Oonagh Roy reports on the trials and tribulations of hiring a nanny
As I staggered towards the door, boobs flapping wildly, newborn infant screaming, and my 14 month-old giggling hysterically as she made yet another attempt to flush her trainers down the toilet, the DHL delivery man confirmed what I was already thinking. “You need help,” he said staring in bewilderment at the frying pan I was positioning to conserve my mammary modesty.
He was right. I would remain at home, but in a bid to stay compos mentis and clean in the early months postpartum, I was going to need some kind of help, like a nanny.
“Make her blonde, young and sexually inquisitive,” said one of husband’s less evolved friends.
While happy to ignore his primordial contribution I did find myself wondering how you do go about finding the right person to look after your children?
A huge leap of faith is required. This is someone who, often in the space of a half hour interview, you have to decide if you want to entrust with the love and protection of your most precious belongings in the world. Of course you take up references and ask to see up-to-date CRB checks, but it really is the mother of all judgment calls.
If you are lucky enough to find the right nanny they can add invaluably to the quality of both your and your children’s’ lives. It is a very intimate position to hold within a family, and the bonds forged can last a lifetime.
This summer my children will be flower girls for one of our former nannies and I am fortunate to consider another a good friend. I respect both these women enormously and I will be forever grateful for the time they spent caring for and enhancing my children’s lives.
However finding Mary Poppins is tricky. Probably the safest and quickest way is word of mouth or personal recommendation (check out the TPPSG newsletter). A tried and tested nanny who has worked in a local family is one of the most reassuring ways to find childcare.
Another option is to use a nanny agency. The idea is that they vet and select candidates who fit your requirements. You are then given a shortlist to interview. Like everything in life, the quality of agency services can vary dramatically. One we asked for help sent us a stream of 20 interviewees – one of whom had only walked into the agency to use the toilet. They just wanted their commission and were prepared to send everyone to us in the hope someone stuck.
Another agency did locate a real gem. However I recommend making sure you are familiar with the fees! These often vary depending on whether you want to find someone for a short or long-term contract. In this case having paid a one off ‘finder fee’ for a short six-month placement we were then faced with paying a monthly retainer if we wanted to continue employing the nanny. Fair enough, it was in the small print, but I thought the fees disproportionate to the service provided.
Websites such as Gumtree and Childcare.co.uk, where nannies and parents can post their requirements and try to find a match, can also provide possible leads. However it also leads to the interview minefield. “Trust your gut,” said a friend. It turns out she is right, but I began to despair when after the first 20 interviews my gut had done little other than rumble randomly.
The interview process certainly threw up an extraordinary array of nanny exotica.
There was a nanny who at the start of the interview inexplicably produced an album containing pictures and newspaper cuttings of her in an ‘80’s prog-rock band. The images were a soft porn version of Bucks Fizz. I asked if she had ever appeared in Top of the Pops. My husband gave me the look he gave an NCT teacher when she whipped out a knitted placenta to demonstrate birth passage maneuvers. We moved on.
The next nanny seemed lovely and well qualified but she could not stop itching. After five minutes of persistent scratching I asked if she was OK. “Just a dose of Scabies” was the reply. As she asked to hold our newborn bundle of disinfected joy my husband corralled her towards the door.
There was also a nanny who hated kids. In a 30- minute interview she never looked or spoke to my cherubs. When I asked if she had any questions she said, “Can I borrow you car at weekends?” and, “Are you planning any international holidays this year?”
Clearly allowing plenty of time for the interview stage is helpful. First time around we didn’t do this and combined first-time nanny interviewing with my leap off the hormonal cliff. One poor lady arrived in the midst of this and as she told me how she was going to TAKE MY CHILD FROM ME to go to the park/singing/some kind of child friendly activity, I fled the room sobbing. The thought of this (totally innocent) stranger ‘abducting’ my toddler – as I interpreted it – was more than I could bear.
When you eventually find someone who feels right, it might be wise for both parties to have a trial period. Unfortunately we did not do this in the case of ‘Nanny Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook, Generally Really Crap At Cooking.” Despite assuring us nutritious recipes were part of her extensive childcare repertoire, she could not grill a sausage. “You are going to have to talk me through this,” she said.
I had to talk her through boiling pasta, applying a plaster and the fact that the earth is round. When my children were with her I was too worried to leave the house. Equally I forbade her to leave the house with them. Summer dawned, the park was off-limits, so it was not working.
This experience left me questioning my ability to judge character. How could I have felt this person was capable of looking after my children? Like the beer I thought she was reassuringly expensive – but that was just good marketing. Ultimately I decided we’re all allowed a few mistakes. Let’s face it we’ve all made them, that or Mick Hucknall would still be celibate.
We persevered and endured the company of “Nanny, The Care Of Your Children Is Really Interfering With My Social Life.” This despite her valiant attempts to combine the two. One day she arrived back at 6pm with two hungry unwashed children. In the minute it took between ushering them into the hall and grabbing her handbag, she explained they had so enjoyed playing at her boyfriends’s house that they hadn’t had time for tea or a bath.
Sixty quid lighter I stood looking at the closed door, newborn babe in arms, tired and hungry toddlers starting to wail and cursed this so called carer. I would like a social life too but, should it happen, I will not expect to be paid sixty quid for it.
Eco-nanny was next. I came back to the house one day to find virtually the contents of our kitchen cupboards upturned on the kitchen floor. Some sort of mad vegan orchestra pit had been set up, with spaghetti and mung bean maracas and bowl bongos banging out Kumbaya my Lord. My three-year-old enjoyed it. I wanted to leave the country for a lie-down.
After all this, you’d think I’d have learnt a lesson but I was still seduced by “Nanny No Speak.” I interpreted her impassive emotionless face and virtual silence for serenity, calm and fortitude. It transpired she just hadn’t got a personality. “She is quite boring,” said my four-year old girl as she stuffed raisins into her nose.
I don’t have all the answers, but I hope sharing my mistakes might help you avoid some of them. Also, it is important to remember this is not a one-way street. The best nannies will be the ones interviewing you.
Is this a family where they feel happy to work? Do they want to spend time with you and your offspring? “I thought the moose head with a cravat was eccentric, but I decided to give you a go,” confided Nanny Now Good Friend. I’m so glad she did.
Suggestions Questions for Would-be Nannies
How long have you been a nanny?
How old were the other children you cared for?
Do you have any formal childcare training?
Do you have emergency training? In CPR or first aid?
Why are you a nanny?
Why are you looking for a new position?
Describe your ideal family/employer:
What do you like least about being a nanny?
How do you comfort children? How do you deal with separation anxiety?
How do you discipline children? Give me an example of a previous discipline problem and how you handled it.
What will my child be doing on any given day?
If I’m working in the house, will you be able to keep my child happily occupied without involving me?
Do you smoke?
Are you willing to do light chores while our baby is sleeping? Which ones?
Would you ever be available to work evenings or weekends?