Second thoughts about nanny. When do we freak out?
January 23, 2014 9:42 PM   Subscribe

How long should we expect an experienced nanny to get into the swing of things with two infants in p/t share?

We have a pretty small sample size and this is all new to us. It is hard to determine if our 4-month-old is having a tough time transitioning OR if the share days are too much for her and he’s not getting what he needs. Between two families, we are able to offer nanny a full-time schedule/salary. The other family is in our apt. building. Our son has 1 day of care alone and 2 days with a younger baby.

We felt had an extensive interview and screening process. We set up 2 half-days of solo care where we went out to run errands. Things seemed to go fairly smoothly. This was our first official week. We were able to pop-in (other family was not) but mostly gave the nanny her space.

Our observations:

Day 1: [Just our baby] In the beginning he cried very hard and differently than we’ve heard before. We intervened after 10-15 min. On our three pop-ins our baby was on playmat (calm) and nanny was sitting in a chair with no engagement. Once, she was on the phone.

Day 2: [share day] In one pop-in baby was again alone (calm) on playmat. In 2nd pop-in he was crying hard in crib. Mom helped and changed a soggy diaper. End of day, nanny communicated she wasn’t able to give him his *normal naps. His voice was a little **hoarse from crying hard.

Day 3: [share day] We dropped him off for 3 hours. Nanny again communicated she wasn’t able to give him a normal nap. He came home way overtired. His voice was extremely hoarse.

*Normal nap is 30+ minutes in crib.
** He is not sick.
posted by demonstartivepapadonous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
None of this really seems alarming to me. Pretty much *nobody* but me could get my daughter to take a "normal nap" for the first two years of her life (even her mother really only got her to sleep by nursing and then sleeping on her chest). When she started day care, she never wanted me to leave for the first week and would cry when I left. She got over it after about a week but the day care employees said some kids have cried every time their parents leave for *months*. And we're talking about two and three year olds at this point, not 4-month-olds.

Lots of kids have trouble adjusting to people besides their parents. Before I knew her, my girlfriend used to nanny for a little boy who was youngest in a family of three children. The other two kids had their own nanny, but the younger boy didn't like her, so he got a special nanny to himself. My girlfriend watched him four days a week for a year and a half, and the entire time, his parents would have to sneak away without him noticing or he'd break down screaming that they were leaving.

It's only been one week and your son is very young. It also seems like he's not only with an unfamiliar person, but in an unfamiliar place ("you dropped him off").

Whether you think this is working out or not is up to you, but I'm not convinced that the nanny is doing anything wrong (and do you really expect her to never answer her phone while working? If you were staying home all day to watch your son would you never answer the phone?)
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:53 PM on January 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

I wonder if all of this popping in might be harming the development of a relationship between baby and nanny?

Also, don't judge harshly on the phone. Are you ever on your phone around your baby?
posted by k8t at 9:58 PM on January 23, 2014 [21 favorites]

During the interview did you talk about what a typical day would look like with the nanny? Were your expectations in synch as far as how much interaction/stimulation/play the baby would have versus alone playmat time or how long the baby would be allowed to cry before checking on him? Is anything you're seeing not lining up with what she said she would do? It's your very new child, so your concern is completely understandable, but if you feel the baby is safe, you might reset expectations and give them time to bond before rethinking the arrangement.
posted by cecic at 10:11 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you having the nanny keep a log of what goes on with the baby?

We keep a quick daily log of what happens, from waking up to nap time down time and up time, meals/formula, and pottying incidents. It helps to understand with a glance how the day went. Our nanny is cute and often documents other things about the baby's moods (like when she fusses or when she is happy, etc) that help us to understand the day.

But I also wrote up a detailed contract for her in week 1 that explained what I expected from her in terms of playing with the baby, phone time, going out with the baby, meals, diapers, laundry and other chores, all that jazz and reviewed it with her to make sure we were both happy with it and on the same page. I'd strongly recommend you do the same.

