INA “Nanny of the Year” Profile
Name: Becky Kavanagh
Location: Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Year Honored: 2006
Experience: 22 years
Past Jobs: Assistant Director of a child care center, teacher, certified medical assistant.
Hobbies: Scrapbooking, Girl Scout leader, jewelry making, travel, sewing.
Fun Facts: Becky is nicknamed “The Scrapbook Goddess” and participates in 3-4 scrapbook getaways each year.
Nannying In a Nutshell: “Children are the most amazing people. If we could all retain some of the imagination, open thinking, curiosity, and zest for living that children have, I think the world would be a lot better place.”
Unlike many jobs, nannying has a fixed expiration date — even when the employer and the nanny are a perfect match. Children grow up and mission accomplished! In some cases, the profession creates lifelong relationships as precious as any family or friendship bond.
Becky Kavanagh spent the first 20 years of her 22-year nannying career with the same Minnesota family, playing an instrumental role in the development of their three children. Yet, the kindergarten days still seem like yesterday.
One day, she recalls, the middle child was crying when he got off the bus. His mother asked what was wrong. He looked up with an anguished expression and said, “Did you know that not everyone has a Becky? Some kids have to go to daycare!”
“He was beside himself and couldn’t grasp why all families didn’t have Beckys to help them,” a flattered Becky recalls with a grin. “At 22, he still thinks that every family should have a Becky.”
Becky’s employers went through some personal struggles over the years, ultimately separating in a divorce. The one thing that remained constant in the children’s lives was their nanny.
“They both continued to be active, hands-on parents,” Becky says. “After several years, mom remarried which was another adjustment for everyone. This family, their extended family and friends are all intertwined in my life and will be for years to come.”
Her current family also has three children — an 8-year-old boy, a 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl — whose school schedules allow Becky time to serve as the co-president of the International Nanny Association. The INA, a nonprofit educational association for the in-home child care industry, provides training and career guidance to newbies and experienced nannies alike.
“Beginners should have a clear work agreement with the family that also includes periodic performance reviews,” she suggests. “Lines of communication need to be open, which means clarifying how to best communicate with Mom and/or Dad. For us, this meant calling to check in with me periodically throughout the day, keeping a log for each child — noting activities, mood, food intake, bathrooming, etc. — along with having time to sit down and chat face-to-face at least weekly.”
One of the biggest misconceptions that Becky hears all the time about her job is that only wealthy families can afford to have a nanny.
“That’s not true,” she insists. “Families of all backgrounds choose a nanny for their child care because they see the larger benefits to their family. These can include having care take place in their child’s own home where they can remain on their routine schedule, eating food they are familiar with, sleeping in their own bed, playing with the own toys and in their own yard or neighborhood.”
“All activities can be centered around the child’s needs and developmental level,” Becky adds. “Siblings can be cared for on their own personal schedule. Light household duties that help families maintain their homes can be included around the children’s schedule.”
Ultimately, Becky believes she receives a high level of job satisfaction from nannying that she might not obtain in another setting.
“I cherish the moment-to-moment joys that come with working so intimately with a family,” she says. “I like knowing I could take the time to really enjoy, play, and engage with the children rather then feel like I was hurrying them through activities because we have a schedule to keep.”
“I also love feeling appreciated by parents and recognized as part of the ‘team.’ And seeing children through challenging times and knowing that you helped them get to that next step,” she adds.
BECKY KAVANAGH’S NANNYING ADVICE:
1. Speak Up – Parents aren’t mind readers. Nannies tend to be wonderful nurturers and provide loving care of children, but they don’t communicate well. If something is bothering you, then you need to let them know. You can do this in a positive, respectful way by approaching the issue head on. Don’t be accusatory, but rather speak from your own feelings. Mention the wonderful things that are part of your job as well as those that are challenging. Provide options and solutions for consideration.
2. Respect – Nannies want to be respected for the work they do and the service they provide. It’s a very intimate and unique job that many people cannot relate to. Be respectful to the children in your care and the parents – you’ll be rewarded. This includes respecting the family’s privacy and personal lives.
3. Confidentiality – Some nannies get into the habit of sharing personal and private information about their employers with other nannies. This could come back to haunt them down the road. Just don’t go there. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get honest feedback from nanny peers, but I recommend choosing your words carefully and your confidant even more carefully.
4. Don’t Talk Down to Children – Children know when you are really interested in them, really care about them and they respond to you accordingly. They can spot insincerity a mile away. They recognize when an adult is their advocate. You need to be real with children - age appropriate, but real.
(For more profiles on former “Nanny of the Year” recipients, check out the eNannySource interview with San Francisco nanny Marni Kent, the 2002 NOTY honoree and a devoted Mary Poppins fan!)