Finding the Right Nanny, with Heather McKenzie
When people think of nannies, they think of Mary Poppins. While we’d like to believe there’s a magic woman out there who can tidy a bedroom with the click of her finger, there probably isn’t. We haven’t managed to find a bottomless carpet bag, either.
It can be difficult knowing what to look for in a nanny. How can you know if you’ve made the right decision? Heather McKenzie, 41, has been a nanny for over 20 years. She currently takes care of two boys in southwest London. We tapped her up for advice on finding the right person to look after your children and returning to work without too many tears.
Heather, what would your advice be to a new parent who’s returning to work and considering using a nanny?
You will feel that nobody could possibly take as good care of your child as you can yourself, and no good nanny will ever tell you otherwise. But a good nanny will keep your child safe, happy and loved. She (or, of course, he) will keep a diary of what your child has done each day, and these days you can probably expect to receive regular texts and photos.
What’s the best way of finding a good nanny?
Word of mouth. If you know another family with a nanny— one you like and trust—then ask. No good nanny will recommend someone she wouldn’t be happy to leave her own children with—it reflects badly. Agencies have their place, but they will charge you a fee, and there is no direct benefit to the nanny.
What qualifications and experience should we be looking for?
Many nannies will have a qualification—but experience can count just as much! A more mature candidate without qualifications but who has seen her own children through weaning, potty training and the terrible twos may have more to offer than a 20-year old fresh out of college. It depends what you’re after though.
Make sure you are on the same page with issues such as discipline, routine and manners, and be clear about your family dynamic, beliefs and childcare philosophy—your nanny is going to be part of your family life, and there has to be the right chemistry.
Any other recruitment tips?
Check references! You would be astounded how many people—including agencies—don’t bother to do this. If you do one thing only, please make the time to follow up references personally. A CRB check provides great peace of mind, but does not prove that someone is a good, kind, loving individual. Trust your instincts, and those of your child. Little children are incredibly good judges of character, and if you or they don’t warm to a prospective nanny, the chances are the relationship won’t work out.
How much should I expect to pay?
As with all things, you get what you pay for, and you aren’t going to get a fantastic nanny for £7 per hour. The going rate in Greater London is around £12 per hour after tax. There’s often a sharp intake of breath at this—but you have to remember that this is a person to whom you are entrusting the most precious little person in the world. I was once interviewed by a family who wanted to pay me less than their cleaner—I didn’t take that job!
I’ve found a nanny and I’m going back to work. How should I go about leaving my child with her for the first time?
Babies are phenomenally adaptable. As long as they are fed, warm, dry and entertained, they honestly won’t bat an eyelid—although you will possibly cry buckets! I recommend leaving your baby with others from day one—even if it’s just half an hour with your partner or mum— just to get them used to being around different people. In my experience, a two or three day settling-in phase— when your nanny comes round to your house and babysits for an hour or so, has some lunch and does some fun activities—is plenty.
Be honest with your children; prepare them for your return to work by talking to them about it. Don’t spring it on them. And when the time comes for you to leave, always say goodbye. Sneaking off may seem an easy way of avoiding tears, but as soon as your child notices, they will panic and may never let you out of their sight ever again! Far better to give a nice kiss goodbye, and leave with a smile—any tears will stop within about five minutes of the front door closing, even if yours don’t! Consider returning to work midweek—this makes the first week of separation shorter for both you and your baby.
Heather, thank you.
As always, we will keep updating this page with new interviews and advice from industry experts and mums in the know, so don’t forget to come back.