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Expert Insights on 9 Mistakes Nannies Make that Drive them from the Profession with Glenda Propst

October 13, 2013

When the best nannies need nanny advice, they turn to Glenda Propst, seasoned nanny extraordinaire.  With nearly three decades of nanny care under her belt, it shouldn’t be surprising that this nanny has seen both the best and the worst the industry has to offer and opens her heart to support and advise nannies as they face change and challenges working in this one of a kind career. When not mentoring a nanny personally, Glenda, who was also the 1991 International Nanny Association Nanny of the Year, shares her words of wisdom with the nanny masses at www.nannytransitions.com.

Over the almost 29 years I have spent as a professional nanny, I have learned a lot about people and a lot about the people who choose this profession. There are nannies who find jobs easily, breeze through interviews, and have great relationships with their employers long after a job ends. Then there are nannies who get stuck in a terrible rut of taking jobs that sound wonderful and end up not being as they were described, taking jobs with families who take advantage of their good nature and their willingness to be flexible, and taking jobs with families who work them long hours, pay them low wages and expect their nanny’s life to revolve around them. These nannies typically end up leaving jobs on bad terms with little or no future contact with their previous charges.

It seems like nannies who find great jobs always find great jobs and nannies who don’t find great jobs just repeat the same experience over and over with new families.

With nearly three decades of nanny experience under my belt, I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes and I learned a lot the hard way, but there are things that nannies do that perpetuate the pattern of being taken advantage of in job after job. When I visit nanny messages boards I read the same story over and over again – most often from the same nannies.

So what are the top 9 mistakes nannies make that make it difficult to be successful in this industry?

  • Not having a work agreement. A nanny goes on an interview and falls in love with the family. The family says all the right things. Will taxes be taken out? Of course! Will I have vacation time? Oh yes! How about sick days? Absolutely! Overtime? Sure! Work agreement? No problem. It all sounds so wonderful and so simple in the interview. You’ve asked all the right questions and they gave all the right answers. Now it’s the night before your start date and you still don’t have a signed work agreement. You love the family and you want to trust them; they keep telling you they are working on it, and you believe them. Then you start the job and you start to get attached to the children and you say “When are we going to go over my work agreement?” and they make up an excuse. But once you press the matter they tell you “Well we just aren’t comfortable with that” or “Our attorney advised us not sign one,” or maybe they say “Our friends said they don’t have one with their nanny.” It doesn’t matter what the reason is, here is the bottom line: Don’t start a job without a work agreement. A work agreement may or may not hold up in a court of law, but signing a piece of paper that outlines the terms of employment you agreed upon shows a measure of trust and faith and starts your professional relationship off right.
  • Putting their love for the children above and beyond their own personal needs. Nannies love children and fall in love with the children in their care. You can almost consider this an occupational hazard. I will be the first to admit that I can’t imagine loving my own child more than I love the children that I nanny, but most nannies who become parents will tell you that they do. You can love a child you take care of as long as you remember that this is not your child. This will never be your child and no matter how long you stay, this child is going to grow up whether you are there or not. You are not the parent.
  • Not having a life beyond that job that consists of anything beyond childcare. It’s great to be a part of the family. It’s great to be included in family meals and special occasions. But you need to find something to do at the end of the day when you are no longer on duty that’s unrelated to your work.
  • Not having a hobby or other involvement in anything beyond the nanny industry. It’s important to have something to do when you are not working. It’s fine to get involved in the industry, to get involved with INA or NAEYC, or to help plan Nannypalooza or National Nanny Training Day. Write a blog, have a webpage, do something to give back to your industry. Doing so is wonderful. It grows you professionally, it moves you beyond your comfort zone, and it connects you to a bigger part of what you do. But you still need to have something else to be a part of that isn’t industry related. Scrapbook, write, create, garden, but grow yourself in some way that isn’t related to your job.
  • Not developing friendships beyond the nanny industry. When you become a nanny it’s so important to connect with other nannies. Developing friendships with other nannies makes us feel like we aren’t so isolated in what we do, but it’s equally important to have friends beyond the realm of the nanny industry. It keeps you balanced and well-rounded and it gives you different perspectives of what other people think.
  • Thinking that they are indispensable to a family. Families fall in love with wonderful nannies. If you want someone to love you, love their child. They love you and they make you promises like “We want you to stay forever!” “We want you to stay until our children go to college.” “We will make sure you can stay with us, we will help you do whatever you want, just promise you will never leave us. “ And oftentimes, nannies believe the fairy tale. We believe that if we are good enough, work hard enough and love the children enough, our jobs will truly never end. But this is just a fairy tale. All jobs end. It doesn’t mean that the relationship with the family has to end, but it does have to change, and this is often hard for everyone. It’s so much better to just know the reality from the beginning and not get blindsided by the ugly truth.
  • Not staying up to date with the latest research on child development. Staying up to date with the latest research regarding child development is essential to your professional growth. This is especially true if you stay with a family long term and then the job ends. You need to be sure that you stay abreast of what is going on in the field of child development so that you are employable when your job ends.
  •  Getting caught up in the extravagant lifestyle of their employers. Over the years, I have seen this happen a lot. Nannies work for wealthy people and are included in their lives, in their travel plans, in their vacations, in their upscale shopping and suddenly, they magically think that they are a part of their wealth.  All of the sudden they decide that they can only have Coach purses and designer clothes and they start to live on credit cards and fool themselves into thinking that because they are on the fringes of the upper class, they have arrived there. Until the bills start to come in and they can’t keep up with them, or the job ends and they can’t find another job with the same benefits and perks. What then? They face a harsh reality that they don’t have their employer’s money.
  • They become the door mat. The best nannies are the nannies who love themselves enough to take care of themselves so that they can take care of others.  Being a great nanny doesn’t mean you have to be a door mat; in fact, it means you should not be a doormat. You should know yourself well enough to know what kind of family situation you work best in. You should know what it will take to keep you happy and motivated in a job. Being a great nanny means being your best self and projecting a professional image that says to potential families: I’m worth it!


Glenda Propst has spent the last 28 years working as both a live-in and live-out nanny. She has been with her current family for almost 20 years. Glenda lives in St. Louis with her husband Terry, and their cat LeRoy. Through her site, www.NannyTransitions.com, she offers support, guidance and advice to nannies who are in the process of leaving their work families.


3 Responses to Expert Insights on 9 Mistakes Nannies Make that Drive them from the Profession with Glenda Propst

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Daniela says:

This is so good!! Thank you so much for sharing this!! First of all feels so good that in this article you refer to the nannies as professionals. Often being a “Nanny” seems like a casual job for some people and second of all you hit the nail on the head with the mistakes. I couldn’t relate more. I have been in the nanny business for 6 years and can see clearly what you are talking about.

Thanks again!

Judi Merlin says:

Hi Glenda,

I loved this blog post. You have given wise and meaningful advice in a way that all nannies can relate to and understand. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and being an industry leader all of these years. Can you share how you have followed your own advice? A 20 year job is impressive, to say the least!

Kind regards,

Judi Merlin
A Friend of the Family

Thank you Judi.
Sometimes I have had to learn the hard way. I will be the first to admit that there is a fine line between being a great employee and being a doormat.
I think the most important aspect of following my own advice was to have open, honest and sometimes even painful communication with my employers.

Even though I haven’t been in the job market for 20 years….I have always maintained real life connections with agencies, educators and other nannies.
Being involved in INA and NAN and having great connections with other professional nannies is probably the most important aspect of my learning experience and giving back to others in this industry is definitely the most rewarding. But I do give a lot of credit to my wonderful nanny family that always treat me with respect.