Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Sorting out conflict between parents and nannies.

From time to time we receive calls from both parents and nannies complaining about a range of issues that seem to be threatening the placement and often asking for help to sort things out.

For parents issues most arise because the nanny:
  • isn't punctual or isn't flexible about doing extra work or hours;
  • is untidy, leaving the children's toys all over the place and not cleaning up after preparing meals;
  • and very occasionally because the nanny is lazy, spending the day watching TV instead of being actively involved with the children.
For nannies the main issues seem to be:
  • 'job creep' ie more and more is added to the job description, particularly household tasks, or hours are regularly extended;
  • parents refusing to consider extra payment for extra duties.
One of the first things I ask is 'have you spoken to the nanny (or parent) about this, and frequently the answer is no.  I can't help wondering what I can do when they haven't taken the first step in trying to resolve the issue.  It seems that each part is concerned about hurting the others feelings, and is probably a reflection of the difficulty many women have with being assertive.   The issues will grow in significance and all parties will become increasingly heated unless they are resolved quickly using basic communication skills.

Recently a nanny reported to me that a parent wanted to deduct hours from her time sheet for a lunch break, which a nanny never gets because she is always on duty, and for the time the baby was asleep.  In this instance the nanny was quite clear with the parent what the arrangements were, pointing out that her presence at these times ensured the baby was safe and well cared for. The parent saw the sense of what she was saying and the time sheet was completed properly.  This was an example where by using basic communication skills, a problem was resolved without needing to bring in a third person.

In the above examples of a nanny not performing her duties properly, it is important that the parents bring their concerns to the nanny's attention and ask for a commitment to change, then to observe over a period of time whether there has been an improvement.  If there is no change, it is certainly appropriate to tell the nanny that her performance is not adequate and that they will contact the agency. 

Most nannies are happy to occasionally help out eg put washing in the dryer or in an emergency stay on a little later. If, however, this becomes a regular pattern, they need to discuss it with the parents, referring to what they were contracted to do and pointing out that these changes are beyond what they initially agreed.  Apart from their work with children, nannies have their own lives to lead, friends to see, shopping and household tasks of their own, appointments to keep and a right to 'down time' so that they remain fresh and committed to their jobs.  Adding too many hours or tasks leads to burn out so if nannies and parents cannot come to an agreement over changes, the agency should be contacted.

It is not appropriate for the discussion of concerns of either parents or nannies happens on the run during the changeover of responsibility for the children.  If there is to be a discussion, a meeting time needs to be set aside that suits both parties so that the issue can be discussed calmly and if possible a solution reached.  It is only necessary to contact the Agency if a solution cannot be found.

Conflict resolution skills This is one of the best simple guidelines for conflict resolution I have seen.
Communication skills This is a clear explanation of basic communication skills, with a link to listening skills.
Kids and communication skills A useful resource to start you thinking about making sure children have good communication skills.
Assertiveness A great British booklet to develop your assertiveness skills.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Why have a nanny?

Is choosing to have a nanny a status thing?  Certainly some of the arguments going on about 'middle class welfare' and funding for childcare at present in Australia have a overtones of this idea.  But from my experience in the industry, I believe that is far from the motivation of the families using our service.

