The phone rings at Choose The Right Nanny. Before I can finish my verbal greeting, the caller begins by shouting “GET ME OUTA HERE!” into the receiver. Knocking over my bottled water and losing the paperwork on my desk onto the ground, I frantically try to adjust the volume in my headset. As I attempt to recover from the internal brain reverberation, grabbing and protecting my keyboard from the spilled water, I respond “Calm down, take a deep breath, and let’s start at the beginning. May I ask who is calling?”
After a brief pause, the caller identifies herself as Bailey, and I immediately know who she is. Bailey’s a live-in nanny whom I’ve just recently placed in Sarasota, Florida. Home is a long way away in rural Ohio. Bailey comes from a large, hardworking family and has lived on a farm most of her life. She’s the oldest of 8 children and no stranger to living away from home, having attended college in North Carolina. I’ve spoken to Bailey a number of times, but what she doesn’t understand at this particular moment, is that although I speak with several nannies in a day, somehow, I can’t remember the sound of their voices, especially when they are under duress.
“What seems to be the problem Bailey?” I can tell by the way she’s breathing she’s close to (if not already) crying. I’m a very sensitive person, so my heart strings are already beginning to play. It’s a given in my mind, that she’s in very unfamiliar territory. I know she was briefed extensively regarding her job responsibilities and the new family she’d be working for, prior to her arrival in Florida. The family consists of two working parents, a five year old “precocious” child and a 2 year old. I get out my pen and notepad to write a list of Bailey’s concerns. As her list grew, I had thoughts of hiring a violinist.
“I’m afraid I’ve bitten off more than I can chew! What was I thinking when I accepted this job?! I arrived on Monday, and Tuesday we left for a Disneyland. I don’t think I can handle two very unmanageable children for 12 hours a day! The mom just lets them get away with all their bad behavior and I’m not used to that. Maybe I should have asked to be placed with a family who has older children. I can handle a difficult child, but two is much harder! Actually, I think I could handle it, but the real question is, do I want to? Do you have any other families I could interview with?”
Okay, please don’t think I’m insensitive to the nanny’s dilemma. We all acknowledge there are a few rare families who are difficult to work for. With my years of experience and our screening process, it’s unusual for one of these families to slip under the radar undetected prior to placing a care provider with them. Sometime (although again rare) families represent their job parameters in the best possible light, but in reality the position isn’t quite what they promised. In most situations the discrepancies can be worked out through good communication and support. In cases where the hiring family has been outright deceptive or even abusive, I will go to the mat for one of my care providers.
I’m not sure this is the case with the above nanny. How could I be? Bailey’s only been with the family 3 days and they’re not in their normal environment. I’m not so sure it was a good idea for the family to schedule this type of activity right away, though they probably thought it would be a good way for the nanny to get to know the family in a “fun” setting. It’s challenging enough for a nanny to “bond” with a new family and their children when in the home environment, let alone on a family vacation.
Children are pretty smart little characters. I’m not fond of equating children’s behavior to the terms “bad” “manipulative” “unmanageable”, and “strong willed” etc. Children’s behavior is usually “reactive” to the adult stimuli. When nanny “B” is replacing nanny “A”, most children are not going to be the precious angels we all know they can be.
They may act out and test all the boundaries for many reasons, some of which are:
- They need find out how the new nanny thinks and reacts.
- They may need boundaries.
- They may be angry or sad their old nanny is leaving them.
- They may have experienced several nannies and they don’t trust one will stay.
- They may need attention.
- They may need additional mental stimulation.
- They may need physical activity.
- There may be a medical issue.
- There may be a physical issue.
- They may have social problems.
I allowed Bailey vent all her frustrations and concerns. It was clear to me that she wanted to “jump ship” and either go back home or to find a different nanny job. After listening I reassured her that most live-in nannies go through an adjustment period with the family. It’s almost like the marriage of two people, on a family sized scale. You have to find where you fit it, what you’re capable of, what you can and can’t tolerate, and most of all how you can manage to make the relationship work. It takes commitment, communication, compromise, & creativity.
The Four “C”s
Choose The Right Nanny places live-in nannies on the condition that the nanny commits to working for the period of one year at a minimum. In turn, the hiring family commits to provide transportation to and from the location, an agreed upon salary and benefits, and a safe, wholesome working environment.
This is an essential element in all placements. There will always be situations which arise and cause some complications or concerns. Both parties need to communicate in a respectful manner to address the issues. Schedules, responsibilities, discipline, & rules, are all things which should be discussed on a frequent basis.
Learn to negotiate appropriately. Families and nannies should “pick their battles”. If you have a terrific family, who treats you with respect and almost like family, you should try to be a “team player” and help out where needed. Be flexible with your time, but wisely. Bring the issues you can’t resolve yourself to a family meeting. Be honest, be positive, be teachable, and be respectful. If you are a family who has a terrific nanny but she doesn’t keep her own room clean, you need to decide which is more important. Work it out folks!
Many problems can be solved with a bit of ingenuity. Start by making a list of things that bother you. Sort the things in to two categories: Negotiable and Non-Negotiable. Come up with solutions that would lesson or alleviate the issues. Think: “What could I do to make the situation more bearable?” For behavioral problems buy a poster board and ask the children to help you make a list of rules and consequences. Help them to see the natural consequences of their decisions. Kids actually like to be a part of the process. Clear everything with the parents. Post the rules list in a prominent place. Let the kids decorate it with stickers, paints, markers, pictures, anything they want. When a rule is broken, take the child to the poster and remind them of the consequence. Be consistent. Be positive. Recognize and Reward good behavior. Be interactive. Find things the children like to do and become a facilitator. Once they realize your benefit to them, they will learn to respect you.
Very few jobs are perfect. Remember why wanted to become a nanny. For most it was because you loved children. You wanted to make a difference in children’s lives. You wanted to be a valuable part of a family who needed you. You wanted to see a different lifestyle or culture. Every family has its issues. Think back to your own family. Was your family perfect? When we commit to living with and working full time for a family, we are becoming a part of that family. We are a support figure to the parents.
I reminded Bailey of her commitment to stay for 1 year and that the family had “invested” in her (travel arrangements, a professional placement fee, room remodeling, car expenses etc.) after a series of interviews and communiqués. While the children may be acting inappropriately for a time, she needs to work toward an amicable solution with the assistance of the parents. I could not in good conscience, place her with another family (whom she might also find fault with) unless she had give her very best effort to work things out with her current employer. With only 3 days under her belt, I doubted very seriously she had done so.
Bailey isn’t unusual. As I said above, I get calls from nannies and sometime families who have concerns. Most are seeking support, advice, and reassurance. I really appreciate the values that each party brings to the relationship and I love helping them sort through their trials. Sometimes just having a listening ear allows them to share their thoughts and they come up with their own solutions. I’m always happy to coach or help out a family. Please don’t hesitate to call me!