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Beware the nanny poacher

Someone made a move on our nanny.

The other woman started calling "Kiki'' while we were on vacation. Kiki is the nickname my son gave our nanny when he could not pronounce her real name. Kiki, by the way, has never been considered an employee. She has been a dear family friend for decades and has loved our children since they were born. The other woman knew all this.

She seemed nice enough when I met her at a dinner party. She was talking about her search for child care since she would be returning to work soon, and I could relate to how gut-wrenching that process can be. Naively, I raved about our babysitter. Even more stupidly, I said she may be available certain days of the week since she helps us part-time. I specifically told the other woman which days Kiki comes to our house.

The other woman found her number from a third party and started calling her -- repeatedly -- offering her a job on the same days I need her.

Nanny-poaching has been around as long as there have been parents with deep pockets. But in a look-out-for-yourself parenting climate, the practice is brazen and occurs even among so-called friends. Some moms clubs have been forced to create rules about not poaching. One local Bosnian nanny told her employer that she got approached with offers repeatedly when she'd drop off and pick up the children at preschool.

"It's like stealing your friend's boyfriend,'' said Stephanie Graff, president of TLC for Kids, a St. Louis nanny placement agency. One of their nannies told Graff that she had been lured away by her employer's neighbor.

"How are you ever going to look them in the face again?'' Graff wondered about the neighbor.

But, really. Should grown adults need written rules about basic civility? It's one thing for a stranger to approach a nanny in a public park or Gymboree class, but why must friends, acquaintances and neighbors be told that snatching someone's child care provider creates serious hardship and will wreck relationships?

Some will argue that nannies are free agents, and should be free to leave for a better offer just like any other employee. Well, of course, they are. And, we would not begrudge our beloved Kiki if she had to accept a better situation elsewhere.

But, I would think twice about the "friend'' who created the predicament.

It's hard to leave our child in someone else's care. And once they have developed a bond with a caregiver, and you trust that person, it can throw your entire world off its axis to have them suddenly leave.

As if finding good child care weren't hard enough, I had something to learn about hanging onto someone once you've found them. From my own work experience, I knew that an environment of mutual respect, fair wages and flexibility engenders loyalty. Another working mom explained the unwritten rules to me:

Never talk up your child care provider in the presence of other mothers.

Never offer to share days or lend a nanny -- unless you are willing to accept that she may defect.

In the end, Kiki decided to stay with us. Because, as we knew all along, she is much more than a nanny to our children. She's family.

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