How You Can Be The Best Nanny: Interview with Stephanie Felzenberg

August 9, 2016

Stephanie Felzenberg is a nanny with over 23 years of experience. She’s the former editor of How to Be the Best Nanny newsletter, a former member of the International Nanny Association and a contributor to the publication “The Child Care Textbook”.

Journalist Clarke Illmatical, spoke to Stephanie about her experience, the pros and cons of nannying, the business, advice for new nannies, including and how to make yourself more marketable, jealous parents, certifications, boundaries and balance and more.

Q&A with Stephanie Felzenberg

1. I had no idea it was so difficult to be a nanny. When you got involved back in 93, did you know how difficult being a nanny actually was?

When they first start (new nannies) they probably don’t know. Because you’re replacing a parent. It’s the long hours… some nannies burn out. That is a big issue.

2. Is that a sensitive issue? You said ‘replacing a parent’ is that something nannies have to be careful of as well? Developing a bond with a child that is not yours?

If you don’t create a bond, you’re a failure as a nanny. There’s a huge jealousy issue, nannies do need to make bonds with the children, of course, but then there’s the issue, parents are jealous, and that’s perfectly normal, because they’re missing out on their baby’s first steps, their first words, and they also want you to be their replacement, but you’re not them.

3. How do you deal with that? For example, if a baby calls you ‘mom!’

You never, ever let them call you mom… the jealousy, there are actually articles written on it… or you can read books by pediatricians, they’ll tell you how to handle parent jealousy. It hits really hard. It’s a touchy subject. It’s family by family.

4. What’s the longest amount of time you’ve spent with a family or child?

Ten years at a job. Nine years at this job.

5. Did you have a tough time when you had to move on to the next position?

The transition is a problem… you always stay positive, you make dates when you’re going to see them (the kids) again, you write letters, you’re not a family member, but you’re a friend and you’ll always be their friend.

6. How to Be the Best Nanny, why did you start it?

Maybe because we’re so isolated as nannies, working with children all of the time, and I need to share my views, and a lot of the nannies would see the things I did and they would constantly ask me… one of my friends, said, “You should do a newsletter.” At the time, there was no facebook ,there were no blogs. It was just newsletters and I was an editor in college and high school. Actually, in college , I wasn’t a journalism major, but I was the first to lay out the yearbook on a mac computer. I already liked graphic design… I decided to do a newsletter to share those ideas. Then it became more intense.

7. Do you encourage nannies to reach out to you using Twitter and Facebook?

I’m kind of just doing it for leisure now… I got overwhelmed. It was too much work.

8. You were with the INA (International Nanny Association) for a while, what are your views on their certification?

I volunteered… It’s the only one (certification) we have in America – that’s good. I’m not knocking it in any shape or form. The only limitation… 99 percent of the nannies I know have never heard of it… when I tell them about it, they don’t have the time, they don’t have the money. It’s a great resource, but it’s not reaching out beyond the nannies of the rich.

9. Based on my research, I’ve learned that some nannies, make six figures, that’s an exception, you’ve been in the industry for a while, it is extremely difficult to live successfully as a nanny?

The nannies that I met that make that much money are college educated typically, have passports, you’re talking education majors… I don’t make that much money, so I can’t say how they do, I don’t think that girls who have never been educated in a college will ever make that much money. Not that you need to be college educated to be a great nanny… typically, if you were born in America, it doesn’t matter what color you are, and you’re college educated, you’re going to make a better salary. My next job, I’m not going to make what I have now. You have to start over again.

It’s not like when you work for a corporation and you work your way up. Every time I start a new job I take a pay cut. And we’re hourly employees, not salary. And you have to understand, a parent can only afford what they can…. you have to start at the bottom and work your way up a little.

10. What temperament would you say a nanny needs to have?

Patient, calm. Loving. I think parents prefer the loving nanny than the stricter ones. They want someone who will back them up, but they really don’t want someone who will yell at their kids.

11. What are you perspectives on male nannies?

It’s really good. Back in the 90s, I knew male Au Pairs… they were awesome. They were college educated first of all… and the kids loved them. They were high energy, they were awesome.

12. Are there any disadvantages of working for an agency?

The cost, its more costly. Parents have to pay a portion of your annual salary the first year, it is like 20 percent.

13. Do the reference checks trump background checks?

I wouldn’t say it trumps it, it’s just as important. reference checks are really the most important thing. That’s really the most important thing, to have a good reference…. in the nanny industry, because, from the beginning to the end the parents can tell you the truth.

There are no background checks for screenings, for mental illness, violence, any of that stuff… that doesn’t come out in a background check. You get that through reference check and by talking to the parent. You’ll find out if she committed a crime, but what if she’s not on time, what if she’s not hygienic? What if she’s disrespectful.There’re a million issues.

14. I’ve noticed that many nannies network and talk a lot. Is that good?

It’s good if you can keep it generalized and simple: I need advice with potty training… networking is fine, but if they bash the employer or kids or disrespect the confidentiality… that the problem with social media. And I see that a lot… confidentiality is a huge issue. Parents should have them sign a confidentiality agreement.

