I was paralysed by fear when it came time to find a nanny for my four-month old. As D-day for the end of my maternity leave approached I lay awake at night, jaws clenched, and imagined every worst case scenario possible. Everything from the paranoid extreme of, “What if I hire the leader of a child trafficking ring?” to the more likely but no less comforting, “What if she sticks my baby in front of the TV for hours? Or feeds her sugar behind my back?”
This was by far the toughest parenting hurdle I had yet encountered. And I’m not alone in this, according to Stephanie Dawson-Cosser, a relationship coach with a special interest in family dynamics: “Entrusting your child into the care of another person is probably one of the hardest tasks a parent ever has to do.”
The search is on
The good news is that there is the right nanny out there for your child, and you can make the process of finding her less daunting by becoming a savvy recruiter. The first step, according to Erlo Duncan, owner of recruitment agency SA Nanny, is to decide exactly what type of nanny you need. “Do you need a day nanny, a night nanny or night nurse, or a combined service, as in a nanny and domestic worker? Also decide on the days and times she will be required to work,” he advises.
Then give yourself at least two months to find your perfect match, advises Karin Thomsen, marketing and business development manager for Cape Town’s Super Nannies. “This includes a minimum one-month trial to build the relationship and trust between you and your nanny,” she adds.
Ask the right questions
Once you have one or more suitable candidates lined up, it’s time for the all-important interview. “You have an hour or less to make a decision about someone who will be a huge influence on your child’s life, so you need to prepare well,” emphasises Loni Gildenhuys, a family and parenting coach and a qualified clinical psychologist.
There are plenty of interview question lists online that guide you on what to ask to ensure the candidate has the necessary skills and experience for the job. But Loni says these often neglect the most important aspect: ensuring the nanny has the values you’re looking for.
Loni says the best way to gauge whether the candidate has these and other values is to ask questions with example-based answers. “Or give them a scenario applicable to your child and ask how she would deal with that situation."
"From their answers you will be able to assess their true values and style,” she says. Karin points out that while skills are important, these can always be taught, but values cannot. “Qualities to look for in a nanny include a good attitude, honesty, reliability, initiative and a willingness to communicate and do the tasks the mother’s way,” she says.
Don’t be afraid to ask detailed questions, advises Stephanie. “Your nanny is going to have the closest relationship with your child, after yourself. You need to know things, like if the nanny is married/in a committed relationship, has children of her own and what child care plan she has for them so she can commit to her duties freely,” she says. If your family has a particular belief system or religion, you need to make sure the nanny is prepared to uphold these.
Ensuring the nanny has a good command of your family’s home language is equally important. “This has an impact on how our children communicate regarding mother tongue learning in the early years,” she explains.
Trust your instincts (and your baby)
Once you’ve selected a suitable candidate and completed all the admin and legal requirements, you’ll have to do the hardest bit of all: cut the umbilical cord, again. The best way to do this, says Karin, is slowly. “Don’t leave it to the last minute; that causes unnecessary stress and anxiety. Spend time handing over tasks systematically so you are sure that she is capable.” When you’re ready to hand your baby over full time, it’s important to take note of your child’s behaviour.
“Good signals of your baby settling in well and receiving consistent care is that she is not distressed when you get back,” says Stephanie.
However, she’s quick to point out that some children experience initial separation anxiety or may start crying when they see mom as they “suddenly realise they have been missing you”. A good way to see what’s really going on, Stephanie advises, is to enter the house unexpectedly and without being seen and observe the interaction between nanny and baby.
Loni also reassures parents that “your children will always show you if they are unhappy, even if they can’t talk”. She says parents should watch out for disrupted feeding or sleeping patterns, sudden bedwetting or unusual clinginess. “But don’t be too concerned by isolated incidents,” she cautions. “Rather look for changes in behavioural patterns. Above all, remember that the best gauge is your mother’s instinct – trust it,” Loni urges.
Her style vs your style
No matter how in tune with your parenting style your nanny is, some differences in style, routine and preferences are inevitable. The trick to managing these differences, says Stephanie, is to work as a team and to agree on the ground rules out of earshot of the child. Loni says that while some rules can be agreed on together, parents should always be clear on what the “non-negotiables” are.
“It doesn’t matter if the nanny agrees or not, the non-negotiables are just that — not negotiable — and should be adhered to as the parents wish,” she says.
Stephanie adds that whatever rules you decide on, you and your nanny should carry them out consistently. “Consistency in boundaries is really important for children to be able to develop into confident little people,” she explains. “They feel secure when they know what is going to happen next in the daily routine and that ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘no’ from all their carers and parents. Otherwise even the youngest of babies will start to play one carer or parent against the other.”
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A happy alliance
Like any good partnership, your relationship with your nanny will require clear and regular communication. “Talk about what you both need so you can support each other in the best way possible, practically and emotionally,” says Loni. “And don’t avoid the difficult conversations,” emphasises Stephanie. “Having a regular meaningful conversation over a cup of coffee is a super way to ensure good communication, and it gives you both a chance to ‘clear the air’ about any issues arising.”
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