Your Nanny isn't "Lucky" to have your Job - Nanny Whisperer Advice

Common Myths that Parents Have about Nannies

While many of my clients come to the nanny experience without a full understanding of a nanny's role and responsibilities, I have also found that there are certain "myths" about nannies that persist among parents--even those who strive to be well-informed. These mistaken beliefs prevent good decision-making during the search and almost always lead to trouble after a nanny is hired. Whenever I sit down with a new set of parents, I like to start off by setting the record straight so that they can approach their situation in the right frame of mind, with totally realistic expectations.

Myth #1. Hiring a nanny is the same as hiring a babysitter.

It's not. A babysitter is only present in short fits and spurts--they don't have to be great, they just have to be competent. But a nanny is someone who will be there every day and play a key role in your child's development. I've had parents say, "I just need to get a warm body in here," but parenting doesn't stop when you're not present, so you want to provide them with the single best tutor, coach, counselor, and teacher possible to represent your values and wishes when you're not there. In addition, the nanny/parent relationship is one of the most complex, multifaceted ones on the planet. This is someone who will be intimately involved with your family and may know more about your personal life than some of your closest friends. You want to take a lot of time and care with this decision, because the nanny will become another member of your family, and the "product" of her work is a living, changing child.

Myth #2: A good nanny will be able to come in and automatically know how to care for your child.

Wrong. You will never be able to find someone who cares for your child perfectly from Day One, no matter how much experience they have. Even if someone has been a nanny for thirty years, they have never been a nanny in your home before. Every set of parents and every child is different, so training--the more extensive the better--is a must with any nanny you hire. Unless you give specific, thorough directions about how you want things done, the nanny will come in and do things her way, which may or may not work for you and your child. Even if you are looking for someone to run the show (and many full-time working parents are) you still need to provide the nanny with a detailed overview of your children, your household, your preferences, and your rules.

More than half of the problems that arise between nannies and parents occur because the parents have failed to give the nanny proper guidance and instruction. Fortunately, this also means that many nanny issues can be remedied simply through adequate training--and it's never too late. We'll talk more about how to use training to improve the performance of an existing nanny in part 3.

Myth #3. It's easier to care for other people's children than for your own.

Wrong. It's harder. With your own children, you can bend the rules and change them as you go. You can let your child sleep in the car seat in the garage, or leave him crying while you take two minutes to brush your teeth. Nannies can't. You can take a day off and park your child in front of the TV, or be grumpy before you've had your coffee, or lose your temper when your child colors on the dog with indelible marker or decides to cut her own hair. Nannies can't. In fact, being a nanny is basically every bit as challenging and exhausting and constant as being a parent--but without any of the leeway that, as parents, we give ourselves from time to time.

One of the biggest things I try to impress upon parents is that being a nanny is a HARD job. You have to be so many different things to different people: you have to be a mother but also a helper; you have to be proactive but also subservient; you have to make it personal by giving your love to the child, but keep it professional with the parents. Many nannies work twelve hour days and commute for an hour or more to get to and from their jobs. They may be leaving their own children so that they can earn a living, and many nannies have left their entire family behind to come to the U.S. and seek a better life. When the toddler is on her tenth tantrum of the day, and the preteen is sassing back, and the five-year-old tips over the entire gallon of orange juice onto the floor, a mother has her love for her children to pull her through. But a nanny has to rely on her own reserves of patience, strength, and determination to help her persevere.

The fact that a nanny is a "professional," doesn't make the realities of the job any easier, so you need to afford them the utmost respect. Nothing requires more time, energy, and personal discipline than being a good parent--except trying to parent someone else's kid.

Myth #4. "If we're paying her, she should do whatever we ask."

Some parents think that just because they're paying a nanny's salary, they are entitled to ask the world of her. I've had parents who are running their nanny ragged say to me, "I don't care if she's tired, I'm paying her to watch these kids!" But taking advantage of your nanny is not only wrong, it can lead to safety issues. Nobody can be up all night with a baby and then chase after two older children all day long without mistakes and accidents occurring. If you stretch your nanny to her limit and assign her more work than she can possibly handle, your children will suffer and she is going to end up quitting, and no one wins.

There is an illusion among some parents that money can buy you anything. It can't. Just because you are paying someone to do a job doesn't make it right. As we said earlier, there are some things that parents have a right to expect from a nanny: that she be warm and loving, that she respect your rules, and that she be devoted to caring for all of your child's physical and emotional needs. But unless you discuss it ahead of time and the nanny agrees, you do not have a right to ask your nanny to do anything that is not immediately related to your child, no matter how much you pay. Some younger or inexperienced nannies, especially those who are new to the country, may desperately need the money and be uncomfortable saying "no" to an employer, especially if their legal status is in question. This is when exploitation occurs, and it's up to parents everywhere to draw the line.

I always remind my clients: If your nanny is exhausted and overburdened, she is not going to be at her best for your child. Accidents happen when people are tired and distracted, and you want her to bring her A-game every single day. Above all, you need to be realistic about your expectations, and recognize that your nanny is a person, just like you.

Myth #5. Your nanny is "lucky" to have this job.

Yes, there are a lot of nannies out there and yes, it's a bad economy. But you can never appreciate a good nanny too much, and you can never say thank you enough. In my experience, too many parents have a backwards notion of gratitude when it comes to nannies. They feel like the nanny should be grateful to them, instead of the other way around.

I once had a client who had a Live-Out nanny who changed to Live-In for the summer. The family had a house in the Hamptons, and once the two older children were out of school, they packed up the entire household and moved to the beach. The nanny, however, felt angry and resentful because even though her workload had tripled--she was now in charge of watching three children all day long instead of a single toddler, and her hours extended well into the night--the family had flatly refused to pay her any additional money.

When I explained the nanny's position to the mom, she looked at me like I had two heads. "Tammy," she responded, "She's getting a summer at the beach! Her room is enormous, the house has gorgeous views of the ocean, she's at the beach all day with the kids, and she gets fresh produce from the garden at every meal!"

"Allison," I fired back, "She's the nanny! She's not vacationing in the Hamptons for the summer, this isn't fun for her, it's her job!"

Almost every set of parents I meet thinks that they are the best, most reasonable employers and that their kids are the best, most charming kids--even when the evidence suggests otherwise. And many parents feel that any nanny who works for them should thank their lucky stars to be getting a share of their hard-earned cash each week. But this attitude is arrogant and misguided. While it is true that there are a lot of available nannies, good nannies are always in high demand and will have their choice of who they work for. Yes, you can always find another one, but she may not be the right one. This is why, if you have a good nanny, you want to treat her extremely well and do whatever you can to keep her.

And remember, even if you think that your kids are wonderful and that you are the easiest, best employers in the world, if this person is caring for your child, YOU are lucky to have THEM.

What You Do Not Have a Right to Expect from Your Nanny
  • That she do housework above and beyond that which is related to your child, or prepare meals for the entire family (unless your circumstances allow for it, and your nanny has agreed to it at the beginning)
  • That she be able to do the job without any specific training
  • That she work past her regular hours without pay (unless agreed to previously)
  • That she take on additional duties beyond those specified in your original agreement

Note: this post originally appeared on Tammy's blog here