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Tips: Successful Nannying with the Work At Home Parent (WAHP)

Kathleen Webb, 4nannies.com Inc.

Many nanny positions involve one or both parents working from the home all or part of the time. This complicates the nanny:family relationship in a myriad of ways. Nanny and family need to carefully evaluate each other, as well as the physical and emotional landscape, to craft a successful working partnership.

Start off on the best footing.

The parents hire nanny to do a job. But what are the WAHP's expectations? Do they work at home every day, certain days of the week, or on a more informal schedule? How does the WAHP envision their daily schedule? Interview carefully. Discuss and agree to boundaries and ground rules up front. This will be unique to the parent/nanny and situation.

Is the home office close to or removed from the areas of the home used by the nanny and child? You have probably already guessed that removed is best, but often a parent will use a spare bedroom - perhaps right next to the baby's room. The infant is only aware of the caregiver right in front of him so Mom or Dad's physical proximity is not an issue. Out of sight, out of mind so to speak. The toddler however is a different story. Experienced nannies offer the following tips:

  • Keep good byes short and sweet and keep to a schedule. The child will quickly learn that Mommy will eat lunch with him daily, or that Daddy will read a short story before nap time.
  • Have a "Do Not Disturb" system in place for the home office to clue nanny that the WAHP really really really needs privacy and quiet right now. A sign hanging on the door, a sock on the door knob, you can be creative so long as all parties understand.
  • Is the telephone shared with the WAHP? Who answers the phone, how does the WAHP want the phone answered, and how should messages be taken, if at all?
  • The WAHP is encouraged to limit the spontaneous little trips out of the home office and through the play/activity area. The fun game of Candy Land that pre-schooler and nanny are engaged in will rarely survive the 'quick' visit from daddy to 'see what you are doing.' Consider equipping the home office with a mini-fridge, microwave, and coffee maker.

Many WAHPs choose this life style because it allows them to be physically present and closer to their children, as well as eliminating wasted commuting time. Working with nanny to set up a schedule that allows the parent to both spend more time with their child AND accomplish their daily work is not as easy as it sounds - expect some trial and error. Nanny flexibility is key - a nanny who values autonomy and is rigid and territorial about the daily schedule and routine will not find professional satisfaction in this arrangement.

Activities, Rules, and Dealing with Tears

Children thrive when they have consistent boundaries and rules. Nanny and the WAHP definitely need to thoroughly discuss and agree to parenting styles and reach complete agreement. The WAHP needs to resist the urge to investigate every case of tears or tantrums, as well as the urge to micro manage the nanny. The nanny needs to make a concerted effort to follow every direction of the parent, consistently. If parent uses the blue chair as the 'thinking chair' (time out), nanny needs to follow through accordingly. Nannies, many WAHPs understandably have a hard time disengaging from their children. Your consistently demonstrated professionalism and competence will go a long way help them separate their paid job from their mommy/daddy job. Be patient and carefully consider questions and suggestions. Don't take it personally!

Parents, it is important for you to respect that nanny is in charge at appropriate times. A unified front in front of the children is vital to maintaining peace in the household. Just as parents should not let the child play one parent against the other (all children will try this!), parents should not allow the child to play mommy against the nanny. Disagreements about care giving should be handled away from the children. If you disagree with how nanny handles a situation, have the conversation with nanny outside of your children's hearing. Resist the urge to 'correct' nanny or over-ride nanny in front of the children - this makes her job so much harder going forward.

Respect each other, work together and, at the end of the day, you and your children will benefit.

Schedule

Typically, a caregiver will develop a schedule of activities for the children in their care, including regular meal times, quiet times, activities and naps. A predictable routine is soothing to a child - they quickly learn what to expect and when. A nanny generally will begin work within the framework of a current schedule established by the parents. Children's needs, however, change over time and things like bottle schedules give way to snacks and meals, the morning nap will go away, and the child's level of activity will generally ramp up over time. Crawling gives way to trotting around the kitchen table, and then moves to riding the Big Wheel and climbing, sliding and swinging at the park. Nanny and the WAHP need to stay synchronized on this ever evolving schedule. Often nanny will need to accommodate the WAHP to some extent - if the WAHP can break for lunch at 1 PM, and wishes to share a meal with their children, nanny will have to work around this, perhaps with a small mid-morning snack to help tide the children over. If the WAHP has scheduled meetings or conference calls, it is best to try to work nap time or a walk around the neighborhood into this time frame. The better nanny and the WAHP can recognize and adjust to each other's needs, the better the long term relationship.

The work day should be clearly defined in the nanny/WAHP relationship. Just because mommy works from home is no excuse for nanny to be late or inconsistent with her arrival time. And conversely, just because nanny is already there is not a reason for the WAHP to add time at the end of the day without prior discussion and agreement. It can be tempting for the nanny to hit the snooze alarm or for the WAHP to spend the extra half hour finishing the report before calling it a day - remember your commitments and obligations!

Handling Conflicts

Conflicts and disagreement between nanny and the WAHP are inevitable. The two caregivers (nanny and parent) are bound to step on each other's toes from time to time, just as two parents together will. Common areas of conflict can be discussed in the job interview. These include family's discipline philosophies, dietary preferences, potty training and activity preferences. Many times the parents of a 3 month old have given no thought to how they will handle discipline in the future! That's okay - regular ongoing communication will allow nanny and the WAHP parents to express their views and preferences as they evolve. Nanny should be free to express her preferences over time, but at the end of the day the final decisions rest with the parents.

Experts encourage scheduling a formal 'communication' time - typically a monthly meeting is adequate. The WAHP and nanny may sit down during nap time with a cup of tea and chat about how things are going. This is the appropriate time for the parent to express evolving preferences. Examples may include:

  • Baby is crawling now, the Mr. and I have decided that we would prefer that outdoor shoes be left at the door now.
  • Baby is picking up and repeating language like a sponge. We would prefer that baby be taught to use the word 'poop' to refer to a soiled diaper, not some of the other more colorful words he is learning!
  • We are planning to get Johnny a bicycle for his 5th birthday. We have a firm and absolute rule - no biking without a helmet on the head. Will you help us reinforce that?
  • Dad and I are having a hard time getting Susie to stay down for a nap on the weekends. How are things going during the week? How do you get her settled? I would love a Sunday afternoon lie down myself!

Nannying with a WAHP can be a very good experience - or it can be a disaster! Do your homework, treat the WAHP with respect, honor your commitments, be patient, and keep lines of communication open. The professional nanny, who receives mutual respect from the WAHP, can thrive in this environment.


A special "Thank You" to the nannies, parents and agency owners who collaborated on this article via the NannyNetwork.com Bulletin Board