How to Hire (and Keep) A Great Nanny, as Told By a Great Nanny
In recent posts, I have talked about my quest for balance. As a parent, giving time and attention to one thing means it takes away from another. Now, to be clear, I am not saying that the scale tips from good to bad. I am talking more about the finite amount of time we have in a day. If I want to go to work, spend time on myself (exercise, socialize, or anything else I've daydreamed of lately), or to simply get something done without children, it means I need to find someone else to be with my children. This is such an important part of balance, and a sometimes tricky one, that I wanted to dive into it more.
I have tried a wide range of child care over the years, from daycare to part-time babysitters, to a full-time nanny. The choice that felt the most difficult and the most important to get right was a full-time nanny. A great nanny is not just a caregiver for your children, but also an enabler of balance. A great nanny is a partner in parenting and a part of your family. Amy Poehler gave a powerful speech at a Time 100 Gala a few years ago to thank the two women who take care of her children:
"I have thought very hard and long about what has influenced me over the past couple of years, and since I have been at this dinner in 2008, I have given birth to two boys and I’ve left Saturday Night Live and I started my own TV show, and it’s been a crazy couple of years, and I thought who besides Madam Secretary Clinton and Lorne Michaels have influenced me? And it was the women who helped me take care of my children. It is Jackie Johnson from Trinidad and it is Dawa Chodon from Tibet, who come to my house and help me raise my children. And for you working women who are out there tonight who get to do what you get to do because there are wonderful people who help you at home, I would like to take a moment to thank those people, some of whom are watching your children right now, while you’re at this event. Those are people who love your children as much as you do, and who inspire them and influence them. So on behalf of every sister and mother and person who stands in your kitchen and helps you love your child, I say thank you and I celebrate you tonight."
As if you didn't love Amy Poehler enough already, right?!
It's true; the people in our homes helping us take care of our children are, arguably, the most important and influential people in our lives. So, how do we find such incredible people? And how do we manage the sometimes tricky balance of employer/friend/co-parent?
Jillian Kordis is a 12-year veteran nanny and all-around amazing person. I have first-hand experience with Jillian's love and wisdom, as she cared for our three when the twins were first born until she moved back to Boston. I knew she was perfect for us when she came to our interview with a portfolio of her work with kids and love letters from them. She describes herself as a career nanny, and she has set the bar for us in terms of what the very best childcare looks like. She took on Jack's preschool drop-off with twin babies, very early mornings, and stressed parents adjusting to life with twins. She did it with joy and fun, and she taught us a few things along the way.
Here, she talks about how to hire a nanny, how to set up your nanny relationship for success, and what nannies really want for presents.
What do you look for when finding a new family and job?
When I am seeking a new family to work for, the most important thing I look for is chemistry. One of my favorite things to say is that the children are not the hard part about the job! The relationship with the parents is the bread and butter for an excellent job. The parents I have liked the best are the jobs I have enjoyed the most. I know it’s obscure, but I find it helpful to compare finding a nanny/nanny family to online dating. In both searches you’re hoping for someone loving, thoughtful, and committed. In both searches you are hopeful, anxious, vulnerable, and passionate. Therefore, chemistry is important to a long-term relationship. Do we connect on an intellectual level? Can we share a joke? I seek the “me too!” or “I agree!” moments during the interview to show me these are people I could form a solid parenting team with.
What can parents do to help you in the first few weeks during transition?
During the first few days, a few hours of overlap can be helpful, especially if you’re the type of parent that is particular about how things are done. Share your pet peeves, show your nanny exactly where you like something put, where you store backup items, how to work your coffee machine. Beyond that, trust your decision to hire your nanny! I know it’s such a hard transition but giving your child and your nanny time to get to know one another and letting their relationship grow will really set the relationship up for success.
What should parents stop doing?
