After speaking with moms across the U.S. and learning firsthand, I have figured out things that I wish I knew when I was a brand new mom looking for the perfect nanny.
I have been a working mom for nearly a decade, and I have employed five nannies. Every time I hired a new nanny, I thought and secretly wished that I had found the perfect nanny—the modern day Mary Poppins who would be the answer to all of my family’s wishes. She’d lovingly care for my kids like no one else, and then I could go to work and do my job without a worry in the world. While I have employed many wonderful nannies, I have never found my Mary Poppins. And I eventually learned that no one has. M.P. doesn’t exist.
Whenever I get together with my working mom friends, the subject of nannies comes up. Sometimes it’s to share a funny story, and sometimes the stories aren’t so funny. I have learned both firsthand and from my friends about the full range of nannies—the young and the old, the live in and the live out. I learned about nannies who may have had their hearts in the right places but still didn’t use good judgment; nannies who became awesome teachers to the kids (and to the parents); and some, who although they were being paid by the parents, seemed more like the ones really in charge. I learned about nannies getting busted by nanny cams, by Facebook or by the kids, who do eventually tell the parents everything.
These stories came together and to life in my new book, “Who’s Going To Watch My Kids? Working Mothers’ Humorous and Heartfelt Struggles to Find and Hold on to the Elusive Perfect Nanny.” While doing research for the book, I conducted interviews with moms all across the United States, and I have figured out a few things that I wish I knew in the beginning, when I was a young, bright-eyed, brand new mom looking for the perfect nanny:
You will grow closer to your nanny than anyone else who has ever worked for you.
The nanny/working mom relationship is like no other relationship out there. Your nanny will become a part of the very intimate space of your home life. She’ll get to know your extended family and friends. She will change your babies’ diapers, and she will see you pump breast milk for your baby. She will get to know your kids and you, inside and out, in all of your forms—the good, the bad and the ugly. You may experience a hugging nanny, an “I love you” nanny or a nanny who sits on your closed toilet seat every morning to tell you about the drama of her love life while you get ready for work. Accept this. You will get close to your nanny whether you want to or not. It’s part of the deal.
You will put up with way more stuff from your nanny than you would from anyone else who has ever worked for you.
Your nanny is given the most important job there is—taking care of your kids when you can’t. Because of this, you put up with stuff—a lot of stuff. Some of the moms in my book dealt with nannies who had babies fall off kitchen counters on their watches, ones who let the kids help them clean with bleach, ones who brought their own laundry to do at work, and nannies who went into the mom’s closet and borrowed her favorite clothing without asking (not those perfect fitting yoga pants!). The common theme in all these cases was that the working moms put up with it. They just did. Not once did the moms seriously consider firing the nanny. (Well okay, maybe once, like in the case of the nanny who got the DUI or the one who tried to sell the dad pot!) The reason was usually that the thought of finding someone new to train, get to know and to trust seemed so much scarier.
You can’t clone yourself.
Believe me here, because I tried to. Your nanny is different than you. She might be younger or older than you, or she might be from a different background, part of the country or part of the world. No matter what, she has had different experiences than you, and she will bring all of them to her job of caring for your children. That’s okay. Different is okay. It can be really good. Many of the nannies I wrote about taught the kids new skills, like a different language, how to sew their own Halloween costumes or how to have unplanned adventures throughout the city. Some nannies taught the parents things too, like how to garden, have more patience or be a better disciplinarian. Of course, some did things with the kids that the parents weren’t thrilled about, like going out for fast food on a regular basis or running their personal errands. It happens. It comes with the territory. Your nanny is not you. She never was and never will be.
There is only one mother, and your kids know this.
In the last couple weeks of my mother’s life, she gave me some of the best advice that anyone has ever given me. She knew I was worried about our very first nanny leaving when our son was just a baby. “Your nanny is replaceable. You are not,” she told me. She was so right. Even when we went through three nannies in one year, I could see that my kids knew I was the constant—the mother. I saw it in the reassuring, innocent smiles they gave me when they saw my face every day. They would be okay. They are okay. I am the mother. They know that. Even when I tried to convince my son that the new nanny was a fan of “Bob the Builder” just like him (I bought her Bob toys to give to him), he didn’t seem to notice or really care. He knew I was his mother and that I wasn’t going anywhere. Remember that. Repeat it over and over again.
Rachel Levy Lesser is a marketing professional and the author of three books: “Who’s Going To Watch My Kids? Working Mothers’ Humorous and Heartfelt Struggles to Find and Hold on to the Elusive Perfect Nanny,” “Shopping for Love” and “My Name is Rebecca Romm Named after My Mother’s Mom.” Connect with Rachel on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.