In this installment of our ongoing series, we give a brief glimpse into the RIE methodology developed by Magda Gerber. Please listen to parts one and two before diving in here!
Nannies need a childcare philosophy! This is the second part of our series on developing yours. We briefly go over the work of Maria Montessori and discuss the parts of the Montessori philosophy that we have adapted into our own work with children.
Micromanagement is an issue popping up more and more between nannies and parents these days. Maybe it’s because parents can now watch their nanny in action through live streaming cameras all day and that has triggered the need to manage from afar. Or maybe it’s because we have so many new nanny employers who are getting faulty or lacking information about how to effectively create and maintain a successful employment relationship. Whatever the reason, micromanagement is derailing too many otherwise good nanny positions. If you find yourself working for a micromanager, here’s a three step approach that can help you work through the challenges and find success on the other side.
Disclaimer: I use female pronouns when speaking about bosses throughout this article. This doesn’t mean men can’t or don’t micromanage. They do. The choice is for simplicity.
Step One: Understand What’s Going On
It’s You, Not Me
Assuming your work performance is where it should be, it’s important to understand that the issues causing the micromanagement come from your boss, not you. This doesn’t mean your boss is unhinged or a jerk. It just means that she’s dealing with the normal trepidation that comes with leaving her child with a nanny or she’s struggling with a different type of emotional challenge and micromanagement is her go-to coping strategy. Remembering it’s not about you can be a big ask because this management style often shows up as criticism and questioning and that feels very personal. However when you can step back and put space between your emotions and the situation, it helps you move forward in a positive way.
New Nanny Grace Period
If you’re new to your job it’s natural for your boss to worry about leaving her child alone with you. No matter how amazing you are or how well they screened you, it’s a huge leap of faith for parents to trust a virtual stranger with the life of their child. That’s literally what they’re doing. Most parents work through this first phase of fear and anxiety by being more vigilant and involved. This can show up as micromanaging. Don’t panic, it’s a good thing. It shows they want to provide you with clear expectations around hand-on childcare and your other responsibilities, support you as you acclimate to the new job, and most importantly, it shows they’re invested in a real world way in the well-being of their child.
So look at the first couple of months on the job as the trust building phase. Use it to develop a solid foundation with your employers. Ask questions, check in with them to make sure things are going well, and don’t make assumptions around grey area issues. Miscalculated judgment calls like assuming it’s fine to let the baby sleep with a new lovey or leaving the toddler in the back yard to run to the bathroom can cast a net of doubt and anxiety over even calm parents. Trust builds pretty quickly in a good nanny / family relationship and most parents settle into a comfortable employer style. Just give them time.
But what happens when this phase doesn’t end?
What’s Really Going On
When your boss gives you step-by-step instructions on how to change a diaper properly or texts you asking that you check on the toddler because he’s made a sound that might have been a wake up cry (thank you Nest camera!) or calls every afternoon to remind you to pick your charge up from school, you can bet the underlying issues is fear. Fear that you’ll miss something and her child will suffer, fear that if she’s not in control, everything will fall apart and she’ll spend countless hours putting it all back together, fear that you can do it by yourself and she’s really not needed, fear that if something is done a different way she’ll lose her authority in the household, or fear that if things aren’t perfect or close to it, she’s failed as a parent. The list goes on and on. What fears lie underneath your boss’s micromanagement really depends on her life experiences and her beliefs about herself, her place in relationships, and the world in general. One thing is for sure, the only way to move her from that place of fear to a place of stability and calm is through support and communication.
Step Two: Start With Support
One of the best ways to help lessen micromanagement is to help your boss lessen her fear, which often shows up as anxiety or the need to control. Parenting, like nannying, is one of those jobs that make your best traits even more awesome and your worse traits even more troublesome. So if your boss’s natural inclination around new situations is anxiety or the need to control and her go-to coping mechanism is micromanagement, it can quickly become a problem. Acknowledgement and reassurance with a dab of proactive planning can help curb micromanaging before it becomes a permanent part of your employment relationship.