One thing I wish parents would stop doing is tacking on job responsibilities when we take initiative. Sometimes we have extra time when the little ones are taking a longer nap or sometimes we see a hole and try to fill it, but that doesn’t mean we want to (or should) add that as our new task. One example sticks out in my mind: my previous employer was 8 months pregnant and her husband was on a business trip. She was exhausted. I saw her sheets were in the dryer and I took it upon myself to make her bed for her. A month later she asked me to make her bed. I understand why she assumed that I would take that on, but I had to explain that making her bed was outside my scope of care and that I was trying to be kind, which she was very grateful for.
What can parents start doing?
One thing I wish parents would start doing is communicating schedule changes or when they're coming home late as soon as they're aware of it. Receiving a text at 5:02 that you’re going to swing by the grocery store doesn’t feel like you respect your caregiver's time. Additionally, if you schedule a vacation and your nanny will have a week off, share that too! The further we know in advance that we’ll have time off, the better use we can make of that (very appreciated) time off!
At the back of many parents’ minds is a fear that the kids will love/prefer a nanny over them. What are your thoughts on this?
In my 12 years of being a professional nanny, I don’t have firsthand experience with one of the little ones “loving” me more than their parents, and I think that speaks to how it just isn’t a realistic fear. While we are sharing the care of your family, we are not sharing your home, your holidays, and your weekends. Children are astute to the difference of their caregiver who comes during the day and their caregivers who are their parents. I do feel it’s important to say, we don’t want to take your place! We spend most of the day talking about mommy and daddy as you are the center of their world! I love loving your babies and watching them grow - it’s really the most fulfilling job. But, it is just my job and I really enjoy going home to my life as well.
However, I do think that mommy guilt can sometimes lead to being jealous of your child’s attachment to your nanny. I think attachment is the emotional connection that develops with significant people in your life. This comes from continuity, stability, and mutuality. That mutuality is something that should be celebrated - and this is how I think it could be done (and why!):
- I think it is important to feel secure in why you hired a nanny. This is a choice you made for your family and this is a relationship that was cherry picked for your child. When you feel confident in your career and why you chose this type of care over another, you can feel grounded in moments of jealousy. This article may help: "Children Benefit from Having a Working Mom".
- Who your child reaches for IS NOT a measure of who they love! Who your child reaches for is who is closest, who they’re in the mood for, who is most likely to say yes! Sometimes your child will prefer you, sometimes your partner, sometimes a grandparent, and sometimes your nanny. That preference is not correlated to who they love the most.
- Communicate with your nanny what your fears are. Do you want to experience the “firsts"? Do you like getting pictures throughout the day or do you prefer receiving those when you’re not at work? While we cannot control the time of day your baby rolls over for the first time, we can control whether we share that with you or not.
- Realize transition times are going to be tough - regardless. Wait, Mommy AND Nanny are here? Who is going to leave? Who is going to stay? The little brains go into overload when there is a transition. Children aren’t giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time. I think it’s important to realize that when your child is clinging to your nanny’s leg and not wanting them to leave. They’re simply having a hard time processing the transition. So, what helps? In my experience, being as consistent as humanly possible and talk it through with your little one (even if they’re too little to communicate back!) “After I give you a hug, I am going to get my coffee, my bag, and my keys then I am going to work.” Then “I am leaving now, have a good day!” and leave. Regardless of your child’s reaction to someone leaving, you want/need them to feel safe that when you or your nanny say you’re going to leave, that you are going to. The more you waiver and the more you come back for one more hug, the more space you’re creating for a power struggle. Transitions are going to ebb and flow as children’s brains develop, but the more consistent you are, the more confident your child will feel during times of change.
- Ask yourself what is the alternative? Would you want your child to be indifferent towards your nanny? Beyond that, if your nanny or child feels that jealously, it can create distance between the parenting team, and the awkwardness will be felt by the child, which puts them in an unfair situation and could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One of my favorite things my current mom-boss says is to her daughters when we are together is, “Look how many people love you!” I love this perspective because at the end of the day, how can someone loving and being loved by your child be a negative thing?
What do you really want as a present for birthdays, holidays, etc?
