The is nanny to the mother and the son.
October 26, 2009 2:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm a nanny for a woman who's been unemployed for 2.5 months and is now depressed. The means she is a) home ALL THE TIME, and b) driving me absolutely crazy. What, if anything, can I say?

I am a nanny to a lovely three year old, and have been his nanny since he was born. I get along excellently with the parents, too. Except that for the past two and a half months, the mother has fallen behind on freelancing gigs and has consequently parked herself in the studio loft and hasn't moved since. As anyone who has taken care of someone else's child knows, having the mother in plain sight for the whole day is REALLY awkward: I feel like I'm being watched, and that every minor scrape is attributed to my incompetence rather than his toddler playing. The loft is open and no walls separate the living room from the kitchen from the computer room from the bedroom, so she can't shut herself away. The mother used to do work at cafes to get out of the house, but since she got depressed she now she spends most of her time on Facebook and at home. I think she's discouraged by the job market, as she keeps saying she's never had to wait this long to get more work, but I also can't help noticing that she spent an awful lot of time making a Mad Men avatar and IMing friends (she keeps the volume on high). These are things she could at least do at a cafe outside the home.

Because the kid is totally obsessed with whatever is happening on computers, I can't keep him from scrambling into the mother's lap every 5 minutes while she Googles her old ex-boyfriends. We've literally spent 90% of our days walking for hours around outdoors (he no longer takes naps), but the weather is getting cooler and the forecasts predict snow next week. I am also exhausted from toting this kid outside for 8 hours just so we're not under his mother's feet. She says, "Oh I don't mind if you're here, and don't mind me," but again, that's easier said than done, especially for her.

Recently the mother asked me if we could pare down my week to 4 days since they're "hemorrhaging money," which I begrudgingly agreed to do because I love the kid too much to just leave when the going gets tough, but I'm not happy about a decrease in my paycheck. This is doubly annoying now that the mother keeps turning down job offers because they don't pay enough or she thinks she can find something better.

I know I can leave this job, and I'm considering it, but I'm looking for more of a compromise. I'm a pretty damn hireable nanny and she knows I get job offers on the playground, so I feel like I have a bit more power in this dynamic than most people have with their bosses. Though I can't ask her to magically get another acceptable gig, can I gently request that she leave the house for a bit every day so her son and I aren't exiled to the bookstore for four hours? The cashiers are starting to think we're homeless. My feet are sore, the kid is sick of his stroller, we've run out of places to see, and soon the weather won't be very nice. Can I say something yet?

Thanks in advance for any advice!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
can I gently request that she leave the house for a bit every day

No. It's her house.
posted by spaltavian at 2:59 PM on October 26, 2009 [16 favorites]

I've tried looking at it from both points of view and I really can't see a diplomatic way to tell the mother to leave her own home (although I completely agree that the situation would drive me batty as a nanny too). Have you looked into getting another nannying gig where you can bring your current child and look after both getting two paycheques? Personally, I find looking after multiple children so much easier than just one but it depends on your comfort level. This would also make an easier transition if your current employer decides to let you go.
posted by saucysault at 2:59 PM on October 26, 2009

It's her house and her kid. If the work situation is uncomfortable, you should leave.
posted by sbutler at 3:00 PM on October 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

In response to your first paragraph, it would seem that exactly the opposite situation from what you describe is occurring: you appear to be judging the hell out of the mother's activities, with no evidence of her judging you.

With regard to you feeling like you have to leave the house: you clearly state that the your employer said it was fine for you to be there. So be there. Teach the kid that while mom is in whatever room he needs to leave her alone because she's working. Surely people teach similar things to children all the time - I can't imagine it'll take more than a couple of weeks of consistency and positive rewards for him not going in there.

