What’s the secret to hiring the right nanny? The thought of leaving your child in the care of a stranger can seem daunting—but it doesn’t have to be that way. With compassion and clarity, The Nanny Manual, takes parents on a journey of self-discovery through their heart, soul and mind to help them with one of the most important hiring decisions they’ll ever make. Whether investigating the viability of choice for working mothers, debunking the myth of perfection that is Mary Poppins, or exploring the minefields of emotions, values and the hiring process, The Nanny Manual prepares parents for that important day when they leave their child in the care of another.
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About the Author
Alyce Desrosiers is a licensed clinical social worker and the founder and managing director of Chirp Connecting Families and Nannies LLC. For the past 20 years, Chirp has helped San Francisco families find, hire and employ Nannies that are the right fit for their needs and lifestyle. In addition to her latest book The Nanny Manual, she is the author of two previous books, Finding a Nanny for Your Child in the San Francisco Bay Area and Nannies for Modern Moms. Alyce is also the founder of the non-profit, The Institute for Families and Nannies, with the mission to educate, inform and support the relationships between parents and Nannies to further the development of young children. For more information visit, www.tiffan.org.
Read an Excerpt
From the Village to the Boardroom
With the rapid rise in the number of American mothers in the workforce comes a concurrent change in the culture of caregiving in the U.S. Once considered to be the responsibility of the nuclear family with the mother as the provider of care, the work of mothering is now outsourced to another — a nanny, preschool teacher, grandparent or family daycare provider — for what can be long hours of the day. Alongside this reality is a profound ambivalence in American culture about who is responsible for and who is raising the kids. This ambivalence is seen in the U.S. Government's policies to move mothers into the workforce after six weeks or three months of maternity leave while providing little financial or childcare support for a mother to manage work and family. We witness ambivalence in the polarization of arguments on whether American women should "opt in" or "opt out" of their careers while raising a family. We again witness ambivalence in the persistence of the Myth of the Perfect Mother, personified by June Cleaver, alongside the modern myth of the Working Mother who can "do it all" perfectly well. If we are ambivalent about the inclusion of a nanny, the "third" into the family constellation, then how are we to begin to think about what arrangement would be good enough or optimal for our families?
The "New" Mother: It Takes a Village
The phrase "it takes a village" became popular after Hillary Clinton published her book of the same name in 1996. Borrowed from the traditional African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child," the book underscores not only the necessity but the importance of children being raised not only by parents, but also by other caring adults who are thoroughly invested in the child's well-being. This may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, neighbors, and especially the people we'll be talking about in this book — nannies.
For most of history, villages were responsible for childcare, with women concentrating on homemaking and child-rearing together while the men went off to work on the farm or at the family business. Families were generally located in the same geographical area, with entire generations living in the same town. Grandparents, aunts or older cousins stepped in to help mothers with young children.
Hiring someone to care for one's child is not new in this country. In the 18th and 19th centuries, affluent families hired nannies — the idealized version we've come to know through the character of Mary Poppins. At the beginning of the 20th century, 18% of American women were in the workforce. With the rise of the Feminist Movement in the 1970s, that number rose to 38%. By 2014 the percentage of women in the workforce was over 57%. More poignantly, in 2015 the percentage of American children living in married-couple households where both parents worked was 61%. Now, in the 21st century, it is commonplace for women to be both in the workplace and full-time mothers.
The village was different among the royalty or affluent families of the 19th and 20th centuries. These families used outside help, a position usually known as a "nurse," who was in charge of the nursery along with assistants known as nursemaids. These women, later termed nannies, were servants and spent their lives in the home of their masters, often from childhood until old age. Because of their deep involvement in raising the children of the family, nannies were often remembered with great affection and treated more kindly than the junior servants. Some nannies remained in the employment of the same aristocratic family for years, looking after successive generations of children. Unlike the servant nanny of yesterday, this type of caregiving has been redefined as the role of a governess and has become embodied in the caricatures of the magical English nanny, Mary Poppins, and Maria von Trapp, her Austrian counterpart from The Sound of Music.
Whether the village was made up of relatives, neighbors or nannies, helping mothers raise healthy children was part of the social and cultural value system. Caregiving was an expectation dictated by cultural norms for the common good. In American and European working-class families, older siblings cared for their younger siblings, and aunties and grandparents took charge of little ones when needed. In the developing nations of Indonesia, India and Tibet, in the small towns of the Philippines, Pacific Islands and Latin America, the village extended beyond just family to the whole community. A village child was everyone's child. In these villages, caregiving was not a job. It was what one did as part of the fabric of the community. It was a seamless expectation, part of the social contract, and it was reinforced by the unstated assumption that this is simply what one does to be a member of the community.
