Category Archives: Posts

September 30th, 2014

Professional Success

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How does anyone manage to keep a job they love for more than a decade? This weekend in Orlando I had the privilege of seeing Kellie Geres, a White House Nanny, receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Domestic Estate Managers Association (DEMA). When I placed Kellie  in her current position 11 years ago, she had already been named Nanny of the Year by the International Nanny Association (INA). Kellie started her childcare career right out of high school. She also started volunteering early in life. She continued to join organizations that helped her grow professionally. I first met Kellie when we both served on the Board of the INA. When she moved to the DC area for her job, she joined a local nanny support group called ADCAN (Association of DC Area Nannies). And then—no surprise - she became its president. More recently, she was asked to head up the local DC chapter of DEMA. I know, lots of acronyms and also lots of time devoted to nonprofit organizations that count on people with her organizational skills to survive.
The point is that most nannies age out of their jobs. No, let me restate that. Most children age out of their nannies. Many childcare providers are great from ages 0-3 or until 5. Then the kids are off to school. It’s hard for nannies to have their work day shrink to 4 hours a day from the 10 that supported them. They love those kids, but they see the limitations of their usefulness. They think they need to move on to the next family with young children.

There is, however, another path for those nannies who see themselves as service professionals and want to stay with their employer families. They go from nanny to nanny manager to household manager. A nanny manager tends to work in households where the children are school age but still in need of supervision when they are home. During school hours, the nanny manager assists with all manner of errands including grocery shopping, dry cleaner runs, and birthday party gifts to name a few. They help keep the house stocked with supplies. They may also oversee workers in the home or simply be on site for deliveries. They are, of course, still in charge of anything to do with the children: laundry, cooking, cleaning children’s rooms, etc. When the children are at home, the focus of the job shifts to them. Carpooling to activities and overseeing homework become their primary functions.

A household manager oversees the general operation of the home. Household managers generally have the responsibilities of planning, organizing and coordinating events, managing household calendars and schedules, arranging appointments, scheduling and supervising home maintenance projects, paying household bills and completing any other requested administrative tasks. On average nanny managers and household managers work between 40 – 55 hours per week and may either live-in or live-out of the residence. Their combined duties and years of experience also translate into higher salaries.

Kellie figured out how to make herself indispensable to her current employers by improving her knowledge of the many things she could do for them to make their domestic lives run more smoothly. She now manages their household because the kids pretty much manage themselves. One went off to college and the other is in high school. So Kellie went from nanny to nanny manager and is now household manager.

It was great  to be able to be part of Kellie’s celebration and to raise a glass in toast to someone who has achieved both personal and professional success.

August 15th, 2014

“Toogood” to be True

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“Manassas principal resigns, loses teaching license after allegedly faking résumé”
That’s Wednesday’s headline in the Metro section of the Washington Post about former local elementary school Principal Robin Toogood, II, who was found to have falsified all of his education credentials. Here’s the sad truth: People do lie about their credentials. These fabrications are found at every level from undergrads to PHDs and CEOs. Padding resumes is unfortunately part of our culture.

It happens in the nanny world, too. I personally learned a big lesson in my early years at White House Nannies. It was embarrassing and also instructive. A young college woman said she had graduated from George Washington University. We called all her references but didn’t check with the university to verify her degree. As luck and pure happenstance would have it, the client I passed her information onto was on the board of trustees of that university. She checked and found out that our candidate had been a student there but had never graduated. While the degree was not a pre-requisite for the nanny position, honesty and trustworthiness certainly were. That lie left her dead in the water despite the fact that she was great with kids.

Every parent wants to know that the people hired to take care of their children, whether in a school system or in their homes, are who they say they are and that their resumes and applications are true reflections of their experience. For those doing the hiring, it’s all about due diligence. We expect our schools to be doing a better job of screening their employees. In this case, Mr. Toogood had a long list of admirers. He was good at his job. But he lied. Repeatedly. Somebody should have caught his embellishments along the way.

