Playdate Etiquette: When Moms and Nannies Come Together

Playdates are an important part of a kid’s life. Not only are they fun, but they’re an important part of a child’s social and emotional development. If you’re a mom who’s planning a playdate with a child cared for by a nanny, here are some tips for successfully navigating that unique situation.

Although the nanny loves taking care of kids, she doesn’t love feeling like a free babysitter. If you need childcare coverage don’t try and pass it off as a playdate. Take a direct approach and simply ask her if she’s willing to care for your child. Be clear about what you’re asking for, make sure it’s OK with her employer and be prepared to pay the nanny her going rate for babysitting.

Always confirm the playdate with the nanny. In some situations, the nanny is solely responsible for scheduling the child’s day. In other situations, the mom plans the child’s day and shares the details with the nanny. And sometimes, it’s a combination of both. However it’s done, it’s important to connect directly with the nanny and confirm the details of the playdate with her.

If your child does best with one-to-one supervision, stick around. Generally if your child is under 3 to 4 or has special needs, it’s a good idea to stay during the playdate and be the go-to person for any issues that may come up.

If you do stay, treat the nanny as you would another mom. While you and the nanny may not be great friends, you’re still a guest in the home and it’s important to act that way. Spending the time checking your email or chatting on the phone while the nanny supervises the kids is a sure fire way never to get invited back. Nannies are a diverse crowd and many moms are surprised at how much they enjoy developing relationships with caregivers.

Don’t ask the nanny about her employers’ personal life. What seems like simple conversation to you may be off limits territory to the nanny. She’s the gatekeeper of her employers’ privacy and she takes that very seriously. Don’t put her in the awkward position of having to tell you a subject is out-of-bounds.

Don’t share personal information about her employers with her. You never know how it will affect something happening within their nanny/family relationship. Saying how great it is that the mom just got a huge bonus won’t be great news to a nanny that was just denied a raise. Being concerned that the dad is working so many weekends lately may fuel the nanny’s worries about his ability to follow through on discipline issues important to her. When in doubt, assume the nanny doesn’t know or shouldn’t know and say nothing.

Make sure the nanny knows everything she needs to know about your child. While the host mom may know your child well, there’s a good chance the nanny knows very few details unless you’re a frequent playdate companion. If your child has food allergies, if she’s in the middle of potty training or if she completely melts down when she sees the cat, let the nanny know.

If your child requires a special snack either because of an allergy or food preference, bring a snack for her. You never how the host’s fridge and pantry will be stocked so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Keep the time reasonable for the age of your child. 1 to 2 hours is the sweet spot. Anything over two hours, unless it’s a special activity or situation, feels like it’s more about you getting down time than your child getting friend time.

Don’t bring craft projects for the kids to do. When a mom is hosting the playdate, bringing a craft project is often a great way to contribute. However arts and crafts are part of a nanny’s job so if a craft project is a good fit for the playdate, she’ll make it happen. Having the guest mom bring an activity feels like the mom is telling the nanny how to do her job. (Imagine how you’d feel if you were a pastry chef and a mom brought over a cake mix for a playdate at your house.) If your child is a frequent guest and often does craft projects during playdates, replenishing the supplies used is appreciated.

Make sure you’re available to pick your child up at any time during the playdate. Sometimes kids just aren’t getting along or an emergency comes up that requires the time to be cut short. The nanny should have your full contact information and you shouldn’t be doing anything that would keep you from getting to the host’s home in a reasonable amount of time. (No more than the time it takes to get from your house to theirs.) So feel free to go shopping, get a coffee and read a book or take a nap. Just don’t go get a cavity filled or your hair colored because that will be the day when you’re called to pick up your child early.

Arrive 5 or 10 minutes early and have your child help clean-up. It’s a great habit for all kids to get into and it’s teaching your child to be a great guest. It’s the nanny’s job to care for kids, not to clean up after them.

Reciprocate. When the nanny hosts a playdate, offer to host the next. Some nannies prefer to have playdates at their employers’ homes and if that’s the case, enjoy your free time. When I worked for a single dad whose afternoons were filled with client meetings, I hosted all the playdates with my charge and her friends. When I needed to take an afternoon off, my employer had lots of moms happy to take care of K during that time. It was a win all around. But many nannies want the down time just like moms do. Don’t assume that because she’s getting paid, she’s fine with hosting every time.

Don’t ask the nanny to babysit for you during her off time unless you clear it with her employer first. Nanny poaching doesn’t just happen on reality shows. Parents lose nannies on the playground, in carpool lane and during playdates. You’re putting your friendship with her mom boss in jeopardy with even a one time request if you haven’t gotten the OK beforehand.

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