How can you set a nanny relationship off on the right foot? Today I’ve invited Lucy Bickford, a lawyer mama with a lot of experience in this area, to give us some fantastic tips on the subject. (If you’re interested in the topic of childcare transitions more broadly, also check out Transitioning Your Baby to Childcare.) Here is Lucy’s advice.
Searching for a nanny is without a doubt one of my least favorite activities. My anxiety goes through the roof. Uncertainty about childcare gives me a serious fear of the unknown!
But the flip side is that I love the comfort I feel once I have found a nanny. All of our former nannies have been warm and loving caregivers whom our children adore. And each was unbelievably helpful to me in managing our household.
For families who choose to employ a nanny, the concerns are as big and as varied as any other type of childcare. Will she be a good fit for our family? Or will we need to continue the search and subject the children to yet another transition? Even if she is a “keeper”, will I find that I need to adjust my expectations? Or else have uncomfortable discussions about her performance?
Having employed a handful of nannies over the years for one or more of our three children*, I have confirmed what we all know from countless other life experiences – communication is key! It turns out that people cannot read minds (unfortunately). Addressing potentially sticky topics early makes for a healthy relationship with your nanny.
It is important to treat the nanny relationship professionally from the start. While interviewing, bring up “deal breaker” topics in a phone interview in an effort to be respectful of each other’s time. Do you insist on reporting your nanny’s income? Is your nanny required to drive? Do you have pets? Addressing these and similar topics early helps keep you sane during the search by focusing on candidates who are realistic fits for your family.
Once you click with a nanny and wish to make an offer, many families use an employment contract. (My family doesn’t actually sign one, but we do document the basic elements of the arrangement.)
Key items to include are:
- The weekly schedule
- Daily responsibilities (other than basic childcare)
- Paid holidays, number of sick and/or vacation days (and how many the family or the nanny chooses); and
- Emergency contact information.
This is a good reference piece as well, in case any adjustments need to be made throughout the year. You will review how hours are recorded and when payments are made. (E.g., Will you use a printed time sheet if the hours fluctuate each week? Will you pay your nanny weekly or bi-weekly?) All of this is an acknowledgement that your nanny is a professional, and that you value her service tremendously. It also makes it easier for her to raise compensation, schedule, and responsibility issues at the outset and in the future. By outlining the arrangement thoroughly in the beginning, you open the door to communications from her about anything she needs to change or discuss. You may wish to plan on a review after a few days or weeks, so you both can discuss anything on your minds after you get rolling.
Other topics that are helpful to address up front are: Cell phone use. TV watching. What the nanny does during nap time. How much household work she is expected to do. Flu shots and immunizations. Tardiness. Whether the nanny brings lunch or eats the family’s food. And communication preferences. My understanding from friends and stories that pop up on our local online parent forum is that both the employer’s and the nanny’s feelings about these topics can fester and become uncomfortable if they are not aired.
Once your nanny has started, making changes to the way she is caring for your child takes patience and (for me) a lot of energy to communicate. Too much direction, and she may feel like she doesn’t have ownership over the job and the freedom to form a strong relationship with the children. Too little direction, and you might go bananas about the not-quite-right thing over time. Maybe the not-quite-right thing is a quirk of her personality, and it wouldn’t be fair (or even possible) to expect her to change it.
Often what seems like a con will be paired with a pro. For example, one of our former nannies was super creative and a total free spirit – which we loved about her. But she also wasn’t terrifically into the details when organizing and cleaning up (she tried, but I’m cut from type A cloth!). As with all other relationships, honesty and openness is essential. Even if it is uncomfortable.
Sometimes you may be comfortable communicating your needs and vision with your nanny, but getting her to share her thoughts may be a challenge. Asking your nanny’s opinion can help her get comfortable giving you her perspective. Asking her what she observes in your child’s eating, sleeping and playing habits can help her understand where you are focused and where your concerns lie. The more you can make her feel like your true partner in caring for the children, the more she will act like one.
Finally, it is equally important to communicate about the caregiver with your children. Even if a child is very young, take the time and effort to acknowledge and process his or her feelings about the new as their relationship develops.
Welcoming a new caregiver into your life can be daunting, but treating the relationship professionally and keeping lines of communication open will help your nanny become a valued member of your parenting team.
* If I were reading this post, I might be wondering if I should decline to take advice from an author who has seen so many nannies leave her family! Rest assured, our early nannies were never expected to stay with us for the long term – they had other career ambitions, which we knew from the start. And we have had a few temporary arrangements that were bridges between more permanent childcare solutions. Our one disappointment was when a beloved nanny took a job closer to her home that fell in her lap – we knew the commute had been an issue for her, and she had even entertained moving closer to us. But ultimately she decided (in tears) that she had to move on. For what it’s worth, I hope that helps with my credibility!
Have you done the nanny transition? Share how it went and any advice you have in comments below!
Lucy Bickford is the mother of three girls, ages 5, 3 and 3 months. She is an attorney in the Private Clients, Trusts and Estates group at Schiff Hardin LLP in Chicago, Illinois. Lucy is very involved with the firm’s New Moms Group to connect and support attorney moms as they transition into and out of maternity leave and navigate working with young children. She is a recent “graduate” of the Mindful Return course – which she valued tremendously!