I started to take notice of childcare providers 12 years ago, when I first became a mother. I needed someone to care for my daughter when I went back to my full time job working at a school. Although I encountered some great nannies, I also met some terrible ones, and I was horrified by the things I saw. As a therapist, I knew that even something as innocent as a nanny not engaging a child could result in developmental harm for the child. I am a devoted follower of “Attachment Theory,” a school of thought explaining that caregivers directly affect the children for whom they care. As such, I wanted parents to have access to critical information for their children’s upbringing, and to understand the importance of choosing their right nanny. I also wanted to bring awareness about the importance of nannies on a societal level. Because nannies interact with children during formative years, they can be even more influential than college professors. My goal is for people to look at and analyze the nannies they choose for their children in the same way they scrutinize and analyze the schools to which they send their children.
I noticed that most people used the typical “human resources” model when finding a nanny, but that just does not work in this field. Most of the questions people typically ask are about how the nanny did in her last few jobs. Unfortunately, , the answers to those questions have no real bearing on whether or not she will be good in her next job. Each family has their own unique set of circumstances;I quickly realized that parents were asking all the wrong questions only to realize after hiring the nanny that it wasn’t a good match! I knew that my training as a therapist would allow me to teach parents how to asses their needs first and then go find the nanny second. I also started teaching parents how to use open-ended questions (the opposite of yes/no) to get the information they really needed from the nanny candidates.
The first thing I tell parents is that whatever brought them to me was not a “mistake” – no one tells us how to be a parent, let alone how to find someone to care for our kids. Parents are all doing the best they can when trying to find a nanny…however I often see parents approaching the process backwards Parents would often round up a random assortment of nannies referred to them by friends and friends-of-friends, interview the nannies first, decide which ones they like, and then try to figure out who can match their actual, logistical needs. Alternatively, they may have done what I refer to as Nanny Speed-Dating: they pick a day, invite ten candidates to meet them at Starbucks, interview each one for an hour, and then hire the person they like best. Then there are the parents who don’t even bother to interview multiple candidates—they just hire the cousin of their best friend’s nanny, or a neighbor’s former nanny, because they become overwhelmed with the extensive search.
Unfortunately, these all-too-common approaches are rife with pitfalls. The problem with the interview-first approach is that it wastes a lot of time. Unless parents figure out theirexact needs and job criteria at the outset, they will spend a lot of energy meeting with candidates who ultimately, for one reason or another, aren’t right for the job. No parent, especially not an exhausted parent with a newborn,wants to spend any more time on their nanny search than is absolutely necessary. Still, rushing through a Nanny Speed-Dating session will not provide parents with sufficient information to make informed decisions. Even referrals are not always shoe-ins. While referrals may mean a lot, they could also mean nothing. Just because a nanny was wonderful for your friend does not automatically mean she will be wonderful for you. When it comes making a successful match, parents need far more information than can be gleaned from a single interview, a single day of meeting nannies, or a single reference.
When it comes to finding a nanny, while it is essential to seek out the right match, it’s equally important to avoid the wrong match. Many seemingly ideal nannies are guilty of committing what I call “Benign Neglect”—that is, they do the physical aspects of the job, such as feeding and dressing, but neglect the emotional ones, such as playing, interacting, and being affectionate with the child. Activities like play stimulate brain cell activity and can actually increase your child’s IQ, so if you have a nanny who is disengaged or refuses to play at the park because she’s on her cell phone or too busy chatting with other nannies, your child will be missing an opportunity for cognitive growth. Similarly, if you have a caregiver with the wrong personality match for you or your child, the resulting stress and tension in the home will affect your child’s emotional development. Nanny searches are tricky, because you’re not only trying to find the good nannies—you’re also trying to identify and weed out the bad ones.
