Jedi Nanny: Working From Home

That is, working when a parent is working from home.  I’ve seen this addressed on a few mommy blogs lately and wanted to offer some tips from the nanny’s point of view on how to make this work as smoothly as possible. I’m not going to address anything that the parent should or shouldn’t do; my suggestions are for the nanny as that’s the part I’ve played in this scenario. If you’re a parent reading this and you want to add your opinion on what’s worked best for you, I would love to hear from you!

I’ve worked for two families where an adult was home during the day – one job ended up being a complete failure in which it became obvious that having me there with the other adult (in this case, a grandparent) also at home was a “too many cooks” kind of situation because it just wasn’t possible for the grandparent and I to stay out of each other’s way. I think age had a lot to do with this and what I’m sure was an irrepressible urge to grandparent the 18year old nanny as well as the younger children.

The other situation worked as well as it ever possibly can. For the first half of my year with the Schmoops, both parents worked outside of the home. For the second half, one parent’s job situation changed and that parent worked from home for the duration of my time with the girls. There wasn’t really too much adjustment to be made, very clear boundaries were set from the beginning as the parent wanted to be hands-off in order to get work done.

What I’ve learned from both scenarios that I, as the nanny can do to make it as smooth as possible when a parent works from home:

  • Do not do anything differently. What I mean by this is not that I continue watching TV while the kids nap or talking on the phone to my boyfriend while the kids are watching cartoons or whatever nightmare babysitter behavior you might be imagining – but rather, I never, ever do anything when the parents aren’t there that I wouldn’t do if they are. Sure, I’m not perfect. I have not yet earned my Supernanny license. But in any case, I have made it a policy to just always act as if the parents could arrive at the door in five minutes. Because honestly, they could. You just never know.
  • Establish boundaries ahead of time. Hopefully the parent will have a specific workspace, but if not, you’ll have to do do some careful ballet to maintain the “Parent is here, but can’t play right now” party line for the child. Check in at the beginning of the day about the schedule – SchmoopParent let me know about any interviews, conference calls, times when the parent was absolutely not to be interrupted as well as times when the parent would be out of the house. This was super helpful for me in scheduling our activities.
  • If you know that the parent is going to be out of the house, that’s a good time to try and schedule some quiet play in the house. If you know that the parent has a conference call, by all means, if weather permits get the hell out of Dodge. If weather doesn’t permit and the parents are cool with it, use this time to screen a soothing movie. Anything you can do to make sure that the child is happy and not interfering with the parent’s work. Which is to say, DO NOT EVER schedule nap time for a conference call. If a parent schedules a conference call for the time that is normally nap time, do your best to get the child exhausted out of the house and do a quick stroller-to-bed transfer. If this is a one-time occurrence, accept that you might have to put the child down later – or that nap might just elude you altogether. If this is a regularly scheduled call, realize that you are going to have to reschedule naptime.
  • Yes, you heard me. If the parent at home is interfering with your schedule, you are the one who has to reschedule. I’m very sorry. I know that we all want to think in childcare that the child trumps all, and oh, the child does trump all – but the parents are still the boss. It’s never ok to ask a parent to do something differently, especially about their job, unless they consult you first. If the parent asks “Is this a bad time to schedule a call?” Politely say “Well, this is our usual naptime.* I don’t want you to have a lot of disturbance in the background.” Of course, there are some parent-nanny relationships where asking the parent to reschedule a call wouldn’t be out of line, but I’m not going to give it a blanket seal of approval. Tread carefully.
  • If it works out for the parent, and SchmoopParent was thankfully ok with this, offer a quick “Hello!” to a child in distress as opposed to a total meltdown in which the parent’s attention is demanded.  By which I mean, if the child has a total meltdown and is SCREAMING for their parent, offer to quickly take them into the office, say hello, and then leave. I’m quite grateful that SchmoopParent allowed us to have a quick hello or two per day as it did indeed calm Schmoopette down when she was upset – saying hi for a minute and then leaving, when she knew ahead of time that this was the deal, really really did wonders to get her to calm down and pull herself together when nothing else was doing the trick. This of course was in the parent’s best interest as the two minute interruption meant the end to the tantrum that had been going on for ten minutes previous and without the quick hello, would have no end in sight.
  • Don’t be afraid, within reason, to use the parent to your advantage.  A parent at home can be an absolute godsend when a child is ill. Having the parent there to make decisions about medication, calling the doctor, all of those things that as a nanny you need to check with the parent about anyway become infinitely easier when you’re talking for twenty seconds at a time in the hallway than when you have to call and pull them away from work or talk to their voicemail.
  • Don’t ever think that because the parent is there that you don’t have to do your job! It’s a recursive list, sort of, now I’m back at “don’t do anything differently.” Don’t think that you can schedule time off or call out because the parent is “at home anyway.” Sure, if there is an emergency, it’s easier on your conscience if the parent is at home, but you shouldn’t be calling out of work unless you’re on fire. (And even then, sometimes your mother will ask you why you didn’t go in anyway, there’s a fire extinguisher there, isn’t there? HI MOM.)

* If you are reading this and are confused because “Hey! Isn’t naptime supposed to be quiet?!” – you are neither a parent nor an experienced nanny.  The reality is that tired children don’t want to nap and getting them to actually do so is a struggle. Imagine trying to get a pack of tigers to all take a nap. Tigers on crystal meth. That’s about what you’re dealing with with one toddler. I’ve had to get 18 four year olds to all at least LIE DOWN simultaneously and it’s actually easier to get a unanimous resolution through the United Nations.


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