Posts Tagged ‘household help’

I just read Laura Vanderkam’s post on  ‘core competency moms’ on the Huffington Post.

It’s an interesting perspective on how working moms compensate for not having enough time to do it all by prioritizing and focusing on the things that really matter, not necessarily the things that keep the house looking pristine. These moms thrive by knowing what they’re best at, and what’s essential for them to do, like teaching their kids about nature, and outsourcing everything else, like laundry, housecleaning, and dishes. They follow the same principles as companies that focus on what they do best and outsource what’s ancillary, like cafeterias and health care plans.

I’m a big fan of this way of thinking – I’m all about focusing my attention where it matters. But I do have a bone to pick with one of her prime examples – using paper plates instead of doing dishes. Teaching lessons about waste and responsibility for the planet actually seems like one of those things that parents should do for their children. Plus, whose kids don’t like to help with emptying the dishwasher?




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I’ve written about feeling guilty for being a working mom – both about what I can’t do at work and about not always being around for my husband and my kids. This week, though, I found a couple of things that as a working mom, I get to not feel guilty about. So, let’s stick it to the should be’s and celebrate not feeling guilty.

1) Having someone clean my house. I have some friends who are stay at home moms with household help. Mostly, it’s someone doing the heavy cleaning once every two weeks. I think they have nothing to feel guilty about, as even stay at home moms can get really busy. But they all seem to feel like they should be doing it themselves. We now have someone coming to clean our house every week, and I am loving it. And I don’t feel an iota of guilt. Minor victory.

2) Outsourcing most of our Seder to Whole Foods. I am very excited to be hosting family and friends at our house for Seder on Saturday. And while I love to cook, I’m getting most of the food from Whole Foods. A Passover Seder requires elaborate preparation, with special foods, special table settings, and a special ceremony. I’m going to be out of town for most of this week, which means I won’t have a lot of time to prepare. I did take time to find a Haggadah, or guide to the ritual meal, that I’m excited about using. And I’ll make a brisket. But everything else is coming from Whole Foods. It’ll be delicious and I won’t be exhausted. A fabulous combination in my opinion.

While I’m happy to acknowledge that I can do these things without feeling guilty about it, I think they are things that everyone should be able to do without feeling guilty. I am aware, of course, that there’s a vocal, strong, ongoing debate about what a good mom should and shouldn’t outsource, even if she works. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out the response to this post, on Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog. It’s an extreme example, but it gives you an idea of the vehemence of opinion on this topic.

To me, being able to focus on the things I care most about (like the Haggadah, spending time playing with my kids, or giving a talk at a conference) and being able to have someone else do the things that I love having done but don’t like doing (matzoh ball soup or cleaning the bathroom) goes beyond being just a privilege I can enjoy because I can afford it.  

It becomes a way to acknowledge my limits, and to be OK with those limits. I know that I can’t do it all, but if I prioritize my energy, I can do what I enjoy and get done what needs to get done. Without sacrificing myself, my husband or my children’s well-being. And that’s something that all parents, and all people, should be able to be comfortable doing.

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I’ve already blogged about hiring our nanny, so I think its only fair to share some of what led up to firing our nanny.


Without going into too much detail, there was an Incident. In handling the Incident, our new nanny displayed Bad Instincts.  It may be fair to say that the parents’ own Bad Judgment help perpetrate the Incident, but the truth it, that doesn’t really matter. You see, while our children might have the misfortune of being born to parents who sometimes show Bad Judgment, that doesn’t mean that they should also be subjected to a Nanny with Bad Instincts. The Incident was very scary to all involved, and Property was Damaged. But The Important Thing Is That No One Was Hurt.


After the Incident, we kept coming back to this feeling about the nanny’s Bad Instincts. We felt that we could no longer Trust Her with The Children. And the truth is, no matter how much we liked her, how well she interviewed or how much she was able to learn on the job, we had to let her go. Even if it wasn’t Fair.


Following a rough week, I have a serious need to feel like I’ve Learned From My Experience. So I’ve put together a list about what worked in this situations, and therefore the steps that I want to make sure I take when handling a crisis in the future.  


