How to Be a No-Nonsense Nanny


Photo: Brooke Louise Photography | Model: Lindsay Weglarz

By: Meg Johnston

The three rules of nannying are, as I learned them, to be loving, firm, and fun every day. At first I assumed that meant the kids, but sometimes it applies to the parents, too! That's what it means when I say I'm a no-nonsense nanny. You have to be loving: Show compassion for their problems and provide flexible support. Be fun: I accidentally took my nanny kids to a cemetery as an outing the other day, and immediately sent my boss a text not because she needed to know that very second, but because I knew it would make her laugh. Be firm: Do no harm, but take no shit.

Working with a no-nonsense mentality means starting with “no” - a word that Helpful People (like nannies) have a hard time using. I was a “yes” person before I was a nanny; yes I'll work for that amount of money, yes I'll take on just one more project, yes I'll take whatever you give me. When I finally realized that being a “yes” person meant accepting whatever the world decided my worth was, I said no. Not a toddler's no -- stubborn, drunk on power and indiscriminate in its usage -- but an honest one. If you say no and you mean it, your yes is free to be equally enthusiastic. The power that gives you is literally the kind that can change your life.

These days I am insufferably happy. I have traded my work spanx for yoga pants and don't intend to look back, at least not until my nanny family doesn't need me anymore. It's part luck and part God's plan, but it's also the direct result of not taking any shit -- and that's what I'm here to talk about.

I had just received my license to practice as an EMR when my work prospects took a nosedive right alongside the Albertan economy. I needed work badly; my savings were gone, my parents' 30-year marriage was imploding, and my father was starting to rumble threateningly about how much support he felt he owed my mother (none). I had already left one career as an administrative assistant and going back to an office sounded...well, awful. So I put my newly-minted license in my back pocket and struck out to find reliable work to weather through the economic storm, hoping not to land on an office temp agency's doorstep.

Which is where I come to a disclaimer: I am privileged to be as picky about work as I damn well want to be because unlike every other job market, this one (childcare) is booming. I had secured employment in just two weeks, and when the mom I worked for lost her job and I correspondingly lost mine before it even started, it was less than a week before I was working for my current (completely perfect) family.

But in all seriousness, sometimes we have to take crap jobs to get by. If your situation would better benefit from a yes than a no, do that. Another part of being no-nonsense is being realistic about the situation.

Here’s something else I discovered: When you have that many job offers, some of them are bound to be straight-up ridiculous. Those ones aren’t hard to say no to. A woman once said that she’d like the china washed every few months while her children visited their grandmother. I withdrew my candidacy while sitting in my car after the interview. Another potential mom didn’t want to take any preventative measures to keep her long-haired daughter from getting lice at school. I simply chose not to accept their offer. Being no-nonsense doesn’t mean you have to be unkind or impolite, it just means you have the right to opt out of situations that add unnecessary hardship or drama to your day. I can’t believe the presumption of asking a nanny to scrub china, or the headache of combing lice out of waist-length hair, so I walked away from both.

But it’s not always that clear-cut. Say you have no good reason to turn this job down, just a feeling. Or sometimes, it’s that you’re not being offered a fair wage to deal with the issue you’re being presented with. A nanny that does it for the money isn’t going to be a nanny for long, but if you’re going to go all-in for a family (and do we ever!), you should get reasonable compensation and respect. In all these cases, please remember that nobody else is there to advocate for you. You are the only person who can control if you get in over your comfort level.

Think about things ahead of time. Are you using your own car to drive the kids around? If so, consider how you want to handle the cost of gas. No sick days? That’s not unusual or unfair, but if you’re expected to hustle like you’re at 110%, you might want to help your nanny family adjust their expectations. The best and easiest time to do this is when you interview and set up a contract.

Being no-nonsense means taking ownership of the situations you find yourself in. Be purposeful in your decision making. Ask questions based on what you do or don’t want in a job. Take yourself seriously. Be honest. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, but don’t take on more than seems reasonable.

I had two interviews the day I accepted my current nanny family's offer. I picked them for lots of reasons, and many of them are very similar to their reasons for picking me, which is kind of my point. Don’t take shit because you honestly don’t have to. If they don’t like what you have to offer, they won’t pick you -- but the right family will.

In learning to trust my gut and not accept less than I was worth, I fell into something amazing. When you find the right position, you find a second family. You find the kind of happiness that your friends are disgusted by. All you have to do is say no.

Meg Johnston is the nanny of 20-month-old twins. She didn't know you could get paid to have this much fun, which explains her colourful work history and BA in English. Now she can be found reading "Grumpy Bird" just one more time, or at @nannyfoodie on Instagram.

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