When hiring in “The Nanny World, “ the general rules of job onboarding oftentimes do not apply. The elements typically make for “good candidates” can be very different in this world than in other professions. Cultural and class differences between parents and nannies can make it very difficult to accurately assess a match. It also doesn’t help that the nanny world is like the Wild Wild West: completely unregulated and often under-the-table. There are no set guidelines, no standardized training or hiring protocol, and no board or government agency to provide professional oversight. The nanny/family relationship is very complex because it is both personal and professional. With the wealth of incredible nannies out there, it is essential to have open communication, trust, and respect in all areas.
As a student at Columbia, I was always very interested in Attachment Theory; this is the science of how early caregiving influences a child’s life. Attachment Theory asserts that for an infant’s social and emotional development to occur normally, the child needs to form a close, trusting relationship with at least one primary caregiver during infancy and the earliest years of life. A caregiver who is available and responsive to an infant’s needs establishes a sense of security, and therefore creates a “secure base” for the child to explore the world. Child Development expert Erik Erikson argued that a child’s entire identity is shaped by an early sense of “trust vs. mistrust,” depending on whether his caregivers reliably respond to his needs, and provide constant care and affection. In short, infants and very young children need to establish strong relationships with loving, devoted caregivers in order to grow up to be emotionally healthy, happy, stable adults.
From my studies I saw how much nannies can affect children’s lives. I knew that I wanted to incorporate Attachment Theory and Erikson’s stages of development to help find nannies who could best match the emotional needs of their child. Through experience, I noticed that the typical parameters used to hire new employees (locations, schedules, etc.) were not working; I realized that it was more important to analyze the critical developmental needs of the child, and match a nanny accordingly.
A Gold Standard nanny is a candidate with the experience and education to meet the developmental needs of the child. This nanny also has the skills needed to handle the parents’ and families’ requirements. For example, if a family with toddlers and two working parents is in need of a nanny, our team will find candidates with the appropriate experience. For example, in this instance, we would only present candidates who have experience working with toddlers in homes where both parents worked outside of the home full-time. I always say that “one nanny does not fit all sizes” – just because someone was a great nanny for 30 years with a stay-at-home-mom and older kids does not mean she can handle a job with infants and parents who work. Achieving the Gold Standard is when everyone’s needs are met: parents, children, and the nanny. In that situation, the entire family unit will thrive.
Over the years, I wanted to better understand why some children did well with nannies and others struggled. I became aware of what I call “Constancy of Care,” a term I use to describe the continuity of care between the parents and any additional caregivers. In the best childcare situations, I discovered a Constancy of Care across all caregivers—mother, father, and nanny, as well as any babysitters or daycare workers—in terms of both quality and style. If the nanny is able to mirror the parents in terms of attentiveness and parenting approach, the child does not feel a void when the parent leaves, and will never feel a drop in the level of care or affection regardless of who is looking after him. Constancy of Care provides the child with the stable surroundings and close, consistent, and emotional bonds supported by Attachment Theory. It is therefore imperative to find a nanny who is able to parent “like mom parents”. Achieving the Constancy of Care has become a key part of my nanny-selection process.
As I took on more clients and worked to find them the right nannies, I began to see clearly the common mistakes that parents made in the hiring process, as well as the strategies that led to successful, lasting matches. I discovered that I could teach parents to use the same psychotherapy-based assessment tools that I used when evaluating nannies. By matching parents’ own logistical and emotional needs to the professional and personal profile of the nannies—rather than simply evaluating their professional experience and resume—we could almost always come up with a winning combination. Parents also began inviting me into their homes to do “Nanny Mediation,” where I used the techniques I had learned from couples therapy to help parents and their nannies communicate better and resolve problems.I found myself on the front-lines of the nanny-parent experience, getting unique, one-of-a-kind insights and information, and learning how to make the relationship work for both parties right from the beginning.
I worked for years perfecting my methodology. Everywhere I went, I listened to people’s stories. I gave lectures and wrote down the fears, questions, and concerns of parents, and I surveyed nannies to get their stories and perspectives as well. I went into homes and trained moms and nannies side-by-side to help them have a better working relationship,
As The Nanny Whisperer, I get to know all the parties, gain their trust, understand their needs, and support them through their decisions. I am their personal coach and cheerleader so that they can make a truly outstanding choice.