Many moms, including me, have
had—or are having—nanny drama. But how many moms can say their nanny had a
self-described “nervous breakdown” on the job?
Unfortunately, I can.
After I had my first child, I
was working full-time in a corporate job and planned to return to the office after a three-month
maternity leave. Naively, I assumed I’d find a great daycare near my house.
After touring several and putting our name on the wait-lists, no spots had opened by the time my daughter was born. And, to complicate matters, my company
asked me to come back to work a month early for a big project.
Cutting my maternity leave
short meant I’d need to find a good nanny—and fast. Since I didn’t know more
than one or two friends with babies, I went through a reputable nanny agency in
the area. Looking back, I shudder at how little I knew about what I was getting
myself into. If Craigslist was around, I might as well have used it to find
The people at the nanny
agency were professional and reassuring. “We’ll have no problem finding you
somebody fabulous,” they told me. I
interviewed several nannies, but didn’t feel like any of them were right for
our family. Then, one girl I really liked stopped by my house, unannounced, to tell
me she was pregnant and couldn’t work for me. As she lingered, holding my baby,
she launched into a story about how her boyfriend didn’t want her to have the
baby. I thanked her for coming and called the agency, pleading for them to find
me somebody right away.
Well, one reason I should have cared was those moms were trying to let me know something was off about Mary’s behavior.
Help arrived. I hired Mary, a
mom of two teenage girls who had lived with a family in Los Angeles for three
years. She had moved about 10 minutes from my house and had lots of experience
with babies. I went back to work full-time.
Everything was fine. At first.
Slowly, the problems started. Mary preferred not to socialize with other nannies or do play
dates. She badmouthed the other nannies in our neighborhood, saying they were
“low class.” As I got to know some of the moms on my street, they’d mention
that Mary wouldn’t come to their homes or their kids’ birthday parties. Working
crazy hours, Mary’s lack of interest in the “nanny network” was the least of my
problems. Why should I care whether my
nanny liked their nanny?
Well, one reason I should
have cared was those moms were trying to let me know something was off about Mary’s
behavior. It would take me another two years to realize that Mary was letting
my daughter watch endless hours of Sesame Street each day, despite my request
that she not do this. My daughter was becoming withdrawn and obsessed with TV.
Then, the real problems
started. One day, Mary showed up at my house on a Saturday morning with her
teenage daughter. She asked to borrow $1,000. Not wanting her to quit, we gave
it to her. It happened again. And again. I clearly hadn’t set any boundaries.
So, I sat her down and explained that we wouldn’t be loaning her any more
money. I also told her that she needed to maintain a separation between her
personal life and her work life.
That was expected of me at work. Why
shouldn’t it apply to my nanny?
Having someone come into your
house daily to take care of your infant is like nothing I’ve ever dealt with.
It’s incredibly personal and, for me, stressful. I'd made a huge mistake by not
setting ground rules upfront. I should never have expected her to
understand the unspoken corporate rules I lived by.
But, I had made an even
bigger mistake than not setting firm boundaries. I hired Mary despite the fact
that her previous employer refused to return my calls for a reference. The
agency told me the woman was traveling and not to worry.
Huge red flag!
In the end, my husband called
Mary to his office and fired her. She was in the middle of what she called a
“nervous breakdown.” Her constant complaints about going though menopause
didn’t register with me. When she told me she felt “crazy” and that her uterus
was going to explode and that she’d broken her rib lifting my daughter out of
the crib, we gave her a week off and paid for her doctor’s visit. When I came
home to find her sitting on the front steps with her car on the street, my
daughter strapped in the car seat, I was horrified. Finally, when she stopped
speaking to me and would only address my husband, he gave her severance pay,
had her sign a waiver and fired her. About a year later she started calling our
house. After telling her to stop, we never heard from her again.
Don’t assume your generosity ($20/hour for one kid, paid vacations and bonuses) will be appreciated.
I was an emotional wreck
those few weeks after we let her go. I took time off work and put my daughter in
preschool (she was 2). I ended up sharing another wonderful nanny with
a family at our preschool. I’ve had two nannies in 11 years. I wish I’d
never hired Mary.
Here’s what I learned:
1. You must talk to the nanny’s previous
employer. If they avoid your calls, assume there is a problem.
2. Gently but firmly
establish rules and limits for the job you want her to do. I never wanted a
nanny who was part of our immediate family. I wanted a person to come to work,
act professionally and leave at the end of the day. That approach isn’t for
everyone. I have friends who want their nanny to be a part of their family and
stay in contact long after their kids no longer need her. That wasn’t for me. I didn’t want a friend or
another relative, and I should have made that clear, in a nice way, at the start.
3. Never, ever loan
money to your nanny, unless you want to set up an unworkable precedent that
blurs every boundary possible.
4. Don’t assume your
generosity ($20/hour for one kid, paid vacations and bonuses) will be
appreciated. It may be resented. If you feel taken advantage of, you probably
5. If your friends
or other moms try to hint to you that there is something wrong with your nanny
or they way she cares for your child, don’t be defensive or brush it off. Ask
them questions. Find out if they are being gossipy or if there is something
they are seeing that you are not.