority in front of the children. If you contradict me or take your children’s side they won't respect me and my job becomes more difficult. If you have an issue with the way I do something, let's talk about it privately.
It helps all of us if you stick to our routine. Keeping the kids up really late since you got home late means I am dealing with cranky kids all day. Everyone will be happier if you don't make exceptions to the schedule unless it’s a truly special occasion and you let me know about it so I can plan accordingly.
Please discipline your kids. Your kids behave better for me because I know the importance of boundaries and am not afraid to be the bad guy. It's okay to say, "no." Really. Remember that your job is to raise your kids to be happy in the world we have, not expect that they'll get what they want just to be disappointed later.
KEY TAKE AWAYS FROM STEP 5
The trial period helps everyone know if it’s a good fit.
Trust your nanny but do your homework.
Set up the relationship based on positive communication, respect and appreciation