I was a nanny for ten years. Here is what I know about what makes a good nanny and how to find one.
1. I would recommend using the standard nanny sites to search for a nanny. Your friends won’t refer their great nanny to you. Great nannies are hoarded and kept secret because they are precious. Families don’t want to share their nanny, even if she only works part-time for them. Sharing a nanny means she might not be available at all times and availability is everything. Your friends are not giving up the glue that makes their family work. Great nannies are bragged about but never shared. You are on your own.
The exception to this rule is when your friend no longer needs the nanny because the child has started school. Then you must leap onto this nanny with the full force of your being and lock her down. She comes recommended from someone you actually know. This is gold. It rarely happens.
2. You will know within days of approaching your nanny on-line if she is reliable. How quickly did she get back to you with a message? Did she leave a succinct voicemail? Did she make herself available for an interview, at your convenience? Was she on-time for the interview? It will feel effortless when it’s working.
When it’s not working, you will feel your blood pressure start to rise. That’s because a complete stranger is about to enter your private sanctuary and care for the most important thing in your life. Without you being there. A great nanny feels like a relief. A less than great nanny makes you want to back-peddle on the whole concept of going back to work. Watch your thoughts around the nanny: that is your intuition talking to you.
3. How do you feel about the nanny in your home? Is there a sense of ease about her in your life? Do you actually get along? Does she listen? Are you listening to her? Do you get a niggling feeling she is judging your life? Does her life contain a lot of drama? Remember she is going to be firmly planted right in the middle of yours, do you feel safe with her there? Does she have a know-it-all attitude about childcare? Is she listening to how you approach raising your children and want to follow suit? Does she try too hard to stress her professionalism? Does she behave as if this is a filler job, while she finishes her degree? Does she complain about a previous family not working out?
When you interview a range of nannies, you are inviting a mix of people. Some of them will give you an ‘off’ vibe. That ‘off’ vibe is there for a reason. This is an unskilled profession and often, the people you will interview are unemployable. I say this as someone who has more experience than most – I have worked with over twenty families, often full-time. I have experienced the good, the bad and the awkward.
- I have replaced a nanny who confessed to drinking the parent’s vodka and then re-filling the bottles with water. A nanny who launched an unfair dismissal suit against a family when a two-week trial period didn’t result in a job. A nanny who slept with the children’s father. Yes, I have replaced one of those, too.
- I have only ever wanted to sleep with one father in ten years. As it turned out, he was already having an affair. You can imagine my disappointment. By rights, it should have been me.
- I never said I was a great nanny.
4. How comfortable do you feel with your nanny and your husband? Dig deep on this one, there is only one good answer: very comfortable. She will be right in the middle of the kitchen, occasionally making your husband cups of coffee in the morning and sometimes it feels like there is another housemate living with you. Remember what happened with housemates back in the day? They slept together and it ended disastrously. Pick a nanny you would never think twice about. It’s easier than picking another husband.
5. Do your children and the nanny get along? I have interviewed for dozens of families and half the time, I didn’t get the job. The smart mothers recognized what was happening right away: I didn’t click with their children. The truth is – it’s a gamble. Some children I had an affinity with and other children irritated me. I still did the job, but the children I had an affinity with got a warmer experience. It wasn’t the better behaved child I was drawn to, either. It was that ephemeral ‘click’. Does your child have a tantrum when the nanny arrives for her interview? Pay attention to that. Does your child try too hard to perform? Notice that as well.
Your mother bear instincts are going to be on over-drive and they have to be. Listen to every thought that runs through your head, even if it seems paranoid. It is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Your nanny will spend hundreds of hours with your child, often years. The nanny will shape the way your child feels about the world and themselves. I appreciate when parents want a two week get-to-know-each-other trial period. It gives the nanny a chance to work out what the parents expect of them. It gives the parents a chance to work out if the nanny is crazy.
6. Once you have made a decision on a nanny, I have to tell you: the better you treat the nanny, the better the nanny is with your children. I don’t just mean financially. When a parent has treated me with consideration and respect; I extended that same respect towards their children. It’s wonderful to hear a heart-felt ‘thank-you’ after a day with a child. It can be a lonely job and these small considerations make it feel like we are all in it together.
Image via Baysidenannies.com