Good Help

January 30, 2011

Good help is hard to find, or so the saying goes.

Preface: I fully acknowledge that this is a first-world problem, as well as the kind of problem that childless people don’t want to hear about. But, if you are so inclined, I could use some help with a child care conundrum.

Preface #2: Pre-babies, I ranted about mommies who have nothing better to talk about than poo and diaper rash. Poo and diaper rash do come up in this post, but they are critical to the larger questions of managing employees, work-home struggles, personal standards, et al.

We have a nanny who has been with us about a year. We have some other babysitters who help out as well (some regularly like one 3-hour shift every week, and some only occasionally), and all of them are fantastic, but they don’t have enough available time to add up to a full childcare schedule. The nanny and the other babysitters are all college students. The nanny usually does about 30 hours a week, though this semester she’s doing less, and across all of them we have less coverage than we would like.

It used to be that I would say that the nanny is great with the twins, and very eager to do anything we need around the house. Reliability has been a problem for a long time (DH says that at any regular job, if she cancelled and no-showed this much she would have been fired long ago), but we felt that when she’s actually here, she’s great.

When the twins used to sleep a lot during the day, she used to do a lot of cleaning on top of the usual baby tasks. Now, there are typically about 2 free hours each day during naps to get stuff done. Not enough to do the regular daily tasks plus major cleaning. Fine, we can forgo major cleaning, bring someone else in to do it sometimes, or have the nanny clean when we happen to be out of town but have to pay her anyway, all of which have happened at various points.

Increasingly, the nanny has gotten lazy about household tasks. There was a time when she would anticipate everything that needed to be done. Now, she only does things if we specifically ask her — she does them willingly, but then the next time, we have to ask her again. Some things never get done unless we do them ourselves because she keeps “running out of time,” like the pots that sat in our sink for a week until I got sick of staring at them and washed them myself. More and more, she’s been doing her schoolwork (at least I think that’s what she’s doing on her computer all day). I can tolerate her doing some amount of work when the twins are playing, because I understand that it can be a bit much to play with them all day long. Then, she started working more and more during naptime too. We have never told her that she couldn’t do her schoolwork, but usually by asking her to do other tasks, she ended up doing less. None of the other babysitters ever do their schoolwork — they don’t even bring their books into the house, let alone computers.

Yesterday was the worst ever. At the end of the day she left the house a mess — the full day’s worth of bottles (6!) unwashed, high chairs covered in food, floor under the table hadn’t been swept in more than a week, a dirty diaper on our fireplace mantle. Basic stuff that ANYONE doing child care would have taken care of. The tasks that most other babysitters are willing to do were also undone: diaper pail not emptied, empty trash cans still at the curb from the day before, none of the laundry washed in the past week put away in the nursery, crib sheets visibly dirty, etc. Oh, and the dirty dishes from her lunch were in the sink for me to do.

Milk stain on the floor that I know for a fact has been there since November -- yes I realize I could have cleaned it myself or pointed it out to her, but I am playing a little game to see how long it stays

We’ve tolerated living in squalor for a while because it’s hard to hire someone new, especially when we don’t know if we’re moving soon. The nanny has gotten worse since the possibility of moving arose — lame duck — but the reliability and laziness problems predate the move question by many months.

We felt like we could put up with it because the twins were happy — they love her. But, every other babysitter reads to them often and plays with them the whole time they’re here. Obviously I don’t sit and eavesdrop on her all day, but I’d be surprised if she read one book to them every day, and it’s been weeks since I walked in on her sitting on the floor playing with them.

Yesterday, DH stopped in during his work day to say hello to the twins. The nanny was at her laptop as usual. The twins’ faces were crusted with food from lunch an hour before. Burrito had a poopy diaper. That was the third time in three days that DH had walked in to find Burrito in a poopy diaper.

The really bad part is that Burrito has been battling a terrible diaper rash for the past two months, requiring three separate visits to the pediatrician and several different medicines. I literally sniff his butt every 5 minutes just to make sure he’s not sitting in a dirty diaper — but it’s rarely necessary, because when I’m in the room with him I can almost always see it in his face when he poos (TMI, sorry, though it’s actually pretty cute to watch). I know for sure that the nanny isn’t totally to blame for his rash because he also had big problems when we were away, but I’m pretty sure that yesterday’s resurgence was due to her negligence. I guarantee that she is not looking at his face often enough to notice when he’s making his pooping expressions.

