We sat down with Sittercity nanny, Linda S, to get her perspective on the job and experiences she’s had along the way.
How long have you been a nanny?
It’s been on and off for several years. My experience started in Germany. My husband at the time was on active duty in the Air Force. There, I worked for the government as a preschool teacher and started my early childhood development in the early 90’s. I received my training, and the equivalent to an associate’s degree, and was certified through that program. I then came back to the US, my husband and I divorced, and I started nannying because I had to start my life anew, and it was a way to build myself back up. Between 1998 and 2011 I worked for 8 different families.
How has your thinking of the profession evolved over that time?
I guess the best way to answer that is that it’s a very fine line that nannies and parents walk, and I don’t think that has changed over time. As a nanny, you’re going in to help the parents and I think that parents want to do it all—they want the full-time career and they want to have the full-time role as parents, but they can’t do both. What I do find with nannying, especially when I was a live-in nanny, is that there is always that fine balance. You don’t want to overstep and it’s tough. I find there are a lot of power struggles between moms and nannies. For me, the biggest thing for any successful relationship with parents is communication, it has to be very positive and very open.
What do you love most about being a nanny?
Watching the kids grow and really being able to be part of the children’s lives. Especially as a live-in nanny, or a long-term nanny, you really get the opportunity to grow with the kids and watch them develop, find new interests, and be excited about new things. It’s rewarding because you’re sharing in their changes.
Tell us about your process of getting to know a new family and the children?
When you’re going into an interview, you’re also interviewing the family to get a feel of what the family could be like. I don’t try to get to know the family personally until I get hired. In the interview process, I try to get a feel for what the family’s needs are, availability, pay rate, etc. And of course, I like to ask questions about the kids. Sometimes, the kids are involved in the interview process too. I like to know about the children, their personalities, or if there are any health issues or special needs I should be aware of. With one of my last interviews, the oldest child was involved which was great because I got to ask the child directly what her feelings are about her nanny leaving, a new nanny coming in, what her likes are, and I think it made it more personal to have the children there.
If you find you’re no longer a good fit during the interview process, how do you let the family know?
I’ve been in situations where I’ve interviewed and the family wasn’t very warm, so when I left the premises of the interview I professionally emailed the family to thank them for their time and let them know I feel I won’t be a good fit for their family and wish them well. Keep it polite and professional.
I’m a boundary setter—I have open communication with the children and they know what I expect of them.
Did you ever disagree with a parenting decision & why?
Yes, the parents obviously have the last say as you’re representing their family. I was once caring for an 8-year-old boy that had behavioral issues and the parents were in denial of it—he had difficulty with boundaries, listening, and being respectful. I worked with him diligently and got creative by setting up a behavioral chart where he had to earn a certain amount of checkmarks to earn something fun. He was supposed to have a playdate that week and his behavior was off the charts and I was open with the parents with what I was doing in terms of the behavior chart. I let the mom know that I felt he hadn’t earned the playdate. The mom felt awkward canceling the playdate so she kept it. I made it clear to him that if he acted out or used bad language that day then I would cut the playdate short, and we had established that. I’m a boundary setter—I have open communication with the children and they know what I expect of them.
Do you usually have a nanny contract in place for each new job?
Yes, when I was going through nanny agencies they would set up the contract for me. Since Sittercity is a website where we are on our own, I usually have the parents draw up a professional contract. However, I haven’t done this with my last couple of families outside of something verbal. I do encourage other nannies to have a contract because it’s very easy for a family to switch gears.
What’s the most important thing for a healthy caregiver/family relationship?
Communication and setting boundaries upfront. The common thread is the child: you’re there for their well-being and you’re there so the parents can work and focus on their job, and not worry about what’s happening at home. The parents and caregiver definitely need to be open and honest about what’s going on with the child(ren).
Kids have taught me that they are so amazingly smarter than adults give them credit for.
What is something the kids in your care have taught you?
They’ve taught me that they are so amazingly smarter than adults give them credit for. Kids pick up on so many things and what’s really cool about that is that they taught me that I have a lot more patience and creativity than what I thought was imaginable—I learned that in my preschool years. Children are like sponges and they truly can feel someone’s vibes, just like anybody else can. I believe you should treat kids just like you would an adult, but obviously geared towards a child’s understanding. I don’t talk down to them. When I talk to kids it’s very clear and precise and they know what I’m asking, and I know what their needs are. When I get a position I play the “get to know you game” and we all go around the table and talk about our likes and dislikes. I find that with children, the more you communicate with them and try to get to know them, the more they will open up to you because they know that you want to get to know them.
What is the most challenging thing about being a nanny?
Sometimes it’s the parents, to be honest with you. What I find with some parents – not all – is that they are so good at their job, but they don’t know how to switch gears and do the parenting thing. And that can be tough because the stress comes with them and you’re trying to keep things balanced. If you have two different people handling things differently, like the parent asking you to have the children abide by certain rules, and the parents don’t abide by the same rules, it can create inconsistencies for the children and it can be tough.
It can be a very enjoyable experience – I’ve learned from the kids I’ve had, and it has been a gift. I hope what I have given to the children has followed them throughout the years.
If you could give parents one piece of advice, what would it be?
To be consistent as much as possible. The world isn’t perfect and everyone has a day you can get off track with scheduling—that happens, that’s called life! But I think that if parents want their children to be a certain way with the nanny, there needs to be consistency when the nanny isn’t there. If there isn’t, it turns into “well, I don’t have to do this with my mom or dad” and then it turns into a power struggle. If you set rules, you need to abide by them yourself.
What is the #1 misconception about being a nanny?
That we don’t have any real education, and that this is the best we could get or do, which is not true!
If you could give sitters/nannies just starting out one piece of advice, what would it be?
Know your worth.
Have a professional resume that outlines all of the work you have done.
Have boundaries in place with a family.
Would you recommend being a nanny to others? Why?
I would, but I wouldn’t recommend a live-in situation (that’s just me personally, it works for others). But yes I do recommend it! Make sure you’re willing to work long hours and devote time to the children and can be on your toes. It can be a very enjoyable experience – I’ve learned from the kids I’ve had, and it has been a gift. I hope what I have given to the children has followed them throughout the years.
What is your favorite kid food/snack?
Cap’n Crunch and fruit roll-ups.
Favorite book to read with kids?
Where the Wild Things Are – it’s a classic!
Favorite movie to watch with kids?
It depends on the age of the children but I typically work with older kids and Charlotte’s Web is a great classic movie. I would also say Despicable Me is also a good one.
Current kid-related thing you’re obsessed with?
Current kid-related thing you never want to see/hear again?
Power Rangers, they’re awful. I got hit in the stomach once because one kid was pretending to be a power ranger!
Most annoying thing a kid could do?
Acting like they can’t do something when they can.
Go-to rainy day activity?
Board games, hide-n-seek, playing a quick video game, or baking something! Anything creative that can also be indoor.
If you had a magic wand, what would your #1 wish for child care be?
To find a family that you want to grow with and have a good/secure position for a number of years.