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When families hire a nanny, they often find themselves navigating a whole new world with unspoken rules, expectations and dynamics. Tasha Blaine, the author of Just Like Family: Inside The Lives of Nannies, the Parents They Work for, and the Children They Love, followed nannies on the job for several years to give parents the inside scoop on what really happens when they go out the door every morning. Here is a list of her best tips on finding a great nanny and maintaining a healthy working relationship.
DON’T freak out when your child calls the nanny “Mommy.” No mother wants to hear her child call another woman Mommy, but breathe deeply and think it through before taking it out on the nanny. This is a normal phase for children and a great sign of your child’s bond with the nanny. When called Mommy, a good nanny will use the opportunity to correct the child, talk about when Mommy is coming home, suggest drawing a picture for Mommy or giving her a call.
DON’T install a nanny cam. If you are suspicious, approach your nanny with your concerns instead of going straight for the nanny cam. If you don’t get the response you’re looking for, then this probably isn’t the right woman for you anyway. Another option is to drop in on your nanny and child unexpectedly to get a sense of their day. Surprisingly, many nannies say they would not mind a nanny cam if told it was there in advance. Ideally, you would bring this up during the hiring process so your nanny understands it’s a condition of the job.
DON’T treat your nanny like family — unless you also treat her like a treasured employee. The longer a nanny is with your family, the more she becomes part of the fabric of your life. While a great relationship boosts a nanny’s self-esteem and commitment, many prioritize professional respect over intimacy.
DON’T ask her to scrub your toilet. While most nannies will cook, clean and do laundry for the children, they resent being asked to broaden those housekeeping duties. There is a clear status line in your home between housekeeper and nanny. Think carefully before you cross it. If you want to add to your nanny’s list of responsibilities, do it openly and directly, explaining your reasoning – maybe your child is now in school most of the day – so you don’t insult her.
DO expect to feel jealous. It’s perfectly normal to feel jealous of the nanny if you are a first-time parent who has gone back to work. Once you see that no one can replace you, it will get easier. Meanwhile, see if there are ways the nanny can help you see your child more often. Maybe she can meet you for lunch with the baby or call you at a certain time every day. Let her know that it’s because you want to stay connected, and not because you want to control her.
DON’T cut your nanny’s salary when you go broke. In tough times, avoid putting your nanny’s pay on your list of things to cut. She may take the news gracefully. However, she will also pick up on contradictions. When you got raises, stock options and bonuses, did your nanny receive increases, too? On a practical level, make sure your nanny can live on her new salary. While cuts in your income may result in fewer trips to Whole Foods, she might have trouble covering basic expenses.
DO nail down the basics. Address as many concrete employment issues as you can at the start of the relationship. Discuss when your nanny can take vacation (many families offer it only when they take their own) and back-up options should she get sick. Also know her after-work schedule. Will she be able to stay late at the last minute and will you pay overtime?
DO have a full refrigerator. Whether you stock your own kitchen or your nanny does the shopping, make sure there is food that she likes. Full-time nannies don’t bring lunch to work. They expect to eat what you’ve got in the house. Don’t let her go hungry!
DON’T try to pay below market rate. If you can’t afford the market rate for a nanny in your area, don’t hunt for a bargain. You might find a nanny willing to take the salary you offer, only to have her quit when she discovers she’s underpaid or gains the experience to find a higher salary. Better to have your child in a great and affordable day care center than with an inexperienced or disgruntled nanny. You can also look into sharing a nanny with another family to lessen the cost.
DON’T take yes for an answer. Many nannies will say “yes” when inside their heads they are really screaming “no.” It’s often hard for nannies to be direct because they worry about offending their employers, are natural caretakers or just don’t like confrontation. If you’ve asked her to work a lot of overtime, pick up dry cleaning or make you dinner every night, and she has agreed, look for clues to see whether she means it. Did she make eye contact? Does she seem quieter than usual? This may be her way of saying she feels that you are taking advantage of her.
DO prepare for blow-ups. The everyday life of nannies is routine and uneventful, but there are dramatic moments, usually when something boils over with a parent. Blow-ups can end relationships, but they can also clear the air and set things back on track.
