Forging the Nanny-Parent Partnership

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The nanny-parent work relationship can be complex, but with thoughtful communication from both parties, most common obstacles can be avoided.

Managing the nanny-parent relationship is a cinch when you follow one simple rule: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. According to Glenda Propst, co-founder of the National Association of Nannies, proper communication begins in the first interview and ends, well…never.

The Interview

A nanny for 19 years, Propst recommends that nannies ask just as many questions as their prospective employers during the all-important interview process. “Both parties get a lot from the questions as well as the answers,” she points out. A true professional should be wondering—and asking—about the future. Questions such as the possibility of more children and how the family’s schedule will change once kids go to school indicate that she’s in it for the long haul. “Parents should hire a nanny who shows a high level of commitment. Changing nannies takes a huge toll on children,” says Propst. “This is not the kind of job to try out for a few days, then quit if you don’t like it.”

The interview is also a good time for both parties to address sensitive subjects. Questions about driving records, smoking, or the possibility of overnight guests (for live-ins) are less intimidating during an interview because they’re hypothetical at that point. Often, as many interview insights can be gleaned from how the prospective nanny reacts to questions as how she answers them. Lisa Gordon, mother of three, found that out when she interviewed her current nanny. “I liked the fact that she didn’t flinch when questions came up about background checks and driving records. That, in itself, showed us that she was a real professional,” says Gordon. Getting tricky issues out on the table during the interview makes them easier to address in the future.

For both parties, job one in the nanny interview is to establish trust. Setting expectations is essential, as in most working relationships. But unlike most working relationships, the nanny-parents connection involves a third, and most important party—a child—making it all the more critical to find a good match between employer and employee.

Getting Started

The interview is over and an offer has been made, negotiated, and accepted. What next? “Communication is an ongoing process,” explains Propst. “It’s a lot of work, but good communication is also extremely rewarding.” It’s important early in the relationship to agree on what, exactly, will be expected from the nanny as an employee. Some prefer to work under the technical job definition, only doing work that relates directly to the child. Other nannies are happy to handle housekeeping duties, pick up dry-cleaning, or buy the family’s groceries when they’re shopping for the children in their care.

Another important thing parents should communicate is a schedule structure they’d like the nanny to follow, complete with time allotments and activities, from playgroups to classes and free time. Regardless of specific duties, parents should expect their nanny to devote the majority of her day to activities with or for the child.

Propst points out that quality nanny training programs offer some degree of child development training, so the nanny can be valuable to the parents if she keeps attuned to the growth of the children in her charge. “Parents should take advantage of their nanny’s expertise and encourage feedback on developmental progress,” she says.

When it comes to the early stages of the parent-nanny relationship, few discussions are more crucial than those on the subject of discipline. Guidelines for when and how to discipline your child should be established in the beginning, with the understanding that they may need refining or adjustment later. Consistency in following established rules is a must, as is the need for parents and nannies to present a united front. Explains Propst, “If there is a problem with the way the nanny is disciplining, a parent should discuss it with her in private—never in front of the children.”

The Day-to-Day

In the end, there is no foolproof recipe for a successful parent-nanny relationship. Keeping the lines of communication open, however, is always a great place to start. That means talking to your nanny often, whether by phone, email, or in person. Keep in mind that taking ten minutes to review the day’s events can make all the difference in helping your nanny feel a valued part of your family’s team.

Rachel Hillman, mother of one-year-old Lee, counts on her two-way “nanny journal” to keep up-to-date on everything from diaper changes to what household items need restocking. “Our nanny records information on what Lee eats, how he enjoyed the day’s activities, even his moods,” explains Hillman, who also takes time for the day’s “verbal download” with her caregiver in the evening.

Some more tips from former “Nanny of the Year” Propst: 

  • Schedule meetings. Plan check-in meetings with your nanny as you would with any employee. Daily check-ins are good for specifics, but meeting out of the house (for dinner or coffee) can facilitate honest discussions in unthreatening, “neutral” territory. Some parents experience success with family meetings, where children, parents, and nannies can review areas like responsibilities and consequences together.

  • “Neither the nanny nor the parent should have to be a mind reader,” says Propst, who recommends assertiveness training to any one who has a hard time expressing him or herself. Parent-caregiver relationships flourish when both parties agree to use clear and unambiguous words to express their concerns.

  • Get creative! As parent-employers, it’s important to encourage solutions—whether or not they originate with you. Remember, your nanny may bring a dose of realism and plenty of experience to the party. Listen carefully to her ideas for solutions.

  • Look for “virtual” support. Online nanny resources include websites like 4everythingnanny.com and webgroups for parents with nannies at http://groups.yahoo.com/. Both give parents ways to read or write about their experiences with having a nanny. These are good places for finding suggestions on how to address common nanny and parent concerns.

  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T. “I think it’s important for parents to remember that nannies are professionals, working in the field they’ve chosen,” explains Propst. “Everyone performs better when they’re given respect and support in their work.”

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