Recently, there has been a rash of bad caregivers hired from online sites who purportedly have clean background checks. Unfortunately for the public at large, the world of background checks is murky. Even for those of us in the field, understanding what constitutes a thorough check is not always easily grasped. For example, a check of the National Criminal File sounds impressive — but it is not and should never be relied on its own. Most people have no idea. Parents deserve peace of mind when it comes to the care and education of their children . The Association of Professional Nanny Agencies is working on an educational tool for parents right now, so stay tuned!

June 20th, 2014

Swim—or Sink

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Summer has just begun and already there has been a rash of drownings. All are devastating and often avoidable tragedies. When we interview nannies, we ask if they can swim since there is a great likelihood that they may end up in the water with the children they care for. It’s always surprising to us that people who grew up in island countries never learned to swim. I am convinced that relying on the lifeguard at a pool is not good enough protection, especially in the case of younger children who do not know how to swim or who are not yet confident swimmers. Someone needs to be in the pool next to the kids. I have a strong memory of my son at three when he raced in a flash to the steps of the high dive and jumped off. Only one problem: he did not know how to swim. Fortunately, my husband was able to rush in and catch him as he rose to the surface. The next week we enrolled him at an American University swim program where he learned to swim. I can still replay that scene as if it were yesterday.

Now in addition to worrying about your standard drowning, there is something called secondary or dry drowning. This is quite scary. The CDC reports that there are ten such drownings a day. Secondary drowning involves the inhalation of water into the lungs, either after a near drowning or as the result of a sudden rush of water.

“They initially look well, and then over — usually the first six to eight hours, but it can be as much as 24 hours out — they can develop a lot of increased trouble breathing,” says Dr. Erik Schobitz, medical director of the pediatric emergency room at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

After a near drowning, a child can develop an inflammation or swelling of the lungs called pulmonary edema, which limits the body’s ability to get oxygenate blood.  Inhalation of pool water can also lead to chemical pneumonia, or lung inflammation caused by the chemicals in the water.

“That is why we have to watch them carefully after any one of these near drowning events,” Schobitz says.

Lindsay Kujawa, a blogger (Delighted Momma), who went through this frightening experience with her own child suggests that “… if your child has experienced a near-drowning experience, watch for a sudden change of personality or energy level. You can save your child’s life if you act quickly and get them medical treatment immediately.”

Summer and lazy days spent sunning and splashing at the pool are synonymous, as they should be, but it never hurts to be reminded that even our favorite sunny day activities involve risks. Have a wonderful summer and please swim safely!

May 30th, 2014

A Bad Rap

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One out of four adults has a rap sheet (NPR, All Things Considered, May 29, 2014). Seriously, that does seem like a lot of people. Why am I writing about criminal records?  It’s not about the obvious: weeding out those really bad potential caregivers. Here’s the deal. There are tremendous “collateral consequences” resulting from youthful indiscretions. How many college students have some form of alcohol or other substance abuse on their records? I’m here to tell you a lot and too many. Who ever thinks about his or her future while at a frat party? Who is thinking her underage partying may impact job offers  after college? No one. The biggest issue under consideration for many teenagers and college students is who’s got the cups and booze for beer pong and where are we setting up the table?

Flash forward 5 or 10 years, and a background check is run on this young adult who is now out in the real world. The report comes back clean. Phew. Thank goodness that the crucial 7-year mark has passed. Look again. Those charges that were dismissed or thought expunged can still show up on some online judicial case searches. Oh, the glory of the internet and the glut of information to be found on it. Many data banks have outdated and incorrect information listed. Too bad.  This data, whether accurate or inaccurate, is in the public domain. Anyone who looks hard enough can find all those stupid things today’s young adults did in their youth (assuming they were caught). These inanities will follow them. They also present us with the unpleasant task of telling prospective employers that the terrific candidate they are about to hire has a past, however harmless it may be.

