When families come to us for help, many times they have been beaten up by one bad nanny after another and they are hell bent on not making the same hiring mistakes again. They come armed with a laundry list of gripes and a black list of all the traits they never want to see again. There are plenty of horror stories that can be told among parents who have ever used a nanny or babysitter. But having been on both sides of the fence as a nanny, a parent, and as an agency owner representing both parties, I am constantly reminded that there are three sides to (almost) every story.
Most parents assume that the key to a happy and lasting relationship with a nanny is to find one that exhibits all the qualities that they have learned they need without thinking about what kind of family they are to work for. Certainly there are plenty of terrible nannies. Believe us–we know! But I would also like to challenge parents to be more introspective and to think about some of the ways in which they may be sabotaging the nanny’s performance.
When my husband and I got married and were thinking about how we would approach marriage differently so that ours wouldn’t end up in divorce like so many do, we were inspired by a quote by Wilfred Arlan Peterson on “The Art of A Good Marriage” in which he states, “It is not only marrying the right partner, it is being the right partner.”
In many ways, this idea can certainly be applied to the relationship between parents and their nannies. Even the most well-intentioned parents are guilty of one or more of the following “no-nos.” I know because I have met, counseled and worked with hundreds of local families. Recognizing your role in the way your last relationship with a nanny or babysitter soured is critical in ensuring your happiness with others down the road. Remember, it is just as important to be the right kind of family to work for if you want to bring out the best in your nanny.
Luckily, we have the inside scoop. We have also met, interviewed and worked with hundreds of local nannies and recently posed the following question to them: “What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to the families you work for?” Leaving out the obvious, (for example no nanny wants to tackle major behavioral problems everyday even if they are capable of it), we took their responses and shared them below. We also considered the factors that led to the “falling out” of families and nannies we have observed in our agency. From an unbiased, third-party perspective, here is what we came up with:
Warning—some of this might not be easy to hear. I am presenting an unsugar-coated perspective and frankly, some of it is harsh! Also some names have been changed to protect the identity of the nanny.
The Most Common Complaints from Nannies
Tardiness. You wouldn’t embrace your nanny’s tardiness and your nanny doesn’t appreciate yours either. Nannies also have places they need to be and showing up past your scheduled time is very inconsiderate. It also sets a poor precedent for your nanny. When you come home on time, you show that you respect your nanny’s time and that you value her personal obligations. But even when you do arrive punctually, delaying your nanny’s departure is just as discourteous.
“If parents arrive on time but then insist on talking to us for 15 minutes about the day, or let their children lead them around the house to show them things or interrupt us multiple times while we’re trying to catch up on the day, etc. then technically you’re not on time, because I’m still leaving 15 minutes late…Also PLEASE don’t encourage a child that doesn’t want us to leave by saying things like “Maybe ‘nanny’ will stay a little longer and finish your game of Candy Land before she goes home if you ask her nicely.” Sometimes we will, but we have lives too and that puts us in an awkward position and we’ll look like a meanie if we say no.” –Jessica L.
Unorganized Chaos. Does this sound like your household? Maybe this is your own “normal” but remember, to an outsider, this can be a very uncomfortable situation. Households with little to no structure make it very difficult for even the best nanny to know what to do. Children with little to no structure are equally difficult to handle.
“My biggest pet peeve is when parents don’t have a schedule, especially for babies and younger children. In my experience, when a child has no bed time schedule or morning routine, it makes it that much harder for the child and myself to get settled.” –Heather S.
Unclear expectations. Most nannies will thrive in an environment where the expectations of them are made very clear so they always know where they stand. This is why we strongly encourage families to have a written and signed work agreement in place which lists, in detail, the duties the nanny should perform each day.
“I am not a mind reader. I want to please my clients but every family is different and has different needs and expectations. I am comfortable taking initiative once I fully understand what you are wanting from me, but until then, I am lost.” –K.S.
“I can’t tell whether the family I work for loves me or hates me and it is so nerve wracking. If I do something right, tell me! If I do something wrong, tell me! How else will I know how to do my job better?” –Amy B.
Unrealistic Expectations. This is a big one. If you have been through nanny after nanny and none of them are good enough, it might be time to reevaluate your standards. In some cases, parents are far too lenient and they tolerate unacceptable behavior (e.g. texting all day while the kids watch TV.) But in just as many cases, parents set a nearly impossible-to meet-standard, pushing away really quality candidates. It helps to know the current market. Exceptional nannies are truly hard to come by. Understanding what’s out there may help you appreciate your own imperfect nanny more.
“I never quite understood when parents expected me to have the energy, creativity and the patience to constantly entertain their children for twelve hours straight without any breaks but when they take over, they only have enough patience to be around their children for five minutes and then send them off to another room.” -M.C.
