Overcome Your Preconceived Notions: Nanny Agency NYC

This is the sixth post in a multi-part blog series entitled: Nanny Agency NYC Tells-All: How to Find a Nanny.

I provide a lot of hand-holding to my nanny agency clients and I often find that I end up mixing in a lot of therapy as I walk them through their options as they choose the right caregiver for their family.  Today, I review the importance of really digging-deep and understanding any preconceived notions or biases that might affect how you view candidates during your nanny search.

The first question I ask my clients is, “how do you honestly feel about hiring a nanny and why?”

This question is extremely important, because very often parents will have subconscious negative views about nannies that become an obstacle to the entire process. Some of these views may be grounded in rational fears: for example, if the dad is very stressed about the money and not sure whether hiring a nanny is the right decision, or if the mom is nervous about sharing her child’s affections with someone who, at this point, is a total stranger. Other views are based on more irrational fears and prejudices—for example, if the parents had a bad experience with a German nanny, and now they want nothing to do with German nannies, no matter what.  Even parents who have never employed a nanny before often come to this process with a set of very fixed impressions and biases based on their friends’ childcare experiences, or on nannies that they’ve seen in their building or at the park.  The purpose of this series of questions is to get all those feelings out in the open and confront them, so that you can come up with a strategy to handle the ones that are valid, and minimize the irrational ones so they don’t affect your search.

When I pose this question to my nany agency clients, I always tell them, “Whatever you think about nannies, get it all out. Give me both the rational and irrational, nobody is going to judge you.” One issue that often comes up is parents who are wary of nannies from certain cultures. I had one client who had grown up abroad because his father was a diplomat, and he’d always had these very rigid Eastern European nannies who terrified him as a small child.  He told me flat-out, “I can’t even stand to hear that accent.” Since this was a very deep-seated association based on legitimate personal experience, I knew that we would have to eliminate any Eastern European candidates during our search.  But I had another client who had sworn off Filipino nannies forever, because her last nanny had been so proactive and take-charge that it drove her crazy.  When we dug a little deeper, she realized that she’d had an issue because the nanny’s commandeering nature reminded her of her mother—so her feelings had everything to do with that particular nanny’s style, and nothing to do with her being Filipino at all.

It can be very hard for parents to share these stories, because their feelings are not always politically correct.  But I remind them that we are talking about someone who is going to be in your home with your children every day, maybe for many years.  So if there is anything that is worrying you, or will impede your ability to accurately assess certain candidates, whether it’s politically correct or not, whether it’s justified or not, you need to acknowledge it and try to move past it so that you can keep an open mind, and make the right decisions for your family.

Exorcising Your Old Nanny Demons: How to Overcome the Feelings that Impede Your Search

This exercise is based on a technique used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help patients rethink and challenge their own perceptions.  I use it with my clients to help them overcome any irrational feelings about nannies, and determine what role—if any—these feelings should play in the search.

Step 1.  Talk it out. Sit down with your partner, or even a friend, and talk through all of your feelings about nannies—whether rational or irrational—and try to pinpoint anything that you think is going to bother you, or make you feel anxious or unsafe.

Step 2. Try to challenge your feelings. Now have your partner play devil’s advocate and challenge you to consider how your feelings could be wrong. For example, if your friend has a Jamaican nanny who is very domineering and tough, can you get over your predisposition to dislike Caribbean nannies by knowing that one person does not represent an entire culture?

Step 3. If you can’t get over it, can you screen for it?  In the case of the father who had a strong aversion to Eastern European nannies, we simply added a line to his nanny posting that read, “Latin or Asian nannies preferred.”  If there are any sentiments that you just can’t get over, even after the challenge, don’t push yourself to try. Instead, decide how you will tailor your search and screen your candidates to avoid hiring someone who triggers these negative emotions and thoughts.