Finally, to answer your question: you can reaffirm with the mother that it's okay for you and her child to be home while she's home. When she says that it's fine, do it. If you can't tolerate the awkwardness that you perceive, it's time to get another job.
posted by sickinthehead at 3:00 PM on October 26, 2009

I'm sure you've probably thought of this, but is it possible for you to take the kid back to your place instead? (Assuming you are not a live-in nanny.)
posted by phoenixy at 3:06 PM on October 26, 2009

As much as I am conflicted with respect to the premise of the site*, you will probably get a lot of useful mother and nanny perspectives if you post this question on I Saw Your Nanny.

* It's been a useful resource for us and I think that it does help to expose abusive behaviour and practices by both nannies and parents, but I can't help but shake the feeling that it's based on (1) the idea of white mothers being hypervigilant with respect to the care of minority women for the children of other white women; and (2) a kind of ugly "us vs. them" perspective to nannying and paid childcare which I would like to think does not apply to 99% of all nannying and paid childcare situations.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 3:23 PM on October 26, 2009

Sounds like you're in a position to issue an ultimatum, and that you do actually care about the family. You could say something like:

"I get that you're hemorrhaging money, and the fact is, with you here all the time and not having to spend much time working, you have the opportunity to spend a lot more time with your son. I work better when I really feel needed, so I'll tell you what. If you need to go out a lot for your own sanity, or if you need to work, then it makes sense that you need a nanny like me. But if you're not going out at least three days a week, I don't feel needed and it's just awkward; you might as well be spending time with your boy here. In that case, I won't make you lay me off; I'll find another position within a week and move on, no harm no foul, and you guys will save a lot of money."
posted by amtho at 3:25 PM on October 26, 2009 [15 favorites]

If she's unemployed and depressed, she could use help structuring her time. It's her job, but since it's making you miserable, you can help.

Sit down with her and explain that the 3 year old does better with a structured schedule. Plan his day so that there are some quiet times for the boy, and with the expectation that tv and computer will be quiet or off during those times. There are probably story times at the library and other structured ways for you to take the boy out every day to places in addition to the playground. This is good child care, and will also help her manage her own time.
posted by theora55 at 3:44 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sounds like there should be better communication here. Does the mother know you feel judged when she's around? Do you know if/how much the mother appreciates the service you provide? How much she trusts you, feels you treat her child well and values the relationship? An honest exchange could lead to any of a number of possibilities where both you and the mother are happier:

- you could stay in the job, feeling more comfortable and overall happier with the relationship
- you could realize both you and the mother would be happier if you found another job
- the mother could realize that she's going to loose a trusted employee if she doesn't change, and so begin moving in the right direction
- ...

An honest exchange does not mean one where you level judgement or criticism, and it certainly doesn't mean giving her an ultimatum or pulling a power play: tell her how you feel; don't tell her how she MAKES you feel. Ask her how she feels about the situation; don't tell her what you think about her situation. Don't have any agenda orther than to promote the exchange of information toward the end of figuring out what's best for all.
posted by c, as in "kitchen" at 3:56 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Go to the library. There are computers there the tyke can play on - lots of books to read, other kids to hang with.... hours of fun!
posted by MiffyCLB at 4:10 PM on October 26, 2009

If the mother's presence in the home is making you uncomfortable or making the child harder to handle, you have a right to say so. Phrase this correctly: "I find it difficult to manage X's day when they're distracted by your presence" is infinitely preferable to "You need to leave the house every day."

Certainly, it is not your place to advise the mother on her job prospects, especially if you don't have a friendly relationship where you can offer advice. However, there is no harm in asking for something which will make your job easier.

It looks like this job might be on its way out. It may be time to start making your peace with leaving the kid behind.
posted by TypographicalError at 4:17 PM on October 26, 2009

Play dates with other nannys in the area could be a really good way to get out of the house. The kids section of the public library is also a perfectly acceptable place to hang out with a kid hours on end.

I can't really understand why this woman is unemployed, but still employing a nanny full time. It's kind of beyond me. I honestly think this is a pretty unworkable situation. Just as you have nowhere to go with the kid, she doesn't have a lot of places to go either. Hours on end at a coffeeshop, without any work to do is pretty expensive and kind of sucks. If you have another job offer I would take it. There really is no solution here that would make everyone happy. Give them ample notice and say goodbye.
posted by whoaali at 4:17 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're right.

