I am often asked about proper holiday season “nanny etiquette” Do we give her a gift? What do we give? Should we include her in our family’s holiday celebrations? What if we want our privacy? What if we celebrate different holidays?
Do we give our nanny a gift?
Let‘s start with the gift… It’s customary to give a gift around the holidays to acknowledge your nanny and your appreciation of her service throughout the year. An informal poll of my “nannyhood” friends showed that most families give a cash bonus for a holiday gift.
The amount of the bonus ranges substantially but the average is one to two weeks wages, prorated for nannies who worked less than a full year. However, as one friend delicately pointed out, the recent economic downturn has put a squeeze on many families’ holiday budgets making it very difficult to give such a generous cash gift.
Whether paying a bonus is not financially feasible or whether you simply prefer to give a gift more personal than cash, there are many other wonderful ways to recognize your nanny’s contribution. Taking the time to think about your nanny’s likes or hobbies will help you find the perfect gift. For example, would she enjoy a few extra days of paid time off to rest or spend with her family? How about a new book, a trip to the movies, or some pampering at the nail salon? Consider giving a gift certificate redeemable for something special that you know she would appreciate, or even buying a gift card to her favorite store or restaurant to spend as she likes.
While a gift from you will show your nanny that you value and appreciate her, it is also important to encourage your kids to acknowledge their nanny with their own personal gift. Engage your children in the process by talking to them about their nanny and wondering aloud what it is that they could do to say “Thank you.” I guarantee that your kids will jump at the opportunity to create a special painting, picture, or craft and they will be super proud to present it to her.
If your child is too young to make something, then consider giving your nanny a framed photo of her with your child. Your nanny will undoubtedly be touched to receive a personal and meaningful gift from your children, and this may in turn strengthen the bond between them.
How to involve your nanny in your family’s holiday celebrations
The murkier issues are whether and how to involve your nanny in your family’s holiday celebrations. There is no “one size fits all” answer. For some “nanny families”, the open and personal nature of their relationship with their nanny makes holiday planning seamless. Others, especially those whose traditions differ from their nanny’s, may find it difficult to broach the topic.
Our family is Jewish and our nanny is Catholic. Rather than discourage our kids’ curiosity about our nanny’s Christmas traditions, we have encouraged them to talk and ask questions. Our nanny’s stories of Christmas celebrations in her home country have been met with enthusiasm and our kids have gained from learning about her culture and faith. We’ve certainly had to answer some “tough” questions (i.e., “Mom… will Santa only bring presents down the chimney for our nanny? If we don’t have a Christmas tree, where will he put everything?”), but overall it’s been positive.
Acknowledging each other’s faith also gave us the opportunity to talk openly about our upcoming celebrations and plan in advance. Last year, we adjusted our nanny’s work schedule to accommodate her choice to spend Christmas with her friends and at her church. Our family gave her a Christmas gift, and she gave the children gifts for Hanukkah. As well, she has always been welcome to participate in our family’s Jewish holiday celebrations. Our kids thrill at introducing her to traditional Jewish foods (Matzo balls= good; Gefilte fish= bad.) and teaching her about their own holiday traditions.
Create a holiday schedule
If you prefer that your nanny not be present during your family’s holiday celebrations, the best way to prevent misunderstandings or bruised feelings is to talk about your expectations with her in advance. Take a moment to sit down together privately, away from the children. In a kind way, explain that the holidays are usually a private time for your family to spend together and that you want to discuss how you can celebrate the holidays in a way that is comfortable for everyone.
If there are differences in faith or observance, you and she should identify and discuss what are acceptable traditions to share (i.e., Can she give gifts to the kids? Can she decorate her room?). Create a holiday schedule that clearly shows when she will and won’t be working. Give your nanny ample opportunity to make her holiday plans, and offer to help her make arrangements if needed.
Consider giving her additional paid days off, like Christmas Eve, so you can maintain your family’s privacy while still making sure your nanny doesn’t lose any wages. You may also want to encourage her and the kids to plan their own “holiday party” where they can enjoy some special time together and exchange gifts. Decisions should be made with your nanny’s input and consent so that everyone feels at ease with the “holiday plan.”
Holidays are an important time for both your family and your nanny. Taking the time to think ahead, discuss, and plan properly will help to make sure that your nanny feels appreciated rather than taken for granted or left out. Gifts are an important way of acknowledging your nanny over the holidays, but more important is the effort and respect you show in ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to freely and comfortably celebrate the holiday season.
By Lisa Diker, the creator of THE NANNY TOOLBOX & the proud mother to three young girls.