Here’s where I come down on this issue.  I am all for forgiveness if the charge was long enough ago and petty. Clearly, anything that could be construed as potentially harmful to children is another story and that candidate is history. I know I have evolved to this point of view. Before I had teenagers, I was much more of a hard-liner. Now I can see the gray and understand youthful indiscretion much better. Trust me, this evolution was not without pain. The take away: Make sure you have a very thorough background check performed on anyone who is going to take care of your children. If something does come up, forgiveness may be what the situation calls for. Or not.

April 30th, 2014

Parental Involvement Overrated?

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I read it in the New York Times, so it has to be true. Right? The title of the article was “Parental Involvement is Overrated.”  Yikes. That headline is not going to sit well with a lot of parents.

In fact, most forms of parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it.

Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris authors of “The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education”

Through the years, I’ve known lots of friends of our kids whose parents were overly involved in projects and papers. In addition, they spent a lot of time helping out at their kids’ schools. It made this working mom feel a bit guilty to be sure. But when I heard a friend say how hard seventh grade is “for us,” and “how much homework we have,” and that “we won the science fair contest”—it took everything I had in me not to cringe. She might want to read this Times article.

My parents never helped with homework even though they had both been to college. My husband and I followed suit. For me, any math assistance ended for real in 4th grade. It always annoyed me to death that schools assigned projects in lower schools that kids could only do with parental help. Who’s in third grade here?

A lot of the findings in the authors’ study are counter-intuitive. The 655 comments were as interesting to read as the article itself. But there were some takeaways from the research that resonated. The authors suggested that parents set the stage, talk about how important education is, and allow children space to figure it out on their own. I know there are so many exceptions where parental involvement is necessary, but in many cases it’s simply helicoptering. One teacher respondent felt that the most valuable kind of parental involvement was making sure that children have loving homes with well defined boundaries and limits. Not a bad idea.

March 24th, 2014

SNOW DAYS

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Note to self: add section in nanny/family agreement about snow days!

Who knew we’d still be talking snow days at the end of March? With one more storm potentially on the way, I know this is a topic that needs some clarity. If not for this year, for next.  We’ve received quite a few inquiries asking about the protocol of snow days in the nation’s capital. Ah, the nation’s capital,  a city of federal workers— that fact is exactly why some of the problems have arisen. Here are some basic truths. Nannies are not federal workers. There does seem to be a feeling on the part of many nannies that if the federal government is closed, they don’t have to go to work and should be paid for the time off. Not true. Their employers aren’t necessarily federal workers. Even if they are, they are often considered essential personnel and still have to report to work even when the government is officially closed. Every family has different needs and requirements. The federal government does not determine who has to go to work and who gets to stay home in the nanny world.

Another truth is many caregivers live further out of the city and truly cannot get into work after heavy snowstorms. Some nannies live on streets that don’t get plowed immediately or even for days. Employers have to understand that no matter how easy it may be for them to get to work or how much they need to work, nannies may have no choice in the matter. They may be stuck at home. Conversely, if a nanny is willing and able to work but told  not to come to work, that nanny should be paid for the day.

While there is an industry standard of five paid sick days, there is no standard number of snow days. My best advice is to discuss and decide in addition to holidays and sick days, how many snow days will be paid. Put this in any work agreement or contract renewal paperwork. And then pray we don’t have to refer to this blog next year!

February 27th, 2014

Advice for Parents Working From Home

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Telecommuting is a part of the work landscape and here to stay. (Unless you happen to work for Marissa Mayer)  The idea of this blog is not to extol the virtues of or point out the downside of this work arrangement, but to try and help the parents who employ nannies in their homes to adopt some best practices to insure  good working relationships.

When we interview nanny candidates in our office, one of the questions we always ask is: Are you comfortable working for a family where one (or both) of the parents work out of the home?  As expected, we get a variety of responses to this query. They range on a spectrum from “No problem” to “Maybe” to more often “Absolutely not”.  We talk to the candidates about their responses to understand the back stories.

New parents are often shocked that nannies don’t want to work with a parent at home. Suspicions arise. Why? What would the nanny do differently if the parent is not home? Some scenarios don’t even occur to new parents but can cause a lot of stress for the caregiver. How does the nanny keep a crying baby or a demanding toddler quiet while the parent is on an important call? How does she deal with separation anxiety?