One other thing that you might be able to do - instead of scheduling her practice time for when you're going to be in and out running errands, schedule her to come when you're going to be home the whole time. I do this sometimes while I'm working from home. I don't need to be constantly popping in and out to see what's happening because I can hear the nanny and baby playing, or if there's fussing or crying, etc.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:19 PM on January 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

By the way, I definitely don't think you should freak out at any of this. It would take a lot more than this to freak me out. Babies can take some time to adjust to new places and people. What really matters if your perception of how hard the nanny is trying and how much she cares about what she's doing, which is hard to convey just by giving us her location in the room or whether she talks on the phone sometimes.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:21 PM on January 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I shouldn't be triple posting but I keep thinking of other things. In my contract under sleep I specified exactly how I wanted the nanny to deal with crying episodes when putting baby down to nap/sleep (which in our case was having her check and console our baby every 10-15 minutes with a few other little caveats, and she keeps a log of how long the crying lasts if it does last). This would give you a yardstick to measure by in terms of what you find with how the interaction is going currently.

For example, if you told her that you guys do not believe in sleep training or crying it out, that you're strong adherents of attachment parenting, then I'd be really alarmed about the fact that you're finding so much crying going on unless it seemed like the nanny was really trying to avoid the crying but not succeeding because of factors beyond her control. I don't get the sense from your post that you were upset about the baby crying per se, more that the duration had been too long or it was unclear what the strategy was to deal with crying and attempts to put down for naps/possible sleep training. I'd definitely suggest discussing this because if she doesn't know what you want, she can't fulfill your expectations.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:27 PM on January 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

I understand that you're new to the whole nanny scenario, but was the nanny aware that you might be 'popplng in' or was this supposed to be unannounced -- especially twice in one day? Was she also receiving these visits from the other family? If so, I would be unnerved by the constant surprises and be under the impression that you didn't trust me with your child. It's probably also not benefiting your son by constantly reappearing, thereby not giving her the opportunity to get him used to her.

Babies cry in new environments, with new people. Was she totally ignoring him on the play mat, or was he really just kind of calmly hanging out and being observed? Did you explicitly discuss with her not using the phone while caring for your son? Was this discussed with the other family that you're sharing her with? Is it a deal breaker for you? This sort of thing really ought to have been considered and ironed out previous to you starting your arrangement.

My other thought is that if he was only with her for three hours on the third day, did he go after you fed him or did she feed him and then he was supposed to go down for a nap (assuming he's on a 3-4hr feed schedule)? Otherwise, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that he might not willingly go down for a 1/2hr nap in a new environment.

Give yourself (and your baby and the nanny!) some time to adjust. Like, maybe a couple weeks before being so quick to throw in the towel.
posted by dancinglamb at 10:28 PM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was previously a nanny, and now I live in an interesting household with a bunch of roommates including a couple with a new baby about the same age as yours. We have a pretty cool system where a few of us (the roommates) babysit 1-2 days each during the week now that Mom's back to work- basically, we're all taking turns. But since we all live together, we can ask each other for advice and after a day of babysitting we'll sometimes compare notes or talk about how it went, with each other and with the parents as well.

So. My experience is that each one of us had our own adjustment period with the baby. At first, he wouldn't eat well with me, for example. I definitely noticed after some quality time we bonded more and things are going way more smoothly now. It's interesting to see how my interactions with him are slightly different than with his parents or with my other roommates, though, based on our personalities. Now that I've seen this firsthand, I definitely think it would be stressful if his parents expected my interactions with the baby to be exactly the same as theirs. Obviously, I do my best to follow their instructions and preferences, but I'll never do it as well as they do- they're the most experienced with their particular baby. He doesn't react to me the same way he reacts to them, because I'm not them- he is reacting to me. Even at such a young age, it seems like his relationship with each of us is a little different and that's okay. Anyway, my point is that maybe the nanny and your baby just need some quality time to bond so they can get into a routine that works well for them.

