Nurturing the Nanny-Parent Relationship
By Drew Isserlis Kramer
The connection between parents and nannies is intimate. Unlike any other professional relationship, when parents hire a nanny, they invite an unknown person into their private lives to collaborate on the care of their most precious possessions–their children. Whether the children in question require swaddling or a ride from school to soccer practice, nannying is a highly personal, high-stakes game. Despite the best intentions, the emotionally charged, difficult day-to-day work of raising children can create disharmony in the important alliance between parent and nanny. When communication fails, and trust begins to fray, parents often turn to Facebook message boards to seek advice anonymously from other parents. Search “nanny advice” in any such group and discover that many pain points of the job are all too common. Whether navigating job changes as a child grows to school age or managing differences in caretaking style, parents typically learn how to approach challenging moments from other parents. It can be helpful to hear the perspective of those who came before, but it leaves out a valuable voice from the dialogue. In an effort to improve parent and nanny relationships and hopefully bring new perspective and empathy to difficult conversations, several career nannies weighed in with their opinions on how to create a healthy nanny-parent relationship.
It Begins with Expectations
When building any team, remember that everyone has strengths, weaknesses and personal challenges. Before interviewing candidates, consider your family’s own assets and liabilities. What are the specific needs for your family? Do you and your spouse travel multiple times a week for work? Does your child have any special needs? Take the time to write a job description for the role, communicating clear assumptions for hours, housekeeping, cooking, driving, socializing and even disciplining the child.
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According to Diana, a nanny with over a decade of experience caring for families in Westchester, New York, the secret to a successful parent relationship is to “make everything clear at the beginning.” In her experience, to grow with a family from infancy to adolescence, ”it is important to be flexible, but families must be clear about how the job will evolve.” She urges families to be upfront with expectations for tasks like cleaning and driving. Driving, a particularly contentious issue between parents and caretakers, necessitates conversations about vehicle access, gas money, and what will happen when accidents happen. Diana confesses, “She doesn’t like to use other people’s cars, while other nannies prefer a parent-owned vehicle.” If you require your nanny to drive, parents must have a clearly articulated plan to finance and facilitate transportation. Will the nanny drive a carpool? How will she approach the extracurricular demands of multiple children? Anticipate the day-to-day challenges, state your needs up front, and be reasonable.
Workplace Change Creates Household Growing Pains
The history of nannies coincides with the changing structure of work. For example, after World War II, women increasingly left housework to enter the workforce. The result was a growing demand for private, in-home childcare. Today’s post-pandemic families, accustomed to working from home, demanded a new work-from-anywhere model that blurs the boundaries between corporate and residential life. While the demand for private childcare hasn’t wavered, new challenges emerge as nannies, children and parents co-work in the open-concept office space called home. According to Mary, a third-generation nanny from Brooklyn, NY, “children often act out when they know their parents are home, but cannot get their parents’ attention.” She confides that most nannies “struggle with the children’s behavioral issues and conflict with work-from-home parents who micromanage the day-to-day responsibilities.”
When asked how nannies and parents can better respect each other’s boundaries and support children’s transition from parents to caretaker, Mary says bluntly, “hide.” Nannies do their best to “keep the kids occupied and out of home offices, but it is difficult to manage when parents trigger emotional reactions in children.” How can a work-from-home parent connect with their child without creating a dramatic scene? All of the nannies interviewed aligned with a communication-first solution. Parents should speak openly with their nannies about how to share space in the house, as well as how parents can access their children throughout the day in a way that is positive for all.
It’s Business AND Personal
While the role of a nanny lives within the parents’ domestic sphere, parents are urged to recall that this is someone’s livelihood. While the family’s childcare needs will ebb and flow with time, another longtime nanny, Jolene of Queens, New York, reminds families that “there is a difference between an hourly babysitter and a career nanny.” Indicating a tendency for families to change or cut hours when summer camp starts, she reminds families that “they can’t expect the hours to remain available when a nanny has to find other work to fill the pay gap.” When families “ask for flexibility with hours or lower pay in summer months, they should share that as a condition of the job ahead of time.” Even when hiring part-time help, a nanny needs a guarantee of a certain number of hours per week in order to live.
When unforeseen changes happen, both parties must give as much notice as possible. Anticipating that people get sick or have personal issues that impact work attendance will save parents heartache and headache when issues arise. Have a plan for last minute childcare changes. Be up front when consistent lateness or missed workdays could impact job security. When parents need a significant shift in hours or when it is time to part ways, Jolene says “the key is to be up front.”
End with Empathy
From the manual labor of saving curious toddlers from mischief to holding space for teenage angst, childcare is extremely difficult work at any age. It is a tremendous undertaking to manage the health and well-being of a young human with many needs. To be successful, recognize that we all have needs–even grown-ups. Take the time to get to know your nanny, and her pain points in and outside of your home. Communicate your needs with clarity and notice so she can be there for you. In return, be there for her because you are a team–and teamwork makes the dream work.