Acknowledging your boss’s feelings – even if you wouldn’t feel the same way or don’t agree with her actions – can help her put her emotions in perspective and start to process and manage them. But how do you acknowledge someone else’s experience if you don’t know them very well and they aren’t openly sharing with you? We can’t ever know for sure what’s going on with another person but we can make intuitive, informed guesses that are often spot on. After all, at our core we’re all more alike than different. So saying “I know it’s hard leaving the details of his day to me. It was hard for me to leave my nanny kids with a babysitter in my last job and I’m not even the parent!” allows your boss to feel like her feelings are normal and that you really do get what she’s going through.
Reassuring your employer that you’re there to take great care of her child can help calm her fears and begin to give her confidence that things can and will be OK without her constant input or supervision. Don’t fall into the “If she hired me, she should trust me and let me do my job!” trap. Fears are not rational players. They invade our psyche and override our rational thoughts. A simple “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he’s fully covered in sunscreen before we go out.” or “I had my CPST check the car seat installation last night and the seat is installed 100% correctly and we’re good to go for today’s trip to the park.” can make the world of difference to an anxious parent.
Brainstorming some things you can do to help your boss stay connected in an appropriate way can go a long way in taming the micromanaging beast. Simple things like sending a text and update at set times throughout the day or providing a list of tasks accomplished at the end of a shift can help. Throw out some suggestions to your boss and see which ones land best. Ask what ideas she might have. Creating a list together is a wonderful way to start working as a collaborative team.
So when you put those three elements together, it might sound like “I can only imagine how hard it is to go back to work after spending the last 3 months with Sam. You said last week you were just getting your footing as a new parent so this probably feels like things are being turned upside down. (ACKNOWLEDGEMENT) I want you to know that Sam is my top priority and I’m fully focused on taking great care of him. (REASSURANCE) I know you’re concerned about him eating enough so I thought we could sign up with Baby Connect so you can see exactly when and how much he’s eating along with other details about his day. (PROACTIVE PLANNING) Is there anything else I can do to support you as you go back to work?”
Step Three: Communicate Your Needs
Consistently providing acknowledgement, reassurance, and proactive planning over a few to several weeks can transform the way your employer engages with you. If the micromanaging continues, it’s time for a sit down with your employer. This is a difficult conversation however working in an environment where you don’t feel trusted, valued, or are able to relax into your own way of doing things is stressful and for most nannies, not sustainable long term. So here’s a 6 step blueprint for the conversation.
1. Acknowledge your employer’s feelings. You’ve gotten lots of good practice with this by now.
2. Use I statements to focus the conversation on what you need rather than what your boss is doing wrong or needs to change. This is a big challenge because the go-to place for most of us is to focus on the micromanagement and why it’s a problem. That only leads to defensiveness and the “as the employer, I have the right to…” argument. I statements can make or break this conversation.
3. Share how you feel without blaming or judging. This is where those I statements come in handy. It’s hard to share ourselves and be vulnerable when we feel under attack however it’s a necessary part of the conversation. Micromanagers often have no idea of the effect they’re having on those around them. They’re focused on their needs, the outcomes they want to see. Sharing your feelings can open the door to understanding and change.
4. Clearly define what you need in positive language. Rather than saying “I need to you to stop texting me all day with comments about what we’re doing.” say “I need to establish regular times during the day when we can check-in with each other. (Did you notice that first sentence was not a true I statement because it focused on the other person’s actions?)
5. Use collaborative language to develop possible solutions. This is the easy part because nannies are natural problem solvers. Remember to use team building language like “What can we do to meet your need to stay informed throughout the day and my need to work independently?”
6. Create a plan of action and a timetable for checking in with each other. Recognize that your first plan will probably need tweaking and that’s OK. Come back together at a set date and time to talk about your successes, your ongoing challenges, and your next steps.
What If None Of This Works?
Before you throw the towel in, I encourage you to go back through the steps I’ve outlined and honestly assess if you’ve done all you can. A micromanaging boss can be a strong emotional trigger and it’s hard to take productive steps when we’re flooded with emotions. If you have taken these steps and the situation hasn’t improved, it’s time to evaluate if you’re a good match for your boss. Not all bosses are ready to change and develop a healthier, more effective supervisory style.
Sue and Lora kick off a new series about developing your childcare philosophy. In this episode, we discuss what it is and why is it important. All nannies should have a definable childcare philosophy.
