Call her a babysitter or a nanny — whichever you prefer, she can be a huge help to you or a drain on your parenting skills. When the person you hire to help you with your children is making your job harder, there’s a problem.
Hiring someone to help care for your children isn’t always easy. Interviewing candidates and trying to figure out whether their personalities blend with your child’s can cause a lot of stress. So when you finally find the perfect nanny or caregiver for your child, you want to make the relationship work.
We’ve got a few tips from experts — and from moms in the trenches — about how to let your child’s caregiver know up front what’s expected of her and what your deal breakers will be.
Set the ground rules
Once you get past the interviews and you’ve found the perfect person to help care for your kids, it’s best to set the ground rules up front. Your parenting style may be very different from that of the last family your nanny worked for, and the sooner you come to an agreement on key parenting issues, the better.
Nichole Beaudry is a work-at-home mom and mother of two — and a former nanny herself. She hired a part-time nanny to watch her children while she works in her office at home.
“The first and most important thing to do is to create a set of rules that all adults abide by,” she shares. “Do you have a no-sugar policy? Then the nanny adheres just as strictly as the parents do.”
Any parenting decisions, from time-outs to dessert, need to be consistent between the parents and the nanny — or the parents risk being undermined.
Schnia Roseberry of the Doctor Nanny referral agency in New Jersey has several years of experience working in a preschool and as a nanny.
“When discussing discipline methods, it’s best to handle it right from the beginning of hiring your child’s caretaker,” she shares. “There also should be basic rules that are established as a team unit between the parents and the nanny,” she adds.
Who’s the boss?
Part of setting the ground rules is establishing for your children who has control of them and when.
“Children are at odds about who has the ultimate power and oftentimes can even manipulate situations and put parents and the nanny at odds,” says Roseberry. “For example, what parents allow during their time may not reflect what the nanny allows in her time. The boundaries of discipline can be different.”
It’s perfectly fine if boundaries are different — as long as the children realize that the nanny is still in charge when the parents are gone.
“The key to success is to communicate that with your children,” adds Roseberry. “In one instance, I can recall a child ‘telling on me’ to the parents, stating that I wasn’t being nice because of a time-out. The parents simply told the child that whenever they’re not around, then it’s my rules and I’m the boss.”
Tips for making it work
Michelle LaRowe has been International Nanny of the Year and is editor in chief of eNannySource.com. She has tips for how to make your nanny/parent relationship work out.
“Use a written work agreement. This is a great tool to hammer out expectations,” she shares. “It can outline preferred methods of discipline and house rules, and it can ensure everyone is on the same page of the same parenting books.”
She also recommends that you have weekly check-in meetings.
“Kids change, their needs change and their behavior changes. Make a point to talk to each other and keep the lines of communication open about what’s working and what’s not,” she adds.
Leave room for fun
Even the strictest nanny needs to have something fun she can pull out of her sleeve.
“Establish fun things that only the nanny does with the kids… things that are special and unique to their relationship,” says Beaudry. “Maybe a picnic in the living room on Fridays or something like that. The same goes for the parents. Movie and popcorn parties? For the parents only,” she adds. “The reason why this structure works is that inherent to the parent/nanny relationship is some jealousy, and on some level, a desire to be the favorite. As the parent, you can’t and shouldn’t compete with the nanny — and vice versa. You’re a team, and if everyone feels like they have a unique and special relationship, there’s less chance that the nanny will take on the good-cop role. Give her something fun that makes the kid think she’s awesome, but give yourself the same.”
When there’s doubt
In even the best of circumstances, there are times when the nanny/parent relationship doesn’t work out.
“Even the best nanny isn’t the right nanny for every family,” says LaRowe. “During the interview process, ask the caregiver what her parenting philosophy is. It doesn’t have to be identical [to yours], but it certainly has to be complementary,” she adds. “If you believe in attachment parenting, a full-charge nanny isn’t going to be for you.”
Sometimes, the nanny relationship undermines the parent/child relationship.
“My kids know what they can get their nanny to give them that I won’t,” shares Laurie, a mother of two. “Sometimes, it isn’t such a big deal, but when it crosses the line, I feel duped.”
You may not even know what your deal breakers are until something happens with the nanny that gives you a bad feeling. Things may seem to be just fine, and then a single event can push you to the point of no return.
In the end, your children and your family life are what really matter. Quality childcare is difficult to find — and once you have secured a good nanny, you aren’t likely to want to let her go. Be up-front about your rules and expectations and work with your nanny for the best results.