I've had nannying experiences where the parents were very helicoptering and it's stressful. I think nitpicking has a negative impact on the nanny's comfort, which impacts her ability to just focus on bonding with the baby. I found jobs like this to be unpleasant and was happy to leave them. On the other hand, with my roommates' baby now, they're totally laid back. If the baby eats and sleeps and is safe and happy, they're happy. And because I'm not worried about them judging whatever else we do, I feel more comfortable and it makes playtime with the baby that much more enjoyable for both of us.

The whole "extensive interview and screening process" and the pop-ins make me suspect that you come off as overly anxious and controlling. If I was your nanny I'd already be terrified that you were about to fire me over something I have no control over (the baby is crying and I can't console him, presumably because he doesn't KNOW me.) This would be a valid concern, because you ARE thinking of firing her. I don't mean to be harsh here, but you sound unnecessarily exhausting to work for and if it were me, unless you chilled out a bit I'd probably be looking for another job. The nanny who will take the best care of your kid is the one you appreciate and are nice to.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 11:05 PM on January 23, 2014 [38 favorites]

When do we freak out?

Not yet, if ever. The above advice is all good, especially treehorn+bunny's.
posted by trip and a half at 11:56 PM on January 23, 2014

Around 4 months is when many babies start to recognize who their parents are and prefer them, isn't it?

I remember when my friend's baby was 4 months old and I came over to hang out with her so that he could shower and sleep. I tried to give her a bottle and she screamed and screamed. I handed her to my friend and she calmed down immediately and took the bottle. He handed her back to me and she spit it out and screamed. We were both in the same room for this entire episode. There was absolutely no difference in what we were doing except that we had different faces, different arms, different smells.

Just food for thought.
posted by cairdeas at 12:10 AM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another former nanny says RELAX. =)

I've had kids - kids who adored me and didn't want me to leave - cry themselves hoarse when I'd show up. It had nothing to do with me and everything to do with "OMG WHERE'S MOMMY". One kid (about two) would sob for hours every time I came - three times a week, for a half day. It was weeks and weeks before he calmed down. Once he was done crying we had a great time. The whole time he cried, I'd carry him and we'd walk back and forth across the front of the house so he could look out the front windows and watch for mommy. For hours. If I'd had a smartphone, I totally would have used it... there was nothing more I could do for him (distraction, talking, etc... he was inconsolable), but *I* was bored...

Yeah, you don't actively engage with your baby 24/7 either. Neither you or the baby want that. It's good to play together some, and good for kids to learn to play by themselves too (very very good).

I read somewhere that kids that small (and certainly at four months!) don't perceive of themselves as being separate from their mom - you're one entity. He's crying like he's been amputated because that's his perception of things. Interestingly, the above 2 yr old would come to me (teary!) and say "Hold you? Hold you?" probably because his mom would say "Want me to hold you?" and ideas like "you" "me" and "I" weren't clear yet. (Add to that Cairdeas' comment about him having JUST recently - finally - being able to recognize you and...)

Also, kids are manipulative.
Everyone's giving you very good advice. Hang in there!
posted by jrobin276 at 12:15 AM on January 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

You know, if I was at home with our toddler and he was crying on the floor, as a parent I would not be sitting in a chair on the phone.

Kids need touch and engagement.

I would fire this nanny.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:29 AM on January 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

Popping in three times in one day is not giving the nanny her space. You need to give the pair of them time to find their groove, and that is not going to happen if she's constantly anxious you're about to slide through the door. "Helping" the nanny change a diaper doesn't teach the baby that when the nanny is there, she is the baby's person -- it teaches the baby that crying makes mom magically appear.

Is English this woman's fist language? If not, the notes others are suggesting may not be feasible but there are charts you can print out for daily feedback.

