Everyone’s version of “ideal” is different, so this is a question that I ask all of my clients to think seriously about. This question helps parents to sum up the emotional job description by asking them to create a profile of the ideal nanny, based on a number of various preferences. Answers should focus on the nanny’s personality, style of caregiving, and personal background rather than on specific professional skills. The profile also lists some additional characteristics that parents often feel strongly about, such as age, personal appearance and religion. Go through each of the topics and write down what you think you want and why. There are no wrong answers here—the purpose of the exercise is to come up with an honest picture of the nanny you feel would be your ideal emotional match.
Age. I always tell my clients that age as a number often has very little significance when it comes to nannies. Instead, what you should assess for, depending on the needs of your child, is energy, physicality, and an ability to meet his or her developmental needs. Young children, especially toddlers and high-energy preschoolers, need someone active who can keep up with them all day long. While it might make sense to try to hire someone younger, age alone does not guarantee that a nanny will be willing to creatively and actively engage your child. A lazy Twenty-five-year-old nanny may be a worse fit than a woman in her sixties, like my own nanny, Maria. She has three times the energy I do! Similarly, age alone is not a predictor of experience. A nanny may be in her fifties and have been a nanny for thirty years, but that doesn’t mean that she will be a better fit for your family than someone newer to the profession. If age is something you feel strongly about, remember to keep an open mind and focus on qualities rather than the number.
Experience. The most important experience that any nanny can have is the kind that relates directly to your nanny position; for example, if you have twins and she’s worked with twins before, or if you are both full-time working parents, and she is used to that. The kind of experience that doesn’t matter (but which many parents end up focusing on) is how long she has been a professional nanny ,and whether or not the nanny has worked for some well-known family. If she is only a mediocre nanny, twenty years of experience doesn’t matter. Furthermore, plenty of well-known, wealthy families hire lousy nannies. As you think about this question, make sure that you prioritize the right kinds of experience, and do your best to pinpoint exactly what kind will enable a nanny to be successful at your job. Remember that you can’t just look at someone’s resume alone;you must see them in action during a trial.
Education. Some parents make a big deal about education, but in my opinion, how much it matters really depends on your situation. There are many wonderful nannies who have never been to college, or may have never even finished high school. Still, they can be loving, attentive caregivers who excel at playing ,teaching, and engaging with children. Especially with babies and very young children, my feeling is that formal education doesn’t matter nearly as much as the quality of the emotional nurturing and physical care.
That said, in some cases, a certain level of education may be necessary to meet your child’s developmental needs. If your children are older and need a Parental Unit nanny to help out with advanced homework and school projects,, or if you have a highly intelligent, precocious young child requiring a lot of learning-based stimulation to keep him entertained, then educational background may be a factor in hiring Regardless, the love and emotional connection between a nanny and child must be paramount. Without these elements, your child won’t be getting what he needs.
Cultural Background. Many parents come to the table with a host of preconceived notions about nannies from different cultures. For every parent I see who is afraid to hire nannies from a certain culture, I have another parent who is obsessed with a particular ethnic background and thinks they are the only permissible choice. In the nanny world, cultural stereotypes run rampant. While people from certain cultures may tend to possess certain cultural traits and mannerisms, my advice for parents has always been the same – when it comes to generalizations, don’t believe the bad ones, and don’t buy into the promise of the good ones. It’s always about the individual. Unless you have a very specific, legitimate reason for avoiding or preferring a nanny from a particular culture, I advise you to keep an open mind, evaluate each candidate individually, and cast as wide a net as possible.
Language Skills. We’ve already talked about foreign language skills, but how much should you care about English competency? In my experience, some parents go overboard on this, and others don’t prioritize it enough. Many nannies don’t speak perfect English, but no matter what people may tell you, a nanny’s imperfect grammar is not going to affect your child. If that were the case, we would have millions of kids walking around all over the country with foreign accents.
There are, however, several areas to consider and screen for with language competency. The first is reading: can the nanny read a book? It doesn’t have to be Proust or Dostoevsky, but children love to read, and reading builds both language and cognitive skills. Make sure that your nanny can at least read board and picture books during your children’s formative years. The second area of consideration is the ability to handle medications and communicate effectively during emergencies. If you have a Parental Unit nanny, these duties are going to be required. The third area is the ability to help with homework, if that is something you want from your nanny. If a nanny cannot do homework, you can always hire a tutor or help with it yourself later.
Far more worrisome than a nanny who speaks with an accent is having a nanny who doesn’t speak enough. A child isn’t going to learn words if the nanny isn’t speaking words to them, and this can cause a language delay. When it comes to a nanny’s language skills, don’t worry about perfect English;the most important thing is to have a nanny who engages your child in conversation.
Personality. Based on your answers in sections A and B, describe your ideal nanny personality. Keep in mind the person who will be primarily interacting with the nanny. It is that person’s preferences that matter most. If the father wants someone who is going to be very quiet and unobtrusive, but he’s at the office all week long, his wishes shouldn’t rule the day. However, if Dad works from home, and is going to manage the nanny in terms of directing, communicating, and weekly pay then his wishes certainly carry weight. Similarly, if both parents are gone all day, the most important thing is finding a nanny who will be an ideal personality match for your child. If your child loves the nanny, and the nanny loves the child (and meets all developmental needs), focus on that. All you need from there is a pleasant, professional working relationship.
Communication Style. To answer this question, think about times in your personal and professional life when you’ve communicated with different parties, and what type of communication works best for you. Some people just want to be the employer and to give the nanny directions. They want things to get done. Others want more collaboration, and operate as equals. They may want mutual feedback and constant discussion about handling certain situations. It is also important to think about how much communication you want to have: do you want text message updates and pictures throughout the day? Or would you prefer a once-daily (or once-weekly) recap? There are moms who say, “I want the nanny to ask me before she does anything,” and there are moms who say, “I can’t handle a million questions; I really need someone who can first try to figure it out, and only come to me if she still needs help.” The key is to first think about how you want to communicate, and articulate the style of communication that you need from your nanny.
Appearance. Some parents care a lot about a nanny’s personal appearance because they feel that their nanny is a role model for their children. They tell me, “If she doesn’t have a neat appearance, I don’t want to hire her.” But nannies are not going to work at a fancy office. They’re rolling around on the floor, making art projects, playing in the sandbox, getting spilled on, and sometimes doing chores and housework. Many nannies choose to dress purely for comfort, and that’s okay. My feeling is that unless your children are older, you don’t want to hire someone who’s so put together that she’s not willing to play trucks in the dirt because she might get mud on her outfit. You want your nanny to be comfortable and able to do her job without distraction. That said, if you have strong feelings about personal appearance (i.e. no tattoos or piercings) you have a right to screen for whatever you want. If it is casualness or frumpiness you’re worried about, think about what the job requirements and then make your decision.
Religion. Religion can be a sensitive subject for many people, but it’s one that bears consideration when it comes to nannies. If your nanny is very religious, or makes religious references (i.e. talks about Bible stories with your children) think about if that is something that will bother you. This is one issue that almost never comes up in a traditional nanny search, but can present big problems if it doesn’t get addressed. If you feel strongly that your child only have a certain type of religious influence, you should ask a nanny about her beliefs during the interview and make your wishes known: “We respect all religious viewpoints, but we really want our beliefs to be respected in our home.” Or, “We are responsible for our child’s spiritual upbringing, and we would prefer that you not discuss religion with our children at all.”