I have been employing nannies for the last four years and the first two years were the most tumultuous. By the second year, I had stopped counting the number of women who walked into my home to help me take care of my children. I stopped telling my mother or my mother-in-law to get me househelps because it just put me and my high househelp turnover on the spot. At some point I started feeling as if something was wrong with me: why couldn’t I just be happy with a nanny for say one year? May be I was the problem, I thought. I bet every mother has felt that at some point as they watched the sixth help in two months walk out of the door.
I came to discover that when you are starting out as an employer, your demands can be pretty high and your patience little. Also at that point, you are not yet fully aware of what you “really” need in a domestic helper. I see women’s list on Facebook groups where they are searching for domestic help and it is easy to tell a first time employer: Looking for a DM (domestic manager) who is saved, can teach my children to pray, speaks English, respectful, from XYZ community, good cook, can clean, has a great personality, does not require training, has referrals. By the time you are on your 10th DM all you want is an adult of sound mind who wants to work, is able to do the work and is available within two hours because you are already on your second day off work trying to get a help. The rest are details.
My very first DM was fresh from high school. She dressed like a teenager, cleaned dishes while on headphones and had absolutely zero boundaries. I could find her seated feet up in the sitting room, music on full blast and she will make no attempt to turn down the music or sit up. I then realized that I am not comfortable with provocative dressing with the DM or with asking someone to leave the room because I have visitors. Self awareness moment for me. She stayed two months.
I got another who was barely literate and gave two or three versions of every story. I knew I could not trust her completely. But my main reason for letting her go is that I could barely give her instructions when I was away. She wasn’t the person to tell, “Look for a bottle written Calpol and give the baby 2.5ml.” Describing everything felt like I am explaining it to my two-year-old and it became tiring. I shuddered to think how she would handle an emergency. I let her go.
Yet another DM had to leave because she was too young and naïve and I was at the point in my life and career when I had little patience to be a mother to a DM. I needed a professional who manages my home without me worrying about her as well. She looked so fragile, I found myself doing the bulk of the work at home no matter how tired I was after work. She was also easily impressionable and pretty had caught the eye of a few young men in the estate so I started feeling like the mother of a teenager, counselling and grounding, reminding her why she was at work. She inspired feelings of sympathy and guilt. I didn’t want that.
With time I have discovered that my deal breakers in domestic help are child neglect, dishonesty and lack of respect.
Through all that process I have learnt a few things:
Your nanny is your employee.
It is good to treat nannies like part of the household; but as many people will tell you, that may not necessarily result in loyalty. Often, the boundaries fade and you start disrespecting each other. Solution: treat your nanny like a professional. You are paying her to take care of your baby. If she walked out one morning, life would still go on. If you stopped paying her, the likelihood is that she will leave. On that note pay on time and pay competitively. Also do not ask her to do duties that are outside her job description unless she is willing to do you the favour or you are paying her extra. Keep the boundaries.
You’re not trying to make a friend. You’re hiring someone to take care of your baby so interview accordingly. Her JD requires you to ask non-conventional questions about her — where she grew up, marriage, parents, boyfriends and illnesses. The answers will help you decide if this is someone you want to leave with your most priced possessions. Do you want someone who can help with homework? Are you away most of the time and need someone to almost fill your shoes, budgeting and shopping, taking the kids to hospital? Interview accordingly.
You have a right to be biased
I don’t like to employ teenagers. So if she shows up at my door and she is barely out of high school, chances are she is not getting the job. I have also come to favour certain communities out of my experiences (I know, I know). Some mothers want nannies who can speak their mother tongue. I also do not hire a nanny who has a baby under two years because I feel such a woman should be with her children. I don’t want to feel as if I am taking away someone’s mother at the most important development time when she should be taking care of her own children.
Your house your rules
A woman last year posted a list of all the regulations her nanny should follow and there was an uproar on the Web. But you know what, it’s your house. Be humane but explain exactly how you want things done. That way your nanny knows from the word go what she’s getting into and when she is not meeting expectations. You do not want to be perpetually unhappy in your home. It’s your baby, your home and your choice. By giving all the rules, you can avoid quarrels because this and this wasn’t done. And she will probably do a better job when her work and duties and roles are clear.
When you have small children you will turn your eyes on a lot of things for a nanny who loves your babies. I put up with one who was not very clean and who went through a month’s shopping in days because she adored my little ones and took good care of them and they loved her back. My son would even tell her how much he had missed her when she came from her day off. As long as your children are well cared for, pick your battles wisely.
Give her off days as agreed and allow her to visit her home over the holidays, especially if she has small children. Chip in with the bus fare. Take care of her medical bills and put her on NHIF. Empower her. Give a bonus for work well done and a raise for every year you are together. Good DMs are hard to find. Get to know her aspirations; you may be in a place to help. Send her for trainings on cooking, housekeeping and first aid when you can. She will be a better employee and a happier one.
In the end however, like every god relationship, it is all about chemistry. Someone else’s good DM will be the nanny from hell in your house because of personality and culture clash. The same way you look at some DMs in your neighbourhood and wonder how they keep their jobs; one man’s meat, another man’s poison.