I think the reasons most people have nannies are one or more of the following:
  • Convenience, for both the parents and the children.  It is far easier to leave the house at say 8am and go straight to work, leaving a nanny responsible for waking, dressing and feeding children, and perhaps taking an older one to school than having to wake children, get them fed and dressed and deliver them to childcare and before-school programs then heading off to work.  And at the other end of the day, too, with 6pm pick up times generally the latest available there is great pressure on working parents to get their children on time after work. Another aspect of convenience is the care of sick children.  Nannies routinely do this as part of their work, whereas a child who is ill is excluded from formal care centres until they have recovered.  This means that a parent either has to take time off work or depend on friends and relatives to provide emergency care.  In the last few days I have noticed complaints from centres about parents dosing sick children up and trying to pass them off as being well.  For children, there is the advantage of being cared for in their own environment, playing with their own toys, and at least in winter, not having to leave and return home in the dark.
  • Lack of places for children in family day care, childcare centres and before and after school care.  While in overall number of places, the government may well be right in saying that there are adequate places, they may not be available in areas where families need them, particularly in inner and middle ring suburbs, or for the age groups of the children, particularly those under 2 years old.  And for families able to access places in the outer suburbs, the travel times to the work mean that the limited and inflexible opening hours make them difficult to use.
  • The possibility of individual attention for children, particularly when they are very young makes having a nanny an attractive proposition.  Although there are higher staff ratios for young children, and staff members may have particular children assigned for their general care, during the day rosters mean other staff members will be involved in the care of each child.  Nannies work directly with the children in their care, giving them the sort of one to one attention a parent would give.  The same person is involved in their physical care and in meeting their developmental needs, with good professional nannies providing a well rounded program of activities tailored specifically for the children in their care.
  • Since the nanny has been chosen by the parents and is working directly for them, there is far greater chance of nanny and parents 'being on the same page' as far as values and child rearing practices.  We encourage the use of work diaries and good communication the ensure this continuity of care so that children are not confused by different limits and attitudes.
  • Strangely enough, cost is also a good reason to use a nanny, especially if there are two or more children in the family.  It costs as much to have a nanny for one child as it does for more than one, whereas in other forms of care, the cost is per child.
  • Sometimes nannies are placed in families where the main caregiver is ill, and on occasions dying, to supplement the care of the parent and to bring some stability to the children in a situation which is very stressful and demanding. The nannies who do this work, sometimes funded through the federal government In Home Care Program, and sometimes privately funded, have particularly demanding jobs and are much appreciated.  A recently bereaved grandmother described the nannies we provided for her dying daughter's children as 'two angels'.
Most people who come to our agency looking for a nanny are working parents who are looking for a solution to their childcare needs and their motivation falls into one or more of the above categories.  I have yet to meet anyone who wanted a nanny because they thought it was the only appropriate option for someone of their social class! 

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Cheer for the midwives!

Last Saturday, 11 May, was International Nurses Day, so take a bow all you nurses out there.  I wrote in one of my early blogs of my background as a nurse and my appreciation of the work nurses do, but today I want to take that further and give my attention to midwives.  Again, in the interests of probity I declare a self interest: after completing my general nursing training, I qualified as a midwife at the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne!

Midwifery seems to be flavour of the month on TV at present as Call the Midwife and  One Born Every Minute are both screening at present. It is interesting to see these as a historical contrast with work in the East End of London in the 1950s where most deliveries were at home with limited facilities compared with hospital deliveries in the current period.  As the series of Call the Midwife has progressed, however, more births have occurred in hospital settings.  In both series, the stars of the delivery rooms (along with the mothers and babies) have been the midwives as they prepare the mother for birth and encourage and monitor her and the baby along the way.  And in return they have the privilege of being present at one of nature's special events, over and over again.

It is not my intention to take a position on home births compared with hospital births as I think in the current Australian context this is an area with entrenched, and sometimes fanatical, views for and against so that neither side really listens to the other and neither seems to be prepared to come to any sort of agreement on what might be possible.  Birth is a natural process that women have been experiencing for as long as humans have existed, but it is not always safe for either mothers or babies.  We have all heard the tales of women giving birth in the fields and then resuming their work but I don't think this is what most women want.

I think most women want to be supported, nurtured and guided through the process of birth and for that reason, in most cultures, birth has been women's business and often particular women have specialised in giving this support to others.  These women were self taught, learning 'on the job' by observation.  Some may have been quite effective in what they could do but there was a high rate of maternal and infant mortality. The modern practice of midwifery grew out of this support for women, taking advantage of the advances of nursing care and medical knowledge that have come about since the mid-Nineteenth Century.  For many years they attended home deliveries because few people could afford hospital care, but with the growth of universal health care they are now more likely to work in hospitals although where hospital care is not readily available, they continue to work in the community. 

