Sunday, 20 January 2013

Professional boundaries!

Long gone are the days of nannies living in and staying with families for years after the children have grown as in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited where Sebastian used to call in at the nursery to see his old nanny!  Nor are today's nannies like Mary Poppins pulling rambunctious children 'into shape' and rewarding them with wonderful adventures.

In Australia in the Twenty First Century, nannies typically live out  and work with families for given hours, usually during the 'business week'.  They tend to be aged from their mid twenties to mid forties, trained in modern child care and generally change positions after one or two years.  This is the era of the professional nanny.

In the modern world of a nanny's work, there is much greater informality than in the past.  Nannies and parents, and nannies and their charges are all on first name terms.  This reminds me of the story one of the nannies I trained who was working in the UK.  The nanny answered the phone one day, and was heard telling the caller she had the wrong number.  The mother asked who the call was for and the nanny replied "the Countess of xxxxx".  "That's me" said the mother.  While most nannies in Australia don't work for titled clients, some do work for well known families, others work for people who are very important within their fields but whoever the client family is, first names are used because that is the nature of our society.  It does not however, give permission to become over familiar with a client, and it is here that the role of professional boundaries is very important.

What is the role of a nanny?

It is to care for the children of the family, to foster their development socially, intellectually and physically, to ensure their safety and to act in the role of the parent in the parents' absence.

In this role you can have fun and be silly but you can not lose control of yourself or of the situation.  To ensure this, you need to establish with the children that you are in charge, not by being bossy but by having clearly established what is ok and what is not ok, with consequences following if behaviour is not ok.  To be able to do this effectively, you need to communicate clearly with parents so you are sure of what their limits are.  If these are very different from your own limits you still need to work with what the parents want, or of necessary look for work with a family whose views are more like your own.

Since the role of the nanny is child focused, that is where your communications with parents are focused.  It is not appropriate to:

  • use a client as a confidant, nor to receive personal confidences from a parent.  The polite response if this seems likely to happen is to remind the parent of your role.
  • snoop among the papers, bills, letters, emails etc that parents may leave where you can see them.  This is not your business.  Similarly, it is not appropriate to enter the parents' bedroom or to do their washing.
  • gossip with partners, friends and other nannies about your clients.  Some prominent families may require that you sign a confidentiality clause, but this shouldn't be necessary because this gossip is something you should never do.  
  • if there is an issue with a client eg frequently late home, discuss it with the client, and if you are not satisfied with the outcome, discuss it with the agency.  Do not discuss it with all your friends.

By maintaining professional boundaries, you also make it easier for you and the family to part when the job finishes.  You have been warm and friendly and an important part of the children's development but you are not an intimate personal friend so both your life and that of the family will go on, and after a short period of missing each other, everyone can go on to form new relationships with other families and carers.

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