When someone says to me “oh so you’re a nanny, you’re like a third parent,” I squirm a little bit. It’s a bit troubling, because I know that when a parent does their parenting “job,” it is unconditional love for free. While I adore every child for whom I’ve cared and want the very best for them, I am not like a third parent. My job comes with the highest degree of trust because I care for someone (my charge) who is someone else’s most precious asset. However, I explain, it isn’t free! I balance that care and trust with my own professional needs as well the needs of the parents and children. Rather, I like to call myself a mix of roles: researcher; advocate; teacher; and friend.
1. The Researcher:
When I was first starting out, I expected that most parents were excited that I had been caring for other children in my family and had even been a successful babysitter in and around my hometown. What I wasn’t prepared for, was getting asked by some nervous parents about the needs of their children. And the questions were always deep questions, asked with a long pause and waiting for an answer that was equally thoughtful. Parents would ask questions such as, “What do you think of Baby Einstein, we started Michael* off when he was 6 months. He may be a bit tired of it.” Yikes!
Recent studies had shown that Baby Einstein
may actually do more harm than good for language acquisition. The parents did not know that, and, after I did some research, I was able to come back and suggest that we opt to play and talk with Michael for stimulation instead, because this may help way more than Baby Einstein. Parents were grateful if I chimed in with a response, or simply said, “I’m not sure, but I’ll do some research.”
For many parents, a nanny can be a consultant, helping them navigate the challenges of parenting…which leads me to the next role:
2. The Advocate:
Every nanny has the potential to be a superhero and is an advocate on many levels. Using my Baby Einstein example, in a world that is very commercially driven, there are few people/places I can think of that help parents figure out what is really educational and what’s just fluff. Think about all of the “educational apps” in the iTunes Store. A nanny is an advocate for children, families and, of course, for the nanny profession. There are a lot of misconceptions about what nannies do for a living, especially the idea that providing one on one childcare is “easy.” Being a nanny ain’t easy. Within any given day a nanny has to wear so many different hats while also doing battle against the false assumptions of what she does. Being an advocate falls to showing/doing more than telling. It means researching child development milestones, learning about taxes and income for nannies, and empowering families to make healthy choices. All in a day’s work!
3. The Teacher:
I love what several nannies, including Sue Downey
, creator of Nannypalooza, an online nanny community, have mentioned about having child-facilitated playtime. The hidden secret to helping children grow and learn is creating opportunities to guide healthy decisions about how they play, eat and socialize. Much of this is in modeling positive decisions, practicing together and reinforcing praise on those healthy choices. In the same respect, nannies can help whole families do the same. For instance, several nannies have expressed concern among each other when their MB or DB travels for an extended period of time. But nannies are creative! We can definitely help facilitate helping families and busy parents catch up and feel connected. One of my favorite ways of keeping everyone connected is by taking a couple pictures or video message and sending them from us to a child’s parent(s).
4. The Friend:
This one hits a little closer to home and can get mixed reactions, but I will go with it. A nanny is, at the end of the day and in some special cases, a friend to the family. I have been fortunate to experience this for the better, but I know that experience can be a mixed bag. In the best possible scenario, a nanny is considered an equal peer or partner with the parents. In this case, being a nanny is very special; here you are seeing these other adults in the place where they are the most vulnerable, happiest, saddest, etc. Like all relationships, friendships can backfire and, although a parent may like a nanny, they may have trouble letting her know that she is performing poorly. Or, it may prevent the nanny from making an objective decision sooner about her work situation. The nature of our job means that, in the ideal relationship, I imagine the parents seeing me as in a friend-relationship that comes with a high degree of trust that is being built on a daily basis, not just as a “friend/buddy.” Any successful professional will tell you that their own success came with building relationships, and yes friendships, with colleagues (other nannies and childcare professionals) and employers.
In our roles as nannies I know that there are many hats that we must wear on a daily basis and the above list is not complete. What about you? Do you have other roles? Would you disagree on some of these? Let me know some of your thoughts below!