The last story I wrote for The Bump about hiring help for my children seemed to have a fairytale ending. After agonizing over the decision to seek help and all the trial and error of finding the right fit, we ended up with the perfect combination of nanny and sitter, welcoming her into the family and flourishing for over a year. Then we had to mess it up by moving states! We actually offered to bring her with us but she declined as she has a son in school, friends and a life in New York.
Moving while heavily pregnant with a kid out of school for the summer is no easy task. Thankfully, I had both my mother and mother-in-law here to help off and on. So, for a while, we were good.
And then we weren’t. I had a newborn, my daughter returned to school, and both grandmothers, understandably, returned to their lives. I put out and responded to messages on my local moms’ group, had many phone calls with potential nannies and finally settled on an in-person interview with one, highly-recommended lady. She was double the age of our previous nanny, but with that came a wealth of experience. She was a former nurse and day care owner and had raised her own five kids and nine grandkids. She showed up in scrubs, was soft-spoken and soothing, bringing a sense of calm into our otherwise chaotic home. We hired her on the spot.
For the first few weeks, it seemed like this would be our new normal. But, while she was loving towards our little boy, Oliver, I couldn't get her to engage with our 4-year-old daughter, Lilly, no matter what I tried. The baby would be napping for two hours and there was nothing else to do but play with my daughter. Yet, there she sat, alone, or, since I work from home, often with me. I'd be balancing conference calls while trying to help Lilly glue pom poms on her paper doll or writing an article while stopping every few minutes to get her a snack. All the while, the nanny was sitting on her phone playing Sudoku. She wasn't working—and neither was I.
Things came to a head after we'd loaned her money and she was late for the fifth day in a row. When I returned home from a doctor’s appointment, my son woke and began to cry. She yelled from the other room, "Can you make me a bottle?"
Not wanting to cause confrontation, I begrudgingly made the bottle, had her finish her shift and texted her later that weekend that we were going to have my mom come help us for a while and would no longer be needing her services. I admit, a phone call or in-person explanation would've been the bigger thing to do, but we always communicated via text. Since she'd only been working for us for several weeks, it felt easier and more efficient this way. She seemed nonplussed, it ended amicably and we were on our way to finding her replacement.
I was now looking for an active, enthusiastic caretaker. And we found one, again, through a referral. This woman was only ten years younger but much more energetic. In the beginning, she was having dance parties with my daughter and taking my son on hour-long walks. It seemed as though we'd found our fit. I began to relax a bit. I even raved about her over email to other moms, trying to find her a secondary gig that she needed.
The next few months were filled with ups and downs—probably more downs than ups. But I so badly wanted it to work that I told myself differently. When our nanny was on, she was amazing: positive attitude, happy children, home straightened, laundry done, dishes washed. When she was off, we all were. Her pessimistic presence could be felt by all. Ultimately, we parted ways, unfortunately not so amicably this time.
I was this nanny’s third crash and burn in a matter of months. She was my second. Were we both at fault? I forced myself to look inward.
My errors, in this particular situation, include being too nice. I know that sounds like an answer you give in an interview when the potential employer asks you to name a weakness and you spin it into a positive. Oh, really? You're too nice? That's a healthy self-esteem you've got there! Perhaps "pushover" is a more appropriate term. In an effort to make my nannies feel comfortable in our home and like part of the family, I cater to them, hoping it entices them to be loving towards our kids. It starts out innocently enough: “How are you? How was your day?” Suddenly, I'm serving as a therapist when I'm on deadline and my "would you like anything to eat?" evolves into being a short-order cook.
It’s funny; I had no problem in the corporate world spelling out exactly what I expected from people and having discussions if those needs weren't met. In my home, however, it's open season. Confrontation with a colleague? No problem. With the caretaker of my children? No, thank you. When it comes to the people watching my kids, I have no boundaries because I want them to be happy. The last thing I need is a disgruntled employee in my home.
It's clear I need to approach it much more formally from the very beginning before it's too late. This person isn't my pal; they're a professional and need to be treated as such. I need to set parameters that I previously thought were pretty self-explanatory, like being on time, not playing on their phone, having a positive attitude and engaging with my children. Most of all, I need to take my time searching for the right caretaker. Referrals, one-time meetings and feelings of “she seems qualified enough” aren’t cutting it.
And so, we're back to square one. Ground zero. Whatever you want to call it, I'm sitter-free and pretty sad about it. So is Lilly. She asks every day if she's getting a new nanny. When I'm on a call with a potential candidate, she wants to know all about her. When we meet with someone, she immediately says she wants her to be the sitter. Bless her heart—if only it were that easy. But we've been burned and I'm being much more cautious and deliberate about all of it, including my expectations, moving forward.
Published April 2018
Natalie Thomas is a lifestyle blogger at Nat's Next Adventure and creator of the new moms platform @momecdotes. She's also an Emmy-nominated TV producer, contributor to Huffington Post, Today Show, Mother Mag, Hey Mama and Well Rounded, and former editor and spokesperson of Us Weekly. She's addicted to Instagram and seltzer water, lives in New York with her tolerant husband, Zach, 4-(going on 14!)-year-old daughter Lilly and newborn son, Oliver. She's always in search of her sanity and, more importantly, the next adventure.