Thursday, September 9, 2010

Finding Nanny Right

Deena, Kendall, and Cole
Life as a working mother comes with challenges that never fail to make for a good story to share over lunch (preferably in a restaurant that doesn’t serve chicken nuggets – it’s a working mom perk). It’s a balancing act that never ceases to amaze and exhaust me.

I have two children: Cole, who just started fourth grade and Kendall, who is four and very proud to be in Pre-K. My husband and I are doing the best we can to raise them to be independent, self-sufficient and confident people. As it turns out, we need a lot of help to do it!

We learned early on in my son’s elementary school career that after school care requires special conditions to ensure success. Sure, all the after school programs in our area allow children to complete their homework. If your child can manage to concentrate in the chaos that reigns there and is disciplined enough to choose spelling words over tag. My son is not the type to hop right on his studies unprompted. He needs a lot of encouragement. And, by encouragement, I mean he needs a person to sit right beside him and oversee every moment of the homework endeavor (sometimes going so far as to withhold snacks and liquids and threatening abolishment of video games and television – a fate akin to death as far as he is concerned.) We learned through trial and error that having a nanny pick him up from school and work through the homework process was the best thing for our family.

The harmony in our house increased considerably when we hired our first nanny. Life pre-nanny included racing home, yelling at Cole to do his homework while cooking dinner, feeding the dogs and doing three loads of laundry. We’d both be frustrated and testy after long days away from home. The pressure to get homework finished, dinner cooked, eaten and cleaned up plus baths done in a narrow two hour window resulted in a less than harmonious situation. I felt more like a drill sergeant than a mom. Now, we calmly review the homework after dinner and concentrate only on problem areas. He’s proud of his accomplishments and I am able to concentrate on talking with him about his day while I put dinner together rather than screaming at him to focus.

So we’ve found a situation that works for us. But, every year come August we find ourselves in the same place – in a scramble to find a new nanny. We’ve had good luck with college-aged girls who are looking for part time work and have a heart for kids. Usually, the situation only works for one year at a time as their college schedule changes and they move on.

There are several websites that work a little like online dating services that help match you with a nanny that seems right for your family. This year, we had 40 people apply to our post within the first week. And so, the search began. It’s an arduous process, to be sure. How do you respond to questions like, “Can I bring my pet bird with me?” or “Do you get premium television channels at your house?” I’m thinking “no thanks.”

One promising candidate wrote a very articulate message that listed a whole string of academic accolades. I was excited, thinking we’d found a winner. Until, at the very bottom of her letter she mentioned “visible but appropriate” tattoos. She attached pictures. Opening them expecting to find a butterfly or cross, I was a bit dismayed to see both arms completed covered in tattoos (I think it’s called a sleeve). The ink didn’t stop at her wrists but went down the front of her hands – black flames reaching toward her fingers like she was on fire. It’s unfortunate, as she seemed like a smart girl, but can you imagine the conversation in the carpool line?

I could go on and on . . . like the girl who selected a profile picture of herself on all fours, crawling across the floor like a cat. Maybe she accidentally inserted her picture? I don’t know what prompted her to make that selection but it didn’t scream wholesome and nurturing.

How about the lady whose entire message consisted of two words, “how much?” Or the people with inquiry messages so poorly written that they were not even decipherable? Applying for a position as a nanny/tutor? Nope!

We happened to get really lucky this year – a family friend heard we were looking for help and her daughter just happened to be a perfect fit. The hours work well for her and we’ve known her since she was three. So, we didn’t hire any of those who replied to our post. Midway through the first week of school and everything seems to be going well. She’s already working on a reward system for completing homework without complaint and is establishing a routine.

And, I’m back to the balancing act that is motherhood and career girl. Looking for stories to share over lunch where no one asks me to cut their food or whines that they don’t like what they’ve been served. At least (for the moment), I’ve got good help!

Deena McAllister
Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Texas Health Resources

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