Here it is:

 1)     Make sure everyone is OK.

In this case, of course, this step involved checking in with the kids, my husband and the nanny not just right after the incident but also over the course of the week.

 2)     Make a decision about how to handle the immediate fallout from the crisis, and act quickly.

We new we had to let the nanny go the night of the Incident. I waited a day to tell her, which probably wasn’t fair. I did, however, immediately get in touch with our preschool to find out about extending the boys hours and started looking into some options for taking the boys with me when I travel. This was necessary for handling the logistics of the situation. It was also helpful because at a time when I felt pretty helpless and stupid, I was able to feel like I was doing something proactive, which felt good.  

 3)     Take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

I’m embarrassed to say we didn’t have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. We do now. Also, we’re working on creating Family Emergency Procedures, which will apply to all kinds of crises. I’ll also be better about putting a list of emergency resources front and center in the kitchen, in the boys’ room, and by the phone in my office.


4)     Step away from the crisis.

The Incident happened on Monday, and by Friday I was a mess. I was exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed by it all. Coincidentally, my husband and I had planned a weekend getaway for this weekend. Part of me really wanted to cancel, because I felt like we had too much going on to get away. But I didn’t want to disappoint my husband, so off we went. It was the best thing we possibly could have done. I needed to get away from the reminders of what had happened, focus on other important things (like my relationship with my husband), and relax. This is the one I think that I’d be most likely to forget in the future, but I want to try to remember how critical it feels our recovery.

 5)     Go back and look at the structural causes of the crisis: do big changes need to happen?

Looking back, I can already see a few ways we could have avoided the situation. I probably rushed into finding a replacement for our irreplaceable nanny of two years. We also probably rushed into assuming that we need a nanny after all. We might be better off with the boys in preschool for longer hours and more days, with more structured activities to keep them occupied and more people looking out for them. Perhaps a reliable babysitter, dog walker, and maybe even personal chef can help us out when I travel for work. We’re going to take some time to play with different variables, and see what works best.

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So I followed the advice from First Break All the Rules in hiring a new nanny, and I’m really pleased with the person that we’ve hired. She’s got a great attitude, the kids really love her, and she seems comfortable managing the challenges of the job (and by that I mean corralling a pair of 2.5 year olds who are in turns, charming and devilish, self-sufficient and dependent). But she doesn’t have as much experience as our prior nanny, and there is, of course, the learning curve of figuring out how our particular household, children, and stroller work. And I work from home.

I am struggling with finding the line between how much I should be jumping in and helping her while the boys are testing her by getting out of their beds to go potty four times before finally settling down for their naps, versus how much I should just sit in my office, with headphones in my ears and while sitting on my hands, letting her figure it out.

While it might be more dramatic when played out on the home-front, my struggle is a classic problem that leaders often encounter at work as they’re managing and developing people. One way of thinking about this issue that I’ve found helpful at work is the Blanchard model of situational leadership. According to Blanchard, there are four different kinds of leaders: directing leaders (S1), coaching leaders (S2), supporting leaders (S3) and delegating leaders (S4). There are also four different levels to describe the skills of the people that you lead, with much less catchy names. “Followers” can be Low Competence, High Commitment (D1), Some Competence, Low Commitment (D2), High Competence, Variable Commitment (D3), and High Competence, High Commitment (D4). Blanchard suggests that leaders match their style with where the people that they’re leading are. Which makes a lot of sense.

My former nanny started as a D3 and became a D4 after 2 years, and my new one is starting as a D2. According to Blanchard that means that I do need to step in to help her understand her role and define the tasks that she’s involved in, but I also need to do some sitting on my hands, letting her figure stuff out and come up with her own ideas.

It’s easy to agree with the model from an intellectual perspective, of course, and much harder to watch (or hear) my nanny learn on the job when the job is my kids. I think that’s one of the challenges of having people work for you personally, whether it’s in your home or for your small business. But since there doesn’t seem to be any existing frameworks for training a nanny, I’m going to go ahead and give Blanchard a try. 

I don’t know if you’ve tried it, but it is extremely difficult to type while I’m sitting on my hands.

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