Sweep the Minefield: Mother and Nanny
September 22, 2009 · Posted in Caregivers, Communication, Parenting · Permalink

MineSweeperSSThe relationship between mother and nanny is like a minefield. The surface can look undisturbed. Some pieces of the terrain are truly safe, but a step in the wrong direction and you touch on the explosive issues of jealousy, judgment, class, race, guilt, and fear. It is the unusual mother-nanny relationship that does not have these issues brimming somewhere under the surface.

Women capable of managing hundreds of people at work become physically sick at the thought of asking their nannies to do a simple task. Long time babysitters tip toe around showing affection to the children for fear that parents will be envious of the relationship. The bottom line is that the necessary blurring of boundaries between intimacy and employment make the nanny-mother relationship fraught.

There is no way to eliminate all these dynamics but there are a few things that can make the relationship a more smooth and honest partnership:

  • Approach your nanny as a professional employee.  Make a clear and detailed job description and employee agreement. Vacation days, salary, sick days, holidays, overtime and responsibilities all should be spelled out.
  • Have a weekly or biweekly meeting that is set in stone and sacred.  Making time to discuss all things related to children and home on a regular basis keeps the relationship collaborative and helps to avoid resentment and miscommunication.
  • Praise the work this person is putting into your home and family. Children feel more comfortable with childcare when they see the positive relationship between you and the caregiver. Make sure hellos and goodbyes are warm and respectful.
  • Keep your nanny abreast of all family related changes that will effect her: everything from vacations and pregnancies to play dates and schedule changes.
  • Remember that your nanny has a personal life outside your family-be sensitive but not overly involved.
  • Discuss discipline on a regular basis, consistency is key with children and you will want to be on the same page.
  • If you have the sense that the relationship is not working for you, the nanny or your children –make a change.

Many women come to depend on and feel a deep appreciation and affection for their caregiver. Nannies can feel a sense of connection and pride in their important job.  Remember that true mutual trust is earned over time and cultivated by working on communication. Recognize that the mother-nanny relationship is tender.  Jealousy, frustration and irritation as well as gratitude, admiration and mutual love of the children will inevitably be part of the package. This relationship has the potential to be a nurturing, enduring and pwerful experience for all involved.

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  1. caroline
    September 23rd, 2009 | 8:39 am

    Spelling out responsibilities and other details is important up front is important but put them down on PAPER because even if you were clear details gets murky 3, 6, 12 months down the line. It just makes it easy for you and your nanny to refer to it.

    Sometimes things arise that were unforeseen. For example, our nanny was injured ‘on the job’. She was part time (we paid her 5 sick days and paid her when we left for vacation which was 4 weeks+/year) . She wanted to sue our building and would not return to work until she received a settlement. We paid her 4 weeks pay. She was very disappointed and wanted more (though never asked how much more). I felt we should have given her another month b/c she was injured while looking after our son but it was transparent that she was looking for a big pay day from the building. Did we do the right thing?

    In any case, there are going to be difficult situations that arise, especially with part-time situations.

    Sitting down bi-weekly (even with part-time nannies) is a very smart ritual to keep things clear and to share updates on both sides.


  2. January 31st, 2010 | 6:53 pm

    I agree– sitting down with babysitters and telling them what you expect them to do and how you expect them to do it is very important, as every child and every household is different. As a babysitter, I find it helpful to have a list of things that need to get done, or things parents want you to look out for. I find myself scribbling things down on a pad of paper to make sure I fulfill all of my responsibilities. I’m sorry about the situation with your old nanny, that doesn’t sound fun.

    If you are looking for someone during week nights or on weekends, feel free to contact me at jre242@nyu.edu, or check out my website at http://www.jillianbabysitter.com.

    Good luck!

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