For dual working parents or single parents, the difference between being able to crush it professionally and be the parent you want to be OR crashing and burning comes down to childcare. There are so many curveballs that life with kids can throw at you, but great childcare is the foundation that a working parent’s life is built on. Taking time to build and maintain a great relationship with your nanny (or other childcare provider) is essential.
I have had the same nanny for 12 years. (I am kind of nervous to write that without first placing her in a witness protection program.) But, the truth is that most of my friends already know she is awesome and thankfully love me too much to try to steal her away! Plus, we all know it takes a village to raise a child, and nanny stealing is the SECOND WORST violation of mom code (stealing a spouse or partner is the worst in case you were wondering…) Anyway, I digress!
Here are Jugl’s Top 8 Tips for creating and keeping a great relationship with your nanny.
1. Know what you need and what you want from your nanny before you start
If you don’t know what you want, it’s unlikely you will get it. So, it’s super-important to figure out in advance what you need and what you want before you even start interviewing. Consider creating a matrix like the following What Do You Need from Your Nanny Worksheet by Jugl:
Nice to Have/
Might Want Later
Has own car
Comfortable taking public transportation
Cooks for kids
Cooks for household
Will prepare food as instructed (whether that is homemade baby food or recipes)
Grocery shopping for kids’ food
Grocery shopping for household
Will follow instructions closely
Will write things down if requested
Able to stay late and/or come early occasionally
Able to work weekends occasionally
Able to stay overnight occasionally
OK with stairs
Speaks certain language(s) fluently
Likes trying new things
Finds activities and classes to do with younger kids
Happy to take the kids to classes we choose
Child CPR-certified (or willing to certify)
Any special needs
Laundry for kids
Laundry for household
Willing/able to be with sick kids
Willing to host playdates/transport kids to playdates
Willing to clean house
Able to help children with homework
This list is certainly not exhaustive, but it should be a good jumping-off point (and the link above opens an editable Word document so you can use it create your own). Of course, there are no right or wrong answers, but there is a ton of value in being thoughtful and realistic about what your child and your household need.
Key areas to consider include:
Household vs. child duties. Depending on the age of your child(ren) and the circumstances of your household, you may want a nanny that is 100% focused on caring for young children, or if you have school-age kids who are gone all day, you may want someone who is willing to provide more household support. Either can work, and it often changes over time. Making sure everyone is on the same page in terms of expectations is key.
Cleaning vs. straightening up. In my experience, the happiest nannies are responsible for cleaning and straightening up only as it pertains to the children and the nanny themselves. Treating the nanny as a cleaning service rarely works (other than in the rare cases where someone was cleaning your house before they became your nanny). I highly recommend finding someone else (or DIY’ing) for cleaning toilets and other less appealing cleaning tasks. Also, if you’re a particularly neat person, it may be worth trying to figure out whether your nanny’s definition of “clean” lines up with yours. Not all playroom clean-ups are created equal!
Style. You do want to make sure that your style is reasonably aligned with your nanny’s. If you can’t fall asleep at night without a detailed accounting of bottles, food, and dirty diapers, but your nanny is more of a free spirit, that can be hard for everyone. Similarly, if your nanny is very social, but you prefer your child to stay home during flu season, you’ll want to iron that out. Finally, it can be very important to make sure that you and your nanny are on the same page when it comes to discipline or other ways to modify problematic behavior. If you prefer reward-based modifications, and your nanny is a fan of time-outs, you should definitely come up with a strategy that you are both comfortable with.
2. Agree to a written contract upfront with your nanny
If you take NOTHING else away from this article, please take this one. Putting in writing what you expect from your nanny at the very, very beginning is so important. We’ve included a crowdsourced sample contract letter that started with some moms in NYC over 15 years ago and has been revised and shared more times than we can track. Each family adds and subtracts as needed to fit their own circumstances. You can click on the Jugl sample nanny offer letter to get the editable Word document. We have found it to be an ESSENTIAL component of a successful nanny/parent relationship to go through this exercise. So many times when these relationships sour, it’s because of unspoken standards. For example, let’s say you are adamant that your child doesn’t watch TV, and you come home one day to hear the child singing the Elmo song. You may be furious and feel like your nanny was slacking off. The nanny may have let one child watch Elmo while she had the other one in the bath and thus be put off by your fury. It’s all about starting out and staying on the same page.
