What is Nanny Professionalism?
Written By Mary S.
Why is it that unprofessional Nanny behavior is so very rampant in the Nanny profession? I think it is because Nannies, like many in other professions, do not understand what professionalism really is and how it can be an asset to them.
Professionalism has nothing to do with a salary or a title -- anyone can be a professional if they commit to it. Professionalism is the total package of attitude, speech, behavior, and appearance. Professionals are perceived to be a “class act”; people you can trust. They need not demand respect because instead, they inspire it. Insisting upon professional behavior makes them serious role models, not mean bitches.
You know how almost everyone you do business with (health care professionals, auto maintenance workers, utilities, contractors, government agencies, etc.) has some sort of written contract you must sign before proceeding to do business with them? There is a reason for that. It spells out expectations on both sides, and holds both sides accountable. It is objective and unemotional, clearing the path for professional behavior on both sides.
How to approach the concept of an employment contract.
They way you present the contract is equally as important as the contents of the contract. You DO NOT present it diffidently or with embarrassment, as something that you hope they will accept. Rather you present it confidently and with optimism, implying that of course they will be as invested in it as you are, and for the same reasons -- the establishment of and protection of a professional relationship with healthy boundaries.
If the employers intend that you sign and abide by THEIR contract, express appreciation for the fact that they have a contract and state that you would never consider employment without one. But in a matter-of-fact way point out that you will be negotiating using your own contract, which is open to their input but will be written and finalized by you. They sign, you initialize -- not the other way around.
Why is authorship important? Like other professionals, you are the one providing the service, therefore you are the one who dictates the terms of the contract. If you are the author of the contract, the parents will be more inclined to pay attention to it because: if your contract is broken, you will quit; if the parents’ contract is broken, the parents will fire you. Authorship=authority; authority=ownership; ownership=control of destiny.
These may seem like radical or even subversive concepts to some Nannies, but in reality they are quite common and unremarkable in the professional world. Because Nannying involves work that is very sentimental and intimate, it can be difficult to view it rationally and objectively, but it is precisely because it is so sentimental and intimate that professionalism is critical to a successful working relationship.
If the parents cannot handle all these elements of a contract with aplomb, they are not ready for a professional employer-Nanny relationship and you need to keep looking. In fact, the pre-employment screening is the most critical part of a Nanny’s career maneuvers... being able to suss out dysfunctional families before even agreeing to enter into a contract will prevent 95% of all employer-Nanny problems.
So pay attention to the nuances during an interview. Do NOT apologize, over-explain, or try to force-fit your concept of a contract over their pre-existing concept... it will not work. If met with uncertainty, calmly clarify; but if met with opposition or hostility, be confident in yourself, disengage, and move on. A healthy employer-Nanny relationship is truly a joy; a dysfunctional one lands you a post on ISYN filled with whining and ranting.
How professionalism can prevent job creep.
You need to step into every new Nanny job with an acutely pro-active attitude and razor-sharp vigilance. Once hired, remain aware of the exact terms of your contract -- it’s not just a pretty piece of paper, it is a document governing behavior; USE IT! When a special request is made, don’t immediately smile brightly and say eagerly, “Sure! No problem!”. Instead, pause to evaluate how compliant it is with your contract and generally do NOT agree to do it. Some parents have a longer learning curve than others, so you will need to be persistent and consistent, but the simple truth is that you cannot be taken advantage of unless you permit it.
Now granted, every professional must balance being flexible with not permitting oneself to be taken advantage of. You can bend the rules now and then but ONLY if you are strong enough to immediately go back to enforcing the contract after making it clear that you made a rare special exception. This is where a lot of Nannies start to dig their own hole; they may start out strong but once they bend the rules even once, they are reluctant to go back to enforcing them. Don’t fall into this trap; if you do, you have no one but YOURSELF to blame.
Another way that many Nannies start to dig their own hole is to say to themselves, “Hmm, it’s technically breaking the rules but I really don’t mind.”... only to discover that, once it’s habitual, they do indeed mind. You know how a teacher will say to a student, “I can’t do that for you, because then I’d have to do it for everyone else.”? Well that’s the way to look at job creep, which you can nip in the bud by saying “I can’t do it this time, because then I’d have to do it every time.”.
Now occasionally, a family’s circumstances will change and what the parents didn’t used to do to you, or ask you to do for them, will begin to become a recurring issue. There are times when there is a legitimate need to change the parameters of your job. If you are being vigilant, as you should, you will recognize this fairly quickly and call for a re-negotiation of your contract because that is what professionals do instead of whining, complaining, ranting, or seething while being passive-aggressive.
How professionalism can prevent emotional dysfunction.
How many times has a Nanny said, regarding a horrific job, “I stay in spite of it all because I love the kids so much, and they would be devastated to lose me.”
If this applies to you, then you need to learn what appropriate emotional boundaries are and how to set them. You are doing neither yourself NOR your charges any favors if you behave like a family member rather than a professional. This is why people in other caregiving professions are specifically and carefully taught how and why to set boundaries. Do you think health care professionals, social workers, teachers, etc., ever remain trapped in dysfunctional relationships because their clients would be “devastated” if they left? Of course not, and neither should the professional Nanny.
Setting appropriate emotional boundaries is not the sign of a less-loving Nanny, or a cold Nanny, or a Nanny “just doing a job”; rather, it is the sign of a professional Nanny who does not want to compromise the Nanny-charge relationship by refusing to acknowledge the respective roles in that relationship. If you handle this issue professionally, the children will be sad at your eventual departure, and will miss you for a while -- but if they truly are “devastated”, you will have left them crippled rather than empowered. In addition, you will have demonstrated your own immaturity by enabling a dysfunctional relationship in which your over-investment emotionally has compromised your commitment to your professionalism.
Because Nannies are largely un-regulated, and have job duties involving what is typically viewed as the role of any random (but good) mother in the neighborhood, they’ve never really coalesced as a professional entity. Nannies have many obstacles to overcome if they wish to avoid the roadblocks to being treated as professionals, but the good news is that the power is in the hands of the Nannies themselves. This means Nannies need only be exploited to the extent they allow it, and they will be empowered to the extent they take charge. Remember, Nannies are a commodity desperately needed, not a service begging to be used.
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