In a perfect world... the mom needs to either (a) fire you and accept full-time responsibility for her son, or (b) make use of your services by spending the majority of her time outside of the home.

It's unacceptable for her to cut your hours and decrease your paycheck because she's in a funk. It was nice of you to put up with that for as long as you have. If I read you correctly, you're afraid she's on a slippery slope. You care for the son. If the mom is sliding, you don't want to go down, too. And to take it full circle... your nanny duties may be helping mom to slide because she's allowing herself to "check out" while you tend to her son.

It's a tough call.

You might try something like..... "Hey Joey's Mom! I can't work on a restricted schedule forever and continue to meet my personal financial obligations. I understand you appreciate my loyalty, so here is what I am prepared to do: I will begin looking for full-time employment, which will give you a few weeks to find a good part-time babysitter. I'm certain we can work things out so there is no break in nanny-care for little Joey. Fair enough?"

If she instead finds full-time employment - GREAT. You keep your job, everything goes back to normal. If not, you've pre-empted her from furthering reducing your hours or letting you go altogether at some point in the near future.

I think it is wise for you to get clear of this family while the mom decides what direction her life is going to take from here on out. Unfortunately, you are an employee in this situation. The mom's decisions or actions are not yours to make even though her decisions effect you directly.

You need to think of yourself right now. Go out there and find yourself a great new job with a healthy raise in compensation. The rest will take care of itself.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:47 PM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I meant "further reducing..."
posted by jbenben at 4:49 PM on October 26, 2009

Oh god, when I was a nanny the stay-at-home mom would come up for work for me to do in various rooms of the house or near the pool or at the mall - yes, she made me go shopping - so that I was effectively her paid companion. I stuck it out for a semester, and then bailed.

She eventually divorced, btw, and the father got full custody of both boys.

You should have a talk with both of them about your need for a full-time job or a hiatus until they are able to provide a full-time job, and if that doesn't work out, you have a hard choice to make.

I'm sure you are attached to the boy - but as I'm sure you know, they could pick up and move across the country at any time. This is your job, not your life.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:14 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

While you can't really ask her to leave her own house or comment about her activities or behavior, you can say something along the lines of, "Now that you are home more often, I am finding it challenging to take care of three year-old, and taking him out 8 hours at a stretch seems to be wearing on him. Do you have any suggestions about how I can better structure his day? Our usual places like the bookstore and park don't seem to hold his interest anymore, either. Do you have any ideas about what we can do or were we can go?" This will bring the problem to her attention without criticizing her and may actually result in some good ideas about how to take care of her child in this new situation. I think this is the closest you can come to raising the issues you are having without risking your job.

If your issue is your decreased paycheck, then I would just mention to her that while you understand their financial situation has changed, and you love caring for their child, you don't know how much longer you can afford to work one less day a week. Then look for another job, either part or full-time. If you merely want to supplement your current position, then ask her if you can work something out, so you can take on another gig, but still retain your nanny position with them. If you're simply done with this job, then a new full-time job seems the next logical step. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 5:34 PM on October 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

This is amazing to are put out because your employer is depressed and at home. Did you ever think to sit down and talk to her woman to woman reach out to her? If she tells you she doesn't mind you guys being under her feet it could be she is craving attention on some level...human companionship. I realize you weren't hired to be her friend but what about common human decency?

Sit down and tell her that you aren't sure how to run the show now that she is home. Explain to her that her son really is drawn to the computer and it makes it difficult for you to occupy him in the home and being outside all day everyday isn't practical.

She is depressed and she isn't probably thinking of how that is impacting you. Talk to her, otherwise give your two weeks perhaps what would help her is being occupied by spending time playing and loving up her own kid, since she is currently not working outside the home.
posted by gypseefire at 9:36 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could suggest a nanny share - ie find another kid around the age of your current employer's child who's also looking for a nanny, and look after both. It seems to me this might kill several birds with one stone - you could charge each parent approx. 2/3 what your current employer is paying you, so your employer gets a break on your wages but you actually get a raise, and you would probably be able to look after both kids at the other child's (hopefully empty) home.