We’ve talked about firing her several times over the past few months (usually when I receive a text message after she’s supposed to have already arrived telling me she won’t be coming), then we always decide to stick with her. But yesterday may have been the last straw… or maybe not.

What would you do?

  1. Put up with status quo: keep asking her to do each task, and let her do her homework much of the time.
  2. Have a conversation about moderate changes that need to be made.
  3. Have a conversation about major, nonnegotiable changes that need to be made.
  4. Fire her and hire someone new, not knowing how long they’d be working for us due to possible move (and definitely knowing that the process of interviewing requires kissing many frogs before you find your princess).
  5. Fire her and make due with existing babysitters part-time plus hire a regular housekeeper.

The last option is quite a departure from having almost full-time care, but honestly, as long as someone else does all of the grunt work, I can probably get by work-wise, at least until I know what’s happening with the move.

I love spending time with my children. I also love my work, and I am fine with paying sweet young women to give them loving, stimulating care, which used to describe everyone, but now describes everyone except the nanny. I am decidedly not fine with paying someone to fully ignore the house and half-ignore the twins. Which I suppose means that I’ve crossed #1 off the list of possibilities.


23 Responses to “Good Help”

  1. This is difficult, but only b/c of your move. Under normal circumstances, I’d say fire her and get someone else. Actually, i’d still say fire her and get someone else. There are many college students that would be willing to work for the rest of the semester, then find something else in the summer. As long as you’re upfront about what you need, you should get it. We used to find our nanny. Not sure if you have it out there. But ours is part-time and doesn’t clean, just plays with our daughter for a few hours and then does a lesson plan: running flashcards, reading books, practicing numbers, identifying colors for the last hour.

  2. MabelB Says:

    Definitely a difficult one when you look at your circumstances as a whole but I think that it is neglectful to leave a child in a dirty diaper (especially given his rash). It’s one thing not playing with them all the time, quite another to leave them dirty and leave their environment dirty. I would fire her on that basis alone if it were my child. Appreciate it may not be that simple though and your kids are attached to her. Good luck making your decision!

  3. coffeegrl Says:

    Yes. The sitting in a dirty diaper = not okay. I’d fire her. I’m not sure that a conversation about non-negotiable changes would work at this point. Seems like she’s so checked out that threatening to terminate her won’t make much difference. I’d try to get by in whatever way you can in the meantime – with current, lovely babysitters part-time + house cleaner if possible…

  4. murgdan Says:

    I’d go for 5. I would have said 3 up to the diaper rash/pooping part, because while much of the other is the mental stimulation part (which is incredibly important, but could go with being slightly bypassed a few days a week until the move) and the housekeeping part (which I’ll be honest I totally can’t relate to because when you described is what I come home to every day 🙂 ) (not hating, just jealous), the poopy diaper is just plain physical neglect to me. That just made me angry. I guess I’d go with 3 or 5, depending on how attached you are to her……

  5. Two Kayaks Says:

    Wow. I am astonished. As you know, I am home with the twins all day and, aside from the 20 minutes or so it takes me to eat lunch while they nap, I never stop.
    Listen, you are not responsible for her education and if she were working outside of someone’s home, she would not likely use her working hours for personal use. She is taking advantage of the situation and I would not tolerate it for a second. The dirty dishes and house is awful enough, but knowing that your son is sitting in a dirty diaper (resulting in or affecting his sensitive skin) is intolerable. Fire her.

  6. celia Says:

    She needs to go. I was a nanny for the same family for years. I ran errands, grocery shopped, took the dog to the groomer, the little girl to dance class and the library, potty trained her, taught her to bake, did the laundry, vacuumed, etc. I felt like it was stealing if I sat around while she was asleep. I was able to get everything done. The only thing I did not do was bathrooms and that was because the mom did not want me too.

    When I went back to college I knew how much work it would be but we discussed it and they said they would rather have me there than NOT there. But this was after three years. It was very difficult for me to do school work when K was awake- because she missed playing with me and I ended up giving up on getting anything done while she was awake.