Reference letters are a key element in a successful nanny job search. Even if your employer loves you and is willing to say so in a phone interview, there’s no replacing the impact of a great letter in a great search portfolio. But getting the letter is often a bit more work than you might think.
When To Ask
It’s a good idea to let the news that you’re quitting sink in for a few days before asking for a reference letter. Remember you’re delivering bad news to your employers and it will probably feel like you’re rejecting and abandoning them. (Even if it hasn’t been the best relationship, many families take their nanny quitting very personally.) Of course you’re thinking about your next move but your employers are still reeling from the news. Saying “I quit” and in the next breathe asking “And can you write me a reference letter?” isn’t the best way to get a raving review.
The topic will often come up in your resignation conversation. Your employer might say something like “And of course we’ll give you a great reference!” But these conversation are emotionally charged and those statements are more declarations of nanny love rather than a real commitment to sit down and write a letter. Even if they promise a letter during the conversation, don’t assume your employer has added it to her to do list. In fact, there’s a good chance it’s not even on her radar. She’s focusing on two more pressing things – how to tell the kids you’re leaving and where to find her next nanny.
Once a few days have passed, it’s the perfect time to bring it up. If you’ve had a good relationship with your employers and are leaving for reasons unrelated to the employment relationship, the conversation is pretty easy.
Nanny: It’s still hard to believe I’m leaving. I’m going to miss you guys! But I know I need to get started in my job search. Would you be willing to write me a reference letter?
If you quit because of issues with your employers, it may feel wrong to ask for a reference letter. After all, you’re leaving because of them. However (I’m assuming) you’ve done a great job while you were there and you deserve a letter that reflects that. Don’t expect the same kind of glowing recommendation a long-term, happy relationship produces but you should receive a positive reference letter.
Nanny: I’m getting started in my job search. Would you be willing to write me a reference letter? It’s an important part of my portfolio. And if there’s anything I can do to help you find a new nanny, please let me know.
Clarify the Process
Many employers don’t understand how important the reference letter is or how it fits into your job search so make a point of laying out the details for them. The more they understand, the more likely they are to write a great letter and get it to you in a reasonable amount of time.
First, explain that their reference letter will be a door opener for you, helping you land interviews with top agencies and parents. Many employers assume they don’t need to include details in their letter because they’ll talk to agencies and prospective employers on the phone and can fill them in then. Unfortunately, that isn’t the way it works. Vague letters can cripple your search before it gets off the ground. The reader often feels like something important has gone unsaid and assumes that something is bad. Most of the time, the candidate will never get to the reference stage so the reference never has a chance to fill in the blanks.
Nanny: I know you’re super busy and I really appreciate you taking the time to write me a reference letter. It’s an important part of my portfolio because it’s one of the things agencies and families read before they even meet me. Actually it helps them decide if I’m the type of candidate they even want to meet. So it really is a huge help!
Second, reassure your employers they won’t be bombarded with phone calls and emails. Let them know lots of people will read the letter but only a few select agencies and families that are serious possibilities will have access to their contact information. Even the best reference will turn bad if she has to talk to an endless stream of people.
Nanny: I respect your time and your privacy and won’t give your contact information to anyone except the few agencies I’m working with and once I start interviewing, the families I’m seriously considering. It will be a short list. So lots of people will read your letter but only a few will actually contact you.
Let them know you’re working on a timeline and set a deadline. Offer gentle reminders if you need to. Intentions are great but they won’t help you land your next job.
Nanny: I’m hoping to have my portfolio finished in two weeks. Does that give you enough time to write my reference letter?
Nanny: John, I wanted to give you a gentle reminder that I’m sending out my portfolio next Monday and your reference letter is a key part of it. I know you’re busy; I really appreciate you taking the time to write me the letter.
Genuinely ask for a letter. Don’t assume they’ll write one. Or that you’re entitled to a glowing review.
Keep the tone casual and conversational. Being pushy, demanding or entitled is the kiss of death.
If they email you their letter, make sure to print out a copy and ask for a signature.
Offer to write them a reference letter. Nothing sells a nanny job like hearing from the current nanny how wonderful the family is.
Don’t take hesitation personally. Remember it’s stressful when a nanny quits and they may be struggling with their feelings around you leaving.