It will be more work for you, and your current child may resent having to share your time with someone else, but it is an option that allows you to get a little more money without having to leave your current family, as well as offering a solution to the other problems you're having.
posted by featherboa at 2:42 AM on October 27, 2009

As a nanny, I feel like my job is to be an extension of the parents - to be a sort of "assistant" when they're not around. I've worked in situations where the parent was unemployed and at home, and in my case, I was lucky enough that we were able to divide space so that we didn't get in each other's hair and the children were very clear that they were under *MY* care when I was around and that the parent was only to be consulted in emergency (of course, we did have brief "visits" but the kids were very understanding - and yes, one of them was under 3 - that their time with me meant that the parent wasn't available to play).

I would not have felt comfortable negotiating with the parents for THEIR schedule. I am THEIR assistant, not the other way around. They set the rules. It didn't happen too often, but there were moments when I had to do things very differently than I would have done with my nieces or nephews (or my own hypothetical children) because the parents are in charge, not me.

(As one of the girls I cared for last year so aptly put it "Mommy owns us and she rents you!" Yep. Grown-up for rent. That's me.)

If you're uncomfortable with the job, you need to leave.

I know, I KNOW it's so hard when you're attached to the kid, but you seem to be forgetting nanny rule #1: THE CHILD IS NOT YOURS. It broke my heart to leave "my" girls last year, but kids grow up. And they're not mine. And I knew, and I was right, that the next family I worked with would be just as important to me and that there's space in my heart for more kids, no matter how hard it is to leave kids that I'm attached to.

It's not your child. It's your job.

You need to find a different one. This transition is hard on everybody and cutting your hours is more than reason enough to leave. Again, I've been in your position (I had my hours cut too and immediately started looking for a new job and the parents were more than understanding - ultimately, my transition worked out perfectly with the kids starting summer camp, but it was definitely a possibility that I would leave for a job that offered the hours I needed) and I KNOW how hard it is. But your job is to assist the PARENT. And that's not working out.

I can't really understand why this woman is unemployed, but still employing a nanny full time. It's kind of beyond me.

To address this: finding a nanny is kind of like dating. You can read someone's resume and love it and then meet them in person and there's just no connection. There HAS to be a sort of "vibe" with the nanny and the family to work out and that is VERY DIFFICULT to find, on all ends. Interviewing for nanny jobs is like being on "Who wants to be America's Next Top Nanny?!" I'm more than qualified for jobs, but have often lost out to someone who just had a better "fit" with the parents. Each time I've gotten a job, it's been a family hiring me on the spot at an interview because the fit was right and they didn't want someone else to grab me first.

So, first of all, for the family to interview a NEW nanny when they do need one is a huge, HUGE headache.

Second, it's unavoidable that nannies develop a relationship with the children. And children, especially very young children, NEED consistency. It's awful for everybody when a nanny has to leave, and in ideal circumstances the transition is a "natural" one where the nanny moves or the child starts going to school or some other clear and obvious break-point. For a nanny to just leave is ROUGH on a kid. I heard from "my" old family this summer that the littlest kid was still asking for me, even after she started school. It's rough.

It's much, much easier for everybody to keep the nanny you've got rather than let the nanny go and get a new one later.

And yes, absolutely read your question with the words "my boss" substituted for "the mother." I know, I KNOW how attached you are to the boy, but *she* is your boss, not him. He's three and SHE is in charge.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:10 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

TypographicalError: "Phrase this correctly: "I find it difficult to manage X's day when they're distracted by your presence" is infinitely preferable to "You need to leave the house every day.""

This is great advice.

For the record, I completely understand how it can be awkward when the parents are around and you're taking care of the kids.
posted by radioamy at 10:56 AM on October 27, 2009

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