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Sarah Carlisle Stewart: The Modern Nanny

This week, we’ve partnered with Sarah Carlisle Stewart, better known online as The Modern Nanny, to bring our readers Sarah’s top tips for respectful employer-employee relationships. To encourage longevity in employees, it is crucial to understand what is important to them and how to cultivate a healthy, positive and professional relationship.

Sarah Carlisle Stewart, The Modern Nanny

ABOUT SARAH:Sarah is a former nanny who moved into childcare coaching after experiencing burnout firsthand. Through her social media, workshops, and online intensives, Sarah offers support and empowerment to the childcare community.

5 Tips for Respectful Employer Dynamics
From Sarah Carlisle Stewart, The Modern Nanny

Okay so you’ve hired a household employee— congrats! Life can be so much more manageable and thereby fruitful when you have the support and help to get done what matters most to you.

What they don’t tell you is that this now makes you an employer. And with that can come some unknown territory…

Of course there’s the legalese side of it with contracts, laws, and things… but there’s all the interpersonal dynamics between employer and employee in a particularly unique industry.

We love the personal, find your fit nature of the domestic industry. It can be incredibly personal, intimate. The person you’re hiring is privy to your home, your family. Like dating, we rely heavily on fit, on personality, on dynamic. But like dating, we can’t forget the work it takes to have a healthy dynamic.

For longevity and sustainability in a dynamic… respect, boundaries, and honest communication are the most important. But we recognize that’s easier said than done.

So here are 5 things to keep in mind for a respectful employer-employee dynamic:

1. They did it themselves.
Remember that Julia Fox meme that went around; when asked who did her strong eye makeup, she responds: “I did it myself”…

I made an Instagram reel with that audio and it hit a viral 360 likes with the Nanny Instagram community. Why? Because many domestic workers feel the plight of doing so much themselves.

They’re technically an employee and following an employer’s general guidelines and instructions… but balancing the line of advocating for themselves, presenting as their own professional entity. No human resources, no coworkers… almost running and operating like their own business… but not.

In being mindful of this unique aspect of their work experience, tip 2:

2. Remember their personhood beyond the job title.
The domestic industry is full of invisible labor.

Doing the laundry isn’t just the laundry— but being aware of the house schedule, knowing which items take special care, which go to the dry cleaners, which are hang dry…

Taking the little one to the park isn’t just a drive– but knowing how it fits with the nap schedule and work from home parents meetings during the day, the temperament and personality of the little one, redirecting and planning, knowing the car needs gas and to make it to gymnastics practice we have to leave at 2:00pm instead of 2:20pm.

And on top of having a task load full of invisible labor, the better you are at your job, the more seamlessly things go and the more invisible it becomes. Then you literally reinforced for that invisibility. In that, it’s easy to start thinking of your employees (and even employees may start thinking about themselves) as less a person and more the job title.

They’re the nanny, not Sarah who nannies.
On top of that, self-care is the first thing to go when we’re consumed with helping others.

You might think… okay, they can just tell me no when it gets to be too much leading to tip 3:

3. Be aware of burnout & “helper” tendencies to overextend.
Burnout is caused by high stress, and particularly when the stress outpaces our capability to process it.

Many domestic workers pride themselves in their ability to get it done, to go above and beyond, to make your life as seamless and convenient as possible… while dismissing their own stress caused by meeting those needs. This can lead to compassion fatigue which can feel insurmountable for natural helpers with caregiving hearts.

Domestic workers might overextend even though saying no might save them from burn out because saying no almost feels like admitting failure of their role or an incompetence. When they burn out, it’s not just the brunt of that but it also creates an existential crisis as they feel a loss of their own helping identity.

Ultimately, “people tend to take better care of themselves when they’re in a high-quality relationship… In other words, our self-care is facilitated by the ways we care for and are cared for by someone else.” (From Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Tawwab)

This is where boundaries come in. You might think boundaries are walls that separate people, make things awkward… but ultimately boundaries are the expectations and needs that help you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships; they require communication and intention.

4. Make time for team meetings.
One of the most important steps to the employer-employee dynamic that is often overlooked is building a trusting relationship. Rapport isn’t superficial.

And it also can’t be faked. We recognize the busyness of life and we’re pretty good at hitting the ground running in this industry. That being said, often important things get lost in distracted, passing conversations.

So create a team meeting, even if a quick 15. Commit, no matter the brevity, to being present. Technology is great and has allowed us some incredibly great resources, but it has created a cultural habit of sending a quick text or email when a conversation would be much more successful.

Here are 5 key strategies to facilitate a productive dialogue(from We Need To Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter by Celeste Headlee): “Be curious, check your bias, show respect, stay the course, and end well”.

Have a goal for your check ins:

What do you hope to get out of this exchange?

What would you like to have happen?

How would you like to feel when you walk away from the conversation?

And be mindful of your words. Many times we overwhelm these conversations with feedback that ends up feeling negative, frustrating, or critical… Then we avoid them because they don’t feel cup-filling but draining of your already limited time and energy. Some other pointers from We Need to Talk— Notice how often you repeat negative feedback, have at least two positive things to say per meeting, and don’t repeat information more than twice per conversation.

5. Remember it’s “us” vs the problem
With such close proximity, of course conflict is bound to happen. “Absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy” (Nedra Tawwab) so building in that communication on the regular creates space and intention towards collaboration. They key: “Being respectful is even more important in conversations than finding common ground” (Celeste Headlee).

There are two types of conflict: relationship conflict vs task conflict. Relationship conflict is likely what you picture when you picture conflict: personal, emotional clashes, friction, animosity. Task conflict is about ideas and opinions. Task conflict often spills over into relationship conflict, especially when we’re in close relationships, dynamics, or proximity— like an employee in your home.

It’s when a hiccup happens like a nanny telling a parent at the park the name of the kid’s school (task conflict) that turns into emotional: “you’re irresponsible, how thoughtless” (relationship conflict).

We often approach conflict like a battle, where the options are to attack or retreat. In reality, our dynamics include so much more nuance, they’re more like a dance. And the important thing to remember in a dance is that there aren’t opponents, but partners. When conflict (inevitably) arises, it’s important to remember it’s you and employee vs the problem.

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