The Parent24 Nanny Series takes a deep dive into one of the most intimate working relationships in South Africa: that of nannies and the parents who employ them. Each month this series explores an aspect of the nanny-parent relationship and features not only experts, but also real-life parents and nannies.
Hiring a nanny and, on the other side, being hired as a nanny, are challenging. Leaving someone alone with your child all day is an exercise in trust and for nannies, it is a competitive job market.
There's no other job quite like it.
The role of a nanny is uniquely intimate and requires extreme trust, compassion and often a blurring of personal and professional boundaries. All of this means the process of hiring, and being hired, is more challenging than a traditional job role.
Overall, though, there are some best practices to follow that make the process of finding a right-fit nanny – and, for nannies, a good-fit household – easier, and shake out some of the warning signs before they emerge on the job.
The hiring process
Though there are some excellent agencies out there (we interviewed two for this article), the nanny job market is largely powered by word-of-mouth. Join any "mommy WhatsApp group" and you'll see people both asking for and recommending nannies.
First of all, even though this job market is more "informal", nannies still need a comprehensive CV. Some of the agencies and more experienced nannies I spoke to said they spend considerable time helping new nannies get their CVs in order.
Safety certifications like CPR and educational play are examples of important skills. Finding someone you trust and have a good relationship with is actually more important than checking off a list of qualifications.
As Jaclyn Zackey-Tinkler, who started and sold The Babysitting Club and now runs AuPair4U, explains: "When I went into this business, I found that a lot of candidates also have a lot of exposure and experience dealing with children, but not official certificates or qualifications. They've got heart and that's what you're looking for because you can always upskill candidates.
"At the end of the day, we are really looking after people's children and that's a humanitarian focus."
Understanding your nanny's experience is key to understanding if the job you're offering is a good fit.
Child age preferences
Not all nannies are good with newborns or teenagers! Based on your nanny's experience, ask if she has a preferred age range to work with.
Expectation setting around cleaning and childcare
Though domestic work and nanny work are often conflated, they are very different jobs with very different skill sets and experienced nannies will often only do light housework to prioritise the children.
Orpah Mupfayi, a Cape Town-based nanny with more than a decade of experience, explains: "One job will suffer if you are doing both. Taking care of a baby really needs 100% attention. A 2-year-old child, out of sight, might swallow something dangerous. If something happens, you are to blame. I will say I am a qualified nanny and I may not give the baby full attention if my focus is on cleaning.
"Your priorities must be right, and nannies always want to please the parents."
Who is your nanny?
Who depends on her, how does she get to work and what are her boundaries and preferences?
Melisa Clayton Allardice, CEO and founder of Nunanny, says: "When you meet in person, it's very nice if you're doing it at your house to really try and put the nanny at ease. You know, so don't launch straight into questions, have a cup of tea, show them around the house and ask a little bit about the background, where they come and their family."
The parents who do this are signalling to their nannies that they care about them as individuals.
Orpah says: "Normally if it's a good family, you can pick it up in the job interview. They lay out the details and duties of the job and what you must do. They look back into your life and look into you – they ask how you will travel, do you have kids, what salary you expect.
"They are not only concerned about the job. They also care about you. They will ask you are you comfortable with us – we have two babies, three dogs. How do you feel about this?"
Jaclyn explains: "The references from the candidates should state how many children she was taking care of, their ages, and her duties and responsibilities, and then areas of improvements."
As a nanny, it's best to get those references as soon as you can. If the family is emigrating, for example, you might struggle to get the kind of reference you deserve a year down the line.
The importance of interviews
For such an intimately personal job, an interview is also critical. During the coronavirus pandemic, a phone call is first prize, but eventually you'll need to meet face to face.
The purpose of the interview is to suss each other out past the credentials, and to let the nanny and child interact.
As Melisa from Nunanny explains: "Ask about the previous job, the children, her duties… And while you're doing this, you're obviously getting a feel for the person, for the body language, eye contact, their ability to answer your questions, because you often need to leave quite complex instructions with your nanny, especially with small babies."
What nannies should ask in the job interview
- What hours do you expect me to work?
- Do you expect me to do housework, and if so, how much?
- How old are the children I'm looking after?
- What is the children's routine?
- How should I approach punishment?
- Do the children have allergies?
- What do the children like?
- Is there anything else I should know?
Critical exercise: a trial period
After this, a strong recommendation from both experts is the need for a trial period. Hire the candidate for a week (paying her for her time).