The beginning of the 21st century ushered in a new era of mothers working outside the home. In 1948, only 17% of married mothers were in the labor force. By the 1980s, labor force participation had become an integral part of their lives. In 1985, 61% of married mothers were working or looking for work. By 1995, their labor force participation rate had reached 70%. In 2005, the participation rate of married mothers with preschoolers was 60%. The percentage of married mothers with children under a year old in 2000 was 53.3%. The participation rate of married mothers of school-age children was 75% in 2005. This data does not include participation rates of single-parent households, which would increase these rates to even more significant levels.
But for the 21st-century American working mother, the culture of caregiving is changing. The majority of mothers with children under five years old are in the workforce and extended family is not nearby for childcare support. As a result, getting outside help — such as a nanny — to care for children has become more of a necessity than a luxury. Hiring a nanny has moved down the socioeconomic ladder from a caregiving practice used solely by the affluent to one now used by the middle and working classes. Paying for childcare has also changed cultural norms and the way we view the relationship between mothers and nannies. Along with these changes comes an ongoing and profound ambivalence in American culture about how we care for children, how we view working mothers, and how we regard nannies and the caregiving roles they perform.
Two very high-profile speeches have sparked heated debates among women about whether mothers should "lean in" to their careers or "opt out" of the workplace until their children leave home. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's commencement address at Barnard College in 2011, as well as her subsequent TED Talk, advised women, "Do not leave before you leave. Do not lean back; lean in. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That's the only way, when that day comes, you'll even have a decision to make." On the other side of the spectrum, Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter made waves the following year with an article in The Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," which underscores why a professional high-level career does not mix with caring for children in our society. Central to the debate are questions modern moms face. Who is raising the kids? What price do we pay by choosing to lean in or opt out?
Having a Viable Choice
To lean in or opt out, that is the question. But should it really be a question at all? The bifurcation of the issue implies that a mother has a viable choice. Yet as mothers who choose to lean in to their career recognize very quickly, this choice becomes viable only when they can afford to pay for quality childcare. It also means having access to quality childcare so that they can work. For mothers who choose to opt out, it means that they, their families and communities truly recognize that there is inherent value in mothering. Unless affordable, high-quality childcare arrangements are available and there is recognition that there is high value in the work of mothering, going back to work or opting out of the workforce are not even viable or easy choices for mothers.
A Working Mother's Challenge
The challenge for working mothers in the 21st century goes beyond the "lean in" argument. How can a working mother reconcile her dual responsibilities to work and mothering without feeling she is failing in both? Working mothers today benefit from changes in workplace support accomplished by 20th-century feminists, such as job sharing, flexible work schedules, family medical leave and childcare resource and referral services. Yet what the Feminist Movement failed to acknowledge, and what is often left out of public discourse, are the conflicting and unexpectedly strong emotions a working mother experiences over leaving her child with a caregiver, a person who is most often a complete stranger to her. Profound questions inevitably must be understood and reconciled before working mothers can return to the workforce and be competent in their work. These questions include: Am I abdicating my responsibility as a mother to my child? Am I causing harm? Can I trust this nanny? If I do work, what will the outcome be for my child, my family and me?
Over the past 20 years, a substantial body of research shows that children have the capacity to create unique, loving relationships with those adults responsible for caring for them. Research also shows that children can discriminate between individuals showing certain preferences within these relationships. We know from research and practical experience that children know who Mom and Dad are. In the nanny-parent relationship, however, the green-eyed monster isn't always rational. The desire to be "Mom," to have exclusivity over your child's love, to feel competent and in control is a powerful emotion that can rock even the most secure, self-confident woman.
The Stay-at-Home Mother
The decision to opt out of the workforce doesn't come easily. For some women, it's a matter of economics. Can they afford to work and pay for childcare? For some women, it's a matter of dissatisfaction with the available childcare options. For some, the idea of handing over childcare responsibility to a stranger is such an anathema to their identity as a mother that almost by default they choose to stay home. For others, caring for children is what they want to do because of the intrinsic satisfaction it brings to them.
Regardless of the basis for the decision, many stay-at-home modern moms need help to manage the daily household responsibilities and care of children. Hiring a nanny or "mother's helper" is the solution.
One might expect issues of trust or outcome would be minimized in mothers who are at home with their nanny. A working mother's worry about how her child is being cared for would be ameliorated if she were around to observe and manage the care. While this makes for commonsense reasoning, mothers at home can neither micromanage care successfully nor completely control outcomes. Quality childcare workers must be caring and attentive. Allowing another to care for children in a responsible manner requires an element of trust that the person doing the work will perform it in a way that is intentional and according to your desired outcome. Whether a mother is at home or at work, allowing a nanny to do the work of a mother involves accepting a level of uncertainty about outcome and of letting go of the need to control everything.
Mothers at home working alongside their nanny navigate this emotional land mine constantly, and most stay-at-home moms would argue their hearts can often overrule reason. If a nanny does her work well, then children thrive. Who then is responsible for the outcome — mom or nanny? Mothers observe first-hand situations when their nanny is able to soothe their crying baby easily, consistently set limits and get picky eaters to eat vegetables. Envy, jealousy and feelings of inadequacy visit all mothers who hire nannies, whether the choice is to be a stayat-home mom or a working mother.
