In my freshman year of college, my assignment one day in my poetry class was to memorize and be ready to recite exactly half of the poem “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke. I dutifully went to my dorm room and studied the poem up to the halfway mark. The next day in class I stood up and beautifully recited exactly half of the poem. My professor said,
“Excellent Rebecca. Let’s hear the rest.”
I said, “You only said I had to learn half.”
My Professor sighed and said, “Well then Rebecca, welcome to mediocrity.”
When I retold this story to my mother her advice was more to the point. She told me to try and not live my life half assed. In my personal and professional life, she said, aim higher than the halfway mark. Do not do only what is asked of you, but always go the extra mile.
When I began my professional life as a Nanny, I kept this close as my code of ethics with my work. My agency had described my responsibilities for this first job as “everything related to the children,” that being, keeping track of their clothes, their toys, their school things, keeping all their play areas tidy and preparing them simple meals. It was easy work, and my first charges and I were able to spend hours engaged in games with very little other responsibilities to worry about. I had initiative however, and would ask my employer if there was anything else I could do around the house. When the four year old was in preschool, instead of taking a break and hanging out in a café sipping a latte, I began to run errands. I became familiar with everything and anything my employer needed in his daily life. I learned to anticipate what he required before he realized it was a necessity.
“How did you know I wanted smoked salmon?” He would say, happily putting together his favorite afternoon snack.
By the time I had been employed for six months, he had handed to me over all the responsibilities for opening his summerhouse. I had taken a job as a Nanny but had become more of a House Manager, and was beginning to learn the skill set required for a Personal Assistant. Taking on these roles enabled me to stay gainfully employed long after the children were grown. I worked part time as a Personal Assistant for my first family long after the need for employing a nanny had come and gone. I had shown my first boss that I had ingenuity and that I was resourceful, and that I liked a challenge.
It has been interesting to me to follow the on going argument on this blog about the responsibilities of the nanny. As research for this article, I called three major Nanny agencies in three major cities. All three agencies had the same basic message: Nannies are responsible for ALL aspects of childcare, and that includes any work related duties that are directly associated with the children. Nannies wash the children’s clothes. Nannies wash the children’s dishes. Nannies clean up the children’s toys. Nannies scrub the crumbs off the car seats and the strollers. The Nanny changes the diaper pail and keeps the baby items stocked and in order. This is part of the territory that goes with the job.
Sue Collins, a placement consultant at Aunt Ann’s In House Staffing in San Francisco, one of the oldest (founded in 1958!) and most renowned agencies in the California, spoke to me at length about the process of presenting candidates for childcare for prospective families in the Bay Area. Her opinion is that the first and foremost important aspect of pairing a nanny and a family is the security that comes with using an agency such as Aunt Ann’s as her candidates are screened, have had a back ground check, have excellent references and are up to date on their CPR qualifications and have a proven clean driving record. She stresses that in the placement profession it’s not a one size fits all Nanny fit – it comes down to a personality match and communication with the family and that remains a priority above what chores she will and won’t do. Yes, she said, there are childcare professionals out there who will only do childcare. Period. And there are families out there who will hire these nannies because the expectations for their employment had already been discussed. However, Ms. Collins did point out that even when she places a newborn specialist, such as a Baby Nurse with 20 plus years experience, that employee would still tiptoe around in the middle of the night and fold laundry and sterilize bottles. Communication of the job expectation is always key. The priority is always the children, but the Nanny is responsible for the well being of the entire family. I have been placed by Aunt Ann’s for several - including my current – jobs in the Bay Area. Each and every one has had a section of my contract directly related to my responsibilities to the upkeep of the house. Let me be very clear here: I am not a housekeeper. I am, however, the keeper of the house, and beyond the immediate needs of the children I have always been responsible in every job I have ever had for everything related to the upkeep of the home, from running the dishwasher to running errands. And I love it. Personally I would be bored without errands. I asked Ms. Collins about the topic of “job creep”, that popular theme that runs through so many postings on ISYN. She, as a placement professional, saw it differently. She said that as the relationship between the nanny and the employer develops, so do the skills that the nanny has brought with her to the job. She gave the following example: One night the nanny cooks dinner for the family. The parents realize that the nanny is an incredible cook. They realize that employing a nanny who can cook for them is something that they want. The nanny realizes that in providing cooking, she is becoming an even more integral part of the household and that makes her a more valuable employee, and one with a huge bargaining chip in her next salary review, another notch on her resume for when she is ready for her next job and a glowing recommendation from her employers stating how she was willing to take up any challenge with a great attitude.
Finally, Ms Collins advised, it is key the beginning of any employee- employer relationship is to write up an employment agreement where expectations and duties are outlined and the family and nanny can agree upon them from day one to ensure a long and happy relationship.
I also interviewed an incredibly insightful man at a major agency who would only speak with me on the condition of being completely anonymous as ISYN is viewed with distain as a very negative website in the professional placement community. (Really? US???) He said that there is a huge difference between an employee who views herself as an “owner” and one who views herself as merely an “employee”. The nanny with the “owner” mentality will always go above and beyond her job description, always reaching to improve her job performance, with career advancement in mind, treating her employer’s home and family as if they were her own. Now I know there will be the naysayers on this site who will comment that there in no possible career advancement in the nanny profession, but I beg to differ. In 1997 I went from an occasional babysitter who loved children to a full time professional nanny. In the past 14 years I have never backed down from any challenge any employer ever threw at me, from arranging flowers to arranging travel, and my salary and benefits grew as my responsibilities did. In the five years at my current job I have moved from the simple role of Nanny to the numerous and dynamic roles of House Manager, Personal Assistant, Administrative Assistant, Project Manager, Party Planner, Vacation Coordinator and Concierge. With my latest assignment, obtaining auction items for a benefit my employers hosted, I joked that I could now add Fundraiser to my resume. Their response?
“Why would you ever need a resume again?”
I think that would be my main point here, in this country’s unsure economic nature, wouldn’t you want to ensure that you would be the only person your employer could ever imagine doing your job? I strive to be seen as an irreplaceable. So far, so good.
I did finally memorize the last part of the Theodore Roethke poem, and it has become a bit of a mantra for me in my life.
“I wake to sleep and take my waking slow, I learn by going where I have to go.”
Rebecca Nelson Lubin is a writer and Nanny who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. You may read more of her articles at http://www.abandofwives.ning.com/