    Have you considered someone older? Or care sharing with another parent until you move?

  7. Mel Says:

    Okay, my 2 cents, for what it is worth. Don’t think about the future; solve the problem of the moment. If your house was covered in mold, you wouldn’t keep living there with the thought that you may move in the future so let’s stick this out for a few more weeks/months. It would suck to move twice, but you’d do it do deal with the current problem. So think about it that way — you have a problem, you need to solve it. If it qualifies as a major problem (mold in your house) that impacts life, I’d deal with it right now. If it’s more of a minor problem, I’d write it off and deal with it later. But if it warrants a full post, I’m willing to bet that it’s a major problem.

    Before firing, I’d just look at whether you’ve sat her down and been really clean with her about expectations and job performance. Sort of like any job would have built in evals. If you have, and she hasn’t changed, I’d say that she doesn’t sound like someone who is great with the kids. If you haven’t spelled it out in uncertain terms for her, I’d tell her that you want to schedule an eval and then give her feedback on what she is doing well and where she needs to improve and what is completely unacceptable.

    Down here, we have nanny services that match you with a nanny. They’re expensive, but the employee is actually employed by two people — the service and you — so it helps set a standard of quality. Is that possible up there? Too expensive?

  8. Eva Says:

    I would suggest to optimize your result strategically. I.E. have a conversation now about the most important point (NOT ignore the children, change Burrito’s diaper!). THEN start the search for a new nanny, have her come in, meet the children, even leave her alone with them to see if it works well. AFTER you found somebody, let your current nanny go. Then give her some feedback about how you liked her very much in the beginning but felt that at the end her performance got so much worse.
    In another line of work I would suggest to be open and frank about expectations, give another chance etc. However, this is a person caring for you children during your absence. It is harder to give second chances there. It is hard to change a caregiver, because the children are attached. I would still do it in this situation.

  9. a Says:

    I would most likely fire her, because I’m easily irritated and not very forgiving. You could have a conversation with her about your expectations, and maybe that would clarify your path. Hiring someone else would be a pain – would it be possible to expand the hours of your other regular babysitters? It does sound like she has checked out because she knows you’ll be moving, but it also sounds like your family is a lesser priority in her life. That may be a factor of age, though. She might need someone to point out to her that she is being irresponsible and that is not acceptable.

    Good luck.

  10. strongblonde Says:

    everyone else has said it well: fire her. the thing is that she WAS good, but now she’s not. she’s either distracted with school, bored with her life, checked out b/c you’re moving, or some other random thing. we both know how consuming it is taking care of two kids at once. it’s not hard to clean a kid’s face after lunch or to change a diaper when it’s poopy. those are the basic responsibilities of her job! she’s not doing them.

  11. WiseGuy Says:

    Your long-time nanny has gotten too-comfortable.

    Give her a good talk – polite and firm. Give her some time, see if she goes back to what she used to be. (She deserves the margin because the twins love her.

    Tell her what you do not find acceptable. If things continue unchanged, fire her. Stain on the floor? OK, Doable. Food Crusted on a Kid’s face for an hour? Not Acceptable.

  12. Kristin Says:

    If it wasn’t for the possible move, I would fire her on the spot. However, since there is a possible move on the horizon, I think I would opt for #3.

    I worked as a nanny for a number of years and this is just not acceptable behavior.

  13. Rebecca Says:

    Get rid of her, she’s taking the piss!

  14. Tara (TIMO) Says:

    Though it seems like the consensus is to fire her I’d probably try to use tactic #3. It sounds like you are about due for an annual review with her. Poopy diapers, dirty faces definitely non-negotiable. Laundry and dishes not as big a deal.

    Yes taking care of twins all day is tiring. I’ll admit to losing track of time on the computer but the chores and basic care of my boys gets done. There are definitely good days and bad and that has an impact as well. Does she check in with updates about their day? Perhaps a few text messages back and forth would help keep her accountable and on par.