In analyzing why nannies have had bad experiences with parents at home, the reasons for the failure of those arrangements almost always had to do with a lack of boundaries. Some of the boundary infractions are physical. A parent is constantly in the space where the nanny and child or children are. It is much harder to establish any kind of relationship and authority if the parent is always there. We realize it’s very hard for any parent to hear their child cry and not want to intervene. But it is important to allow the nanny to establish her routines and responses without constant input from the at home parent.

Nannies whose answers were middle of the road made it clear to us that it depended on the parent. They’ve had jobs where it worked and others where it didn’t.  The nannies who responded “no problem” often recount the wonderful relationships they developed with not only the children in their charge but also the parents. There are some nannies who actually love the idea that there is another adult in the house.

For both nannies and parents, one of the best ways to deal with parents working at home is to make plans for outings whenever possible. The children enjoy the adventures to the park or library and certainly the nannies do too. The out- of -the house time gives the working parent total quiet and time to focus on their tasks at hand  without any interruptions. Obviously, the polar vortex and other instances of bad weather may make getting out impossible.

Establishing routines and working as a team will yield the best results for the arrangement. If specific times are set up for work breaks and visits with the children or baby, the likelihood of success is much greater.  It is also best to have weekly meeting s to give input, discuss any problems, and come up with solutions.  Fewer surprises, more routine. Parents should discuss in advance how they want to deal with questions or interruptions from the nanny.  Some simple questions could wait till the end of the day. Make it clear because you are there does not mean you are necessarily available to talk at all times. Talking out possible scenarios and how they should be handled will help make this relationship a success.

January 20th, 2014

The Weather Outside is Frightful

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There was a bit of panic here in DC in early January. The kids had just gone back to school after the extended winter break and no sooner than life had started to get back to normal when we experienced the Polar Vortex. We’re not used to polar weather here, so what we were feeling and hearing was palpable anxiety.   Our local great radio station WTOP invited me to offer their listeners ideas live on-air for kid-friendly indoor activities that might help combat arctic front-induced boredom. We put our heads together and came up with some fun ideas of things to do when it’s really cold and playing outside may not be an option. Diverting the kids from wanting to watch TV, or playing video games, or being on iPads all day is the challenge. Not that those options have to be eliminated—just managed. It’s our collective experience that kids have more fun with interactive activities, and they tend to get less cranky.  I thought I’d share some of our suggestions for when you and your kids are stuck inside:

 

  • Junior Master Chef: Take culinary risks and be prepared to make clean up part of the game.
  • Baking: Who doesn’t like making cookies, brownies, etc.? Measuring can be a math lesson!
  • Creating a Family Menu: Look up recipes and make a grocery list. Kids invested in the planning process are also more likely to consume the results.
  • If crafts are popular in your home, go on to Pinterest. Endless options.
  • Try baby picture scrapbooking. Kids LOVE looking at themselves and your pictures will get organized.
  • We also think that some of the time honored, old fashioned ideas are some of the most fun:
    • Indoor forts and mazes—Hang up a blanket and gather all the pillows and couch cushions or set up a tent and let them have an indoor camping experience.
    • Dress up and role play games—Let them raid your closet!
    • Simon Says, Charades, Twister, hallway races, and puppet shows.
    • Have a little dance contest or play musical freeze tag.
    • Have fun with musical instruments. Create a band with real instruments in the house. If the kids are younger, make your own instruments with pots and pans and jars with beans.
    • Board games are fun for all ages, even older kids—Scrabble and Monopoly are engaging and take up time.
  • If you just need a break from the kids—and you aren’t the nanny—swap out a few hours with a neighbor with kids of her own.
  • Best idea, especially if you need to go to work, call WHN and let us send you one of our fabulous temp nannies to save the day!

