How to Speak Nanny.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

 

Yesterday over my morning coffee I devoured the New York Times “How to Speak Nanny” explication on well-educated, highly empowered moms stymied by communicating with our children’s caregivers.

 

As a working mom who’s employed only two nannies in 13 years of motherhood, I thought with self-satisfaction about my enviable communication skills, learned at Wharton business school, strengthened by Harvard Law School’s negotiations course, and honed through years of quarterly presentations, employee evaluations, and professional speaking engagements. I contemplated with compassion the misguided, guilt-ridden women in the Times, struggling with what the reporter termed “a peculiar passive-aggressive form of communication,” something I could only imagine hypothetically.

 

The mom whose caregiver cut her son’s hair without permission; the mom tried to communicate “don’t ever do that again” through a look in her eyes. That’s not how I learned to deliver bad news at my b-school communications elective, I reflected sagely. Moms who pay big bonuses to cover up tantrums (their own, not the kids’) and ones who hesitantly plead with caregivers to clean up or do laundry “if you have extra time.” Another mom whose nanny abruptly toilet-trained her toddler, driving the mom to tears and self-accusations of inadequacy. Instead of talking out the issues, the mom dragged the nanny to the pediatrician for a triangulated question-and-answer session about the ideal age for giving up diapers. I chortled, imagining the tension when the pediatrician announced that the nanny’s timing seemed to be working, so why mess with success?

 

Then our teenage babysitter arrived. She is 17 and the daughter of a friend. Six months ago I hired her to work two hours a week to help with homework, take the girls bike-riding, and in general to ease my children’s anxiety during a time when I’ve been traveling frequently, building a new part of my business and caring for an ill parent 1,000 miles away.

 

She’s been wonderful.

 

Except that when she is here, the children she is supposed to babysit manage to interrupt me every three to five minutes while I’m trying to write on my computer or complete a conference call. I hear them fighting in the sunroom above my basement office. I hear them screaming in the alley behind our house when riding their bikes. The one time I left them alone this babysitter melted our brand new raclette grill by turning on the wrong stove knob when attempting to make cookies.

leslie morgan s...
02.09.10

Leslie Morgan Steiner

What a great idea. Thanks. I bet that a schedule with specific times/tasks will work. Easy!

kjpope
02.09.10

I think part of the problem is you being home. I know when I used to nanny having mom or dad come home even for a short time was very disruptive. Especially if there was more then one child.

One set of parents I used to nanny for told me that they didn't want their kids mobbing them when they came home from work. They wanted a few minutes to change clothes and take a breather before they had to take back on being the parents. But could they ever come through the door and just go to their room to change (worked and rode together). No they would come in yelled "HI everyone we are home" then I would have to stand on the stairs and wrestle three kids from going down stairs to mob them!!!!! That set of parents were often that sort of disruptive and often placed me in a battle of wills with the kids.

If your at home I bet your multiple children are taking turns keeping the sitter busy so the other one can get to you. And as for having a teen sitter, they are barely more then kids themselves. She needs a structure or routine to keep the kids to. Give her a schedule of when home work is to be done and actual activities to do with the kids that take them outside the home. Give her a daily itinerary...Do this with them at this time...every time she sits for you. Your teen is only going to learn to manage those restless natives if the person with the experience managing them gives her direction. Once she gets a structure set up they should all (sitter included) settle in and disrupt you less.

leslie morgan s...
02.09.10

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Amazing. Wish the NYT had interviewed YOU for that story! I am an emotional cripple when it comes to criticizing babysitters. Pathetic but true. The solution is to not have any more kids since my oldest is now a legal babysitter.

The Suburban Outlaw
02.09.10

The Suburban Outlaw Thanks. This made me laugh out loud. But the operative words here are "daughter of a friend." After having an amazing nanny who left us to return to DC, but who we keep in touch with constantly (she's the best Aunt ever), I hired a series of college students and high school students to "help" me. When I finally realized they were no HELP I decided to tell them if they expected to be paid by me, they should expect to actually fulfill the job requirements. When one "daughter of a friend" failed to do so I asked her mother if I could give her daughter a candid job performance review - and the Mom happily let met at it. As a former attorney, I decided to conduct my post "babysitting" job review honestly but carefully. This is what came out of my mouth: "You are a terrible sitter, you left my house a mess, and my daughter unhappy. How can you expect to be paid for this job???" Luckily, her mother still talks to me.