Managing your relationship with your nanny

Parent-nanny relationships can be fraught. Even the most confident moms can feel a bit put out from time to time that someone else is spending so much quality time with their kids while they spend time making a living. And even as you celebrate how much your kids love her (after all, that’s what you were hoping for when you hired her), your feelings may still feel a little bruised when they look to her for a snack or run to her for comfort after a bumped knee. Those sorts of feelings, while uncomfortable, are totally natural and completely common. Just remember: It’s not forever. You’re their mother. You’ll always be there for them. The nanny is no threat to you; she’s there to help.

Also: She may love your kids, but she’s not doing the job for love. You pay her salary. You are her boss, and you need to take your role as an employer seriously. And treat her well. Some people like to see their nannies as part of the family, but though you may love her dearly, you need to treat her respectfully and professionally. Here’s what that means:

  1. A work agreement: Before your nanny begins working for you, you need to put in writing what her job is, what you expect from her, and what you will be providing her in return. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Just write down her hours; her pay; how much time off she gets a year; any paid holidays you anticipate giving her off; how you expect her to handle sick days, personal days and vacation days (how much notice would you like her to give?); her basic responsibilities (are you expecting light housecleaning, etc.); how you plan to handle taxes and health insurance. Be as specific as you can. You may also want to include how often you intend to pay her: Every Friday? Every two weeks? You can include how you’d like her to handle emergencies, or let her know how you intend to handle performance and salary reviews or termination. If she’ll be driving your car – or driving her own while on the job – specify how that will be handled. If you plan to give her a set amount of money for incidentals (buying your kid an ice cream at the park on a hot day, etc.) you may include that, too. Basically, the more detailed this document is, the less room there is for misunderstandings or hurt feelings. You may structure it like a contract, providing spots for each of you to sign the piece of paper. (Be sure to give her a copy!) The most important thing is to get all expectations on both sides down on paper. Make sure to ask her if the agreement jibes with her expectations and work out any differences before each of you sign.
  2. Vacation, holidays, sick days: Your nanny is a person, and people get sick and they have emergencies. They need to take breaks to recharge their batteries, and they like to celebrate holidays with their families. Make sure you give your nanny paid time off. Some people suggest five to 15 days of paid time off per year, though some of those days may be scheduled at your discretion. Some people choose to give their nannies a set number of days to be used for either sick days, vacation days or personal days, as the nanny chooses. Paid time off may not only be the right thing to do- in New York state, it has also just been made the legal thing to do. A new law passed in New York requires employers to give domestic workers six paid holidays, seven sick days and five vacation days per year (in addition to giving a 14-day termination notice or severance pay and capping the work week at six days). The law, the first of its kind in the country, will apply to all domestic workers in the state of New York, whether or not they are documented and working on the books.
  3. Bonuses: Holiday or end-of-year bonuses can get pricey (ask around to find out what the going rate is in your area), but think of how much your nanny does for you and your kids all day long. (And if that doesn’t do it, think of how easy it would be for her to zip off and find another family who will give her a bonus if you don’t.) A bonus shows her you appreciate her, and it’s nice to give her something a little personal along with the extra cash: a photo album including pictures of her with your kid, a basket of bath items, a tin of cookies you and your child have decorated just for her. And write her a note letting her know just how much you appreciate all she does all year long. Just make sure these gifts are in addition to a cash bonus, not instead of one.
  4. Hours: If you tell your nanny you’re going to be home at a specific time, be there. If you need her to be flexible about the time she ends work, you need to set that up in advance. And if you ever ask her to work extra hours, pay her for them. And if it’s more than 40 hours a week, pay her time and a half for them.
  5. General treatment: Respect, respect, respect. Treat your nanny as you would want to be treated by your own employer. Follow through on promises. Don’t make promises you’re not ready to keep. Pay her for her time and work. Be kind to her. Regard her as a capable professional. Don’t micromanage, if you can help it. Give her a sense of control and autonomy. It’s your kid and you need to be vigilant and you’re entitled to ask questions and get info, but if you’ve found someone you trust (and you really need to find someone you trust), you need to give her a little room to operate. Think of how you feel when your own boss is leaning over your shoulder, telling you how to do your job. Tell her clearly what your expectations are, teach her how you’d like it done, then back off and let her do her job.

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