Finding a more reasonable family
March 14, 2012 3:44 PM   Subscribe

I've started looking for a new nannying job because of problems I have with the parents. I want to figure out the best way to avoid these problems in the future.

The parents I work for seem to adore me (they really want me to renew my contract and keep hinting that I should stay with them in some capacity when it is over). I adore the young child I take care of. However, I've started looking for a new job and have already had an interview (for a job that is offering double what I make).

I actually can't wait to leave my job. I have more than a few problems with the parents I work for, but my main problem is this: they have completely different standards for myself vs. themselves. I know they are paying me (and I do my job well to their standards regardless) but I can't stand it anymore.

When I am around, absolutely no screens (ie TV or computer can be turned on if the child is awake). No, they expect me to have boundless energy to makeup and play tons of little games. They also expect me to prepare these elaborate meals for their kid (who is very picky and won't eat them half the time so I spend tons of time cajoling and pleading with them to eat) composed of many fresh ingredients. Oh and of course keep their house clean and help them with their laundry etc. i do all of this for them each day (for barely above minimum wage in this state).

I know for a fact that the minute they are home, their kid gets put in the jumper or floor and the TV and computer come on, and when it's time to feed their kid they are cracking open jars and cans. Oh and half the time when I get there the house is a shambles. it's also really messy on a deep level. Nothing is organized nicely.

My questions are- what can I say and look for in interviews to avoid this sort of situation in the future? Taking care of young children is hard work, and I want to avoid families with expectations that they themselves can't even meet.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Make it clear that you are applying for work as a nanny, not a housekeeper.
posted by brujita at 3:47 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am not a nanny, though I have had friends who are. What you're describing isn't unusual and the only trick seems to be to take jobs that pay enough that you don't mind.

Basically, exactly what they're paying for is for someone to do all the things for their kids that they themselves aren't up for.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:48 PM on March 14, 2012 [14 favorites]

In my experience, the no screen time with the nanny thing is really common. One of the first mothers I nannied for actually told me that she didn't want any TV/computer time for the kids because she wanted them to be CAPTIVATED by it when used it herself. It seems like the thinking is that they are paying you to be with their child, so they want you to give 100%.
posted by kate blank at 3:51 PM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

You can ask the parents about these things directly, but... this is your job. They are paying you to do a service for them. They are not required to also do the same service themselves. I pay people to cook food for me, to clean my house, to change my oil, to do lots of other things... these are all things I am perfectly capable of doing on my own, but I don't want to, so I pay someone to do it, and I expect they will do a much better job of it than I would. Granted, child care is quite a different situation than car care, but parents are allowed to make those decisions for themselves because they have other obligations and because it's their child, but are not obligated to let you also making those decisions, because caring for their child is what you are literally hired to do. You can feel free to discuss the expectations around cooking, cleaning, etc... which might be, but should not be assumed to be, part of your duties as nanny, but the parents should, I think, have different expectations of you and of themselves.
posted by brainmouse at 3:54 PM on March 14, 2012 [23 favorites]

Would it bother you less if the parents were super-strict as well? Or if they were terrible parents and they just asked you to make sure the kids didn't kill themselves, would you nanny down to their level? If you're doing the same amount of work, why do you care?

This is all a red herring about you not being paid enough. Take the job that pays double and don't give them a second thought.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 3:59 PM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

What you say isn't surprising to me at all. Parents employing nannies -- and I have been one of them -- are hypocritical, sometimes for good and sound reasons (because they view your role differently, because they believe the child should not have TV opportunities *all* day, etc.), sometimes because they are easier on themselves than on others without rhyme or reason.

For next time, here is how I would put it while screening potential employers:

1. I would say that you have found it works best if parents delegate to you authority to make decisions and to exercise control over the child. I always told our nannies that I expected that they could tell our children no, insist that they clean their room or eat what they were served, etc., and that I would back them when the children protested -- and if I disagreed with the nanny's judgment, I would tell them privately and ask that they accommodate it. This way their authority with the children wasn't undermined. That worked for us reasonably well and I think gave the nannies greater satisfaction.

2. I would also say that you found it worked best if children saw consistent expectations concerning politeness, responsibilities, recreational opportunities, and so forth during both nanny-time and parent-time. Again, in my experience (and it sounds like yours) that made the most sense to the kids and to the nannies.

I would express this as what you have found works best in a household -- that is, positively, rather than complaining about prior employers. Still, if they balk, you walk.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 4:02 PM on March 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

they have completely different standards for myself vs. themselves

I think you will find that nearly all prospective employers will have different standards for you than for themselves--consciously or not.

What you can do is make an effort to get a read on the parents, write a contract that outlines your responsibilities specifically (how much daily cooking, if any, how much daily cleaning, if any, etc.) and negotiate your salary. Your employers didn't just assume things would work out the way they want: they set specific expectations. You should do the same.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:04 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

What you need to do next is to take a job that pays you more money.

