Advice to Families From a Former Nanny

Full-time nanny: check. Part-time nanny: check. Babysitter, mother’s helper, live-in nanny, travel-with-the-family nanny: check. I’ve done it all. Now, with childcare in the rearview mirror ever since my writing career took off and became sustainable without the extra income from babysitting, I’ve got some wisdom to bestow.

I’m lucky in that I’ve mostly worked with absolutely spectacular families. But every nanny has experienced some real doozies somewhere along the way. Plus (and you know this): we nannies swap battle stories at the playground. In all my years working with families, thankfully, there were really only a handful of things that really got under my skin, and it wasn’t just me; other nannies concurred. So, if you want to be a great employer and have your home be a place your caretaker looks forward to going to each day, don’t do these things (except #6 – do do that one):

1) Don’t spy on your nanny.

Alright. I’m starting with a potentially controversial one right off the bat. I know it’s your home and you have every right to set it up how you want, and, yes, you need to feel comfortable… but a Nanny Cam might as well be called a “We Don’t Trust You Cam.” When I learn there’s a camera recording me while I watch your kid(s), first off, I feel completely creeped out. Secondly, it doesn’t make sense; you vetted me through references and background checks, yet you don’t trust me? Then hire someone you do trust and I’ll find someone who trusts me. And, just on a purely practical level: if you know you’re a little paranoid, own it and consider doing more legwork up front, like a deeper background check/ criminal record check, asking for her grade school teacher’s address so you can have coffee with her, insist on meeting her parents. I’m kidding on those last two, but my point is, there are more ways than spying on your nanny to find out if s/he is a trustworthy person.

2) Try to avoid working in the same room/area of the house.

This one should be fairly straightforward, but some parents don’t realize that they’re making things more complicated for everyone. For this point, by the way, I’m really talking about children under about the age of about five, who, when they see their parents, tend to want to talk to them, hug them, hang on them, whine at them, get fed by them, etcetera. Generally, they act differently when their parents are around. And by “differently” I mean worse. Don’t believe me? Get a Nanny Cam! (Omigod, I’m joking.) If you’re working from home, go into a closed office/bedroom if that’s possible, and have an explicit conversation with the caretaker about boundaries and use of space so everyone can do their job.

3) Don’t micromanage playtime.

You might be the boss at work, but try to back off when your caretaker has the reins. Overseeing your child is what you hired them to do, after all. When you first start working together, communicate how and when you’d like your child to have playtime, discuss any safety concerns and other parameters, and leave it at that. Lay out the groundwork and then give your child and me some space to find our rhythm together.

4) Don’t fight with your partner in front of your nanny.

Just like you wouldn’t fight in front of your child (right?!), you certainly shouldn’t fight in front of your nanny. This goes for “arguing,” “heated discussions” and “tiffs” as well. Besides reminding me of my deadbeat ex-boyfriend, it makes me want to run straight out the front door (and take the child with me).

5) Don’t talk smack about your partner.

In the same spirit as not fighting in front of your nanny, there should be a very clear line about what are and are not appropriate topics for you two to discuss. Sure, your nanny is an easy sounding board because she’s right there, in your house, and you’re paying her, so she has to listen, right? Wrong. Complaining about your partner will only make you look bad and will most certainly make the nanny feel awkward. I worked with both a father and a mother who would do this with me any time the other one wasn’t home. They weren’t saying horrible things or throwing their partner under the bus for major issues or anything, it was just more of a slight here and there: “Have you seen Polly’s purse? She always misplaces things. So annoying, amirite?” Asides like that are not only unnecessary, they can pit your nanny against you or your partner, depending on whom s/he likes better. In short, don’t be tacky.

6) Pay them a fair wage.

This should be a no-brainer. Your children are the most important thing in your life, so why should it be OK to underpay them? There are currently a lot of conversations happening around minimum wage in the United States and how it hasn’t risen in over a decade, despite inflation. For a caretaker taking care of your most prized possessions, let’s start at $15/hour and go up for more experienced/credentialed sitters.

7) Don’t let them go hungry.

A fed nanny is a happy nanny. It’s nice to say “Hey, eat whatever you want in the house.” And if you want to be a super awesome employer, ask her what her favorite foods are and stock up on those, and/or tell her to order in on your dime on date nights. On the flipside, make sure anything special in the fridge is marked as such, so she doesn’t have to guess.

8) Don’t undermine your nanny’s authority.

This is another tricky one. Because, of course, as the parent, it is your prerogative whether or not to let your child get away with misguided behavior (or indeed, how to define “misguided behavior” in the first place). But if you want your child to function in the wider world as a decent human being, you’re going to want to follow this simple rule: What the nanny says, goes.

I knew someone who used to watch a 9-year-old girl, and whenever she’d pick up the child from a playdate or piano lessons, the girl would demand a treat. The nanny had been told by the mom that the daughter was not allowed treats. But when “no” came from the nanny, the daughter would say, ‘Well I’m just going to call my mom and ask,’ and then the mom would acquiesce. I don’t even want to imagine what that child is going to be like as an adult.

Just remember that your nanny wants the same thing you do: for your kid(s) to be happy, otherwise her job is miserable. Following these suggestions will help her be a better caretaker, which in turn makes your life that much easier. And isn’t that’s what it’s all about?

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Valentina Valentini is a freelance journalist based in London. Babies, burritos and bylines make her happy. Follow her at @byValentinaV. .