An oft-quoted African proverb states that it takes a child to raise a village. It is not necessarily possible to go it alone.
Storytime. For awhile, I raised my first child in India. We lived in an ancestral- family household, we needed an additional caregiver to raise our child. Both my husband and I worked full-time. My mother-in-law worked full-time as well while my retired father-in-law had his own pursuits and hobbies. Furthermore, I felt quite strongly that my in-laws had effectively been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Being a grandparent is one thing but being a full-time caregiver is another thing altogether…But this is not that article.
So, what did we do? We hired a nanny. Or, as these ladies – and they are women, economically deprived women with little to no social privilege – ayahs. While the term ‘ayah’ has fallen out of service in the West, ‘ayahs’ have been part of the social fabric for centuries. If you look carefully, you can find them in the corners of European oil paintings centered around the Empire. There, but not really acknowledged. Centuries later, not much has changed. In the present, while we continue to have a cultural conversation about privilege, my peers and I continue to stumble around appropriate language. The term ‘ayah’ seems archaic and sits uncomfortably, it makes us acutely aware of our own privileges and thus we resort to terms like ‘helper’ or ‘caregiver’. Whether we are successfully managing to provide ayahs with structured employment with proper protection and rights is a conversation that is ongoing. Of the top of my head, I can’t very well recall an ayah who is a pop cultural icon even though they are so culturally significant. They have been written into the shadows and quite willfully marginalised. In the West, however, we have Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee. Magic nannies, so to speak.
But, once more, this is not that article. The reason I mention it here is to tell you that I’m coming to the topic of establishing good relationship with your nanny with my own biases. And here’s that dreaded P-word again. My own set of considerable privileges. In short, I would not have been able to work as a 26 year old mother with a very young child, in India, without an ayah, even though I had family support. And I’m ashamed to say that at that time, I did not do enough to help my employees. I could always have done more. My working life rested on these women’s shoulders.
As a society, we are still working on getting our attitudes around care-giving right. Time for me to stand on my soapbox again….In the not so distant past, a wonderful friend – truly brilliant person – stated that they couldn’t fathom any sensible person wanting to stay in the home with two children as a career without losing their mind.
I find this quite telling. Your nanny has not been divorced from their intellect or their sentience. You need your nanny. Please do remember to respect them, their choices, their profession, their intellect and their experience. A good relationship with your nanny can be an incredibly rewarding experience, often leading to lifelong relationships for the whole family.
1. Ensure that you treat your nanny with respect so that your children learn to give respect too. If you talk down to your nanny, your children will pick up on this. This will lead to a toxic working atmosphere for your nanny and in turn, may cause them to consider leaving the position in your household.
2. The second step to establishing a good relationship with your child’s nanny is to realise that your home is their place of work. You should be providing the same protections that you yourself would expect at your own place of work.
The very moment that properly settles in your mind, you are on your way to properly establishing a good relationship with your nanny. Being a nanny is gainful employment. Being a nanny is not informal work. Thus, begin your search for a nanny as you would begin any kind of search for an employee…
3. Write everything down. You should first put together an accurate job description mentioning everything that your family needs. Does your child have special dietary needs? Write it down. Does your child need a particular routine? Write it down. Does your nanny have to be always available during certain hours? Write it down. Are there any special practices that you follow at home? Write it down. Will you be working from home? Write it down! No detail is too small or too insignificant. Your attention to detail will mean that you lay the groundwork for a positive and thriving relationship with one of the most important people in your child’s life.
4. So you’ve written everything down. What next? Once you’ve shortlisted you’re candidates, make sure that they are a good fit. This is a rather broad way of saying that you should ensure that their caregiving style matches your own. If you are doing babyled weaning, they need to understand that, respect that, ensure that they will follow that. Again, remember, no detail is too insignificant. Screen-time, expectations about sleep, dietary expectations, scheduled extra-curricular activities…it all has to go in. No detail is too insignificant. If you are clear about your expectations, you will be able to ensure a more stable working relationship. Your child should be raised according to your beliefs and your standards. You set the rules.
5. Will you be needing the nanny to perform additional household duties? A nanny should expect to take care of your child’s laundry, their utensils, their toys and their schedule but you might also need a helping hand. Don’t assume that your nanny’s default position will be to willingly help you out around the house. Don’t assume that they will be happy to come with you on holiday. If they do accompany you on holiday, expect to pay them their salary AND their travel and living expenses. Your holiday is their work, even if it is in the Maldives. Include your expectations in the job description.
6. Trust your instinct. If someone doesn’t seem like the right fit for your family even though they are perfect on paper, carry on looking.
7. What now? You’ve found your ideal nanny and you can’t wait for them to begin. Invest in the time, effort and money to ensure that you have a professional contract which will protect the interests of everyone involved. Your nanny is entitled to professional protections, job entitlements, days off, so on and so forth. Last but not least, you need to think about how you will handle sick days, maternity leave and so on and so forth.
8. Nannying should never be regarded as an informal arrangement or a stop-gap career. It is a profession just as any other. Pay your nanny their worth.
9. So, now we are here! Your nanny is starting next week and you’re excited to welcome them. What else can you do to ensure that you share a positive relationship with them? Establish a schedule. In order to thrive, children need routine. In ordinary times, this is slightly easier as parents are at work and the nanny is with children, managing the home front. In our present circumstances where work-from-home is still the recommendation, the boundaries become a little more blurred. Children can react in unexpected ways to seeing their parents at home and learning that they will not be receiving their care from them but from another adult who they might not know very well. It is advisable to establish boundaries, consider what is parent-time and what is nanny-time. A quick cuddle from mummy and daddy when it’s ostensibly nanny-time can prove to be quite unsettling…I do realise cuddles are hard to resist but it is worth thinking about from your child’s point of view and how it will affect their emotions.
Furthermore, you can work with your nanny to establish a weekly schedule where things such activity -times, outdoors-times, nap-times etc are all accounted for. This will make transitions easier and you will enable your child to adjust between their multiple caregivers. Are there any resources that your nanny needs to be able to do their job properly? You should be the one supplying the picture books, arts and crafts supplies…Your nanny should not have to supplement resources from their income in order to engage your child. Again, this is all part of remembering that your home is your nanny’s workplace.
10. The last word is from Keyrin Addison, a trained childcare provider and baby sleep coach with years of experience behind her…
My number one tip when it comes to childcare/education is trust. Just as once upon a time a parent/parents took a chance on me and trusted me with their kids, I have the shoe on the other foot and have to trust the people I leave my kids with.
When something doesn’t feel right communication is key and I suggest doing this when everyone is calm and to stick to one issue at a time.
Above all else if the caregiver you have chosen is not what you were hoping for that it is okay to make changes. Kids adapt so easily to change and if your mind is at ease when you are apart from your child/children, you are also a better parent in their presence.
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