In general, though, you need to back off and find a less interactive way to get the feedback you need to make adjustments.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:29 AM on January 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, a 4 month old is not manipulative. They barely know they're a person. I would not be comfortable with a nanny leaving my infant to cry.
posted by chiababe at 4:09 AM on January 24, 2014 [13 favorites]

We babysit our four month old nephew once a week, from 6:30am to the middle of the afternoon. He knows us (me especially) and is comfortable around us and it is still an enormous fight to get him to nap.

The environment is different, the distractions are different, the routine is slightly different, he's taking food from the bottle rather than the boob, and I definitely don't have his mom's touch with putting him down without waking him after he falls asleep in my arms. And another myriad reasons why he's a better napper at home.

I'm not sure his parents consider this alarming. Happy baby on mat leading to nanny checking her phone is not exactly unheard of, either.

Why did mom help with the diaper change? Was the nanny unable to do so? She needs to learn his cues for fussing: hunger, diaper, tiredness, need for attention, etc. Let her figure it out for at least an (unsupervised!) week or two and see how the kid does.
posted by lydhre at 4:28 AM on January 24, 2014

I understand this is stressful, but don't panic. Managing a nanny is just like managing any other employee. You need to set expectations clearly before jumping to conclusions.

1. If baby is happy on the playmat, that's great! A four month old isn't going to scoot away and get in trouble.

2. Crying. Different people have different expectations when it comes to babies crying. At four months old, observing to see what's causing the crying before acting is not unreasonable. Babies have different cries, and it takes time to learn about them.

3. Napping. 4 month olds are just becoming capable of consistent napping (if you're very, very lucky; for mine it was closer to 6). Throw in the change in schedule/environment and it'd be more surprising if there wasn't a nap disruption. Especially given the infamous four month sleep regression.

That being said, if you are an attachment parenting type and the nanny isn't, this may be a bad fit. However, the way to do it is to sit down and go over your expectations and (crucially) get her buy-in on them. Because there are two babies, you are going to have to be flexible. I'd actually discuss your parenting approach with the other family first and make sure you are on the same page before broaching the topic with your nanny.

Good luck! I know this is a difficult thing to navigate, and it's normal to be apprehensive. But remember that stability and routine are very important to babies, and that there's always a transition period.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:46 AM on January 24, 2014

In my experience there is a vast range of attitudes, even on the half of professional child care people, about what good infant care is. There is also a vast range in what people consider to be fair compensation.

Your infant is not in danger from having a nanny who just sits there, but it may not be what you want to pay for. Are you paying her generously? Enough that it's reasonable for her to think of it as a job, which while she's at she shouldn't be talking on the phone, etc.? Or is it more of a minimum hang-out-keep-them-fed-and-out-of-trouble kind of expectation?

I think, for me, I might fire this gal. Not because the kid is in danger, but because it kind of seems like she doesn't realize engagement with the baby is part of the deal.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:19 AM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would be careful jumping to the conclusion that the nanny watching baby on the playmat equals not being engaged or interested.

I guess everyone feels differently about this, but my own rationale here is that it's important for babies to be able to explore their environment, too, on their own terms. This is how they start to build spatial awareness, and how the brain maps the location of nerve inputs, and all sorts of important things. I often will sit back and watch a baby play, rather than playing with him, BECAUSE he is so wildly fascinated by some toy or his own hand or looking at the window or something. I think watching that sort of exploration and discovery is magical and I don't want to interrupt it by getting all in his face and making him pay attention to me instead. I suppose I'm biased because I'm introverted myself, and liked to observe and explore independently a lot as a kid so I just assume it's good for babies too. Not all the time, of course! If a baby seems interested in me or wants to play with me I'm all over it. But often times they seem to prefer to be doing their own little thing and I don't want to stop that. I'm still watching them like a hawk for any sign of distress, and trying interaction again when they seem receptive to it.

Plus, I think that when I'm getting to know a new baby it does help to sort of observe them a little bit at first so I can see what it is they like to do, what interests them, where they are in terms of motor skills and various other developmental things. It takes some trial and error and getting to know each other and I think just watching the baby be himself helps there. Meaningful interactions build over time as we get to know each other.

