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How to Get What You Want from the Nanny

On Probation
Even if you fall in love with your prospective nanny, make sure to tell her during the interview that there will be a two-part probation period. Part one will last one week. That way, you can sever the relationship quickly if it becomes obvious that you have made a mistake. Part two can last two or three months. In that time you should be able to ascertain whether you can live with this woman and entrust her with the care of your children.

After your initial interview, you will probably want to have the nanny back to your home for one more meeting, when you can introduce her to your children if she hasn't yet met them and present her with a written work agreement. Your agreement should include:

  • Days and hours of employment
  • Salary
  • Probation periods
  • General duties
  • How overtime and vacations will be handled
  • Dates when performance will be evaluated (usually every six months)
  • Dates when raises will be given (usually every six months or once a year)
  • Dates when the agreement will be reviewed by nanny and parents (this can occur at the same time as performance reviews)
The diligent parent will use the probation period not only to get to know the nanny but also to check up on her. This friendly surveillance doesn't need to involve video cameras. Instead, use the element of surprise. If possible, check on the nanny in person, unannounced, at various times during the day. Have your friends or neighbors stop by, too. When the weather is warm, nannies often congregate at a local park during lunchtime; if you or your spouse works nearby, you might join them every now and then. (It's quite lovely to chat with the ladies and watch the toddlers play in the sand.) Call at different times during the day and listen for the background noises. Is the TV always on? How about the radio? Is the baby crying? Do the toddlers sound out of control? What about the nanny – does she sound cheerful and relaxed, or stressed out?

It's best if you can be home with the nanny for the first few days or a week. While you are showing her your daily routine, you'll see how capable she is and whether your child is bonding with her. You will also get a sense of her personal life, not only by chatting with her but also by noticing how often she gets phone calls and the nature of those calls. If she appears to be involved in an ongoing feud with someone, especially a boyfriend or husband, the safest move is to let her go.

Allow the nanny some time on her own during this first week, and if she is from another country, make sure she knows how to operate your appliances. Controls for the thermostat, washer/dryer, toaster oven, and microwave may not be obvious to someone who hasn't spent much time in the United States. You can also use this week to introduce the nanny to neighbors, friends, and family members – anyone who may drop by when you're not home. Whether she will be driving or not, you will want to show the nanny around the neighborhood.

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

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