I have two loves of my life: My husband and my nanny. She's been with us since my son was born seven years ago, and I do everything I can to let her know how much I adore her. Take the other evening, when I went to an event thrown by a local mom's group. It was "spa night," and we were treated to manis, pedis and massages. We could also make our own bath salts, poured into a little glass jar and tied with a ribbon. I knew right away what I was going to do with mine: I came home and handed it to our nanny. "It's for you, so you can take a relaxing bath -- you deserve it," I said.
Granted, I sure could use a relaxing bath (or twenty) myself. But I'm always trying to make sure our nanny feels cared for. This is the woman who I trust to take care of my kids. She's my partner, my copilot, my wing-woman in parenting. I want to keep her happy -- and I want her to do good by my kids and me, too. And just like having a good relationship with my husband, that takes time and attention. Plenty of other moms I know feel the same -- and have their own smart strategies. Read for yourself about the ways they've built great relationships with their nannies.
Make Expectations Clear From Day One
"If you want your nanny to help with dinner or do laundry or light cleaning -- and she'll have the time free during the day to do them -- let her know from the start," says Betsy, a mom of one. "You don't just want to spring major new demands on a nanny, because then she'll feel taken advantage of." Some moms refuse to ask their nannies do housework, as tempting as it may be. As Judy, a mom of one, says, "Sure, I'd like some help, but I don't want to send the message that my baby isn't the top priority. She is."
Care -- Really Care -- About Your Nanny
"I care about my babysitter's mental and physical health as much as I care about my family's," says Denise, a mother of two. "I do it because she's part of my family, and I want her to feel that way. Also, the healthier she is, the better she'll be able to take care of my kids."
"My babysitter has been with us since Brodie was 11 months old -- now he's five! -- and I try to help her enjoy herself. You know, like giving her job perks!" says Dani. "I'll tape some of her favorite shows on TiVo so she can watch them when Brodie's asleep, and make sure I have her favorite snacks around." Adds Betsy, "On my nanny's birthday, I give her a personal gift -- like a scarf -- and some cash in an envelope, and I'll have Melinda draw her a card. Really, she's like my child's other mother!" Hedy, a mother of two, goes even further: "I buy my nanny's two kids presents for the holidays. It makes her really happy, too."
Don't Get in Her Way
"My sitter has raised her own kids, so I generally give her a lot of autonomy," says Kara, a mother of two. "Even if she does some things differently than I do, I figure it worked for her, no harm done. And we always make sure that our kids, who are two and five, know that her word is final when we're not home. This has gotten important now that my oldest is playing more with kids in the neighborhood and asking them to go over, or to go to their house. Whatever Cynthia says goes! It conveys respect and also makes things run more smoothly."
Most moms give their nannies an end-of-year bonus (sometimes, as much as an extra week's salary), plus an annual pay raise. "I believe really strongly in not nickel-and-diming my sitter," notes Jessica, a mother of two. "If she works an extra half-hour, I'll round up to an hour. If she bought my kids a $6 lunch, I'll reimburse her $10. My friends think I'm crazy, but I see the payoff. She always comes when I need her, and more importantly, she's happy and cheerful and works hard to make our lives better in every way." Learn more about holiday tipping and bonuses for nannies »
Pick Your Battles
"I avoid speaking up about minor stuff that bugs me," says Kara. "Like, my babysitter has a habit of opening the microwave without first pressing 'Stop.' I think it could screw it up and if my husband did it, you'd better believe I'd ask him to stop! But I've held back. My philosophy is that the less I critique and make requests, the more impact it will have when I have an important change I want her to make."
Speak Up About Big Issues
"If I have to talk with our nanny about something I'm not happy about, I try to get home from work early so we can talk before she leaves, or I'll ask her to come in a few minutes early in the morning," says Joanna, a mom of two. "Leaving notes about biggie things is not okay -- your nanny, and your children, deserve a discussion. If you leave a note, your nanny might feel attacked. It's so easy to read the wrong tone in a note."
Help Her Stay Organized
"I have a large calendar hanging on the kitchen corkboard where I write down the kids' activities and playdates," says Hedy, a mother of twins. "That way we can remember what's happening when. It keeps us both sane!"