Unfair or Untimely Pay. Considering how hard great nannies are to come by, trying to get the best “deal” is not always the best approach. I tell families this all the time—“Nannies shop around for families just like families shop around for nannies.” – and it’s true. Consider the nannies education, experience, knowledge and your job description when determining a fair pay. And remember that many families (who you should view as competitors) offer a generous benefits packages for their nannies. Even throwing in a few extra dollars or perks here and there to show your appreciation goes a long way. The International Nanny Association is a great resource for families seeking to understand what is typical for the industry and what other families offer. Paying your nanny in a timely manner is just as important.
“Please pay us on time and don’t make us beg for it, especially if we need it at the time and can’t wait for you to remember it. It’s awkward and we shouldn’t have to feel bad asking for money we are owed but we do.” –Angela T.
Hovering. How good are you at your job when someone is always looking over your shoulder? Many nannies refuse to accept positions in which one or more parent will be home with the nanny on a regular basis. It is an issue brought up over and over again to us. There are likely many reasons for this but nannies mainly avoid working alongside mom and dad because of past experiences with hovering parents.
“Hovering (yet not participating) while I am trying to do my job: I understand that parents want to make sure the people they hire to care for their children are doing a good job, but sometimes their presence is a distraction to the children. Also, I tend to feel very self-conscious when I know I am being watched, which may inadvertently compromise my work. It’s one thing to work as a team, but completely different when I feel that I am under harsh scrutiny.” –Melanie B.
“Honestly, the worst thing parents can do is talk down to a nanny and take the work right out of our hands. We do our best to adapt quickly to a family’s everyday routine and learn how they function. But I have had a parents get impatient and take the work from me while I stand there like an idiot. And then they proceed to subtly suggest I’m incompetent in some sort of way. Thanks for the opportunity to voice my opinion!” –Carmen R.
Inconsistent Parenting. Good nannies will try to be an extension of your own parenting and when possible, implement your family’s preferred discipline strategies and parenting styles. But when you are inconsistent, your nanny may have a hard time following your lead. Plus, it’s just downright annoying. Consistency is everything when it comes to running a successful household and raising a well-adjusted child. A lack thereof is detrimental to all parties involved.
“It bothers me when I’m told “No TV whatsoever with the kids” but they’re in front of it when I arrive in the morning…The TV is somehow only the devil when the babysitter [is in charge]… God-forbid, I have a mini break during an 11-12 hour day. I don’t laze around watching TV while I’m working, nor do I want to let the kids zone-out on it all day long, but it’s getting super annoying how ‘scared’ of it people seem to be.” –S.L.
“Inconsistencies between the instructions that parents give me and the instructions they give their children: It is difficult to establish myself as an authority figure when the parents tell me to do one thing, such as make sure the children stay off computers for the rest of the day, and then allow their children to engage in the very activity the parent instructed me not to allow. Although ultimately it is up to parents to decide what is best for their children, actions such as these inadvertently establish me as the “bad guy” and make it difficult to build a strong and loving relationship with the children.” -Blaine T.
“I hate when parents don’t back up set punishments. Like when the mom says when they do this they go in timeout, but when you put them in timeout mommy becomes the comforter.” -Laura S.
Pets, Grandma and Dust Bunnies. An uncomfortable work environment has the potential to drive even the best and most patient nannies away. You might enjoy being pummeled by your 75 pound husky every time you walk into the door, but chances are, your nanny doesn’t. Endless clutter, dirty bathrooms and foul-smelling kitchens may not bother you, but a nanny who is not accustomed to putting housekeeping on the back burner may get easily stressed out by having to work in your mess day in and day out. Also, when additional family members come for an extended stay, consider how your nanny may be affected by the change and plan accordingly. An overbearing grandmother has the power to totally change a family’s normal dynamics. And it may be more than your nanny signed up for. This seems insignificant but we have seen this happen more times than once.
“When in-laws and relatives visit and stay with you, it doesn’t matter how “nice” they are, they’re not OUR family and so it’s awkward for us to continue having to work while they’re visiting. It would be nice if you took time off to be with your visiting family during that time instead of making us work beside them or have to drive them around with us everywhere.” -Julila S.
Poor Communication. Are you a passive aggressive boss? Do you smile at your nanny when she enters the door and then talk poorly about her with your spouse later? Have you ever been unhappy with her performance but never shared your concerns? When parents come to us for advice regarding a “nanny gone wrong” our first question is usually, “When was the last time you sat down for a meeting?” Communication is the key to any relationship. The one you have with your nanny is no exception. You and your child care provider should have regular sit downs in which you discuss what is working well and what isn’t.
“My biggest pet peeve is passive aggressive mothers. In my career, I have dealt with more than one. I know I did something wrong because she is slamming doors loudly or she is secretly talking to her mother over the phone just loud enough so I can hear. The worst part is, is that many of these mothers are employers in the work force themselves and I know would have no problem telling their “real employees” constructive criticism. Why is it so hard for mothers to communicate to their household employee?” –Christina M.
Rosalind Prather, a local “momtrepreneur,” is a former professional nanny and currently co-owns Trusting Connections, Tucson’s premier nanny agency. For more information visit www.trustingconnections.com.