The Nanny Diaries, desi edition.
By Sumati Huber
When you have a child, there’s one word that can make or break your whole privileged parenthood experience: nanny. However there are no pundits helping to find the right astrological match for your baby, nor are there well-meaning relatives arranging your marriage with a caretaker.
That mythical village that is supposed to help raise your child may sometimes be busy, hard to reach because of Bangkok traffic, or may not exist at all as couples become more nuclear. Enter the nanny, the magical baby whisperer that answers your every demand so you can use the bathroom in peace, and won’t offer unhelpful advice like your mother-in-law who insists your baby always wears a “baniyan” (undershirt) even though it’s 100 degrees outside.
Expectant and seasoned parents share their exciting, confusing and sometimes stressful experiences of finding a nanny in Thailand, in the hopes that they can ever leave the house again.
Hiring a stranger in the house comes with some expected risks, which are hopefully outweighed by the good service they provide. Employers are advised to “close one eye” to transgressions but that may be difficult when the problem shows up at your door. That’s what happened to part-time working mum Aarti Arora Madarasmi with a nanny to her four-year and 16-month-old boys.
“I had recently gotten a nanny from a recommendation,” Aarti recounts after her helper of three years had to leave due to personal reasons. “Everything was fine and she was working with me for about a month-and-a-half. However one day she came to me really stressed out and said that her boyfriend was blackmailing her for money because he had a naked photo of her. [The nanny] didn’t have any money to give him so [her boyfriend] was going to call me and ask me to give the nanny money and give her some days off. That experience was quite traumatising because that guy ended up calling me and he showed up in front of our building which was very, very dangerous for my kids. So I had to let her go.”
While luckily everyone is safe, Aarti warns, “When you invite someone into your house, you have to consider all the baggage they come with.”
Nannies and boyfriends apparently don’t mix well, as Amanpreet Kalra also experienced. The mum of a four-year-old girl and one-year-old boy discloses, “I had a nanny who stayed with me for eight months when I delivered my firstborn. The nightmare started the fourth month of her stay. She had a crazy possessive boyfriend who needed to know her every move and that meant if she wasn’t available, I would get a call from him even if it was 3am.”
Despite these ordeals, Aarti and Amanpreet prove that mums can persevere. Aarti uses her experience to be clear in her future expectations. “I’ve always looked to the nanny for a source of guidance, a helping hand, a pair of eyes,” she reflects. “The best advice I would give is to find a balance between receiving guidance from the nanny but [still maintaining that] you’re in charge. You’re the parent, you make all the big decisions.”
Amanpreet has since found a drama-free nanny that has been with her for four years. The stay-at-home working mum raves, “She is my best friend, my right hand, and sometimes I feel like she is also my nanny. It’s important to find someone who complements your personality, someone willing to change ways to match your household. Do a face-to-face interview, do a one-day trial, and then interview them again over the phone. If the person does not change their personality in that three times you have interacted with her, then she might be a keeper.”
NANNY NANNY BOO BOO
Nannies are not just here to help chase our kids with a spoon so they eat their dinner, or disinfect all the toys that they get from Sampheng. Trust is the most important aspect, but some skills cannot be taught.
Sital Gill Phichitsingh who has a four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son, shares: “My daughter got something in her eye and started howling but my son’s nanny did not bother helping me because it was not her ‘primary child’. Needless to say she was fired on the spot. I was disgusted that basic human/nanny instinct did not kick in to help a distressed child.”
Sital provides this guidance: “Not all nannies are made the same and not all nannies do what they say during the interview so managing your expectations is key. Moulding your nanny into your lifestyle will be paramount in the beginning. It can be challenging to be patient and gracious whilst breastfeeding and waking up every hour, but that’s the positive energy the home and baby should be surrounded with. If you don’t feel comfortable with the nanny’s demeanour or abilities, remember nannies are replaceable.”
With three daughters aged nine, seven and three, Neetu Verma Kedia has witnessed “a nanny with narcolepsy for [her] newborn” and “an alcoholic” throughout her hiring journey. However Neetu affirms, “My ultimate rule is zero tolerance for lies — everyone makes mistakes but own up. I want the energy of a good and honest human being around my kids. The rest falls into place with patience, consideration for her and lots of repetitive training.” This became especially important in what she describes as a “stand-out situation”when she found her child’s food in the sink after the nanny said that she had eaten well. “Instantly fired, of course!” Neetu confirms without hesitation.
NO NANNY NEEDED
Having a nanny comes with dreams that you can hand the baby off while you take a luxurious three-hour nap while someone else changes yet another diaper. However Purnama Parmar and her partner split their duties equally when it comes to their 13-month-old son without hired help.
“My husband and I decided that we wanted to give it a try ourselves. We came to the decision that we’d only hire a nanny if we felt we couldn’t cope ourselves,” Purnama states.