I took some money and clothes collected from some of our families when I visited a clinic in Bali, Bumi Sehat, run by an American midwife, Ibu Robin Lim, who has a program of antenatal care for women in the local villages.  If the pregnancy is straight forward, when the baby is due, the women come to the clinic and the baby is delivered as gently and calmly as possible in clean environment.  The parents stay for a couple of nights with their new baby ensuring that the mother is able to feed the child before returning to the village.  This centre is training midwives to continue and extend the work.  If there are likely to be complications with the birth, the mother is transported to hospital, but this is a last resort as the cost to families is prohibitive.  The clinic has been very effective in reducing the maternal and infant death rate.

Midwives run antenatal clinics in hospitals and then attend the births although it is usual for the doctor to actually deliver the baby.  As One Born Every Minute shows, the presence of an experienced midwife is greatly appreciated by the women in labour and their families, as the midwife is able to answer questions and reassure them all as well as guiding the labour and monitoring mother and baby.  Observing the differences in the series from the UK and the USA it is apparent in the latter that the woman is much more active in labour, moving around, perhaps using the bath and generally using as many natural methods as possible to get relief from the discomfort and pain. In the American hospital the women seem to be more passive and tend to have epidural relief almost as a matter of course...different countries, different approaches!

Midwives, you do a great job, and women everywhere should salute you!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The hidden benefits of being a nanny!

Over the last few weeks we've looked at some pretty heavy topics and today is the reward as we look at the lighter side: the hidden benefits of being a nanny!

As well as having great responsibility attached to the role, being a nanny allows you to have fun: yes, you are being paid to have fun!  It is impossible to engage with children if you are withdrawn, miserable or angry.  You need to be able to enter their world and leave your adult preoccupations behind, so that children can play, create and enjoy themselves.  This means that, while keeping an eye out for any problems, you need to have fun too.  You can be:
  • silly,
  • spontaneous
  • lighthearted.
Once you have a rapport with the children you care for, you have an admiring audience for your efforts.  This is wonderful for your self esteem!
  • The ducks you draw don't have to be perfect, 
  • the songs you sing don't have to be in tune, 
  • your dances don't have to be perfectly choreographed.
Children accept your efforts, and if they are critical, you are free to acknowledge your shortcomings, laugh and suggest that they have a go and make a better job of it.

When you are with growing creatures, you are in a wonderful position to watch their growth and enjoy their development.  Some people get this from watching their gardens grow, or their kittens become cats but as a nanny you have the privilege of watching a child develop in so many areas: physically, intellectually, creatively; in their speech and mastery over their environment; in their understanding of the world about them, of relationships and emotions.  You would have to be hardhearted and cold, not to take pleasure in this complex unfolding.  There well may be challenging parts to it, but the growth of a child is the most wonderful process, and you are able to observe and enjoy it at first hand. 
  • You will hear the early attempts at speech: 'da' and 'er' develop into recognisable words, and then into the mispronounced words that become part of a family's vocabulary eg 'guessing gown' for dressing gown!
  • You will see the early attempts at movement evolve into crawling, standing, walking, climbing until have to rescue someone from the fence or tree.
  • You will see the shy smile evolve into kisses and cuddles and see the comfort you've given played out when a doll has an accident.
  • You will receive confidences and have people looking forward to seeing you, what a boost to the ego!
As an agent, I have also seen many young women develop into mature and responsible adults from the experience of being a nanny.  Their warm and engaging personalities have gained:
  • a growth in responsibility from the responsibility of caring for other people's children;
  • the ability to organise themselves so that they can organise activities to meet the developmental needs of one or more children as well as ensuring their physical care and safety;
  • a sense of independence which has come from being a sole worker and so having to rely on their own resources.
A few years ago, people used to have therapy to 'get in touch with their inner child' to help resolve issues and regain a sense of the joy of life.  It seems to me, that you get this therapy for free when you work as a nanny, as well as skills that can be used in everyday life.

I'm sure many of you would have experienced other benefits from being a nanny, some of which you only realise several years later.  I'd love to hear what you have gained.