The very nature of being a nanny means you're providing a service that they cannot provide themselves and therefore they have greater expectations as to what you will do.
posted by mleigh at 4:09 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is all a red herring about you not being paid enough. Take the job that pays double and don't give them a second thought.

Gosh, this seems unsympathetic. I mean, more money can compensate for some shortcomings, but people in all occupations have a reasonable interest in being treated reasonably. Or at least setting other terms if they prefer greater satisfaction to more money.

I think the difference between this situation and, say, insisting that a housecleaner not make as much mess as the employers are permitted, is that implicit or explicit in the parents' position is a standard as to the right way to raise a child . . . and that viewpoint is coming across as inconsistent.

I do agree, though, that if matters are more easily segregated -- e.g., if the nanny is being asked to provide something that then naturally need not be provided in parent-time, like homework supervision -- then there's no real inconsistency. But if she is seeing "don't let any processed food touch junior's lips" and then seeing the parents fill him with Cheese-wiz, it could be a little vexing.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 4:11 PM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

What you really need is a trial period. You need, of course, to have the *exact* tasks you will be expected to do spelled out. Not things like "light housekeeping" - the family's idea of light housekeeping is almost always much more than that, in my experience. Instead, a list of the exact tasks the job will entail; the only vagueness allowed would be "pick up after the kids", along those lines. But you want clear, clear, clear lines. Then, if you're happy with the pay you will get for doing those things, you have to let go and accept that what happens when you're not in charge isn't your business. And just to make sure, you and the parents agree to try it out for two weeks, and then you (and they) can decide whether you want to continue the arrangement.
posted by lemniskate at 4:14 PM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine who has many years of experience nannying told me recently that she won't take jobs for families that only have one young child, because they have crazy expectations: about food, the constant super-high quality of play time, and so on. She said, "By the time the second baby comes along, they've mellowed a lot and are living in the real world again."

Your story reminded me of that, so I thought i would pass it along.
posted by not that girl at 4:51 PM on March 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

I think their expectations are not unreasonable so much as the amount they're paying you. If they want somebody to clean a super messy house, and fix elaborate meals, and you are supposed to entertain the kids without any electronics while you do the cooking and cleaning, then you should be getting paid a lot more for your services.

A lot of babysitters who basically get told to order a pizza and put the kids to bed after an hour get paid more than minimum wage. Of course they love you and want to renew your contract - they are paying you much less than you're worth.
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:54 PM on March 14, 2012 [19 favorites]

I disagree with everything that people have said so far. I think the parents you're currently working for are doing a disservice to their child and being unfair to you.

Children need consistency. it will be confusing to the child and it will make your job much harder if the parents follow one set of rules themselves and expect you to follow a much more strict set of rules. We wouldn't expect this from a nanny or baby sitter, and I'm surprised that so many other people answering this question find it unobjectionable.

One way to avoid this, I think, is to explain to prospective employers that you think it's important for you and your employers to have shared values as far as raising children. Parents will like to hear that. Most parents who I know want to find a nanny that has the same attitudes towards discipline, play, foods, etc. Now, part of having shared values is that the parents following generally the same rules that you do.

Understand what kind of food they feed the child, how much treats, how much packaged versus fresh food etc. Ask them what the rules are about screen time, etc. Ask them how they spend time with their children. Ask them about discipline.

Throughout this process you will understand better whether the people you are talking with are looking for a partner to help them raise their child in a consistent way, or whether they are hoping to find someone to do all the heavy lifting while they do the easy stuff. (They'll have the chance for that when they're grandparents! Now is not the time.) You'll also be making it clear that you will be looking to them to model how their children should be treated, not simply tell you one thing while they do another.

Oh -- one aside -- strict limits on screen time don't surprise me. I'd expect that. But the parents should follow the same rules, or at least make an effort in that direction.

Good luck!
posted by alms at 5:08 PM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

Make it clear to them that you are the nanny, not the housekeeper. You will never leave the house looking worse than it looked when you arrived and you don't mind helping out here and there, but the heavy lifting will be done by someone else.

Tell them that you will take your lunch break while child watches one 30 minute video.

Assure them that you will serve the child whatever prepared lunches they have left. You do not mind starting a simple dinner for the family, if the child is in good humor and all the ingredients are on hand.

I have been a nanny and have employed a nanny. Pretty much, if the parents come home to a calm, happy house then everyone wins. I loved coming home to the children on days they were with the nanny. She was so much fun for them! I never questioned computer or t.v. time because the kids were worn out, happy, and calm at the end of the day.
posted by myselfasme at 5:46 PM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

for a job that is offering double what I make

Nothing else is relevant. You're not a charity worker.
posted by halogen at 6:03 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think neither you nor the parents are being unreasonable here. We don't have a nanny, but my daughter goes to daycare. I expect the daycare to be a lot neater than my house, and I don't expect her to be watching TV there.

But the people who work at my daughter's daycare get paid a lot more than minimum wage.

