Don't nanny your nanny

Honesty is the only policy if you want a stable relationship.
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The Independent Culture
"WHEN ONE of my best friends poached the nanny it was worse than if she had gone off with my husband"... "Just as I thought I had settled the nanny in with the twins and made the decision to go back to my architectural practice, she left"... "The new nanny had a clutch of certificates in first aid and swimming, and she was great with the baby. I had only been in my job for a month when she went."

Tales of nanny turnover abound from the disappointed, frustrated or apoplectic parents they leave in their wake. Yet it is a myth that nanny turnover is high everywhere, that money is always the root of the problem and - crucially for working parents - that it is inevitable.

True, London, with its pockets of high double-income earners and expatriates who are willing and able to pay top salaries, has hiked the demand and thus the market price for a good nanny, which is inevitably tempting to footloose nannies. London, however, is not the UK. "There is probably less nanny turnover outside the capital," says Leila Potter, whose Cheshire- based Bunbury Agency is in its 30th year. "Outside London there is a lower concentration of nannies and so fewer opportunities for people to see, and bag, a friend's nanny."

Yet many households can suffer high turnover wherever they are located and whatever the prevailing market forces. It is generally acknowledged that too frequent nanny changes are detrimental to children, while the endless search-and-hire process is time-consuming and stressful for all - yet most nannies, according to agencies, are not motivated solely by money and want to settle with a family.

So what can exacerbate - and reduce - turnover? Charlotte Breese and Hilaire Gomer, authors of The Good Nanny Guide, do not mince their words. "Women worry when they have a high turnover of nannies in a short time that it reflects badly on them. They are right, it does." The motto should, it seems, be "Know thyself" or at least "Be honest with thyself". Employers may say what they want but do not always know what they really want. Nor do they always interview perceptively. But it is these factors that lay the foundations for the relationship, for "it is about compatabilities as much as capabilities" says Ms Potter.

Jackie Lewis has run North London Nannies since 1983. "Nanny turnover is a subject close to my heart, and the most important thing is dialogue, dialogue and dialogue. You need to make expectations clear at the start. It is no good, two days into the contract, saying: `Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you that the toilet needs cleaning.' If employers are in doubt as to what is acceptable they should bounce off ideas with an agency, saying: `We want the nanny to do this, is it fair?' ''

Sue Redden, a training and recruitment consultant, has put the "talk, talk" philosophy into practice. "You should never forget that, however much part of the family the nanny becomes, it is still an employer-employee relationship, and the nanny deserves respect as such. We hold `catch-up' discussions regularly and appraisals twice a year, including a salary review. I also decided right at the start that we would be honest with each other about any niggles that otherwise would drive the other mad." It is a strategy that seems to have worked; the nanny is now in her third year.

And then there is the big question: live-in or live-out nanny? "The turnover of live-in nannies can be greater because of the strain on all parties," say Breese and Gomer, a consequence apparently of the loss of privacy to all parties, of the effort involved in living alongside someone else (remember flat-sharing?), as well as any unresolved issues relating to the usurping of the parents' role. And that hot potato, the boyfriend, is also less sensitive if the nanny lives out.

Investing time in good matching at the start will pay dividends. If you doubt your own interview/judgement abilities or want broader experience than you have, find an established agency that you trust to do it. Be honest with yourself - and the agency - about what you are really looking for from your nanny. Know your tolerance level about having someone else in the house. Possibly a live-out nanny may suit you better if it is practical. Be realistic. Nannies do move on - even the "practically perfect" Mary Poppins did in the end.

`The Good Nanny Guide: The Complete Handbook On Nannies, Au-pairs, Mother's Helps and Childminders' is published by Vermilion at pounds 14.99; the Bunbury Agency is on 01829 260148; North London Nannies is on 0181- 444 4911