I will speak for the general nanny population and say that we love money! I think giving an actual gift depends on how well you know your nanny. Here is an example: I had just relocated to a new state and started a new job, my employers at the time gave me a super thoughtful gift of adding a remote starter to my car (since I moved from a sunny state!) While this was seemingly helpful, it was not how I would have chosen to spend $500 as they money would’ve bought me a couch for my new apartment. On the flipside, my lovely former employer (hint: you’re reading her blog) knew how much I loved going to concerts - one of my favorite things we had in common! For my birthday they gave me gas cards and a gift card to Ticketmaster so I could road trip to Los Angeles to visit their favorite venue and see a show, which I LOVED. So, if you know your nanny well enough that you can pick out what they would really want, then I would say go for it. But just remember, nannies love money!
How can you make your nanny feel appreciated?
Well, I think this depends on your nanny. Equating this back to dating, it really depends on your nanny's love language and that is something I highly recommend asking during the interview process. Thoughtful little gifts at Easter or a just-because card - little things you would do to make your partner feel appreciated, will most likely work for your nanny as well.
How do you prefer daily communication?
Communication is the most important thing I stress to nannies and parents. I keep a nanny log throughout the day of basic things that I’d like to communicate. It has a calendar, which is helpful for parents noting doctors’ appointments or anything that would affect the nanny’s day. Something I have learned just in the last few years is to separate how we communicate about business and the children. Anything business related happens via email; taking time off, anything money related, or contract related, happens via email. This gives both parties accurate time to think about it and the parents' time to speak with each other. However, child-related things are easier talked about in person. I think it’s helpful to have overlap time built into your nanny’s schedule. For example, if you’re going to get home at 5, schedule your nanny until 5:15. This gives you time to debrief, talk about anything that may have come up, and anything that’s on the docket for the next day.
As a nanny, what do you want in terms of feedback?
I don’t think nannies receive as much feedback as they’d like. But maybe this is me projecting because of my above-noted love language! I remember saying to Zach one evening, “There is no way there isn’t anything you’d like me to stop doing!” and he just laughed! Knowing your nannies love language will help you give the feedback that will feel the most fulfilling to them.
Do you have any helpful resources?
The ultimate nanny resource for parents and nannies is the A to Z contract. By reading through the contract you can quickly realize what a nanny does, what is standard pay structure, what is standard for time off, etc. The contract gives you multiple choices for each, so you can choose what works for your family while being mutually beneficial to your nanny. I have used this contract for the past 8 years without a single complaint!
Facebook is the other resource I swear by. Most cities have a Facebook group for nannies to connect for playdates and activity suggestions. A lot of cities also have groups for parents and nannies to connect as well!
As someone who helps families find high-quality nannies, what advice would you offer a family looking to hire a nanny?
Hiring a nanny is hard work, especially if it’s your first time. My three pieces of advice are this:
- Figure out your exact needs are prior to your search
- Be prepared to be an employer
- Trust your gut
Figuring out your needs and mapping out your criteria is essential to finding the perfect nanny. What hours do you need? Do you need flexibility in that? How long would you like to keep your nanny? What are the job responsibilities? What do you not want your nanny doing? What is your future nanny’s ideal personality? What can you afford to pay? My suggestion will always be to find the nanny to fit your needs rather than bending to fit theirs.
Being an employer is a huge undertaking that comes with a lot of responsibilities. Familiarize yourself with your state laws. Realize that you need to pay your nanny a livable wage for your area. Figure out a backup plan for care so your nanny can take her paid time off without adding stress to either side. It’s a lot of work at first but the more you figure out at the beginning the easier the relationship will progress.
Just to go full circle, trust your gut. You will know who you like and who isn’t the perfect fit. Check references. Ask questions. Interview. Interview again if you need to. Figure out your parenting philosophy. Do they match? You are making a huge, huge decision for your family- only you will know what is perfect for you and your children.
Thank you, Jillian! Your nanny family is lucky to have you. Jillian is an amazing resource for nanny and parenting wisdom, and she helps guide families through the tough process of hiring a new nanny, working as a headhunter for childcare talent. If you are looking for a nanny and would like her expertise, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will gladly share her contact information.