What a Nanny Wants You to Know: Between Caregiver and Parent

Finding a good family to nanny feels like winning the lottery, that is, if the lottery is sustainable employment rooted in mutual respect and open communication. After years of “ok” nannying experiences that seemed to blur together, I’ve recently celebrated a year with a family I feel lucky to work for. My connection to the boys has been crucial to the success of the whole endeavour. Their parents’ support of my pursuits within the role and outside of it have been, too. Beyond that, there are a few things that have made this experience not only lovelier, but more worthwhile, than the rest.

It all started last August, after a few frantic months of working as an office coordinator for a fashion label. I was burnt out, fresh out of undergrad, and in desperate need of some time to sort what was next. I thought back to work experiences I had enjoyed in the past. Nannying came to mind almost immediately. I logged back into my online nannying profile, updated my profile picture, and hoped for the best.

After sorting through a sea of cryptic postings, I came across a simple request for an after-school sitter for two boys. I applied. My future employer responded. We talked on the phone briefly. I went over to the apartment to meet the family that weekend.

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First Impressions

This wasn’t my first Nannying in New York Rodeo, not by a long shot. Over the years, I’ve been a nanny in virtually every neighborhood. The best experiences always involve being introduced by the parents to the children upon first meeting. It sounds simple, but there have been a few occasions where I’ve had to request an introduction before showing up at hopefully the right door step in order to be greeted by what I assume to be the right child.

These first meetings are much like first dates — a bit awkward, usually ok in the end, but imperative for determining if there’s any chemistry. I’ve been on a few first meetings that resulted in a polite decline of moving forward, and thank goodness. Once, I walked into a cluttered, cat hair coated basement apartment, only to be abandoned with a 2-year-old while the mother took a work call. Another time, I leaned on a stack of books I’d set up as a prop for a Facetime introduction that promptly toppled onto the floor.

When I met the family I nanny for now, I felt instantly at ease in their sunny apartment. The boys and I connected over their latest Lego creations. The parents were calm, kind, and attentive. There’s something to be said for gut reactions, especially when it’s work as personal as caregiving.

Talk About Timeline

After an excellent first meeting, I was thrilled to receive an offer from my employers. Thanks to a comfortable and candid conversation during our first meeting, I felt confident moving forward. I knew what hours would be kept, how compensation would work, and even what to expect for sick day procedure. Taking the time to sort this all out before I even began gave me a sense of assurance and made me feel prepared.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be formal, but both parties benefit from honesty, especially when it comes to future plans. No one wants to be stranded without support. In my current position, a formal contract outlined expectations plainly. I apprehensively mentioned graduate school as soon as I started applying last fall. My employers met my nervousness with generosity and encouragement, reaffirming the truth that discussing early and often fosters the healthiest lines of communication. When I was accepted to my first choice low residency program, I couldn’t wait to share the news.

Communication is Key

Channels of communication are just as important as the act of corresponding. I’ve worked for families that expected constant text messages while I was with the children. One mother asked for a photograph of her child every hour, on the hour. There are only so many smiling in the swing photos one can take, come hour three in the park. Another parent insisted on leaving written summaries in a notebook before I went home. “Normal day. Made pasta for dinner. Listened to Hamilton soundtrack. Was beat at chess, again.” The journal entries stunted the natural flow of conversation, plus served as a constant reminder of my lack of improvement in chess.

Now, I check in when my employer arrives home, usually debriefing on the day, catching up, etc. We email when I’m not with the boys and when I am, short texts or phone calls are exchanged. I love sending her snapshots of our days and even made a short film of favorite moments as part of a holiday gift. It feels empowering to be trusted and at the same time, know that both parents are accessible. There’s always a communication learning curve, in any relationship. But being able to speak to what feels most productive out of the gate can help to avoid missed memos or a general sense of overwhelming aloneness.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

And nothing is worse, as a nanny, than feeling alone. Once, during a particularly spirited after-school argument with his sister, a child I was a nanny for locked himself in the bathroom. I scoured cabinets for ingredients, resorting to homemade pancakes for dinner with pantry staples. The boy burst into the kitchen a minute later to alert me the tub was overflowing. The sister called from her bedroom at the exact moment informing me that the dog had peed on her rug. Neither of the parents could be reached and after an emergency group outing to the bodega for cleaning supplies and pizza, I collapsed on the velvet settee, until I remembered we were late for dance.

Understanding my role as a nanny in the web of support that keeps the boys’ lives running smoothly not only takes the pressure off of the work, but also helps keep everything in balance. On any given day, I nod at the familiar ferry coordinator, greet the doorman, and smile at the neighbors next door. When family visits from out of town, I feel excited to catch up and thrilled for the extra attention for the boys. By introducing me to family members and family friends, my employers helped me to feel bolstered and supported — a veritable part of the family’s circle.

Build Routines

We take the stairs down to the scooters, snap on helmets, and race off to the ferry that always seems to beat us to the pier. We settle into our specific row, unpack snacks, and start a story, usually about a bad guy named Jason and always featuring a chase scene. We arrive home, unpack backpacks, and I start dinner. It took us about a month of trial and error to define this series of moments that set us up for a blissfully uneventful afternoon. And even on the days when we have an activity or engagement, the boys like to ask what we would normally be doing at that time. “We’d be waiting for the ferry,” or “We’d be running a bath,” serve as metrics for our time together.

In the past, lack of routine made it hard on everyone involved. Loads of last minute messages being exchanged with the parent could distract from the essential after school debrief on the walk home. Or interrupting a project could make moving to the next activity nearly impossible. Now, something as simple as choosing a recipe on Tuesday, shopping for ingredients on Wednesday, and baking on Thursday has become our tried and true rhythm.

Plan Ahead

Some nights, the boys crack open the window and yell adorably indiscernible farewells from three flights up. Other nights, we race around the hallway. However we say goodnight, my employers are always acutely aware of my departing on time. It’s a simple gesture that speaks volumes to their respect for my life outside of babysitting.

Holidays when the boys are off school are discussed weeks in advance. Vacation time is always discussed months before. The more planning becomes customary, the easier it is to express flexibility when events come up. When I’m away at school or on holiday, I find myself missing the structure and delight of my time with the boys. I get back to the book I’m reading or the train I’m racing to catch, but not without gratitude for the work I love and the family that makes it possible.