I mean, you could still be right. Maybe she is uninterested and irresponsible. But I'd take it slow and just check in with her about it at the end of the day in a conversational and non-accusatory way. "What did you guys do today? Did he do anything hilarious or adorable? Did he cry a lot?" This opens a dialogue for her to be like, "You know, he did cry a lot, and I tried X, but it didn't work. Any ideas?" or "He seems to love that one toy that makes weird noises, do you have more toys like that? I loved watching him laughing at it for twenty minutes!"

Another thing that might be fun is to encourage her to send you photos of the baby during the day "because you miss him and want to see his face!" She won't want to send you a picture of him crying in his crib, she'll be sure that they're doing something fun and engaging that she can take a reassuring photo of to send you.

I don't think you need to fire this nanny just yet- I think nonjudgmental, ongoing dialogue is the way to improve this situation. But if you do fire her, I'd encourage you to approach the next nanny as a valuable, intelligent collaborator in the care of your child (who just needs a bit of time and guidance to get to know him) rather than treating her like a subordinate that you're sure is doing something wrong. No nanny is perfect just like no parents are perfect.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:37 AM on January 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Are you co-sleeping? When my son was still co-sleeping, no one could get him to nap as well as I could, including dad, and my MIL who was living with us at the time.

Once we finally transitioned to a crib, it still took my LO a good 2-3 weeks to figure out how to sleep on his own without incident.

Which is to say, it's not time to freak out yet. Staying with a new person is a huge transition for your little guy, but as long as she is caring and exhibits a gentle, friendly attitude towards him and the other child, he should adjust just fine.

If she has a harsh attitude or just leaves him crying without addressing him for hours on end, sure, I'd make a change in caregivers.
posted by vignettist at 12:06 PM on January 24, 2014

Could go either way. I'm getting a picture of you being overanxious and inexperienced and hovering, and the nanny maybe not being the best, most super-professional nanny ever, either. In other words, I'm not absolutely positive to come down hard on anyone's side just yet. But there aren't any huge warning signs. If the child is happy and playing, as long as the nanny is watching them, it's okay if she is talking on the phone or doing something else, IMO. The crying and not sleeping is a bit of a concern, but it's possibly just new-experience crying.

Not changing the dirty diaper is kind of the biggest warning sign here, but it's not clear if nanny was really being remiss or you just offered to help.

Maybe give it another week and then decide to cut and run or not?
posted by quincunx at 2:03 PM on January 24, 2014

What did she tell you during the interviews about how she deals with a crying kid?
What did you tell her you wanted her to do when your child was crying?

Personally, my parenting style (and there are lots of different ones out there) is such that leaving a 4 month old to cry alone is not acceptable. *Was* the baby crying alone? Was the nanny working on a bottle or something? Why wasn't the diaper being changed before mom got there? Wet diapers are uncomfortable and babies don't want to sleep in them. It is healthy for the baby to be changed immediately upon wetting itself. Diapers are not meant to be left on after soiling. They are only there to prevent clothes from getting wet/poopy. These are the questions I would be asking. Babies are using this time to learn how to emotionally deal with the world. Some people believe you should just let them cry until they stop complaining about what's wrong; some people feel that that is cruel. My philosophy is that babies should not get used to the feeling of sitting wet diaper, it's gross so I would not tolerate a nanny that did not change it if the baby was crying and the diaper was wet.

I would also skip the pop ins and just get a nanny cam if you're worried.
posted by HMSSM at 3:42 PM on January 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

In response to the answer mentioning a nanny cam, you might find my question from last year about hiring a nanny and using a nanny cam to be helpful.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:33 PM on January 24, 2014

I'm a nanny who is pro-CIO...but not with a new nanny without parental permission.

And of course you're going to check in on your tiny baby!