This way both parties can see if they gel and iron out any problems – or walk away if the relationship isn't working. Nannies should look out for signs of boundary crossing – like expectations to stay late with no conversation or compensation.
Melisa adds: "People think I'm hiring a nanny for my child, but you're actually hiring somebody who you are going to interact with a lot, and that's going to help you run your household. So it's important that you like that person."
Orpah has had some horror stories, like being monitored on video all day. She says there are certainly signs that hint at whether the family will be a pleasure to work with or a challenge.
Pay is also a pivotal element, but this is so nuanced in South Africa that we're tackling this in a separate article soon.
In the meantime, here is some advice and insight:
'I earn R3 000 for nanny work, is that fair?' An expert advises
Wage rights for domestic workers and nannies: Here's the law
Our children's nanny was injured at work, can she claim compensation?
Are you paying your nanny a living wage? Probably not
Unathi Mangesi, Johannesburg-based first-time mom
"I was so anxious about leaving my firstborn with a nanny, so I worked on referrals to find someone. I turned to my 'mom tribe' on WhatsApp and ended up hiring a friend's nanny's sister.
"She was only 24 and left her own 4-year-old at home in KZN to join me in Jozi. She suffered from separation anxiety and after two weeks asked to go home for the weekend... and that was the last time I saw her.
"I was empathic, but angry that she didn't communicate with me and left me in the lurch with no other options.
"After that, again through a referral, I found a much more experienced nanny who has settled really well into my home. My child used to cry a lot, so it worried me that someone else would not be as patient with him as I am.
"Will they lose their mind and take everything out on my child? The first thing I asked about was experience and their patience, and if they ever worked with troublesome children or babies. We're now really happy."
Asha Sookha, Johannesburg-based mom
"When I was pregnant, I struggled to think of who I would hire as a nanny. Then I fell really ill and my domestic worker, who has caretaking experience, looked after me.
"It made me realise I struck gold with her, and she was spectacular with my baby when he finally came earth-side.
"I knew she was really trustworthy. I sent her on basic first-aid training and other courses, and she took over from there. We also scaled back her domestic duties so she could focus on my son. I do the laundry on weekends for that reason.
"My child and Marjory have a special bond, and she has so much patience. I have an invested interest to make sure she's happy."
Zoliswua Eunice Xaba, Johannesburg-based nanny
"I've worked with my current employer for many years and am one of two nannies working with a young baby.
"I've actually worked with my employer since she was a 14-year-old girl!
"My best advice for other nannies is to be kind, love the kids and don't get angry. If you have a problem, speak to your employer so you can sort the problem out. They will never know you're upset if you don't talk to them.
"Your boss doesn't always know what your life looks like, so explain to them your problems – like if they're late coming home, it means you miss your taxi.
"It's also very important to have a smile on your face and be kind and loving."
Orpah Mupfayi, Cape Town-based nanny
"I've been a nanny for 10 years and work in my community to train nannies on skills, from interview tips to how to stimulate children to encourage brain development.
"If you are a nanny, you must be passionate about babies and treat them like your own because you are also a second mom to that child.
"But like any job, there are good and bad experiences. Sometimes parents get so worried about security that they watch you on the baby monitor all day. And I say, yes, security is important, but not if it interferes with my job.
"If you're worried, ask me why I do things a certain way. I love doing a trial with a new family; that is really my strength and where I show my abilities the best. A trial is good for both of us. I like to find out the family's routine, but for new moms I often help them by setting one up. This, of course, is very dependent on the child's age.
"In this industry, you need to have a smile on your face and you need to be happy. If I'm looking after a 3-year-old, I'm a 3-year-old too – and I need to stimulate them. A good-fit family will respect your time and your needs too."
Thembalani Soci, Cape Town-based nanny
"I've been a nanny for over 15 years and like to find work through an agency.
"They protect you and help you find work without any tension. I have learnt how to sell myself in an interview, and sometimes have to explain to parents that what they're offering as a salary, is below what I can afford to take.
"There are times you can see and feel right away that this working relationship is not going to work, hence I have learnt to trust and lean on my conscience. Try not to take anything out of desperation as it messes up things down the road.
"It is a challenging and competitive industry so I make sure to read up on childcare and stimulation to be the best I can be. Nannies must learn to trust themselves when looking after children, and priority must be given to the little ones over housework, because it's our job to look after them.
"Treat that child as your own. Instil values as well as knowledge. Somebody is trusting you with their child – that is really big."
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