The Nanny Dilemma

When I had my first son, my husband and I were not in a position financially for me to stop working. When I had my second son, it was even worse as we were both starting our own businesses. My business,  ironically, was supposed to give me more flexibility with  the kids; and in time it has. Still, I had my second on a Thursday and saw patients the following Tuesday.  Both transitions were arduous and emotional; there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. There was questioning. Could we afford it if we moved into a one-bedroom apartment? Could we afford it if my husband worked during the day and then when he came home I went to work at night? Around and around it went, but in the end, I went back to work both times. And I am finally glad for those decisions. Yes, more time would have been nice. Yes, the option to not go back would even have been nice.  But despite a tumultuous first few weeks, (pumping at work, leaking at work, crying at work), today those decisions have left me with more control over what I do and when I do it, and with more financial freedom for our family.

However, once the decision (despite lack of options) was made, we had another conundrum. Who was going to watch our precious flock? There were a few options: a huge day care center, a smaller in-home day care, or finding someone to come into our home.  I really did not want option number one. There was a part of me that wanted my baby to be in his own environment, to sleep in his own crib. I didn’t want him to be one of 24 babies anywhere, if he didn’t have to be. We ended up finding a woman that went to our church who watched 4-6 kids in her home down the street. The kids were a mix of babies and toddlers, but not more than 3 of the kids were under 18 months. We could bring his pack n play and he would sleep in a room upstairs during his naps. She was more than agreeable to stick to my nap schedule and would give me updates at the end of the day.  And so it began.

The experience itself, was mostly positive. I did like that my son was able to be around some other children, I did like that he was clean at the end of the day and that he slept there.  However, a few times when I picked him up he seemed a bit over-stimulated. She had this projection screen that showed kids movies or shows and the volume was quite loud because some of the toddlers were inside/outside. I felt rattled a few times just picking him up–no wonder he felt rattled as well. After about 6 months, she developed some health issues and we had to figure something else out. I can’t explain the anxiety I would feel when these transitions would occur. It has gotten so much easier as my children get older but even now, as summer approaches, I think “What are we going to do now?”

Our neighbors across the street at the time had a granddaughter that had plenty of experience watching babies, and so we decided to have her come to the house. I interviewed her a few times and liked that we knew her grandparents. Still, she wasn’t perfect, but let’s be honest, would anyone live up to my unrealistic expectations? Doubtful. We forged ahead. What I liked: my son was in his own environment at all times, he ate from his high-chair, he slept in his crib. Also, there was no transition time….as soon as I got home from work, voila! there was my baby. What I didn’t like: she didn’t seem particularly active with him. I also had a sense she was using her phone quite a bit, and would sometimes seem a bit strict. I mean he was only 6 months when she started, there wasn’t a lot of misbehaving going on. She was with us for over a year. However, one time my niece came to visit and spent the day with them. She told me that they were riding somewhere in the car and that the nanny had the music turned up so loud that my son was crying in the back seat. I politely let her go the following week. What now?

I put an ad in the local college newspaper. A lovely girl replied and I interviewed her. I now knew some better questions to ask. I asked her what she liked to do, if she liked to be outdoors, her thoughts on discipline, checked her references, started her on a trial basis. I had her take the kids to the park or play with them at home when I was present. She was fantastic. She was on time, she was active, she was happy, but most of all, she played with them. I had friends tell me she saw my nanny out with the kids and how caring and responsible she was. Life was good. Until, until, until…..She was going to school and living on her own and needed more money. We felt the pinch, but obliged. I did not want to change. Life was good again, and then she wanted more. Okay! And then again. No dice. We simply could not afford it, and she had a job offer at a bank–how can you put a price on your kids though? We had to do something!

