Received Thursday, May 29, 2008 - Perspective & Opinion
I've been a nanny in New York City for six years. I'm worked as a live-in nanny for Family A for two years, a live-out nanny for Family B for three years, and now I'm happily working as a live-in nanny for an UES family with two children (Family C).
I was 19 when I began with Family A and I could not have asked for a better family to live with and work for. We quickly became very close and to this day I spend a great deal of time with both the parents and the kids. At that time in my life I still needed the structure of a family around me, I needed someone taking an interest in where I was going on the weekends, who I was with, who I was dating, etc. My parents loved that they could count on Family A to know where I was on a given evening and that they had genuine concern for me as a member of their family. I still spend a great deal of time with Family A, we travel together and now that the kids are older I play this strange sister/daughter/aunt role in their family. Sometimes I'll visit and just spend hours talking with the mom over coffee.
I was 25 when I started to work for Family B. Just as with Family A, they talked a great deal about me being "one of the family" and in many ways they lived up to that ideal, but something was always a bit off. The parents bitterly fought in front of me and confided in me details about their marriage and sex life that I never, ever wanted to know. They never respected my set hours and excused it by saying that it was so nice to have me as part of the family or part of the team because I was so flexible. It blew their mind that I wanted to be compensated for Saturday & Sunday (days I was not paid to work) while I went on vacation with them. I was constantly put in awkward positions because of the terrible relationships either parent had with their in-laws, for example, being left to prepare, serve, take part in and then clean up from a dinner party while the mom hid in her bedroom, upset from something her MIL had said (and my contract pointedly stipulated that I would never be asked to cook for adults). The father, especially, was constantly jealous of my relationship with his kids, he saw me frequently as a rival for their affection.
It's strange to look back at my years with Family B because while they were happening it didn't occur much to me how they took advantage of me. I was still operating under the assumption that a nanny should be "one of the family", and frankly, they fed my ego because they were such a very needy family.
I left Family B to work for Family C almost a year ago. It was a tough transition because, although I was very upfront about looking for a new job and gave the family more than 6 months notice, they were angry with me for leaving them. The parents made their emotions very clear and that it made it very hard for me to communicate to the children that my moving on was not a personal attack on them. The father asked me about each interview I had, in front of the kids, asking about salary and hours, which I felt was very inappropriate. The mother pulled out every passive aggressive trick up her sleeve to trip me up in my final weeks in her home, including making me think she had given one of my prospective employers a bad reference.
Now that I've worked for Family C for almost a year I can say unequivocally that I am happy to not be one of the family, but rather a very highly regarded professional. My hours are respected, and Family C never has me running non-childcare related errands (even though, because I appreciate the great job I have, I would happily run them). The parents keep the problems that are not related to their children to themselves and although they take an interest in my life, they do so as one adult to another. They've never given me unsolicited personal advice (and I've never solicited any). They give me time off when we're traveling instead of assuming that it's a pleasure to spend 24/7 with them and their kids. Also when we're traveling, especially in Europe where everything is so much more expensive, they give me a daily personal allowance because they understand that I'm not there as a sightseeing family member, but rather it's a business trip for me and they don't think I should be responsible for the cost of things, even in my free time.
All the expectations are spelled out clearly with Family C. I'm not thought of as a mind reader about things like what friends they want the kids to play with or what food they want them to eat. If there's something they feel I should know about the kids, they tell me. They love that the kids and I have bonded because they know that it's important that we have a good relationship. They love that I can provide a window into what's going on in the kids' lives because I'm there during the day, they aren't threatened when I reveal some bit of news or insight.
I understand that each family I've worked for is unique and that Family B would have been a challenge whether I kept myself separate and didn't fall for the seduction of being "one of the family". I wouldn't trade my experience as part of Family A for the world, it was part of my maturing and acquiring the professionalism I now can offer a family--but for the future, I'd much rather be a trusted professional rather than "one of the family". It seems trusted professionals get paid much more, anyway ;-)