The (Real) F Word: Flexibility

Flexibility is a buzzword when it comes to childcare. Many parents need someone willing to be a bit flexible with hours to cover unexpected delays when needed. Most nannies are keen to emphasize their flexibility to maximize their chances of getting a job. But are you using the F-word too much?

Just as our ideas of physical flexibility differ, the types of flexibility with different types of childcare often do too. A flexible daycare is a bit like being able to touch your toes with your hands, which is better than only reaching your knees if that’s all another daycare can do for you, but a flexible nanny is more like being able to touch your toes to the back of your head. Even if you don’t touch your toes on a regular basis it can be reassuring to know that flexibility is there if you need it, just like it can be reassuring to know you have a bit of leeway to cover those unexpected delays.

When choosing childcare options parents should assess how much flexibility they really need – remember needing unusual hours isn’t the same as needing flexible childcare, although you might need someone who is flexible with the hours they’ll agree to work. Different types of childcare are by nature more flexible than others – a daycare has fixed opening and closing times for good reasons, but a nanny has a little more leeway to decide what those are and whether they are willing to make exceptions on an occasional or more regular basis. One flexible live out nanny might not mind having to come in early or stay late with virtually no notice, while another may offer to do this but expect this to be agreed upon well in advance. A live in nanny can give even more flexibility, including late notice and overnight care, but this shouldn’t be taken for granted and should always be compensated accordingly.

Live out nannies promising flexibility need to be careful about what they say to the potential employer in their initial interview. Your nanny might be happy to work up to 10 hours a day and although she doesn’t mind whether those 10 hours are 7am to 5pm or 11am to 9pm she still expects to clock off when those 10 hours are done. Or maybe she’s happy to occasionally start an hour earlier or finish an hour later but is generally available between 8am and 6pm. Perhaps she is flexible to babysit in the evenings &/or on weekends.  All of those are being flexible but option 1 is what a shift worker might mean by flexible childcare, option 2 is what someone with their own family or someone with a long commute might mean.

Flexible working is also a two-way street. The quickest way to turn a relationship sour is to demand full flexibility from your nanny and never give any back. Giving a little can build up a store of goodwill for the times you need extra help. As one nanny said ‘I don’t mind doing later days when I’m needed because I am let off early sometimes’.  Just a little flexibility in return goes a long way.  For example allowing a nanny to run some personal errands during the working day (when your kids are at school of course) once in a while can make a relationship a whole lot smoother.  It shows that you respect her and she will appreciate that.

At the end of the day being flexible is a give and take that can be beneficial to everyone.  If you don’t want to give it don’t plan on taking it.



Parents who have great nannies want to keep them.  In fact they can’t imagine their lives without them.  However there are mistakes employers make that cost them their nannies.  Employing someone to work in your home is very different than hiring someone for your office.  Although it is still a job, the dynamic and relationship is quite different from that of an office worker.  Here are the top 5 common mistakes employers do that ruin the working relationship with their nanny and things you can do to avoid them:

Not taking an interest – Talk to your nanny! Not just about her job responsibilities and performance but about her life.  Many nannies come to Canada and leave their families behind.  They feel lonely.  They also feel like they don’t matter as a person.  Don’t be afraid to ask her personal questions – what does she like to do in her free time, does she have any hobbies, how was her weekend, how many brothers and sisters does she have, what does she want to do once she is not a nanny anymore, what her opinion is about a specific current event etc.  If she looks upset about something ask her what’s wrong.  Maybe something happened back home or perhaps she is not feeling well.  Your relationship with your nanny will be much better if you take some time to get to know her better and show her that you care about her.

Thinking she can read your mind – this happens a lot when an employer who has already had a long-term nanny hires a new nanny.  When someone works for someone for a long time they get to know their wants, needs, habits, schedules etc.  We as employers get used to that so when someone new starts that knows nothing about us we get frustrated that we have to tell them every little thing.  We forget that this new employee doesn’t know how our lives and homes run and the nanny can feel our frustration.  Remember that there is a 3-month learning curve on average when a new nanny starts and it usually takes far longer than that for your new nanny to be able to anticipate your needs.  Be patient and put the time needed into training her.

Having unrealistic expectations – It’s simple.  Don’t expect your nanny to be able to do everything.  She is not superwoman.  If you can’t handle it all what makes you think that she can?  Employers also expect their nanny to be great at every aspect of the job.  I have found over the years that nobody is great at everything.  Typically if they are amazing with your kids they are not going to be amazing housekeepers or the best cook.  If they are top-notch housekeepers they likely won’t be the best at taking care of little kids.  What is your nanny’s forte?  Remember, everyone has his or her strengths and weaknesses.

Having unclear expectations – Most nannies thrive in an environment where the expectations of them are made very clear so they always know where they stand.  It is important to have this in writing.  Let your nanny know what a typical day should look like (make a schedule) and what her priority should be during the day.  Perhaps in the morning when your 4 year old is at school she can tidy the house and put in a couple loads of laundry that way she will be free at lunchtime when your little one comes home and she can focus all her attention on him.  Keep the lines of communication open and if there is something not being done or if she is doing something not to your liking let her know right away so she can fix it.  Be kind yet direct.

Being under appreciative- Being a nanny is a tough job.  Nannies do a lot for us that make our lives easier and less hectic.  We come home after a long day at work and don’t have to worry about making dinner, doing the laundry, feeding the kids etc.  We come home and are able to enjoy quality time with our family.  Take the time to let your nanny know that you appreciate her hard work.  Say thank you.  Compliment her on a job well done.  Let her know that she is important.  This will go a long way.

Poor communication – I can’t stress this one enough.  Are you a passive aggressive employer? Do you smile at your nanny and then trash talk her to your spouse? Have you been unhappy with her job performance but never bothered to tell her so?  Regular communication is vital.  I often recommend to my clients to sit down with their nanny and have performance reviews.  Start with the things you are happy with.  This is important as it sets the tone of the meeting.  Once you have covered these things go into the areas that need improving.  It is a very good idea to have this all typed out so she can walk away with a copy and be able to refer back to it.  Finally, finish off your meeting on a positive.  You want her to walk away feeling good about her job and encouraged to make positive changes.  Meeting once/month (especially in the first 6 months) is a good guideline.  Nipping things in the bud is strongly encouraged as well.