3. Remember, your house is their office
I don’t like to be micromanaged. Chances are: neither do you, and neither will your nanny. I’m not suggesting that you hand off your child with no instructions, but the best long-term nanny relationships are PARTNERSHIPS not DICTATORSHIPS. Be clear about what is important to you, set boundaries and guardrails, but then trust the nanny to execute. If you don’t feel you can trust your nanny to execute after 6 weeks or so, you might not have the right person.
4. Communicate smart with your nanny
Have periodic check-ins
The conversations that we have with our nanny when we are running out in the morning or she is running out at night feel like what I imagine a football huddle does when the play clock is ticking…it’s important, but not conducive to thoughtful discussion. When bigger conversations are required, try to come home early or even set up a time in advance for a discussion if it’s a topic that the nanny might appreciate having some time to think about before addressing with you.
Open door communication policy
That being said, make sure your communication is not too formal – you want your nanny to be comfortable saying or asking you ANYTHING.
Demand respect from your kids for your nanny
Not only do we parents have to communicate with kindness and respect, but to keep a nanny happy in the long-run, we need to ensure that our children speak of and to the nanny with respect. When they forget (which they occasionally will), we need to make them apologize!
5. Be generous (and smart) with your nanny
For many of us who work full time, the uncomfortable truth is that our nannies spend almost as much awake time with our kids as we do – and sometimes even more. This relationship can be fraught with guilt (see our previous blog post entitled “[email protected]#% Guilt” if you need a pep talk on that topic), or it can be another source of love your you kids. Embrace the latter!!! Having kids who know that they are loved by many people and can be OK in the company of people who are not their parents is a gift! That being said, this is not a time to be frugal. Not only do you need to do research and pay the going rate in your area for a nanny, but you want to be thoughtful and generous as much as you are able.
Being smart means paying taxes. If you pay a household employee (which almost always would include a nanny) wages of $2,100 or more for 2018, you are meant to both withhold and pay your share of Social Security and Medicare taxes. I’ve been using Care.com’s HomePay service (provided by Breedlove) since 2005. They have offered to waive the $100 registration fee for Jugl readers who use this affiliate link* or mention Jugl if they register by phone. They also have great free resources like calculators and this helpful guide to household employment on their website
6. Choose your battles
Getting along with your nanny is like a marriage, and the old adage about choosing your battles is wisely-heeded. Decide what really matters to you (whether that is dishes being in the dishwasher and not the sink or absolutely no TV or whatever the case may be), and let the rest go. Really let it go. Don’t stew over it after they walk out the door at night. Either calmly and kindly discuss it or make like Anna and Elsa and let it go!
7. Trust your gut
Notwithstanding our earlier comments about micromanagement, there is something to be said for trusting your gut. When possible, you want to have a nanny start when you have a few days to be in and out of the house, and let them shadow you or your previous caregiver if applicable. That should give you some comfort. In the first few weeks of a new nanny, it’s also good to pop in unexpectedly. Come home for lunch, get home early, etc. just to make sure things are going according to plan. Doing this a few times in the beginning can be comforting to the nerves during the early stage of the relationship. However, after the first month or so, you really shouldn’t feel compelled to do this. Based on my informal data collection, feeling like you need to do surprise check-ins longer term is a sign of poor fit, failure of communication or a lack of trust. A nanny relationship that allows you to shine at work with the confidence that home is under control must be built on trust.
8. Show appreciation for your nanny
Find opportunities to unexpectedly delight your caregiver whenever possible. Holiday and birthday gifts, Valentine’s cards, thank you notes, unexpected mani/pedi gift card after a crazy week, etc. If you’re tight on budget, give frequent flyer miles, handmade gifts, baked goods…whatever fits your family. Keep one thing in mind: you want your nanny to be happy to come to work most days, not have the “ughh, I have to go to work” feeling. Showing your caregiver that you sincerely appreciate them can take many forms besides money, you just need to make doing so a priority. Whether it’s a morning off when they have family in town, or note after your business trip that says “thank you for making it possible for me to succeed by always making me feel that my kids are well-cared for,” these gestures go a long way.
We know there’s a lot of info here, but building a strong relationship with your caregiver is so essential to the success of a working parent that we didn’t want to skimp. We hope you found these tips helpful and would love to share your tips with the Jugl community. Please send your thoughts to [email protected], and we’ll share highlights in a future post.
*Please note: in addition to HomePay waiving the registration fee for Jugl readers, Jugl receives a referral fee if you sign up. Amy has used the service for over a decade, and she reached out to HomePay to request this. It is our policy at Jugl to disclose the use of affiliate links and to let our readers know if a product came to our attention as the result of an affiliate relationship.