DO ask your nanny if she has children of her own. Some families won’t hire a nanny who has children. Others are open to the idea. If you are, make sure you discuss the subject from the beginning. Are you willing to let her bring her child to work sometimes? Does she have back-up child care when her child is sick so she can come to work? Would you feel comfortable employing a woman who left her own children behind in her home country to care for yours? If you do hire a nanny with children, ask her about them, remember their ages and think about getting them birthday or holiday gifts if your nanny buys them for your kids.
DO go with your gut. Some parents know something isn’t right about a recently hired nanny, but they take too long to act. They feel guilty about firing her or forcing their child to adjust to a new caregiver. Some have trouble admitting that they put their child in the wrong hands. The best thing is to acknowledge the mistake and move on.
DO think about the style of nanny your family needs. There are all kinds of nannies. College-educated and high school drop-outs, American-born and immigrants, documented and undocumented, women who view the work as a career and those who do it as a means to an end. If you need someone to run the house, look for a woman with experience who views the job as a career. If you want your presence felt on a daily basis, make sure you don’t hire someone who will resent your input on schedules and diet and discipline.
DON’T let the little things fester. A nanny relationship is like a marriage. If you don’t communicate, petty irritations can loom large. It’s often hard for parents to be direct, and even harder for nannies. Force yourself to talk, but remember to balance out the negatives if you’re happy with her in general. Tell her that you feel lucky to have her. Then bring up your issues.
DON’T hire someone like you – hire someone who complements you. You may love the nanny sitting on the couch across from you because you can almost read each other’s minds. But that doesn’t mean you are a good fit. If you’re a control freak and hire another control freak, you are asking for trouble. If you’re laid back and your nanny is laid back, you’re asking for chaos. Think about what kind of team you will make.
DON’T skimp on the Christmas bonus. If there is one time of year the streets in your neighborhood are buzzing, it’s post-Christmas. Nannies will ask other nannies about bonuses and if you cheap out, she will feel embarrassed in front of peers and unappreciated by you.
DO evaluate the interview later. Did it feel like a question-and-answer session or a conversation? You need to have natural, easy interactions with your nanny. If she held back or only said what you think she wanted you to hear, she’s probably not right. If she was blunt, had a sense of humor and asked to meet your child, she might be just who you’re looking for.
DO set up regular performance reviews. A review once or twice a year is a great idea for nannies. Working inside a home can be isolating and frustrating. Nannies appreciate being taken seriously, and a review is a good way to emphasize that they are professionals doing a job.
DO accept this is a learning process. Expect to make mistakes when you hire a nanny. You might discover the relationship is too intense for you and look for day care instead. You might realize experience is more important to you than education and you made the wrong choice. It’s not worth beating yourself up. Take it as a lesson learned.
DO over-prepare for the interview. You can’t have too many questions. Read everything you can get your hands on about nannies and interviews. Clarify what is important to you and consider your style of parenting. There are lots of questions you can find online covering everything from discipline to handling emergencies to whether the nanny prefers spending time inside playing or keeping busy with outside activities.
DON’T micromanage. Nobody likes a boss breathing down her neck, and nannies are no exception. Check in with her and ask your children questions. But as your trust in your nanny builds, step back and let her do her job. She might not do everything as you would, but if your child is happy and healthy and safe, that’s just fine.
DO praise her. Being a nanny is a tough job that carries very little status. Some encouragement and praise will go a long way toward boosting her morale. If you think that your life couldn’t run as smoothly without your nanny, or that she’s done a great job handling your son’s tantrums, make sure to let her know.
DO assume the nanny is observant. If there is one thing nannies hate, it’s when people think they’re too stupid to pick up on clues. Your nanny is fully aware of everything going on in your home. She knows you’re pregnant again, that you’re moving to the suburbs, or that your child is having trouble in school. Try not to keep secrets for too long especially ones that affect her job.
DON’T expect Superwoman. Yes, the nanny is paid to do a job, but don’t have unreasonable expectations. If you have trouble shopping with your two children and lugging the groceries into your home, so will she. If you want her to play with your child, read to him and go to the playground, don’t be surprised when the laundry isn’t folded at the end of the day.