Fire her. You won't be able to relax.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:32 AM on January 25, 2014

I think you are totally justified in popping in! Don't do it every day, but at the beginning it is perfectly appropriate and a good idea. Experienced nannies understand this - even if it can be a bit awkward.

Leaving the baby on the mat alone seems fine to me if he is happy - but I would also want to see the nanny actively interacting with them at other times.

The crying in the crib would bother me a lot. Was she trying to get him to sleep or just left him there? I would not like it if she just left him there for no reason. If she is trying to get him to CIO she should have asked you.

She also needs to figure out how to get him to nap. If she can't figure it out in the next few days I would say you are justified in firing her. She is a nanny - her job is to get the babies to nap! At the beginning I would not be too rigid on how the baby naps - swing, arms, stroller are fine. The point is to keep the baby rested during the transition period.

Is she taking the babies out for walks? I wouldn't want a nanny who didn't do that.

Is she keeping track of the baby's diapers, feeds, moods? She should be able to tell you all of that.
posted by yarly at 1:05 PM on January 25, 2014

Thank you all for your thoughtful answers. We are doing our best to respect and communicate with our nanny. She did know we'd be around the first week and we stayed our of her hair for the most part. I would not classify myself as a helicopter type but definitely hands-on and concerned...

To answer some ?'s

We did discuss a typical day during interview and that we'd like for the baby to be generally engaged with talking, singing, walks, etc... but tried to leave things open to her experience.

I don't care that she was on the phone but after a few pop-ins I stopped believing in coincidence and wondered if she would get down and hang with him.

We do need to be more clear about or parenting philosophies. One major take-away from this forum is to be explicit about exact activities we would like for her to engage him with and how we'd like him to nap. We're considering having her keep some form of log. Maybe just for naps.

When he was crying in the crib we just didn't know for how long. The hoarse voice thing really got to us. Our biggest concern is whether she can meet the demands of two infants. She has personal and professional experience with this so we believed that she could.

We are open to CIO at night but have been very fortunate with sleeping through the night. In the day we're pretty attentive but stretching our response times for him to try to "self sooth." We're still figuring all this out and finding the balance between the intimacy of the situation and the bottom line employee/employer relationship.
posted by demonstartivepapadonous at 6:24 PM on January 25, 2014

The crying hard in the crib is the one thing that sticks out to me. He's only four months old! I had a high needs baby who, for the first 18 weeks, spent more of her awake hours crying than anything else. Holding her helped and it was obvious she needed it (FWIW, I am pro-CIO for sleep purposes, but I think four months is too early and it's not appropriate for a baby and his brand new caretaker).

When she went to daycare at 20 weeks, she was still quite a crier, so they held her. By the time she grew out of it, there were two new tiny crying babies at the daycare, and I never saw the little ones crying alone for any length of time. It was two adults to eight infants in that room some days, which really isn't ideal, but they handled it. They would be feeding one baby and using a foot to bounce another one in the bouncer. Crying babies wake the napping ones!

My point is, I presume you are paying this nanny to give your infant more attention and more interaction than he'd get in a daycare setting. It doesn't seem like that is happening. The nanny being on the phone when he's calm would be a little annoying, but coming home to him crying hard in the crib would make me very very wary.
posted by smalls at 8:51 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

CUT TO: ONE MONTH LATER. Thanks again to all who answered. The nanny share is working our quite well. In hindsight it helped to use a balance of the following.

1) Be much more explicit about activities and nap routines we wanted. We were tying to be open and not too protective. We ended up making a 1 page print out of suggested activities and our nap routine (cues) along with our emergency #'s and discussing them with our nanny.

2) We decided to keep a simple daily log for diapers, feedings and naps. This has helped to pass off info on both sides (we keep it too) and alleviate some anxieties.

3) We recognized that the baby needed to adapt and our professional nanny needed a week to get her sea legs for a share with two infants. She seemed much more attentive and rested during week 2 and 3.
posted by demonstartivepapadonous at 1:00 PM on February 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

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