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Hiring the ideal nanny is one of the most difficult decisions any parent has to make. Here are some tips to help you choose the right nanny.

Just about every mom I know has a “Nanny Horror Story” to tell, whether it was a nanny from hell who was narrowly dodged, or one who had to be let go.

The worst nanny

The dubious honour of “The Worst Ever and The Most Evil Nanny Story of All Time” must go to Janine*. Janine is a super-meticulous mother of twins whose stylish Sandton home and thriving publishing career fit her right down to her gym-toned body. A self-confessed perfectionist, Janine nevertheless let Nannyzilla slip through what she thought was a very rigorous net. “I came home unexpectedly one day and found the twins shut in their room, crying their heads off, and no sign of the woman I had entrusted to take care of them. They were 10 months old. I found her in my bathroom, smoking and relaxing in a bath of Decleor bubbles. It was hard to restrain myself. I almost physically threw her out. I was so angry that I barely waited for her to dry herself and dress.”

Nanny agency woes

In Cape Town, new mom, Judy* has her own tale of nanny woe. It started the minute she enlisted several agencies to help her find someone to look after her baby. Judy needed to return to work, a wrench most moms relate to, even under the best of circumstances.

“I engaged three agencies to help me find a good nanny for Sian*, who was then three months old. Two of them charged me registration fees and sent me profiles of suitable candidates. I picked the ones I wanted to interview, but never heard another word from either of them. The third did not charge fees and also sent me profiles. I selected a few possible candidates and thought I would hear from them. I was horrified when, without any arrangement, the doorbell started ringing the next morning. And, I found myself with five back-to-back interviews for which I was not prepared. All of the women who arrived expected me to pay their transport costs. I was annoyed to have had this sprung on me. I couldn’t believe that the agency hadn’t communicated this. In any event, I just felt that none of the nannies were right.”

Right choice

This feeling of whether a nanny is “right” or not is the real crux, says Cape Town-based counselling psychologist Ingrid Ahlert. “You need to like the person instinctively and you have to see that your child is comfortable with her,” she says.

As the clock was ticking and her return to work looming, Judy engaged a nanny who had been referred by someone who was emigrating. Everything seemed to be fine and Judy decided to spend a week training the nanny. She was showing the new nanny the household ropes while taking herself away from home for brief and then increasingly-longer intervals. She had one stipulation: no television while Sian was awake. “I arrived home and found her feeding him in front of the television,” recounts Judy.

Although angry that she had not been listened to, Judy gave the nanny another chance. “Next, I came home to find Sian crying and the carer eating lunch. I asked if Sian had eaten. She gave me what I can only describe as a death stare and said, ‘not yet.’ To make matters worse, the nanny was sick and when she grudgingly got up to make his bottle, she didn’t wash her hands. I realised that I would never be able to go back to work without enormous anxiety about this woman. We paid her for two weeks and let her go.”

Third time lucky

However, that’s not to say that great nannies don’t exist or are impossible to come by. It seems they are frequently to be found under one’s very nose.

Thankfully for Judy, it was a case of third time lucky. “A word-of-mouth connection brought me a great nanny,” she says. “She was actually the wife of someone who worked next door. As soon as I saw her with Sian I knew she was absolutely right. Plus, the fact that she had three children of her own also gave me enormous confidence. I have been able to go back to work knowing my baby is in good hands. The relief is enormous.”

*Names have been changed

Dos and don’ts

  • Don’t leave choosing a nanny to the last minute.
  • If your baby has more than one avoidable accident in the first few months of your being back at work, change nannies.
  • Use your network: friends, neighbours, other children’s parents and your local clinic may provide the best referrals
  • Always check references thoroughly: there should be at least three.
  • There are many employment agencies: be aware, though, that many charge fees irrespective of whether or not they find you a suitable nanny. Make sure the agency is properly registered.
  • Swimming or lifeguard qualifications and a “clean” driving track record are all things to look for.

Questions to ask the nanny

Counselling psychologist Ingrid Ahlert suggests you include the following in your interviews:

  • why do you wish to be a nanny?
  • share your experiences of childcare
  • what are your views on discipline, playtime, TV, diet and sweets?
  • offer specific examples of difficult behaviour, such as: “It’s time to go to school but Johnny is throwing a tantrum. What would you do?”
  • how would you stimulate the child?
  • is routine important to you?
  • how would you structure the day?
  • what ideas do you have to keep the child amused?
  • how would you soothe a crying infant or toddler?
  • If you have a pool: can you swim? Do you know what to do in a drowning emergency?
  • Are you comfortable around dogs or cats? Are you allergic to animals?
  • If she needs to serve meals: can you cook?
  • How would you act when the baby gets sick?
  • What qualities are you looking for in a family?

Questions to ask yourself

  • Do you like the person instinctively?
  • Are the children comfortable with her?
  • Does she have any qualifications?

Laura Twiggs


Read more about childcare options in our article on important conversations around pregnancy.