Monday Problem: SAHM & Job Creep

Disclaimer: all emails are abbreviated and edited for clarity. When you submit to The Nanny Time Bomb please note that there will be edits. All names and info kept confidential. 

Dear Nanny X,

I started a new job a month ago working with a SAHM (stay at home mom). I have been a professional nanny for 10 years but this was my first experience of a SAHM. At the interview the woman and her husband explained why she is working from home: she is building up a new business after being let go from a highly paid corporate job.  The dad works outside the home, and the couple have a new infant son, aged 4 months. This job is a live-out, Monday to Friday, 8-6 position.

At the interview I was told that my primary function would be childcare. I would attend to the baby during his waking hours, play with him, nap him, change and feed him. In addition I would help with only child-related housework and duties: cleaning his bedroom, washing up his food utensils, etc. Mom insisted she wanted some ‘solid time to focus’ on her new company and client base, and that she would ‘peek her head in a few times a day’.

Week 1: mom hovers like a helicopter as part of my initiation and training (OK I get that). Week 2: mom hovers and micromanages every aspect of my caregiving as it’s the holidays and she has some down time (OK I get that). Week 3: mom hovers around me and baby all day long as he has had a fussy couple of days (Really?). Week 4: mom hovers and monitors everything I do, takes over at the mere squeak of tears from baby, and then asks me if I would kindly do their personal laundry ‘just this once’ as ‘they haven’t slept in days’ (Not my job). 

I have been in this business too long not to detect Job Creep. I think mom is settling into a space where I am now a housekeeper come occasional babysitter. I feel like the mom is competing with me a lot these days. Example: she has a baby monitor in her office and as soon as the baby wakes from a nap she runs in to pick him up, then she’ll spend an hour with him while I do the bottle rinse, diaper wash and food preparation. 

If it were a 70/30 exchange of mom time and nanny time, with nanny doing the boring tasks, then they should have stated this during the interview. This was not the impression they gave. I am a professional nanny with 10 years solid experience, especially with infants but I feel more relegated to a cleaner these days. I know it’s their first baby and that the bond between mother and child is natural, and that’s not my beef. It’s their definition of the job that has changed and that’s what’s bothering me. 

I’ve come too far to become a mother’s help. What do you recommend?

Katy H

Dear Katy H,

this is a tough one. SAHM’s are by definition mothers who stay at home. A new first-time mother has no road map for how her feelings or actions will unfold during that pivotal first year of her baby’s life, and every good intention can fly right out of the window once nature’s powerful hormones kick in. 

I know you probably don’t want to hear this but SAHM’s don’t set out to be devious, or change the ground rules. It isn’t in their interests to hook you then lose you. This couple hired you precisely because you are an experienced competent caregiver. 

Cleaning bottles and changing diapers is your job, and a SAHM rushing to her baby’s crib is perfectly natural. This all comes with the SAHM territory. It also sounds like a) her work will pick up as the New Year kick starts and b) as her client base increases, she will begin to trust you more with her baby. 

Right now her baby boy is so tiny and fragile, and that’s a huge magnet for any mother. Her hovering has more to do with her baby’s needs than spying on you. I hate to sound so harsh but in my experience these are just the facts. 

Now … you can do something to address your issues before they grow into major resentments. Sit down with the parents and talk to them candidly about your desire to facilitate mom’s work-time. You can request some work boundaries, that is, solid junks of time when mom commits to her job. Frame it in the spirit of generosity, wanting to help, and not in terms of duties, hours or expectations. 

You can also just give this job more time to settle down into its natural routine. This is the first time your employer has shared her home and newborn with a relative stranger. It might be her first experience of managing staff. 

I also suspect as the baby grows and becomes more robust and as the weather changes your SAHM will be glad to wave goodbye as you trot off to the playground, to play-dates or to classes. As a professional nanny you have faced many challenges no doubt, all of which have made you more proficient at your job. Working with a SAHM can feel like a power struggle but if handled correctly: with transparency, a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect, it can be very rewarding. 

Nanny X
Have you ever worked for a SAHM? What were your experiences? Any tips you can share with Katy H?