  15. Erin Says:

    As someone who used to do a ton of babysitting and almost always did extra housework and helped with things regardless of being paid, plus having gone to school and gotten my masters in the full range of education, I do have some idea what it’s like to be on both sides (hers and yours). I think the biggest thing is, do you feel safe leaving your kids with her still? If so, it is risky as you said to start trying out new people, it’s not easy to find someone you fully trust.

    So if the answer above is yes, and you are paying her like you would a regular employee in a business, sit down and have an evaluation. Review your expectations, requirements, etc… She’d get this at any other job, why shouldn’t she with you? If she doesn’t agree with the terms, she’s free to move on. But clearly it’s not what she wants or she would’ve quit already. Make everything clear to her and provide a follow-up review with her to evaluate improvement or the potential for her to be let go at that time.

    Hope it helps.

  16. Ana Says:

    I know this is tougher in reality than it is in theory, but I would go with #3 quickly followed by #5 if things do not drastically change (with the caveat that even if they do change, if they ever change BACK, #5 is back on the table). Frankly, if she is just doing work while the twins entertain themselves, what the hell are you paying her for? YOU could do that, for 100% less money, and 50% less guilt.
    I frankly can’t imagine caring for even one toddler and being able to do much housework. At this age, they need constant watching and attention. So housework, to me, is not a non-negotiable issue, but poopy diapers and crusty faces smacks of neglect.
    One remote possibility that just entered my mind: Could it be that she is re-considering the feasibility of the job but doesn’t want to leave you in the lurch, and might be happy to have an out?

  17. Amanda Says:

    Hmmm. I stumbled across your blog from Breeder Beware and I hope you won’t mind my two cents from a total outsider perspective.
    I was a nanny throughout college.
    And now, 13 years later, I am a mom of a very busy toddler.
    I work from home while my toddler attends daycare nearby for 3 days/week.

    I think there are two things going on. First, your nanny is checked out. But second, it seems like maybe some of the things going on are a little passive aggressive from your end. (And from hers – seems like a battle of the wills.)
    You left dishes in the sink for a week for her to wash and still haven’t wiped up the spill on the floor. To up your anty she’s not wiping the kids faces and is spending more time on the computer. Or leaving a diaper on the mantle.
    Coming from a nanny perspective, I remember feeling like I had very little power in the nanny/mom dynamic. Very little recourse to ask for changes or communicate. Plus, college girls aren’t always the best at resolving conflict or confrontation. I remember that during naptime I’d lay down and take a nap too. The last thing I had energy for was cleaning. As a nanny I played with and cared for the children. It was frustrating to be asked to take on cooking or cleaning. (As a college student you may have energy but you haven’t necessarily learned how to run a household so sometimes these extras on top of childcare can be daunting. I don’t mean basics like loading her own dishes or throwing away a diaper, I mean washing the family’s dishes from the night before, cooking, putting away laundry, etc.)
    I wonder if she took on more than she could chew with your requirements? And as she saw that you weren’t going to pitch in with dishes and clean up, etc she just checked out emotionally?
    That’s sort of what it seems like from the outside.
    I don’t have great advice other than I wouldn’t hire a nanny for anything other than childplay and care (which she is now not doing a good job at) and I’d hire a housecleaner/keeper for the rest of the stuff-anything that isn’t directly related to the two little people in the house. The two jobs just simply don’t mix when you are paying a college student.
    Best of luck!

  18. I hate that you’re in this situation, but I really like the advice you’re getting.

    My inclination would be #3. Yes, she should know better and not have to be told, but she’s slipped into complacency — is it possible she thinks you haven’t noticed?

    So I would talk with her firmly and put it in terms of why it’s in her best interest to take better care, namely these two points.

    1. Burrito will be happier if his bottom isn’t raw — that makes her life easier.

    2. Her attention to the children and the home and the tasks she’s agreed to do will be evaluated in any reference letter she asks of you. It would seem that she WILL need to reference you before she takes a similar job?

    Gah. Let us know what you do with all this input and your own intuitive sense of a solution.

  19. jill Says:

    I’m not a mom and have no idea how hard it would be to find someone to care for my child who fit all the needed criteria. However, I have been a nanny several times – once for a little less than a year and once from 9 weeks to almost 2 years old. Both were full time positions (~30-35 hours a week). I miss that last one all the time. Horrible pay but seriously the best job I’ve ever had.

