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Nurturing nanny's needs, performance

By Paula Gray Hunker
The Washington Times

It's a sellers market for good nannies, with demand far exceeding supply. It, therefore, behooves parents to make sure they do everything to keep a good nanny once they find one.

The foundation for success is laid during the interview process with expectations on both sides are clearly outlined - hopefully in writing. This agreement should cover not just work-related issues, but family life issues, such as discipline, when parents should be contacted at work, car privileges, vacation and other family events.

"This is one of the most difficult jobs to fill," says Cora Hilton Thomas, author of "The Complete Nanny Guide." "The best caregivers will become part of the family, yet parents must never forget that they are an employer and must treat their employee with support and respect."

She says many families treat their caregivers like indentured servants rather than respected professionals. Parents should remember that "investing in the caregiver is making a difference in the life of their child," she says.

Mary Clurman publishes the Nanny News, a bimonthly newsletter targeted at the growing industry of in-home caregivers. She has come to believe, from her multiple surveys of nannies and her hands-on experience running a nanny agency for 14 years in New Jersey, that a successful relationship combines the warmth required for this in-home job with professional worklike standards.

"The nanny has to feel that she is treated like a respected professional," says Mrs. Clurman, who notes six minimum things employers should do:

  • Create and adhere to a schedule.
  • Don't pay your nanny under the table.
  • Put a reasonable limit on the responsibilities - remembering that the primary responsibility is childcare.
  • Make sure the nanny has access to a car, especially if she is a live-in.
  • Provide medical insurance. This can be done for as little as $50 a month and protects the family as well as the nanny. In a competitive market, benefits can mean the difference between keeping and losing a good nanny.
  • Have frequent and realistic communication.

"Remember that, in general, nannies have a nurturing nature, and they can use some nurturing themselves," says Mrs. Clurman, who reminds employers to give regular feedback - positive as well as critical.

Parents must understand that when they take a caregiver into their home they are accepting responsibility for an unlicensed, unregulated and largely unsupervised job, says Helen Clark, program manager for nanny training at Rockville's (MD) Live-Work Strategies, Inc.

Working with longtime nanny Jorjanne Jones, she has developed a one-day nanny training that is offered to their corporate clients' in-home caregivers. Within a year they plan to expand the curriculum to create a Nanny Training Institute in the Washington (DC) area.

Mrs. Clark says the most common frustration expressed by both nannies and parents is "a lack of professional boundaries."

"The problem is that these women are pioneers" trying to find their way without a roadmap through very difficult territory. "It's very hard to be in someone else's home and discipline someone else's children," she says. "On the other hand, it's very hard to come home from work and turn into an employer as soon as you open the door."

Mrs. Clark says the key is building trust and then establishing comfortable boundaries for everyone on the basis of that trust. For the parent, this means treating the nanny as a professional, which means dealing with all legal, tax, immigration and employee-wage and evaluation issues. For the nanny, it means understanding the family guidelines, values and rules, and operating comfortably within them.

"Too many parents go searching for childcare with a price tag on their minds," Mrs. Thomas says. "Wall have to quit looking at the money value on everything and start looking at a moral value."

Reprinted from the Washington Times December 2, 1997.