 

 

November 26th, 2013

Giving Thanks

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Here’s what we at  White House Nannies are thankful for:

Barbara is thankful for:

  • Our children (who have jobs they like)
  • Celebrating the trifecta of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and 32 years of marriage all in one day
  • Great employees
  • Our new office space
  • Elastic waist bands
  • Dark chocolate

Zanny is thankful for:

  • Happiness and good health
  • Days when the Red Line is on time
  • Co-workers who bring in baked goods
  • Cactus Cantina

Hannah is thankful for:

  • The National Zoo’s Panda Cam
  • Ann Taylor Loft and its frequent sales
  • The Washington Nationals,
  • My goofy and tragically geriatric dog
  • My brilliant, but completely insane little sister
  • The generosity and love my parents offer me every day

Aerin is thankful for:

  • My awesome hubs who encourages me everyday to be the best person I can be.
  • My two pooches, one of which is reaching the golden age of 19 and the other is just beginning her 8th month of life. Both of which teach me more patience then I thought possible.
  • Living in a time that modern medicine is at a point where things are found before they become a big problem.
  • Getting to become an aunt twice in one year.

Richard is thankful for:

  • My health and that of my entire family
  • My wonderful wife and children
  • The continued good health of the dedicated and hard working staff @ WHN
  • The loyal and committed pool of caregivers who keep our temporary division running
  • Being settled into our new offices with most things functioning
  • My own office with 4 walls and a door that can be closed when I am talking too loudly (still working on my “inside voice”)

Michelle is thankful for:

  • My two precious… yet precocious little boys. All of the hugs, kisses, smiles, belly laughs and even the screaming, kicking, pounding-the-floor tantrums.
  • Every second that I get to be “mommy” to my sons and watch them grow…which is going by all too quickly.
  • My loving and supportive husband who is such an amazing father to our children and who can (every once in a while) take the kids so that I can have a mommy’s day out.

Denise is thankful for:

  • Amazing family and friends
  • Good health
  • Zanny and Hannah (my temp team)
  • Keurig Machine

 

October 29th, 2013

Flu Shots

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October means the arrival of fall filled with colorful leaves, carved pumpkins, and one of our favorite holidays: Halloween. On a less fun note, fall is also the season for the arrival of the flu. When we interview prospective nannies in person, we always ask if they have gotten their flu shots. If they haven’t had them, we then ask if they are willing to do so if a family requests or requires it. In our experience, more and more caregivers are willing to get flu shots and there is no shortage of places for them to go to be inoculated. There are, however, still cases of nannies who are nervous about getting any shot.  Either they have had bad reactions in the past or they are simply afraid of having a bad reaction.

Here’s what the Mayo Clinic had to say about who shouldn’t get flu shots:

  • You’re allergic to eggs. Some flu vaccines contain tiny amounts of egg proteins. If you have an egg allergy or sensitivity, you’ll likely be able to receive a flu vaccine — but you might need to take special precautions, such as waiting in the doctor’s office for at least 30 minutes after vaccination in case of a reaction. There’s also a flu vaccine that doesn’t contain egg proteins, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for use in people age 18 and older. Consult your doctor about your options.
  • You had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine. The flu vaccine isn’t recommended for anyone who had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine. Check with your doctor first, though. Some reactions might not be related to the vaccine.

 

They go on to explain why it is important to be vaccinated every year:

  • New flu vaccines are released every year to keep up with rapidly adapting flu viruses. Because flu viruses evolve so quickly, last year’s vaccine may not protect you from this year’s viruses.
  • After vaccination, your immune system produces antibodies that will protect you from the vaccine viruses. In general, though, antibody levels start to decline over time — another reason to get a flu shot every year.

 

This brings us to our next issue: Who should pay for the shot if the family requires it for the job? It has been our position that if the family requires the shot, then they should offer to pay for it.  If someone refuses to get the shot based on religious beliefs, they cannot be required to get the shot. This puts parents in a difficult position since religious beliefs are a protected category under state and federal law. The big take away here is that  the issue of flu shots needs to be discussed before a hire is completed, especially if a family is requiring the nanny to have one.