15. What do you wish you knew before you got started as a nanny?

Organization and humility, the parent is always the parent… you can give them advice when asked, but you’re an employee. Sometimes they misinterpret advice as being judgmental, so you have to be careful with your advice… I’ve worked with every parenting style in the world and the kids turn out fine. There are all these different parenting styles, how to get a child to sleep, how to get a child to eat… it doesn’t matter, the all turn out fine.

16. Do see you any advantage of online services where parents can go and find their nanny instead of going to an agency?

Yeah, they can look for a nanny in their pajamas and save money. I feel like if you’re going to hire someone to be in your home 60 hours a week, with your children, you have to be cautious. You should always do a background check, even for a babysitter. There’s a convenience factor that you can check on a website at any time.

17. Does being a nanny effect your personal life?

Sure absolutely. The balance is really hard… that’s when I stopped doing the newsletter when I got a boyfriend. How are you going to work 60 hours a week, have a boyfriend and do the newsletter? It was too much. I chose the boyfriend.

18. Do the men in your life understand that it is a profession?

Yes. The guys I date understand there is a difference between babysitters and nannies… There is a difference between custodial care and quality care. The guy’s that I date, realize that I’m providing quality care.

19. What would you say is the difference between a nanny and a babysitter?

Quality vs. custodial care… when I babysit at night, I can sit in front of the TV while the kids sleep… when I’m a nanny, I’m a replacement parent. I do everything… I’m trying to create the best environment for the children.

20. Does a nanny ever have a conflict with parents?

All of the time. That’s why the confidentiality agreement is so important and effective communication… that’s why references are so important. A background check is not going to tell you if this person is passive aggressive… effective communication is so important. I see it all of the time. You have to go to the source, you have to talk to the parents… most nannies just vent.

21. I spoke to one nanny and she said she worked for a family for 10 years and on the final day, they only said ‘Goodbye.’ After a certain amount of time with a family, what kind of things should you be looking for as you increase your relationship with this family?

In the beginning, you have a work agreement. You say, in the work agreement, for good job performance, you’ll get a raise each year. You can’t expect gifts… unless it is in the work agreement, you can’t expect it.

22. Sounds like references are very important, almost like a degree.

The written references are so important… I never got it notarized. I made a list of questions on my website, that they should ask.

23. You’ve had the website for a while, what resource should nannies turn to if they need help?

I would hope they would go to my newsletter, the articles are still there. The INA is a good resource…

24. Live in nannying. More complicated? If so, why?

The time off is a huge issue, knowing professional boundaries… it’s difficult but you can save a lot of money that way. You also have to understand that you’re an adult and that you may have a curfew and you may have to follow house rules, you’re living in someone else’s house. It can be complicated. For the migrant nanny, it’s huge because you might become homeless… it’s important to have savings and transition jobs properly.

25. The nannies who make six figures, is that a rare exception?

Yeah, I think so. I’ve met a few… they’re willing to travel and have a lot of flexibility. Nannies that make six figures, can cook, they have a lot more to offer than just childcare.

26. Is it difficult to work with teens?

Yes, it is much harder as the kids get older… physically it is more demanding with younger children, but emotionally… I’m dealing with eating disorders, depression, girlfriends and boyfriends, alcohol… much harder.

27. Should nannies have their own blog?

They should have a website for their resume… if you can have a business card, have a nanny website. Show your projects, your skills you do with the kids online. They should get certified in as many things as they can, CPR, first aid, lifeguard. If you can play the piano then you can teach the kids piano. Anything to market yourself.

28. I read in an article that nannies are signing their life away…

That’s their fault… you can say ‘No’ sometimes also. You have to find a job that is right for you.”

29. Are there opportunities to travel?

Oh yeah, the travel is great. I’ve traveled to places I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.

30. How do you develop the relationship with the parents?

I don’t know how to figure that our during the interview… I’ve turned down jobs when I’ve had red flags, I heard the father on the phone with an employee and he’s yelling at them because he’s going to yell at me. You need to know what questions to ask during an interview… Do you yell at your kids? Do you spank them? I’ve had micromanaging moms. It tears down your esteem, I don’t know how you know that before a job… often they don’t know their parenting style when you ask them.

31. You spoke about boundaries, do you find that some parents will ask you to do things that have nothing to do with nannying?

That is where the INA nanny will stand up for herself… it all depends on your status… I feel confident in saying no to some things. It’s a service industry, I’m willing to help them out in any way I can, but there are parents who are disrespectful.

32. So nannies don’t do the housework?

No that’s separate. That’s a huge issue with INA nannies, they don’t want to be housekeepers… for me, when the housekeeper can’t come in, I’ll help out. It’s a service industry. If you’re not willing to get your hands dirty, if there are tasks below you, you’re in the wrong field… it’s hard for a lot of nannies, especially the educated ones…

33. What advice would you give future nannies?

You’re an employee. You’re not the parent.

You can keep up with Stephanie from her How to Be the Best Nanny Blog

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