This series called “New Directions” features interviews with former nannies that branched out into another aspect of the business, had to add something to be able to stay in the profession, or left the profession entirely.
My goal during the course of these articles is to show you that you have choices, and that sometimes “new directions” can take you to new growth.
Today we are talking with my friend and respected colleague Michelle LaRowe.
How long were you a nanny?
I worked as a full-time career nanny for 15 years.
How long have you been out of the field?
While I no longer work as a full-time nanny, I am still heavily involved in the nanny world. I currently serve as Executive Director of the International Nanny Association, write parenting books and articles, offer consultation services, operate The Cape Cod Baby Planner and teach workshops and speak on parenting topics across the country.
When did you realize that it was time to make a change?
I was in a full-time position working for a family with 4 children, including newborn twins, when I learned I was expecting my first baby. Two weeks later, the father of the children in my care decided to make a change and be a stay at home dad. When I started the position, the eldest child had some significant behavioral issues. I had helped facilitate real change and he began to truly enjoy being a dad. I was fortunate that the timing and the situation worked out the best for everyone.
If you left to become a parent, how is parenting your own child different than parenting someone elses child/children?
The biggest difference in parenting my own children from parenting others is that when you parent others, you love them like your own but know they are not.
I know my experience seems to be the exception to the rule, but parenting my own children has really been the same as parenting others. I think this is because I started a position with newborn twins and was there full-time for nearly 7 years as their primary caregiver. When you’re given a new baby (or two) to care for and they are your responsibility for 50-60 plus hours per week, it’s something to take very seriously. At the time, I gave them all the love I could and knew how to give. That’s what babies need! I do the same with my babies now.
In some ways, parenting my own children is much easier. I don’t have to answer to anyone or sell someone on why my way seems best. I can opt to lounge around in my pajama’s with the kids and that’s okay. And, when Monday comes around, the kids are still potty trained ;-).
I also learned from my experiences, the importance of having an involved dad. My husband is an awesome parenting partner and cares for the children while I work each day.
Was it difficult to come to the realization that you were going to have to leave the nanny profession?
Yes, that’s why I never left! I love this profession. You don’t choose being a nanny, it chooses you.
Did it come to you gradually, or was it an epiphany when you realized there was something else you wanted to do?
I feel very fortunate to be able to be a work from home mom and work in an industry I love and am passionate about. It’s nice to be able to take my experiences from working as a nanny and serving on the boards of non profits and apply them and my skill set to my current position.
Did you view it as a positive change or a negative change?
I am so grateful that I can raise my children and financially contribute to my family. Since I work for an association that has only one employee, I can really say that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am truly grateful for it.
Do you miss working as a nanny?
Yes, that’s why I do a lot of consulting with new parents, especially those of newborn twins. It’s nice to see I haven’t lost my touch and to see how a little guidance and education can make a world of difference to new parents.
Do you stay in touch with any of your nanny friends?
I am in touch with many of them each day through my work with INA and on Facebook. Honestly, I have a very hard time relating to other moms who don’t have a child care or early childhood education background. I feel like I don’t quite fit in with the moms at preschool, so I am grateful I can stay connected daily to my nanny friends.
Do you stay abreast of what is going on in the field today?
I am in the middle of all things nanny all day, every day. From monitoring legislation, to reading news articles and blogs, to analyzing data from salary and benefits surveys to answering questions from parents and nannies, I feel like I have a good handle on the industry. If you know me, it’s no surprise I always like to be the first to know what’s going on!
If yes, what do you miss the most?
This is easy- spending other people’s money! Some days I wish my debit card charges went to someone else! I’ve found working as a nanny for affluent families; I’ve come to have the taste of the families I’ve worked for. This is great for me, but bad for my wallet!
If no, what do you miss the least?
The fear of having to call a parent and tell them their child got hurt, the fear of losing a position, the anxiety that comes from having to talk about difficult topics, like developmental delays, to parents. The fear of always knowing that someday you will no longer be needed.
