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So What Is a Nanny Anyway?

by Ruth Riley

Looking to hire your first nanny? Had a less than satisfactory experience with a nanny you hired? Want to learn how to improve your chances for success? Then read on.

Nannies must have your child or children and their welfare as their unqualified primary concern. Seriously consider eliminating any (or most) tasks not related to your child/ren and their care from your nanny's job responsibilities. Asking your nanny to perform non-childcare related tasks will take your employee away from what should be their primary focus - the care and nurturing of your child/ren. Tasks directly related to childcare can be within the realm of a nanny's job description, however - depending upon the circumstances of your family. These may include:

  • Children's laundry
  • Prepare children's meals
  • Clean dishes/wipe down kitchen after children's meals
  • Load/unload the diswasher
  • Keep children's bedrooms and play areas straightened up

Families don't like changing nannies for obvious reasons; however, a family frequently sabotages potentially good nanny/family relationships by expecting their employee to be clones of themselves - or, in many cases, someone who can do more than they themselves could accomplish - if they are truly honest with themselves.

Keep in mind that the attributes of a successful nanny are not always the same attributes that you may use to define the successful qualities of a businessperson. For instance, employers of nannies often experience more personal fulfillment when their home and children are noticeably neat and clean at the end of the day. On the other hand, a nanny may abandon good order to spend the day exploring the difference between squares, circles and triangles with your toddler or practicing cutting anything the color "red" out of a magazine with your preschooler. Families tend to be goal oriented and admiring of efficient ways. Nannies are typically tolerant when children repeatedly make the same mistakes and can often be incredibly intuitive of a child's way (it is not all that uncommon for an experienced nanny to be more knowledgeable in the ways and wiles of children than the child's own parents.) It is common and understandable that families will look to hire an individual whom they believe will have traits similar to theirs. It is these almost inherent differences between employers and nannies, however, that goes a long way towards explaining why a family's expectation of a nanny's job priorities and a nanny's expectation of her position's priorities may vary considerably.

To avoid derailment and encourage a positive, long term employment relationship between you and your employee, start by looking over your job description and begin by eliminating that which even you couldn't accomplish. Next acknowledge that the individual you are looking for should be primarily interested in giving your children the majority of what she had to offer, not your laundry or your carpet. A nanny who cares for one infant who takes morning and afternoon naps should be able to complete basic laundry for the infant and keep the house in the condition that she found it. As the number of children increase and/or the children get older and more mobile, you may be seeing more finger paintings and less "chores which were accomplished". If you will not be able to accept "less chores accomplished", then in all fairness to your employee, you need to make it clear what your priority is when a choice needs to be made. The better nannies will usually choose to complete the finger painting, rather than worry about whether every last toy is carefully stored in its proper place. If your priority is the latter, be sure all prospective employees know that before you make a job offer.

Many families find the best solution to the "care for children" vs. "clean the house" dilemma is a weekly or biweekly cleaning service to handle the heavy cleaning (full vacuuming, dusting, bath and powder rooms, mopping floors, etc). Nanny and family (including the children as they get older) can maintain day to day order; the cleaning service will be in on schedule to handle the rest.

You may actually find your Mary Poppins, but it is more likely that the someone you think is Mary Poppins, may be missing the "child" piece of the equation - doing everything that "shows" and less that may truly matter in the long run.

Ruth Riley has many years of personal and professional experience with nanny care, including operating a well respected nanny placement agency. Ms. Riley is the working mother of three, an attorney, and nanny agency operator.

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