No nanny-family relationship is ever perfect, and even when a nanny has been with you for many years, there will always be new issues that crop up. Every now and then you may be faced with a larger issue that calls the entire relationship into question, and that’s what this post is about.
The truth is that as hard as you have worked to screen your nanny, any nanny—no matter how wonderful she is with your child, or how long she has worked for you—is capable of having a serious lapse in judgment. Sometimes there is an issue in their personal life that causes them to become distracted or irresponsible; sometimes the line between family member and employee becomes so blurred that the nanny get too comfortable and behaves in an unprofessional manner. And the blurrier that line gets, the harder it can be to confront your nanny and take a stand when something is unacceptable. If the nanny loves your child, and he loves her, the chance of possibly losing her care and having to start all over again can seem like too big a risk to take.
As the employer, however, you have every right to demand that your nanny provide a high quality level of care, and that she respect your wishes and behave professionally because that’s what you are paying her for. It can be tempting to look the other way and pretend that the issue doesn’t exist, but I strongly urge you not to do so because at the end of the day, this is about your child. Your job as a parent, first and foremost, is to ensure that your child is happy and safe, and that he getting what he needs—physically, developmentally, and emotionally—at all times when you are not there. Your job as an employer is to hold your employee accountable for any actions or mistakes that suggest disregard for your rules and authority, or a serious lapse in judgment. Don’t let yourself feel trapped in the situation and fall into a pattern of paralysis. If your and your child’s needs aren’t being met, and you’ve tried training and addressing the issue with Nanny Speak to no avail, or if the nanny’s behavior suggests any sort of duplicitousness or flat-out aggression, the only reasonable solution if you really want what’s best for your family is to let the nanny go and hire someone else.
Here are some basic techniques I suggest to my clients to address issues head-on:
- Arrange a time to question the nanny about her actions (or inaction) as soon as possible.
- State what happened in a calm, non-emotional manner: “You failed to do the dishes on three different days this week, and forgot to prepare the bottles almost every night.” And if appropriate: “You know that we expect you to do these things every day, because they are in our Work Agreement.”
- Ask, “Is there something going on that is affecting your job that we should know about?” and give the nanny a chance to explain.
- If there is a reasonable explanation (family troubles, health issues, emotional news) and the nanny seems remorseful, ask her, “How do you think you can work while you are going through this?” Maybe she needs a Personal Day, or perhaps she will feel better by simply having told you.
- Then make a Plan. Discuss what you expect from her during this time, and/or an appropriate timeframe for getting back to normal. “Okay, now that I understand what happened, let’s see how you do next week, and let me know if there’s a problem.”
- If the nanny becomes angry or defensive, remain calm and state, “Your tone seems very angry right now. Is there something that is upsetting you that you would like to address? This is not what we agreed to, so I am simply trying to understand what’s going on.”
- If she makes excuses that do not seem reasonable—and keep in mind that only rarely is there a reasonable explanation for neglecting basic duties or breaking your rules—you can say, “I’m not interested in looking backward. Going forward, I need you to do the dishes and prepare the bottles every day, because that’s what we agreed to, and that’s what we need for this job.”
- If she says that she can’t do what is being asked, you will need to decide if her reasoning makes sense, and if you can live without the thing you are requesting. If you can’t, then you will have to say, “I’m a working mom, and I really need someone to do the dishes and tidy up the kitchen before I come home. If you cannot do this, then this may not be the right position for you.”