It’s a massive fear for any nanny: working while the parents are still in the house. But that’s what the pandemic has served up for most of us. Everyone within the same four walls. All the time. To say that I was extremely grateful to still have my new job is a fantastic understatement—but we (yes we: me, the parents, and the kids) were all about to undergo the biggest get-to-know-you test. Ever.
All I can do is all I can do.
The initial anxiety caught in my throat: every word, every choice I made with the kids was available to be observed. I’m confident in the work I do with children, but the thought of someone looking over my shoulder every minute made me unnecessarily question almost a decade of experience. (Why?!) Once I got past the feeling of trying to impress the parents by overtly demonstrating that I could do my job, what unfolded among us all has been a fresh lesson on something I preach as the most important thing for the parent/nanny relationship. Effective communication.
The silver lining to spending more time around your mom and dad bosses…is that you get to spend more time with your mom and dad bosses. Here’s what I mean. Pre-pandemic, the nanny and the parents are simply relay runners handing off the baton. We’re working towards the same goal, but we’re doing it separately. There’s not much time for real connection. For real teamwork.
Sure, we have our regularly scheduled check-ins to ensure we discuss what’s going on with the kids and if we need to adjust any schedules or address any behavioral issues. But the quality of time we had to connect as adults was limited. It’s the dedicated time that allows us to share how that tantrum the other day is still weighing on our hearts, or how a conversation with a friend is making us question everything lately. Over time that type of connection gets built, but with all of us in the same house, it blossomed much more quickly and deeply.
And it makes sense why.
We were IN IT. Together. In real-time. Especially with my mom boss, we sorted through the scientific guidelines and best practices to keep the kids and ourselves safe. We outfitted the house with spaces for the kids to learn and the parents to work. We set up new technology systems to make everything flow easier.
All while we each sorted through our own individual emotions after having all plans thrown out a window and our greatest fears challenged: will we and those we love be ok? You know, simple stuff.
So what did “effective communication” mean for us? It meant listening to each other. Like, REALLY LISTENING to feelings, fears, questions, and concerns. And what we discovered was that in so many ways, my mom boss and I have the same thought process.
The guilt that drives her to always know and feel the need to be a MOM (even when there’s someone there to help), that makes her feel like there’s always something more she could/should be doing, that doesn’t allow her to be “off” when she’s off.
As the nanny, I feel every single one of those things too.
I’m thinking and worrying about the kids when I’m not on the clock, I find it difficult to accept a break when given one because I worry I haven’t done enough to earn one. I’m constantly nervous that I’m not living up to expectations or what the kids need me to be.
The commonality here is that we’re both carrying an unnecessary burden that we’ve placed on ourselves. It’s only the voices in our heads that are telling us we aren’t enough. One person can’t do it all—obviously—that’s why we’re a team.
You know how in most sports movies the team is filled with talented players who all have something to offer, but they still keep coming up short? The inspirational montage that typically follows involves them spending time to get to know each other—both in practice and in real life. It’s the time spent understanding how each teammate thinks and feels that allows everyone to support and encourage them to be their best selves and helps the team gel and work as one.
The work-from-home experience of the pandemic has provided the opportunity for me and my parent bosses to have our team-building montage much sooner and more quickly than a pre-pandemic experience. But the question is, once things are “back to normal,” how do parents and caregivers continue to connect in this way?
In thinking about the eventual next new family I’ll be working with, there are few things that I’ll be prioritizing even more. The first is a special kind of “first day of work.” Instead of only having an extra 30-60 minutes to transition things at the beginning of my first day of work, I’m going to coordinate a family experience in which we’re all just spending time together and having fun. This could be a group outing to the zoo, an evening of playing board games, or sitting around a fire pit making s’mores. It’s important that we start our relationship off on a personal foot.
The next thing I’m going to prioritize is quality time with my mom boss. Whether this is staying for an hour after she gets home to have a glass of wine together, or coordinating with dad so we can spend an afternoon away together. Life is too short for us to silently process through the same struggles alone.
If there’s anyone that can truly relate to my struggles in caring for kids, it’s their mom. If there’s anyone that can truly relate to her womanhood and raising kids, it’s me. And when we’re at that level of understanding, we can better support each other by reminding ourselves that:
All I can do is all I can do.