If you adore the kid, give your current employers the chance to match the new salary you've been offered (after all, there's no guarantee you're going to adore the next kid, and you're going to spend a lot of time with whatever kid you're looking after.)

And, in the future, as everyone said, make sure you know exactly what the expectations for your job are, and that you're comfortable with them. My guess is that if you feel fairly paid for the work you do, it won't matter so much to you how the parents take care of their kid. I don't think there's a polite way to request that parents serve their child organic home-cooked meals.
posted by escabeche at 6:54 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am a little confused about what your specific problem is. Is it what you perceive as hypocrisy, or that you just don't want to do all that work (constant entertainment and housework and cooking for picky eaters)? Two different things. If it's the former, then I think you need to accept that you are a nanny, not a parent, and they are hiring you to take care of their kids for 8 hrs a day in a particular way. As long as they are not jerks about it or giving you impossible tasks because of lack of consistency, how they chose to parent themselves has little to do with you. If it is the latter, and you just don't like doing all of that, then make that clear with your next employer.
posted by yarly at 8:34 PM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

You have several different issues here.

The "consistency" argument is wrong, and a red herring. Being a fun and caring companion to the kids, rather than plonking them in front of the TV, is your job. Providing this caring and stimulating companionship for kids all day is very hard work, and you should be compensated for it, definitely. It sounds as if you feel that your wage is not fair for this job, and maybe it's not. I certainly pay my nanny a lot more than it sounds like you are getting.

As to whether housework and cooking is part of your job - that's defined by what you negotiated with them. If you don't want to have it be part of your next job, then don't agree to it.

It sounds like you feel like you're underpaid for what you're being asked to do. Fine, so negotiate a higher rate next time. But understand that what you see tired parents doing in their own home, after they've gotten home from their jobs, isn't relevant to your job responsibilities.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:24 PM on March 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think part of the difficulty is indeed around nanny expectations, as compared to housekeeper expectations-and the majority of it is around pay.

It is not actually unreasonable for the parents to ask to have no screens on, or to ask that super-healthy food be prepared. You're being paid to take care of the child, and they're under no obligation to make things easier for you. They want a specific experience for their child that they think is best designed to make a happy, healthy child, and that they know they are unable to provide themselves. That's reasonable. Parents also send their child to school to learn from teachers, and have much greater expectations about language and attention there. They do not see it as hypocritical, because they view this as your fulltime job, not a babysitting gig, and are asking you to maintain employee standards.

What is unreasonable, likely, is the amount they are willing to pay for this. This is really intensive, high-quality work that they are asking of you. They are paying you barely above minimum wage-that is definitely, as a previous poster noted, not what babysitting goes for. If you are able to accomplish all these tasks to standard, you are performing as a skilled worker, and should be entitled to accept appropriate recompense for your work.

I think part of this is likely coming from two places. First, while I don't have a nanny myself, I know people who have nannies-and I know that often, nannies among those parents that are just on the cusp of being able to afford them, are undocumented workers, generally immigrants, who are willing to work for lower wages, in part because of the perception of inability to complain about them. This may not be you-but the previous nanny these parents may have had may have shaped their expectations, or the nanny prices of a friend, etc.

The other is that often parents hire what they see as young people from a far lower income bracket than themselves, and have the perception that those people have few expenses, and thus, don't need the money.

One significant way for you to avoid this trouble in the future is to arrange to talk to previous nannies, or to ask why previous nannies left. Are you in a group of nannies? Is there a group in your area where you can talk about prospective clients?
posted by corb at 8:21 AM on March 15, 2012

It seems that there is an imbalance of expectations in your current job.

First, why are you doing any housework beyond cleaning up projects that you and the child created together or set up and clean up preprepared food? You are THE (GREAT) NANNY - that usually implies that your focus should be the child not on laundry, vacuuming or food prep. So in the future, make it clear what housework you feel comfortable doing when there is down time and what housework you do not do. And frame this with future families around focusing on the child(ren).

Second, why are you cajoling the child to eat or constantly fighting about screen time? You should have clear food (bedtime, bath time, whatever time) rituals and exceptions to the screen time rule that work for you and the child. When you are in charge, you need to be in charge. Children are very capable of having different expectations with different caregivers (even in the same environment) but they like consistency and clear boundaries with each caregiver. It sounds like this family is micromanaging your behavior so you cannot be at your best. In this way, finding a family that you are more in sync with is very important. Frame these questions around specifics (what are the screen time expectations, how should I handle leftovers, etc)

Third, you are not being paid enough to successfully negotiate and ignore the dynamic tension that is working in someone's house. Most people have higher expectations for the time the child is with the nanny than with themselves - you are "the expert," you are being paid, and you are an outsider in the house. (Actually, those expectations are probably with themselves also but that is a different crappy cycle.) So, frame these questions around a trial run, how often there is reassessment, and when something isn't working on either side what is the best form of communication.

Good luck in your new job search.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 1:40 PM on March 15, 2012

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