    I did house-work for the parents in both positions. I did do chores of my own (bill paying, grocery shopping, etc.) while “at work” and sometimes even napped when the baby was napping. But without fail, I would always make sure the child care was number one priority and always would pick up the house at the end of the day – all toys in their places, laundry put away, most/all dishes done, high chair and counters cleaned. I definitely did not leave any evidence of my having been there – for example, I would never leave my own dishes in the sink, but I might leave a pot that was left over from the family’s dinner the night before.

    My first thought while reading was that your nanny is unhappy in the position (her pay? her treatment? her hours?) and my advice would be to sit her down and tell her how different she is now than she was. Ask her why she is unhappy.

    However, if she is leaving the babies dirty, not changing diapers when she knows there is a health issue, not interacting with them/reading to them/teaching them, then I think this is more of a problem then just her being unhappy and shirking some housework.

    Wishing you luck figuring out what to do. If I lived near you I would put in an application 😉 (Actually, I don’t do child care anymore for pay reasons but I probably would be much happier if I went back to it.)

  20. Cat Says:

    Wow, I’d be pissed if I was paying someone to do something they’re not actually doing. I vote for doing #3 with a specific timeline for improvement on the twins’ care, household cleaning, her homework, and reliability followed by #4 and #5 if the timeline isn’t met. The move complicates things, but might your other sitters be able to pick up a few more hours since it’s (perhaps) only temporary? Or do they know any good candidates that have some free time NOW but maybe not for something permanent? That would give you more flexibility while you look for someone new.

    I could see her not doing much around the house, I certainly don’t and I’m here all day, but she should absolutely be cleaning up after the kids and taking care of them, including playing with and reading to them often. Their care while awake should be her first priority followed by cleaning up after them and then she can do her schoolwork if there’s any time left *while they sleep*. She should not be expecting you to finance her personal study hall.

    We also battle diaper rash and the absolute worst thing for it is to leave them in a poopy diaper. I would be livid if my child was in pain because of my employee’s negligence.

  21. Dora Says:

    Been meaning to stop by to comment. You’ve gotten lots of good comments about how to handle the situation with this nanny. I agree, leaving Burrito in a poopy diaper, is absolutely unacceptable. Hopefully, a serious conversation will help things. I’m also wondering if you’ve looked into a daycare center. Sunshine loves going to “school.” They do activities that I or a nanny would probably not do with her. I get her “art projects” sent home. She’s fingerpainting! She is extremely social. And they have way more toys than we have.

  22. UMS Says:

    My advice would be to talk to her like an adult instead of gossiping about her on a blog and posting pictures of milkstains that are several months old. Doesn’t that strike anybody here as rather silly?

    The nanny does not know you are unhappy with her. Tell her you are, and see how that goes.

    If what you say is true, she does not sound like a great nanny. lol

    However, you sound like a less than honest employer. How would she feel if she read all this and knew you had been unhappy for such a long time?

    I would tell her you are unhappy. Let her go. Say it’s not a good match. Find another childcare situation that you feel comfortable with.

    Lastly, be very clear that you want a nanny/slash housekeeper and not a maid. lol And good luck. 🙂

  23. Manda Says:

    This is all coming from a former full-time nanny, so take it for what it’s worth… I worked for a family in which the mother was at home all the time. They mostly needed a nanny (at first) due to a high risk twin pregnancy, and later due to postpartum depression. I was with them from 6 months pregnant through the twins’ 6 month birthday, at which point I moved away.

    Even though Mama was home all day long, I was still 100% focused on the kids. At first, with the 4 year old; later, with the twins. Once the 4 year old started school and it was just the infants all day, I may watch TV or something during naps, but mostly I occupied myself with helping around the house. Bottles were ALWAYS cleaned and sterilized. The babies’ laundry was ALWAYS clean and put away. If I had extra time, I would clean up the kitchen or do everyone else’s laundry. Why? Because I was being paid to be there. It wasn’t just visiting a friend and helping out with the kids when I HAD to.

    Seriously, as a former nanny, I say tell her to hit the road. There are a hundred other girls you can hire to take her place, and any one of them will probably pay more attention to the needs of your household and your children.

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