The Inner Life of the Mother
This decision to hire a nanny can wreak havoc on a woman's psyche. When a mother makes this decision, she is faced with the reality and responsibility of creating a relationship with her nanny that fits with herself as a new mother.
Daniel Stern, in his definitive 1995 book, The Motherhood Constellation, and 1998 work, The Birth of a Mother, describes the process and challenges a new mother goes through to integrate her other known identities as a woman, wife or partner with her new role as a mother. Dr. Stern proposes that new mothers create a "motherhood constellation," or a self-identity that is organized around the presence and care of her infant. Within this constellation of mutual recognition, a mother is poignantly aware of her new responsibility for the life of another human being; of her capacity to meet the complete dependency needs of her baby and her need for support — a maternal matrix — in order to do so. A mother draws from her own experience of having been mothered as a beginning template upon which to form her self-identity.
But what if this 21st-century mother was raised by a mother who did not return to the workforce, but instead stayed home caring for her children?
While today's millennial parents are more likely to have been raised in families where both parents worked, during the first fifteen years of my practice, I found that the vast majority of first-time mothers in the San Francisco Bay Area were raised by a stay-at-home mother who did not use hired help. A woman can find it very difficult to imagine how to mother differently than her mother did and to know what the outcome would be if she tried. The resultant guilt and ambivalence that mothers feel about leaving their children in the care of another often dictates how well they put together a quality childcare arrangement that works. Those feelings can influence when they choose to begin the process of hiring a nanny and can also affect the nanny they choose. For example, a highly anxious working mother may characteristically "take control" and start her nanny search during her third trimester of pregnancy. The decision becomes part of her checklist of to-do items, along with putting together the nursery or creating a birth plan. She may find, however, that the nanny she chooses before the baby is born doesn't fit well after she holds her baby in her arms for the first time. Another anxious mother may enter a state of denial about hiring a nanny, convincing herself that there is plenty of time to sort things out during maternity leave and then, in a panic two weeks before that leave ends, realize time has run out. She then faces the untenable pressure of having to begin an arduous and time-consuming process to make this most important decision about her baby's care in a short amount of time.
Regardless of the challenges a woman faces around her identity as a mother, these feelings of guilt and ambivalence are intensified because of the baby's complete dependency on her for survival. What may have been a pragmatic decision before the baby was born often becomes highly emotional after. As Daphne de Marneffe describes so poignantly in her book Maternal Desire, there exists an often unspoken yet strong desire and a resultant satisfaction that a mother experiences in nurturing and caring for her baby. This strong urge to protect and nurture her newborn conflicts with her decision to return to work and hire a nanny to take on part of the maternal role of caring for her baby.
It's not only possible to find a nanny you can trust, it's essential that you do so for your own well-being and the good of your children. While it's reasonable to have high expectations, it's also important that you take a realistic approach. Through books, television, movies and more, we've all been influenced by the myth of the perfect nanny. Before you can come to grips with what you need, want and can reasonably expect in a nanny, let's take a close look at one of our beloved icons, Mary Poppins.
Mary Poppins: Why This Pervasive Myth Endures
In the 1964 film version of Mary Poppins, Jane and Michael Banks's wishes for a nanny included a cheery disposition, rosy cheeks and no warts. Miraculously, this idealized nanny appeared out of the blue, required no training, worked whenever needed, knew her place and never asked for a paycheck. Nowadays, equally optimistic parents want their own version of Mary Poppins: someone who will show up on their doorstep when they need her, someone who is responsible and reliable, who will stay for as long as necessary and who will not take over their role as parent or put a dent in their family finances. As a cultural icon, Mary Poppins represents a family's wish for a nanny who is easy to find, loving, honest, fun, familiar and affordable — someone who "fits in" with their family.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Nanny Manual"
Copyright © 2018 Chirp Publishing.
Excerpted by permission of Chirp Publishing.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 From the Village to the Boardroom 17
Chapter 2 When Wishful Thinking Meets Reality 31
Chapter 3 Ten Common Misperceptions 41
Chapter 4 Getting Your Heart in Gear 51
Chapter S Preparing Your Soul: A Question of Values 61
Chapter 6 Know Before You Go: Putting Your Mind in Gear 71
Chapter 7 The Nuts and Bolts of a Successful Nanny Search 89
Chapter 8 Evaluation of Need: Qualities and Characteristics of Your Ideal Nanny 105
Chapter 9 The Job Description 111
Chapter 10 Advertising: Getting the Word Out 115
Chapter 11 PreScreening 117
Chapter 12 Checking References 119
Chapter 13 The Interview Process 123
Chapter 14 The Trial Period 129
Chapter 15 Contracts 131
Chapter 16 Dads and Nannies 135
Chapter 17 LGBT and Nannies 151
Chapter 18 What Does it Take to Keep a Nanny on the Job? 159
Chapter 19 Voices from Young Adults Who Grew Up with a Nanny 201
Checklists and Forms 213