Tell us a little bit about what you are doing now.
In addition to being a mom of two beautiful children, Abby and Luke and a wife to Jeff, I currently serve as the Executive Director of the International Nanny Association. I manage everything relating to member services and oversee daily association operations, conference planning and special projects. I also do a lot of freelance writing and parenting consulting. I write for various parenting magazines and websites, field media questions relating to the books I’ve written (Nanny to the Rescue!, Nanny to the Rescue! Again, Working Mom’s 411 and A Mom’s Ultimate Book of Lists) and operate The Cape Cod Baby Planner. I serve on the boards of a few non-profits, teach courses for various organizations and speak at conferences and events.
Tell us what you learned as a nanny that is helping you in your current job, career or profession?
My nanny experience has most definitely helped me to be the best parent I can be. Understanding child development, knowing how to set loving boundaries and being able to discipline without emotion has helped me to be the type of parent I want to be.
My nanny experience and relationships with those in the industry help me to do my job well. Being able to answer questions with knowledge and experience helps me be a better employee and resource to those who reach out to INA.
What advice would you give to nannies who are still in the profession but struggling with whether or not they should stay or go?
You have to discover what you love and figure out how to get paid for it. I heard that from Bill Cosby in 1999, when I was graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and knew I really wanted to work as a nanny. I had to follow my passion and I am sure glad I did.
You can’t be a good nanny if you don’t love what you do. Working as a nanny is too emotionally, physically and intellectually draining. It’s not a job where you can just go through the motions.
There’s a lot of responsibility with being a nanny- but there is also a lot of freedom. Going from doing your own thing all day to being micromanaged in an office, is a major change. Evaluate your heart and follow where it’s guiding you.
What advice would you give to other nannies?
No one understands the daily joys and struggles of a nanny like another nanny. Being a nanny is the only job you sign up for and the ultimate promotion is to be let go because you are no longer needed; not by any fault of your own, but because the kids have grown up or the family has learned how to sustain itself and thrive without you.
Get connected. Join a local nanny group, attend trainings and conferences. You’ll be surprised how empowering it is to connect with others who get what you do.
What do you wish you had known then that you know now?
That my employers needed me as much as I needed them. Sometimes, as nannies I find that we feel like we need the job so much, we forget that the need is often mutual. I wish I had spent less time worrying about job security and more time realizing that the relationship with mutually beneficial.
In hindsight, do you think your decision was a good one?
I feel like I really have the best of both worlds. I get to parent my children full-time and work full-time in a field that I love.
Would you do it again?
I am not sure if I will be a full-time nanny again, but I will always work with families. In my future, I see myself consulting with parents more. I see myself working with families of newborn twins and helping them to get off on the right track. I also would like to foster babies who have medical conditions and needs. I think that with my experience and my husband’s and children’s love for babies we could make a real difference in the lives of babies who need a little extra love and support.
Would you ever consider working as a nanny again?
I see myself working as a consultant more as a nanny, but anything is possible.
Feel free to add other questions or whatever kind of information you might like to add.
As a parent now interacting with other parents and preschool educators, it’s become even clearer how undervalued educators and child care providers are in our nation and how misunderstood our profession truly is.
Recently there was a child who was doing very inappropriate behavior and a mother who wasn’t paying any attention to her child at a play group. As a result, one of Abby’s classmates was injured. The mother of the injured child asked me about it the next day at school drop off and I told her what I’d seen. She then asked me if I was sure it was the mother and not the nanny who was supposed to be watching the child. Needless to say, I was the wrong person to ask that question of. What did that question really mean? Why would she assume a mother would be watching her child, but the nanny wouldn’t? The interaction served as a reminder to me that unfortunately people still have a bizarre idea of who and what today’s professional nanny is: a childcare professional with a working knowledge and genuine love for children.
I hope this chat with Michelle has been insightful. If you are a nanny who has changed directions or know one who has and would like to be a part of this series, please email us at Regardingnannies(at)gmail(dot)com ATT: New Directions