Nanny number three was not a charm. I hired her based on several interviews and the same criteria as above. Then, through a fluke, someone that knew her said she was pregnant. I did not want a 9 month temporary solution, yet she mentioned no such thing during the interview process. In fact, I had specifically told her I wanted someone that was willing to stay at least a year, preferably more. I decided to call her and ask her about it.  She admitted that she had been pregnant, but that she miscarried. I felt like a jerk and apologized. After all, who would lie about something like that? We forged ahead. You know what is going to happen, right? She starts getting a bit bigger, and a bit bigger, but still, she was not tiny to begin with. Was it weight-weight or baby weight??? And then she told me she was pregnant, but that it was a different pregnancy and that she was expecting twins, which is why she was so big even though it was a separate, accidental, pregnancy. What do I do then? Fire her? What if it were accidental? I can’t fire someone for accidentally getting pregnant.The kids seemed well taken care of.  I let her carry out most of her pregnancy until she became too uncomfortable. She gave birth…. to just one child. Great, I had a chronic liar as my nanny for 8 months. There goes the mom of the year award.

I then found a pre-school that would take my four year old, which also had a room for my two year old, where he could nap and interact with other toddlers. The ratio in that room was about 8 to 2. It was a Christian centered pre-school that also had room for babies. Perfect! And it was, for us. My older son was learning lots and having fun, and my younger son could nap there, learn some, and play some. I decided then that what was perfect at one stage for us, wasn’t necessarily perfect at any other stage. Also, what worked for us, may or may not work for other people; and that is okay too. There has to be room for us mommies to make decisions that are different from other mommies’ decisions, without judgement. Can I get an Amen on that??

So here are a few thoughts if you are considering finding childcare for your baby:

1). Decide what kind of setting you want and what you can afford. There are plenty of websites like nannyfinders, & sittercity that can locate and place nannies with your family.   Some do background checks, some require a monthly fee, others a one-time placement fee.  If you have more than one baby or infant, it will be cheaper to find childcare in the home than paying for multiple spots in a center.

2). Be thorough. Do a background check. Check the driving record. Ask to see a CPR card and certification. Check references. Ask extensive interview questions. Hire someone on a trial basis. COME HOME EARLY OR UNANNOUNCED. Have friends stop by every now and then to see how things seem. Are the kids dry and happy for the most part when you get home?  Are they excited to see their caregivers most of the time? These are your precious kids, and do not feel bad about making sure they get the best care.

3). Decide what you are comfortable with. Personally, I cannot sit at home cooped up all day with the kids. After checking driving records and giving them car seats to use, I was comfortable letting my nannies drive my children. I also let them swim with them, take them to the park, out to lunch, etc. You need to decide what works for you and be clear.

4). Set boundaries and establish a clear relationship. In my case, if I trust someone to take care of my kiddos, they are literally part of my family. That being said, sometimes I felt taken advantage of. I invited my nannies to family birthday parties or other important events, but there does need to be a clear relationship between employee and employer. Sometimes, I felt like I was sacrificing a lot to go above and beyond. Just make sure it is reciprocated.

5). Decide what you can afford and be clear. I ended up offering an initial salary and then gave room for a raise after 6 months. There eventually was a price we just could not go beyond. However, to make up for lack in pay I did other things. For example, I asked for some of their favorite foods and incorporated it in my grocery list, sometimes I paid for them to go out to eat or to matinees to break up the day. I helped check their college papers, gave them books and magazines when I was finished, and we helped fix a few cars. Salary isn’t everything. People want to be happy day in and day out, and some little things can make the difference.

6). Don’t expect perfection. Decide what things are deal-breakers, but beyond that, be a bit flexible. For example, tardiness and excessive absences were not okay with me. I had a whole slew of patients waiting for me at the office and I could not be late. I gave in on other things. I had one nanny who did not think to clean up after lunch, one who was terrible with phone messages, one who liked being inside a bit too much. No one will do it like you do. If your kids are safe and happy, then that is what matters. No one is perfect. And guess what? I am not a perfect parent either, so that is okay!

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