Stella McCartney (Paul’s daughter) is having trouble uttering the word “nanny”. It just sounds wrong to her. She prefers the word “friend”. We need to talk about this.
Let’s be clear, on some level there is no greater “friend” to a mom trying to manage the work/life balance than her nanny. The nanny allows her to function at work while her children are happy, safe, and well cared for at home. As we all know, if it’s not working at home, it’s not working in the office. But starting out wanting your nanny to be your friend may not be a wise idea.
We hear a wide range of requests from moms in search of childcare at WHN. They range from a chilling: “I’m not looking for a friend” to the very warm and fuzzy: “We want her to be a member of the family.” I’d put the “friend” request somewhere in the middle but closer to the warm and fuzzy end of the request spectrum. I would like to point out when dads call they NEVER ask not to be sent a friend or conversely to be sent a family member. They probably think they have enough friends and family. This how-to-call-the-person-taking–care-of-my-children dilemma seems to be more a maternal issue. I’m not saying I don’t understand the friend request—I’m just going to recommend caution.
A lot of women who work in childcare come from countries where there are strong class distinctions. Employers don’t consider them “friends”. The structure is clear. I am not advocating perpetuating the world of upstairs downstairs despite my abject devotion to Downton Abbey. I do think that “befriending” an employee from the get go–especially someone from a culture where that is not done–muddies the water. Beverly Turner, who recently wrote about the nanny VS friend dilemma in The Telegraph, describes herself in the following way: “I wasn’t just a first time mother; I was a cross-cultural communicator lost in a sea of social mobility”. No one says that navigating the waters of the mother/nanny relationship is easy.
First and foremost, your nanny IS your employee. She has been hired to take care of your children. When you interview to fill the childcare position, my advice is to look for a great “employee”. That doesn’t mean that your employee cannot evolve into your friend –on some level. In the same way, don’t start out trying to hire a member of the family. Relationships evolve. And blurring the lines of this relationship makes it a whole lot harder to manage your household. You run the risk of confusing your employee and making her uncomfortable. It is also a lot harder to critique a friend. Of course, you want to like this person and to have good chemistry with her as you are working together as a team to raise your children. I heartily endorse being thoughtful, kind, and courteous to your nanny.
Your nanny is hired to care of the children, not to be your confidant/friend. With a friend/employee, you run the risk of over-sharing. This can be most uncomfortable for your nanny. TMI. Over the years, I have listened to nannies that are beside themselves because their employers want to confide intimate details of their lives with them. Trust me–they do not want to know. They do not want to find themselves between you and your spouse.
There are an abundance of wonderful, heart-warming stories of nannies that have been completely woven into the fabric of the families for whom they have worked. These nannies become extended family- family members that have been chosen. They are considered friends to both children and parents. But these relationships were years in the making. When starting out, a clear sense of roles and responsibilities will make for a better long-term relationship.