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How to Get What You Want from the Nanny

What's Your Nanny Style?
The decision to hire a nanny is almost as gut-wrenching as the decision to have a child in the first place. Intense emotions are attached to the act (guilt and fear, primarily), and those emotions can override your intellect to the point that you end up choosing the first person who makes you feel comfortable and comes with a good recommendation. This can work out fine, especially if you know the family for whom the nanny previously worked and have had a chance to see her in action. If you're hiring a stranger, however, you will need to choose carefully and with much forethought. Having a rapport with the person counts, but it is equally important to think objectively about the type of nanny who would work well with your family.

The main reason this decision is so crucial is that you will want the nanny to stay with your family a long time. Your children will become very attached to her, and they will suffer if she leaves. When they suffer, so will you. The trick is to make sure that the woman who seems so perfect cuddling your infant son will have the imagination to keep him entertained when he's two, as well as the patience and will to discipline him and the energy to chase him around the park.

Before you start interviewing, take stock of your values and parenting style. The following questions may help.

Do you want an auntie or an educator? Any nanny you hire should be warm and affectionate toward your child, but beyond that, do you expect her to be actively involved in teaching him or are you more concerned that she be a loving, consistent presence in his life? If you plan on enrolling your child in preschool, it may not matter to you that the nanny does not speak flawless English. However, if you will be relying on her until your child enters kindergarten, you may want someone with enough English proficiency to teach him basic reading (ABCs, numbers, colors) and other pre-K skills.

Are you looking for a "member of the family" or an employee? In truth, the nanny is an employee, no matter how much time she spends in your home or how much you and your children grow to love her. She will always remain aware of her status even if you tend to forget it. Some families spend a lot more time with their nannies than other families do, however. In those cases it's nice if you enjoy her company and can communicate easily with her in a common tongue. Will you be sharing family meals with the nanny? Will you be shopping with her and taking her on family outings or vacations? Bear in mind that there are wonderful nannies who are perfectly suited to caring for young children but with whom you might not want to spend a lot of time yourself.

Is your parenting style structured or relaxed? Is it important to you that the nanny stick to prescribed routines for mealtime, play, and naps, or do you feel comfortable with a more flexible schedule? How clean do the kids have to be? Can they eat in front of the TV or must all food be consumed at the kitchen table? If you are first-time parents, you may discover that you and your spouse have different views on structure (oh, the fun is just beginning). Take a stab at forming a consensus now, before you start interviewing nannies. You can always adjust your rules later on.

What sort of discipline do you want the nanny to enforce? Discipline is a huge issue for nannies because their bottom line is keeping the child happy and quiet, especially when the parents are around. This usually means placating a child rather than enforcing rules. The more specific and supportive you can be with the nanny about discipline, the more confident and consistent she will be about providing it. Methods of discipline evolve throughout the early years of childhood, so you will need to keep the nanny informed if you change tactics.

Did you have any difficulties with past nannies? If so, do those problems form a pattern? What have you learned about yourself and your parenting style from those experiences?

Have you had a particularly good experience with a nanny? If so, can you identify what it was about that person that made her work so well with your family?

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From Say the Magic Words by Lynette Padwa. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, go to Amazon.


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