Although Purnama recognises that a nanny can provide invaluable assistance with a newborn especially for first-time parents, she is steadfast in her parenting philosophy: “Being someone who’s pretty set in how I want to raise my baby and certain guidelines I follow when it comes to their sleep routine and [mealtimes], having a nanny would mean that I would have to teach them what I want them to do and micromanage them and hope they do things my way. It would add to the stress of always wondering if we’re on the same page about everything because consistency is key.”
So does Purnama ever wish she had a nanny? “There were/are definitely times where I would say, ‘Oh I wish I had a nanny’. But that’s just very situational. Overall we are still very happy with the decision we’ve made [but] we are open to [hiring] if we feel we need the additional help.”
For those brave enough to try it on their own, Purnama suggests, “Being organised and having a schedule is key to not feeling overwhelmed. However, having a baby means that you also need to be very flexible because generally nothing ever goes as planned. Another important aspect is making sure that your partner and all caregivers involved such as grandparents or family members are on the same page as you.”
Are you listening when it comes to chocolate and screen time, nani and nanaji?
So does the perfect nanny exist?
While some of us barely manage to keep a nanny in the safety of Sukhumvit, working dad Zoran Patheria has been lucky to retain a Thai nanny in Mumbai, India for nine years helping with his 12-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. Zoran says: “It’s very important that parents allow nannies to take ownership of their work. They should be praised for their good work and criticised constructively.
Most importantly, both the parents and children should treat them with respect and trust them like a family member. If we cannot trust them fully, then we can never be at ease with them. After all, they look after your most precious belongings.”
Roshni Chugani Pawa also proposes her insights on keeping her nanny to her nine-month-old son happy: “We as adults love our work- life balance. [Nannies] need life balance as well. Give them their own time. Let them nap when your baby naps, let them eat when it’s their preferred time to eat. Let them do their job and make sure to hand over the care-taking of your newborn and yourselves to them. Hear them out on their opinions and discuss openly and honestly the things that are and are not working out.”
Nitasha Sivasiamphai, mum of two boys aged five and three, advises parents to believe in training. She says, “Don’t expect perfection. Look for personality traits instead such as someone who is kind, trustworthy and responsible. Treat them like family but also set boundaries so they know what is not acceptable. It’s tricky to do this, but important.”
Despite the best effort of parents, sometimes what happens with a nanny is out of our hands. A mum of two who prefers to remain anonymous shares an incredible incident: “I had a great interview once and thought this nanny would make the best fit for my family. Day one on the job after six hours [the nanny] told me that she needed to leave because she won the lottery and didn’t need to work anymore!”
Amongst all the good, bad and unbelievable experiences, there’s one thing parents can wholeheartedly agree on: when you find a good nanny, you should try to keep her forever!
PARENTS OFFER THEIR TOP TIPS WHEN HIRING A NANNY
“One agency may be better with newborn nannies, or with toddlers [or older children]. It’s your good luck or bad luck whether you get a good or bad nanny so I would not put all your faith into one agency.” – Aarti Arora Madarasmi, mum of two
“If you’re a new mum, you’re going to need all the help you can get. For the first three months I recommend hiring a professional nanny who is able and willing to assist you, especially during the nights. So pump away mothers and keep those feeds for the nanny to do during the nighttime routine.” – Amanpreet Kalra, mum of two
“We treat all household members as family with the hope that they treat my children and myself the same way. Every birthday is celebrated with cake, candles and the birthday song. When [my husband] is experimenting in the kitchen, all the helpers and nannies get to be the judges. We like to keep that cheerful vibe at home to keep the household energy in equilibrium and aids in keeping the nanny-parent relationship successful.” – Sital Gill Phichitsingh, mum of two
“An important question for me was: How long were they at their last job ,and reason for leaving. That helps to show signs of stability. References are always useful if applicable.” – Neetu Verma Kedia, mum of three
“It’s best to select a nanny through a reference who has worked with your family or close friends. That way both parties know what to expect.” – Zoran Patheria, dad of two
“There is no such thing as the perfect nanny so keep an open mind. Contact agencies three months before giving birth, interview some two months earlier, lock one down about one-and-a-half months before your expected due date. I recommend going through an agency so that if you have any issues, they replace the nanny right away.” – Roshni Chugani Pawa, mum of one
“Do a trial for a few days to see if she is the right fit for you and your child. If you don’t like something let them know. Holding on and ignoring it will only end up in frustration on both sides.” – Nitasha Sivasiamphai, mum of two
“Remember nannies are here to help us take care of our child, they are not the parents. So don’t expect out of them what you expect for yourself. When you lower your expectations, finding the right nanny is easier. Set your top three non-negotiable points that are prioritised for your family, and the other requirements can be negotiated.” – Anonymous, mum of two